By Rita Yelda
A Water Wonderland: John Hewitt Recalls Frankford Creek in the 1970s
Tookany/Tacony-Frankford (TTF) Watershed Partnership is partnering with Ambrose Liu of the Olney Culture Lab and Dr. Matthew Smalarz of Manor College to record in-person interviews with community members as part of a two-year Tacony Creek Park Stories project. Manor College, which sits along the Jenkintown Creek at the headwaters of the TTF watershed, is developing an Oral History repository.
Tacony Creek Park Stories is a two-part effort collecting and sharing park and neighborhood history and memories, and then working with local artists to bring these stories to life, making the collective story of Tacony Creek Park more accessible to the community. As part of this project, TTF is proud to share this blog with you based on an October 2018 interview with John Hewitt, a Frankford Historical Society volunteer who has roots in Frankford.
When John Hewitt was growing up in the Frankford section of Tookany Creek in the 1970’s, he and his friends used the creek as a playground. Young and rebellious, John and his pals would keep bottles of wine cold in the creek, or drift through the tunnels of Frankford Creek as close to the Delaware River as possible, being on high alert for rain. John also could never lie to his parents about being in the water because of the distinct smell he would carry afterwards. While not advised, these memories bring John back to a simpler time when he lived in the area until his late teen years.
“Well, the creek’s right there, and at that park, we kind of hung at that park there,” says John of his childhood. “Sometimes we would drift all the way down, not as far the Delaware River but near it. We used to try to see how far we could go; and going through the tunnels is one of my early experiences getting introduced to the Frankford Creek.”
The creek grew to hold a different significance for John as he got into professional photography, first working freelance for local newspapers and then beginning a career in wedding photography. John recognized the “crisp, clear blue” of the Tookany Creek, which is why he took couples’ along the parkway.
The blooming flowers, fall leaves, and wooden bridges all made appearances in John’s photos and continue to leave an impression on him when discussing the area today. John is not only a Frankford Historical Society volunteer, but he’s had a long-time history of his own with the creek.
Water quality within the creek has been a long-time concern, including during John’s time living in the area. He recalls both the waterfall at Adams Avenue and most of Frankford Creek looking dirty. “I’ve seen where [the creek] was a lot of different colors…” John recounts about the area near Adams Avenue. Near Kensington Avenue, kids would jump into the creek and one of those times John shockingly saw a girl’s hair start on fire. “I think there was a company right there that was pumping something in the water, and out of nowhere, it just caught on fire. And we stopped swimming in that area right there,” says John.
Flooding and stormwater pollution remained a concern for the creek, and repairs had been made over the years to address the problem. During Hurricane Agnes in 1972, John recalls the tunnels of Frankford Creek flooding and gushing to the brim. Unexpected flooding and safety issues are one of the biggest reasons not to travel on the water through the tunnels, but that didn’t stop John from taking risks.
Growing up in the area, John observed fishermen on Frankford Creek near the Delaware River but never took part. Meanwhile, John’s father was an avid fisherman who found relaxation and sport in having the creek nearby. Now living in Bridgeburg, John continues to have access to local waterways, including the Allegheny River and the tributary Pine Creek. John’s son recently convinced him to follow in his father’s footsteps by taking a fishing outing on the river and they caught six fish, including eel and catfish.
“You know, my father died… when I was thirteen, so I kind of wanted to kind of go [out fishing] with him to see because he was always saying, ‘Oh it’s fishing, oh it’s fishing!'”
Do you have a story to share? Whether you’ve been visiting the park for 50 years or just a few months, we’d love to hear from you. We are committed to gathering stories from the wide range of perspectives in our culturally and ethnically diverse park community. Interested in sharing your stories from the park? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-744-1853. This project has been made possible with support from the Joseph Robert Foundation.
Interested in seeing the history of the Frankford Creek up close? Join us for the tour, Trails Through Time on November 16!