When Henry Disston first opened his Tacony-based factory in 1878, he already had a vision for the neighborhood that would surround it. At this point he owned approximately 40 acres reserved for factory purposes, and 300 acres designated for employee housing and enrichment. To realize his vision of a healthy and family-oriented community of Saw Works Employees, every property included in the Disston Estate, which was bordered by what is now Magee Ave, Frankford Ave, Tyson Street, and State Road, was subject to specific restrictions.
The Disston Estate’s deed restrictions prevented the sale of alcohol, the construction of steam powered factories, and a variety of other actions that might detract from Henry’s plan for a utopian neighborhood. The deed read, “No tavern or building for the sale or manufacture of Beer or Liquors of any kind or description and no court house, carpentry, blacksmith, currier or machine shop, livery stables, slaughter houses, soap or glue boiling establishment or factory of any kind whatsoever where steam-power shall be used or occupied on the said lots, tracts or piece of land or any part thereof.” The nationwide constitutional ban on the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages lasted from 1920 to 1933, but in Tacony it remained in effect from 1882 through to the 1930s.
If you walk around Tacony today, those old Disston property lines are almost visible based solely on the locations of local businesses with liquor licenses. Though the properties included in the Disston Estate were sold following the death of the last Disston heir in 1942, the deeds still remain in effect. Over the years, there have been several attempts to get around these restrictions. At the end of prohibition in the 1930s, for example, a few clubs and taverns were opened. But in 1938, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the deed restrictions, forcing these businesses to either close or move beyond the boundaries of the old Disston Estate.
To learn more about the history of Tacony and Henry Disston, check out some of our other articles! We’ve done several deep dives into the history of Tacony’s local churches, and highlighted some exciting events from Tacony’s past. We get lots of information from the Tacony Historical Society, check out their website at https://historicalsocietyoftacony.org/ and consider donating if you’re interested in preserving the history of our neighborhood!