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Poquessing Creek Watershed History

The watershed around Poquessing Creek, which marks Philadelphia’s northeastern boundary, was one of the last areas in the city to be developed, and small pockets of open space in the area continue to be developed today. Until the second half of the 20th century, it was mostly open farmland with population concentrated in several villages, including Somerton, Mechanicsville, and Byberry. The area was laced by a number of tributaries, the largest of which is Byberry Creek. Because of its remoteness (which meant land was cheap and few neighbors could complain), the watershed became the site of several large institutions, including a hospital for the mentally ill and a prison. Various factories located in the Poquessing valley, but fewer were found along larger creeks such as the Pennypack and Frankford, which were closer to the city. At the mouth of Poquessing Creek, wealthy residents built estate houses along the Delaware River. The largest remaining house is Glen Foerd, in Torresdale, built in 1850 and now owned by the City of Philadelphia.

Very little encapsulation of streams was done in the Poquessing watershed, and the area was provided with a separate sewer system, with sewage and stormwater each flowing in separate pipes. However, the stream channels have been altered to facilitate residential and commercial development, and storm runoff has caused severe erosion in several tributaries and in the mainstem of the Poquessing. Cross connections of sewers in the area, with sewage pipes from homes and business connected by mistake to the stormwater drainage pipes, have also created an ongoing problem with high levels of bacteria in various reaches of the Poquessing, and is a problem that the Philadelphia Water Department is actively trying to address.

Development pattern

Development in the watershed was spurred by several transportation projects completed in the second half of the 20th century. A northern extension of Roosevelt Boulevard to Bucks County, the construction of Woodhaven Road and widening of Street Road, and the completion of Interstate 95 all provided quick access for commuters to the area. Much of the development in the watershed, even in the city limits, is suburban in character, with winding streets and single family houses. Development continues today on small pockets of previously open land. Unlike the parks created around Cobbs, Tacony, Pennypack, and Wissahickon Creeks in Philadelphia, there is no such park in the Poquessing valley, although a recreational trail connecting various parcels of city-owned land (totaling about 120 acres) has been considered. The largest parcel of open space in the watershed is Benjamin Rush State Park, covering 275 acres in the far northeast corner of the city and home to one of the largest community gardens in the world.

More historic Poquessing Creek information to come...