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Philadelphia City, Philadelphia County, PA

Beginnings [1]

Tacony was founded in 1872 by English immigrant Henry Disston who bought 390 acres of farmland for his factory, the nation's first machine-made saw works. Disston ran his community according to a paternalistic philosophy, and while he helped to fund the community churches and workers' housing, he exercised at the same time considerable social control. Thus none of the land he sold could be used for a "tavern or building for the sale or manufacture of Beer of Liquors of any kind," nor were there to be any "carpenter, blacksmith, currier or machine shop, livery stables" and so forth on the property. Disston wanted a sober work force; he also wanted one without other employment opportunities! Upon his death in 1878, his five sons — particularly Thomas and Jacob — managed the business and continued to play a leading role in the community's institutions, including the Music Hall.

Tacony Music Hall

The Tacony Music Hall was built in 1885 as a speculative venture by Frank W. Jordan, an entrepreneur and local druggist whose store adjoined the lot. Jordan exploited the site ineniously, fitting income-producing space on all three stories. The first story contained rental shop space, used by such tenants as H.G. Shannon, Watchmaker and Jeweler, while the second story comprised an assembly hall for musical performances, lodge meetings and lectures. A permanent tenant was also found for the third story: the Keystone Scientific and Literary Association. Founded in 1876 to sponsorr public debates and lectures, the Association had maintained a small public library but now sought larger and more imposing quarters. Although funds were limited, "generous gifts and money from the Messrs Disston" made it possible to rent and furnish the rooms in the Music Hall. In 1885, upon the completion of the building, the Association opened their library with a main reading room and a smaller committee room to the rear. Acknowledging the financial support of the Disston family (particularly Thomas who was a board member of the library), the name of the Association was changed to the Disston Library and Free Reading Room. The Tacony Music Hall and the Library that it housed not only benefitted from the largesse of the Disstons, but also reinforced their paternalistic social message. Thus P.T. Barnum lectured for the Keystone Association on Temperance and Susan B. Anthony spoke on Woman's Suffrage. And Tuesday nights were reserved at the Music Hall for the Tacony Division of the Sons of Temperance. Enlightenment of the work force went hand in hand with social control.

The Music Hall remained the center of Tacony's cultural life into the twentieth century.

  1. Lewis, Michael, Ph.D., Tacony Music Hall, 1989, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Document, National Park Service, Washington D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Cottman Avenue • Disston Street • Frankford Avenue • Keystone Street • Longshore Avenue • Magee Street • Tulip Street