It's up for debate

Livin’ on the Mason-Dixon

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The great apartment searching adventure concluded a couple of weeks ago as I signed with a flourish a very informal (Google searched, home printed) lease with my landlord, who I’d come to know better in the following weeks.

But before a detailed account of my encounters with the locals, let us first shine a light upon Yeadon, my new home. Yeadon — which takes its name from the synonymous town in West Yorkshire, England, and derives from the Old English for “high hill” — is one of the 27 boroughs of Delaware County, the area just west of the city of Philadelphia.

Nile Swim Club

Nile Swim Club

Yeadon is perhaps most historically known for the Nile Swim Club, a private venue for black swimmers which opened in the 1950s. Among the area’s other delightful attractions is Holy Cross Cemetery, in which is buried the infamous 19th century serial killer H.H. Holmes and containing other (unmarked) graves of notorious gang leaders. There’s also Frank Tinney, an unfortunate (in the end) vaudeville star and blackface comedian from the early 1900s.

And it’s here, not just Holy Cross but here at the northern tip of Yeadon at which my apartment is situated, where I make the tenuous line drawn from 1846 through the late 50s and early 70s and up to the present.

In truth, the first mention of this historical throwback comes from a 1987 article written for the Inquirer and which references the very street I live on today:

In those years, Church Lane, the town’s main thoroughfare, referred to by some blacks as the Mason-Dixon Line, became the unofficial east-west border between the black and white communities

The author goes on to interview locals about “white flight” and the later efforts of the following established black individuals to preserve their achievements in building a community and daringly setting up a black-friendly swim club in such a particularly difficult time and place.

My Yeadon apartment on move-in day

My Yeadon apartment on move-in day

Yeadon is bordered by the quaint town of Lansdowne; nearing the boundaries of the two (which, weirdly enough, partially divides the non-tax-paying residents of Holy Cross Cemetery), the housescape quickly builds to Victorian, three- and four-story houses as the peoplescape rapidly fades to blinding, hippie white.

And quite the people indeed! I wasted no time in getting to know my fellow Yeadonians and neighboring Lansdownemen in my first turbulent weeks following my retrospectively ill-conceived relocation to the vicinity.*

On my first official move-in day, I reluctantly allowed my mother to drive me and my few things to my fixer-upper, as it were. She and I met my first Yeadonian, a surly, overweight man with an apparent leg injury and whose greeting was “Is that you car (in my way)?”

My Yeadon apartment today

My Yeadon apartment today, with beans (lower right), and mint, Sweet Annie, Chamomile, fennel, and sweet Thai basil growing (table)

I’d later formally introduce myself to Ed, the plumber next door, who — although mostly railing against cops who should know better than to park their cars in the alley way (the guy has a major beef with vehicular violations) — knew his Yeadon history having grown up in the area and lived through the neighborhood’s flux of black and white over the past thirty-plus years. He recollected the Yeadon Swim Club, a discriminatory natatorium which would both inspire and be outlasted by the Nile.

I’d later meet Taleefa, my rather delightfully outspoken upstairs neighbor with a family of five, working in assisted health care. In the six years she’s been a resident of Yeadon, she told me she never formally met any of her neighbors. While not as versed in the historical aspects of the area as Ed, she still lamented the lack of community cohesiveness that seemed to be once was.

I really only came to understand the area’s influx when I met the Bulgarian who recently purchased the lot next door. Now in his late 40s or early 50s, the first-time landlord and six-year US citizen told me of his dreams to rent out the property to university students as well as open up a Greek-style restaurant cum piano bar in the adjacent garage-like lot. When asked what kind of inspiration led him to open a Mediterranean karaoke joint in the outskirts of Philadelphia, he replied something to the effect of “Just seemed like a good idea at the time”.

A borough is a borough, arbitrarily delineated by the government for census purposes, but Yeadon seems quite unique, given its tenuous proximity to the city center and relatively and surprisingly overlooked cultural importance. All which means I’ll have plenty of people to talk to and much more to write about in regard to this fascinatingly diverse neighborhood in the future.


*According to everyone else except me. In any case, I’ve already decided to move yet again.,_West_Yorkshire



Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

July 29, 2015 at 6:55 pm

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  1. […] that seems fitting for an area of the strange, inexplicable, and unfathomable — refer to my unending apartment searching and examples undoubtedly soon to come — the library, facing difficulties in funding, decided […]

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