COLLINGDALE – A FAMILY FRIENDLY COMMUNITY
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in 1890 made it possible for Collingdale to secede from Darby Borough. Incorporated December 23, 1891, Collingdale thrived under the management of its first burgess, Maximilian LaRoche. LaRoche’s tenure saw the establishment of the first school, which was held in the back room of Pop Eliskey’s store and the establishment of various civic and community organizations. Collingdale’s streets, named for famous citizens and landowners of the borough, include John Bartram, America’s first botanist and John Blunston, an early abolitionist.
Two factors influenced the existence and growth of the borough. One factor that played a big part was transportation. The Baltimore and Ohio railroad originally scheduled to run through parts of Philadelphia instead was rerouted to run through Darby and what would soon become Collingdale. LaRoche’s interest in botany and his partnership with Balishar Stahl became a driving force and the other factor in what Collingdale would become. Part of his legacy includes the three parks that grace the area. These are: Westmont Park, dedicated in 1954, Collingdale Park, dedicated in 1973, and Pusey Park, dedicated in 1982.
Trolley service started in 1900 and ran on Parker Avenue (MacDade Boulevard) under the management of the Media, Middleton, Aston and Chester Street Railway Company. Later this company would be merged in the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. In July 1907, another trolley line coming from 69th Street terminal ran down what would later be called Woodlawn Avenue under the management of the Philadelphia and Garrettford Street Railway Company.
Education played an important role in the small community of Collingdale. Even before the town was incorporated, the first school was established and the first teacher, Margaret B. Harris started teaching. The first school building, built in 1893 to accommodate the growing student population, was located on Bartram Avenue and named for its location. Renamed in 1937 to honor Margaret B. Harris, it served and is still serving the young children of the community. The original school no longer stands. In its place is a new school with the same name. The original school was demolished in 1957, and the new school was dedicated in 1959. Additions to the school were made in 1973 and in 2002. In 1924, Collingdale dedicated a new high school to accommodate older students. The high school became the center of community activity and participated in various community events. It became a sad day for everyone in Collingdale when the school closed in 1982 due to a state mandated merger.
The school building, threatened with demolition, was saved by Mayor Frank Kelly and other concerned citizens. Acquiring the property in 1983 after a “battle” with the school board, Mayor Kelly and the committee he formed used the grant he secured from Congressman Curt Weldon to make the building into the Collingdale Community Center. At the same time, Collingdale High School alumni decided to form an alumni association and start gathering information about the town and the school.
Memories of old football, baseball and basketball victories still ring in the ears of those who remember those old rivalries. Collingdale has a rich athletic history with many famous athletes whose history has been lost in the passage of time. One of the most famous athletes was Carson Thompson, who pitched a perfect no-hit expedition game in the 1936 Olympic Games. A famous runner also resides in Collingdale. Bill Schultz, a former school teacher at Harris Elementary school, became famous when he decided in 1991 to run 3,000 miles across country and utilize his experience as a learning tool for his students.
Collingdale’s rich religious history provides a solid foundation for the community. Even before it was incorporated, church played a vital role in its stability. Collingdale Baptist established the first church in the community May 1887. This church provided much needed support and strength in times of need. Now called First Baptist of Collingdale, it still remains a bulwark to the whole community with its various outreach programs. Four other churches also vied for the community’s heart and have stood the test of time. These are: Grace Reformed Episcopal Church (1897), Collingdale Church of the Nazarene (1892), Collingdale Gospel Chapel (1921) and St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (1916). St. Joseph’s also had a school for children from kindergarten through eighth grade which opened in 1917 and closed its doors in 2010.
Cemeteries, however, are what Collingdale is most remembered for, as there are four resting places covering about a third of the borough. Eden cemetery, known as the first African American unified cemetery in the country, boasts of receiving the remains of many famous Americans including Marion Anderson. Darby Methodist Meeting cemetery, also known as Mt. Zion, is the oldest cemetery in the borough having been established in 1808. Har Zion is the youngest cemetery in the borough and serves the Jewish communities in the Philadelphia area.
Patriotism and the love of family run deep in Collingdale. Ceremonies are held every Memorial, 4th of July and Veteran’s Day to remember the fallen. The All Wars Memorial is where they are held on Memorial Day, and Collingdale Park, near the World War I Memorial, is where they are held on 4th of July. Family ties to Collingdale show in the longevity of its population and their involvement with the community at large. This is what Collingdale strives to be known for in the future as well.
Shared by: Elizabeth MacGuire, President, Collingdale History Society