Fox Chase History

In 1645 a group of Swedish settlers mistakenly sailed up the Delaware River after missing the Christiana River. Completely lost, they sailed into the mouth of Pennypack Creek and somehow managed to navigate all the way up to where Pine Road is today. They built a fort of massive walls as protection against the Lenni Lenape Indians. The British eventually took over the settlement and additions were made to the fort, where it eventually became part of a large country residence known as the Ury House. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John James Audubon were all known to have been entertained there. The Ury House was believed to have been the oldest house in Pennsylvania when it was torn down in 1973.

A road was built to connect the small settlement with other settlements to the south and north. Where the road met the Oxford and Huntingdon Pikes, the Fox Chase Inn was built in 1705. Soon a village formed around it, named after the inn. It was not a village that thrived on industry, although Gwin's Mill (later Verree Mill and the second oldest mill in Pennsylvania) was located about a mile down the Pennypack. Rather, it prospered on the recreational activities of the colonial rich, which frequently involved fox hunting.

William Rhawn, a successful Philadelphia banker, built "Knowlton Mansion" in 1881 (architect - Frank Furness). 

Although only a small community, Fox Chase was progressive enough to build its own schoolhouse in 1805, long before public schools became mandatory. The school was located on the east side of Jeanes Street just north of Rhawn Street. The building had a distinctive octagonal shape, so it became known as the “Octagonal School.” It became the center for community civic activities, for services by Presbyterians and Episcopalians, for revival meetings, for town meetings, and for entertainment until 1888, when it was torn down.

Fox Chase Octagonal Schoolhouse (built 1805) on  Rhawn St. Same site as St. Cecilia's Church parking lot today.

By the 19th century, the area was full of farms and summer estates, eventually becoming a part of Philadelphia in 1854.

The arrival of the Philadelphia & Newtown Railroad in 1876 brought more of the city's affluent. Soon, new mansions were built, such as William Rhawn's Knowlton in 1881. These estates often included farms. One example was Fox Chase Farm, which continues to this day and is the last working farm in the City of Philadelphia.

The oldest known existing building in Fox Chase, built 1683 (photo circa 1910). Originally an Inn, later Overpeck's & Wright General Merchandise.

Rehabilitated - Old Brauhaus Restaurant, currently Hop Angel Brahaus. 7982 Oxford Avenue, at Rhawn St. & Pine Rd.

As for the historic Ury House, by 1842 it had been purchased by Stephen Rowan Crawford. He and his wife made further changes and additions to the mansion and surrounding lands. However, prior to the Civil War, Crawford found himself in financial difficulties and feared that he would lose his home. His wife, Jane, contributed by heading a money raising project, which was one of the few things acceptable for a lady of that day to do. She opened a boarding school in 1860. It became a popular educational facility for young boys from all parts of Europe, Cuba, and South America. Jane Crawford remained the head of this large and prosperous school for the entire twenty-one years of its existence. When she retired in 1881 the school moved to Bustleton becoming St. Luke’s Academy and eventually to Wayne becoming Valley Forge Military Academy.

Ryers' Burholme Mansion and Library, built in 1859.

Following Mrs. Crawford’s death, Ury house was inherited by her son, Joseph U. Crawford, who had served as an official of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He also was one of the pioneers to build railroads in Japan. Joseph lived in the mansion with his four sisters and four brothers.

Before the Civil War, a tunnel linked the Ury House to the Pennypack Creek. The tunnel facilitated the escape of slaves fleeing by way of the Underground Railroad. This tunnel has since collapsed.

 Old Fox Chase Inn in the heart of Fox Chase. Now a Dunkin' Donuts.

Even though visitors brought life to the Ury House, the sixty acre estate was becoming too difficult for the Crawfords to maintain. The expense for heating the large drafty house was held to a minimum, but was still very costly.

In 1945, the Crawfords decided to sell the house. Real estate promoters and developers wanted to buy the property. However, Miss Jean Crawford, eldest sister of Joseph, said, “We prefer to sell to one who knows how to live in this house, graciously, as it should be lived in.”

The Undertaker, John W. Dean, founded the company on Oxford Avenue in 1881. The above location at 7900 Oxford Ave. was built in 1898.

The same Dean Funeral Directors today.

The Medical Mission Sisters purchased the property from the Crawfords in that same year. This marked the end of an era for the Ury House which had been occupied for one hundred and four years by the Crawford family.

The sisters developed the Ury House into what became a training school for nuns serving as medical missionaries all over the world. It remained actively used for approximately a quarter of a century. However the house and grounds became a chore to maintain, and the sisters found it necessary to sell off the southern forty acres of the estate facing Verree Road. On that property, four hundred twin homes were constructed by a developer.

Historic Ury House (photo 1915) located at 8403 Pine Road.  The original structure was built by early settlers before William Penn arrived in 1682.  Additions made a total of 23 rooms, razed in 1973.  Crawford Family 1814-1945.

As the years progressed, the old mansion needed constant plumbing and house-hold repairs. Upkeep proved too troublesome for the Medical Mission Sisters. In 1970, the remaining 24.8 acres of the Ury estate were vacated and put up for sale. Despite efforts to protect this historical mansion, it became the target of vandalism while awaiting its new fate. Finally, the mansion was torn down in 1973 in favor of another new housing development, the Montclair rental community, which occupies the area today.

Thanks to Ms. Joan Arno's Advanced Placement United States History class at George Washington High School and the Center for Northeast Philadelphia History for most of the information. You can read more about local history by visiting their website HERE