Clifton Heights’ roots lie deep in the soil of history from which our country sprang, perhaps more deeply than anyone has known. That is to say, the part of Pennsylvania where our borough stand shares in the earliest origins, not only of our state, but perhaps of our country as well.
For untold centuries this land was here as marked out in the beginning by the hands of God, and its remote history is hidden in caves of mystery into which men cannot go. And for undefined eras the forests which covered these rolling hills with majesty and these streams, pure until polluted by the greed of the settlers, were the home and range of the Lenni-Lenape tribe, whose chief town, Kittatiny, was across the Delaware River in the tree-covered mountains of northern New Jersey.
These Native Americans constituted a peace-loving and sagacious tribe, designated by others as a “grandfather tribe,” the name, Lenni-Lenape designating “Original People". For the most part they returned the fairness of the first English settlers, who were Quakers, in dealing with them. Penn noted of them: “they tread softly, and mostly walk with a lofty chin.” Not all was sweetness and light, however, if we may believe one of the most persistent of the legends which surround Clifton’s early days. This area must have had its share of the brutal uprisings along the Delaware of the Native Americans who had brooded over the loss of their territory and struck back at European settlers in 1755. The Lenni-Lenapes, who numbers 2,000 when Penn settled along the Delaware, were originally peaceful, but they had been beaten by The Five Nations, and were paying tribute to them when Penn came. Hence they were suspicious of men coming into their territory, and has already in 1631 destroyed the Dutch settlement of Swanendale, now Lewes, Delaware.
Tin Kettle Hill
During these uprisings the high point which gives the “Heights” part of the borough’s name came to be known as “Tin Kettle Hill.” Today this is the high point on Oak Avenue, between Baltimore Avenue and Springfield Road. According to historian Freas B. Snyder cautious citizens kept a large tin kettle in a prominent place and when hostile Indians were moving in an alert was sounded by resounding bangs on the kettle. Its prominence was such that the kettle became an early landmark mentioned in early surveys in a three-point calculation, between a point in Central Philadelphia, one on the Delaware River to the south, and Tin Kettle Hill.
Another legend concerning these heights was told by Mrs. Anna E. Wilson who owned a home at 26 North Oak Avenue. When she bought the house it was described as “Tin Kettle Hill” by reason oft he fact that from this point warnings of troop movements were flashed during the Revolutionary War. The Delaware was visible from Mrs. Wilson’s third story window, a fact that must have made the “heights” more significant to pioneers than to our automobile-bound culture. From this point, the legend has it, patriots would raise a large tin kettle on a long pole and flash signals in the sunlight about the movement of British troops in the area to our ships on the river.
In 1839 Thomas Kent settled in Upper Darby, in what is now Clifton Heights. In days when wild woodlands and large estates covered this section of the country and the only communication with Philadelphia, far away across the Schuylkill, was a single stage coach in 24 hours.
It is recorded that he landed at the Old Walnut Street Wharf, got directions at “The Sign of the Golden Fleece”, and followed the Baltimore Road to a section known as Edenfield, walking through a section referred to as the most notorious in America at the time for bandits and highwaymen. Six miles from the Market Street bridge at the place where the Turnpike crosses Darby Creek he purchased land and established the J. and T. Kent Company which first manufactured carpet yarn. He was active in the business for almost half a century and his name and descendants have been connected with the area.
Dr. Robert A. Givens founded Burn Brae as a private mental hospital which was located West of Oak Lane and South of Baltimore Pike, in 1959, to insure more privacy for a select class of patients than is possible in large institutions, “and to confer the comforts and quietness of home, united with the most approved system of treatment of insanity.” (from the Guide Book of the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad). The institution continued to render this service until the summer of 1968 when the cost of meeting State standards of safety were deemed prohibitive and Burn Braw was closed. The building was demolished
The availability of electric power made possible the street railway system which opened a new era of transportation and development. In 1893 a Street Railway Company was granted permission to lay tracks and run cars in the Borough on Baltimore Avenue (the name of which had been changed from Baltimore Turnpike to Baltimore Avenue in the Borough by action of Council in 1888.) Trolley service began in 1894 with the “Dinky” or “Toonerville Trolley” as it was called, which ran from the city line to Media – a single track with periodic widened places where cars could pass.
In 1895 the parent of the Red Arrow Line, the Philadelphia and West Chester Traction Company, began the operation of a rail car line. In 1907 a line was opened from 69th Street to Sharon Hill.
Tracks were removed from Baltimore Avenue in 1930, and a bus line, pioneered by the Aronomink Bus Line, took over.
The Clifton Heights Fire Protective Association No. 1 was established at the request of 36 citizens who met in the Public School building on February 26, 1896. The first officials were elected March 25, 1896; and the first president was Dr. S. P. Bartleson, who was also the first Burgess, one of the first Councilmen, the first president of the School Board, and the first president of the Board of Health. Headquarters of the company were established on East Washington Street.
Very shortly, by a public meeting also held in the School building on May 6, 1896, the Hose, Hook, and Ladder Company was set up.