Wenonah Environmental Commission

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Historical Overview: 1870 to 1968

(Continued from the Pre-1870 period.)

4. 1870 to 1970 The Infrastructure, Housing And Institution Period: From a train stop along the railroad to a Summer Resort. During 1870 several Philadelphia businessmen recognized the natural beauty and health aspects of the land and decided to establish a town. (April 1871 - The area was named Wenonah).

1872 to 1874 - A fishpond was developed by Milton Pierce along a stream called "Pierce Hollow" and later called "Patrick's Run" (now Comey's Lake). A large park with new tree plantings was established on open space at the corner of East Mantua Avenue and Southeast Avenue. A North/South grid of streets was established and many attractive homes were built. Every street was lined with mature shade trees.

1875 to 1882 - The area retained its dense border of woodlands and abundant surface water. The water quality remained very good in streams, ponds, lakes and the Mantua Creek.

1883 to 1885 - "Pierce Hollow" or "Patrick's Run" was developed into "Aquadale Pond" which was a major Carp Fishery. A larger lake was established in 1885 when a leveling dam was placed at the south end of the stream increasing the lake area to four acres. Patrick's Run was later named "Camels Back Run".

1886 to 1893 - The first "Wenonah Parks and Woodland Improvement Association" was formed. Visitors came from all over the country to experience the clean water and air of Wenonah, as well as the abundant bird population.

1894 to 1899 - A new leveling gate and other improvements were made to the dam at "Camels Back Run" in 1894 and this area was named "Camels Back Lake" (later called Comey's or Langston's Lake). Also in 1894, construction of a new dam was started West of South Marion Avenue on the Monongahela Stream.

1900 to 1913 - Wenonah was an expanding summer resort. Comey's Lake was developed during this period for recreation, boating and fishing. There were many parties in the Japanese Teahouse and Amphitheatre near the lake. Also during this period Synnott's Lake was formed along the area that is now bordered by Alexander Drive and Synnott Avenue. The lake extended 80 feet to the South side of Mantua Avenue. Both the Comey and Synnott Lakes were charged by a variety of surface water springs and the Camels Back Run tributary. Two additional lakes were completed at the intersection of S. Marion Avenue and Bark Bridge Road along the Monongahela Stream. To the West was Greene's Lake and to the East was Lake Cornelia. In 1913 the Chippewa Canoe Club was established on West Mantua Avenue at Mantua Creek.  From 1871 to 1912, over 24 acres of conservation lands with streams, ponds and lakes were already secured through private donations and the Mantua Land & Improvement Company, which developed the Borough of Wenonah.

1914 to 1924 - Wenonah was a thriving town. Svenning Eskel Forsman noted that fishing was excellent in the Mantua Creek. There were Perch, Bass, Sunfish, Eels, Catfish, Carp, Roach, Yellow Ned, Shiners, Pike and Herring. The volume of Herring was so great that they often flipped onto the creek banks each Spring of the year. Crayfish, fresh water Clams, large Snapping Turtles and Bullhead Minnows were also in abundance.

1925 to 1935 - Wenonah Lake (originally Dilk's Pond) was commonly called Warner's Lake at that time and it was thriving with Roach, Bass and Pike. The smaller pond on N. Jefferson Avenue was now called Dilk's Pond. It was great for Calico Bass, Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass. The stream from Warner's Lake, "Break Back Run", was full of very large Carp that were speared by residents. Many of the fish during this period were eaten by residents as a daily meal.

1936 to 1940 - The game in Wenonah consisted of Rabbit, Opossum, Muskrat, Raccoon, Squirrels and Fox. Game birds were Quail, Pheasant, Wild Turkey and Ducks. It was noted that no Deer or Canada Geese were in the Wenonah area. A devastating flood occurred in 1940 creating damage to all the Wenonah lowlands. lakes, ponds, streams and homes in those areas were hit the hardest. Synnott's Lake was gone and only a small pond remained.  From 1913 to 1938, over 13 acres of additional conservation lands were acquired by residents Nat White and George Eldridge.

1941 - The Mantua Creek was beginning to show signs of pollution from sewage plus contamination from the Delaware River shipping and various industrial discharges into the waterways. The lakes in Wenonah remained very good, although there was increasing septic system runoff going into the streams that fed them.

1942 to 1945 - The contaminants increased in the Delaware River from World War II activities, which affected all tidal waters, including Mantua Creek.

1946 to 1948 - Local industries expanded post war production that also increased the tidal water problems.

1949 - The Delaware River and tributaries including Mantua Creek were highly polluted. The contamination continued to worsen to such a degree that by 1951 it was advised that no one should go into the water. The Delaware River became a raw sewer. Fish life within it and surrounding tributaries was virtually non-existent. Oxygen levels of the water were extremely low. There were no enforceable laws to stop the pollution.

1960 - It was recognized that major changes needed to be made in sewage handling and other chemical discharges into all waterways. In addition, the radiation levels had risen dramatically in the Delaware River causing great alarm.

1961 - Federal legislation was passed on the first Clean Water Act. The Delaware River was high on the list to be monitored and cleaned up.

1965 to 1968 - During this period George Eldridge and Nat White spearheaded the acquisition of many large parcels of land along the perimeter of Wenonah through the Stewart Estate Trust. These lands were merged into existing conservation lands by members of the newly created "Natural Woodlands Council" comprised of Milton Webb, Jr., Mr. & Mrs. William Middleton, Mr. & Mrs. Ed Manners, Mr. & Mrs. Robert Lentz, Mr. & Mrs. Edward Campbell, Frank Eggert and Nat White on 6/10/65. In 1967, a portion of Robert and Marjorie Lentz property was added to the conservation lands. In 1968, additional conservation land was acquired from Peter Samkovitch. Natural Woodlands Council Chairman Bud Ivens and members planted 200 Pine/Norway Spruce and 75 Tulip Trees. They also opened 750 feet of new trails and built seven foot bridges.

(Continue to the 1969-1999 period.)

Acknowledgements: Some data derived from the archives of Milton H. Webb and Mayor Jack Sheppard, Sr. by C.R.Forsman