The area we now know as Cedar Park was primarily farmland as late as the 1880s, with a brickyard south of Baltimore at 48th, a lumberyard to the north. Farmers bringing produce to the city stopped at the Cherry Tree Hotel at 47th and Baltimore Pike. From 47th and Baltimore, a horse-drawn trolley line serviced textile mills at Angora and in Delaware County.
In the late 1880’s and early 1890’s trolley lines linked West Philadelphia to Center City, with electrification of the lines occurring in the mid-1890’s. Residents could commute more conveniently by electrified trolleys or by a Pennsylvania Railroad commuter line with a station stop at 49th Street and Chester Avenue. Farms were replaced by suburban housing developments. Entrepreneurial contractors bought land and build groups of houses on speculation, attracting families from more congested areas who would commute to the city. Apartments were built as well as some single and row houses, but most common were Queen Anne semi-detached houses or “twins”. These houses were attractive to city dwellers, not only because of the broad tree-lined streets, but because the porch-front houses with bay windows and balconies were new. Queen Anne style is Victorian architecture at its most exuberant, featuring variety in building materials, steep roofs, vertical and irregular facades, towers turrets, and prominent chimneys. The twins were built in groups of six to twelve units, with architectural details repeated or alternated within the group. Often two or three groups of houses were built on a single block by different contractors and with differing styles and motifs.
Fine churches were built in the early 1900’s to serve the growing community. Wayland Memorial Baptist Church replaced an older Baptist mission at 52nd and Baltimore. St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church (now Hickman temple A.M.E. Church) replaced tent facilities at 50th and Baltimore in which services had previously been held. St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church rose at 47th and Springfield, and Incarnation Lutheran Church (now the Greater Enon Baptist Church) at 47th and Cedar. At 48th and Baltimore, Calvary United Methodist Church was erected, complete with two large signed Tiffany windows in the sanctuary. Calvary was the home church for the area’s Methodist bishop and the striking stone mansion at 48th and Springfield was purchased for use as his residence. Today Calvary is also the congregational home of the West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship and has launched the Calvary Center for Community and Culture that houses a variety of community organizations as well as performance space for the Crossroads Music Series and other performing groups.
As the neighborhood grew, so did its business community, particularly the Baltimore Avenue stretch from 49th to 52nd, where several trolley lines crossed. This “Hub of Southwest Philadelphia” spawned numerous improvement associations, most notably the West Philadelphia’s Business Men’s Association that was organized in 1905 and which met at Colonial Hall, a building located at 52nd and Baltimore. At the center of the business strip, the city built a firehouse, opening in 1904, housing Truck Company 13, now the home of the popular Firehouse Market. Another group, the Cedar Avenue Improvement Association, was instrumental in pressuring the city into developing the triangle of land between Baltimore and Catharine at 50th Street, into Cedar Park, described in 1908 as “one of the beauty spots of West Philadelphia.” Today Cedar Park is one of the neighborhoods included in the West Philadelphia Streetcar Suburb Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
The community has changed over the years and its population has become more diverse, but it continues to find ways to work together. Our present-day improvement association, Cedar Park Neighbors, is approaching its 50th anniversary. Cedar Park Neighbors began as a concerned group of local residents coming together around 1960 to address issues of concern to most communities, such as safety, cleanliness, housing issues, shifting populations and access to city resources and services. Since that time CPN has been actively involved in community safety, housing and development, zoning, recycling, community education and neighborhood clean-ups. Successful past projects include a low-interest loan program for property renovation, an energy weatherization program, a loan program for senior citizens for home improvement, a Police/Community Mini- Station and the development of the Firehouse Farmers Market at 50th and Baltimore Avenue. Cedar Park Neighbors, in its past efforts and on-going endeavors, is committed to making sure that Cedar Park remains a satisfying place to live and work.
Researched and written by Fred Wolfe and Joan Wells.