One of the first questions we are asked when introducing Funeral for a Home is who lived in the house. Given the project’s stated interest in commemorating the families and stories this home once contained, it is an important question and one as a team we have taken multiple efforts to help answer. Sadly, most of the individuals who resided at 3711 Melon Street have long since passed, but we can still provide a portrait of who lived there based on public records and remaining neighbors’ fond memories.
The date of construction frequently cited for 3711 Melon St is 1925, however City Atlases, City Directories, and Census Records reveal that numerous homes were situated on the 3700 block of Melon Street as early as 1878, and from as early as 1900 the address of 3711 Melon St was consistently occupied by owners and/or renters.
According to the 1900 US Census, the home was occupied by the Burgoon family. Family “head” Joseph Burgoon, a local “Fireman”, lived there with his older brother Lincoln, also a “Fireman,” his young children Emma and Robert, aged 10 and 8 respectively, and their paternal grandmother Eliza, aged 62, who emigrated to the United States from Ireland.
By 1910, the home is occupied by Thomas McBride (also of Irish parentage), his wife Laura, and their seven children, ranging in age from 17 years to 6 months old. It’s worth noting here there are only two small bedrooms at 3711 Melon St and the 1925 construction date often cited may simply refer to alterations or extensions at the rear of the home. Thomas is also listed as a “Fireman,” reflecting the heavy presence of Irish-Americans amidst Philadelphia’s fire company ranks. Laura was employed as a “Nurse” and Florence worked as a “Machine Operator” at a “Hat Factory.” Mantua has never been much of an industrial sector so it is likely Florence commuted north to Parkside or perhaps even across town to 5th and Montgomery at Philadelphia’s most prominent hat manufacturer, the Stetson Hat Company.
Ten years later, the residence has changed hands once again, this time being occupied by Samuel and Gertrude Miller and their daughters Dorothy and Margaret, aged 11 and 3, respectively. Though they were not alone. Gertrude’s father, Edward, and her younger brothers Leroy and Raymond also occupied the home, suggesting the way in which middle or low income earners would accommodate their extended family in relatively small quarters. Also significant in 1920 is the presence of a Jewish family on the block. Louis Spielberg and his family are recorded at 3701 Melon St, Russian Jews who emigrated from Poland. Other than Irish Americans, Russian Jewish families are the second most prominent group present in Mantua at this time, and a number of these families owned businesses along Lancaster Avenue’s commercial corridor.
Next up, we’ll look at the early presence of African-American families on Melon St and throughout the surrounding neighborhood…