When I first moved to Blue Bell Hill -- fifteen years ago this April 29 -- I lived in a tiny house on Naomi Street, and RittenhouseTown was just a short walk down the hill through the woods. I soon became a volunteer tour guide for the site. Getting a sense of the area’s history helped me to feel more of a connection to my new community. Back then there were many families who had been in Blue Bell Hill for generations, including Rittenhouses. Clem Rittenhouse, in his eighties and a direct descendent of William, used to come down to the Visitor Center on Saturday afternoons and spend a few hours talking to the volunteers and the visitors. He had many memories and was a natural story teller, and having him there reminded us that history is, after all, always a story about people.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Historic RittenhouseTown, spring evening
Historic RittenhouseTown, located along Lincoln Drive between Rittenhouse Street and Wissahickon Avenue, is the site of America’s first paper mill. It was the perfect place when William Rittenhouse and his family established their business in 1690 – the Monoshone Creek, also known as Paper Mill Run, supplied the power to run the mill, and the proximity to Germantown meant that there would be an ample supply of cast off linens, the raw material for making paper back then. Over the next century and a half, the Wissahickon Valley became a major center of industry, with mills of many types drawing their energy from the Wissahickon, Monoshone and Cresheim Creeks. Many of the older homes in my neighborhood, Blue Bell Hill, housed workers who made their living in the valley.