Hometown Histories – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA – Mary Park

My great grandmother Mary Park was born in 1891 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Aside from Frankfurt, it is likely the most well-known birthplace in my family history. Her parents, Elizabeth and Robert Park came to the US in 1883. They had nine children while living in Philadelphia; seven of those children survived to adulthood.

Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania, and has the fifth largest population in the US. It was founded in 1682 by William Penn, and was created to serve as the capitol of Pennsylvania Colony. It currently covers an area of just over 141 and a half square miles. In 1890, the year before my great-grandmother was born the population had just passed the million mark. In 2014, it had reached 1.5 million, though at its height in 1950, it was over two million.

A panting supposedly showing William Penn and the Lenape signing a treaty
Before Europeans arrived in the area, it was the home to the Lenape (more commonly known as the Delaware) Indians. They had a meeting place which is within the boundaries of the current city that was known as Shackamaxon, from the Lenape term Sakimauchheen, meaning "to make a chief or king place." It was where the tribe crowned their sakima (their term for chief) and kitakima (clan chief). Some suggest it means "the place of eels," as it was an important summer fishing spot for the natives. Accounts say that William Penn signed a treaty with the Lenape in 1682 for the land, though no absolute proof has ever been provided. The Lenape were soon pushed out of their homelands, heading north and west as the Europeans pushed inland. Both the US and Canada have formally recognized the tribe. The tribe split into groups, and are now settled in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and southwest Ontario. New Jersey has also recognized two Lenape tribes within their boundaries, and Delaware has recognized one as well. There are other Lenape groups throughout the northeast and midwest, though they have less recognition than the others.

Philadelphia was instrumental in the American Revolution as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the US, and served as one of the nation's capitals during the Revolutionary war. The city hosted the First Continental Congress, which was an important step in the War, and the Second Continental Congress, at which the Declaration of Independence was signed. It also hosted the Constitutional convention, which was a vital step to founding the US government as it now exists. After the war was over, it also became the fledgling country's temporary capital while Washington DC was under construction. It served as the Capital from 1790 to 1800.

The city is home to many of the US's firsts: It was the birthplace of the US Marine Corps; home to the first library, which was built in 1731; the first hospital, built in 1751; first medical school, founded in 1765; first stock exchange, built in 1790; first zoo, built in 1874; and first business school in 1881. It also boasts over eighty colleges, universities, and trade schools, including the University of Pennsylvania that claims to be the oldest university in the US. It is also home to many national historical sites relating to the founding of the United States, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, along with homes of many well-known figures such as Edgar Allan Poe and Betsy Ross.

Due to its location on the east coast, many immigrant groups came to the city, a number of whom stayed in the town, making it a major industrial center. Textiles, locomotive works, shipbuilding companies, and even the Pennsylvania Railroad were centered there. The first major immigrants were German and Irish, The boom caused by their settling in the city lead to an extension of the city area by another two square miles. Unfortunately, with immigration came a rise in nativism, which is a form of prejudice that suggests that those coming from other countries to live in a new area are less good or important as those who have lived there for a longer period of time. This was used particularly against the Irish immigrants to Philadelphia. At first, the backlash was more against the new Catholics fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, but it quickly encompassed all Irish in the Philadelphia area. The Irish and fugitive slaves were the bottom rung of Philadelphia society for many years, which lead to several riots, including the Lombard Street Riot in 1842 and the Philadelphia Nativist Riot in 1844. Today, Philadelphia has the second largest Irish American population in the US. Its Saint Patrick's Day parade is the second oldest in the country.

An engraved image of one of the riots in Philadelphia
By the time my great-great grandparents arrived in the area, this had died down a little, as more diversified groups had come to settle in the city, but the attitude did not fade for many years. When things became difficult in the early 1900s, Irish were one of the groups who were lashed out against once more. Though my family were Protestants, the fact that they were Irish meant they faced as much backlash as their Catholic neighbors. So finally, sometime in either 1910 or 1911, the family left the country and returned to Ireland, settling in Belfast.

When my great-great grandparents Robert and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Park came to Philadelphia, it was doing very well as a city. The worst of its growing pains after the Civil War had ended, and opportunities were open for all. Unfortunately, the life of an immigrant is never easy, even in an established community. Robert and Lizzie started their family soon after arriving. Unfortunately, their first two children were lost within only a few years. It took them four years to truly get their feet under them, when their son and Robert's namesake was born. The rest of their children were all born healthy, and Robert began to make good money as a carpenter in the area.

Robert & Lizzie Park and friend ca 1917
Unfortunately, by the early 1900s, things were beginning to be rocky in the US again. Robert hoped that Roosevelt becoming president would help things, but it only seemed to increase the nationalistic fervor for some, so the family left and returned to Ireland. The family chose to settle in the Belfast area, as both Robert and Lizzie had been born in Antrim, and I believe still had family in the area. However, this was a tense time in Ireland, too. Even before World War I, sentiment against the English was already bad. Between the Famine and constant pressure from the English, particularly when it came to religion, many were desperate to separate from England. Luckily, one of their girls had married and moved to Canada. The family still felt angry over how they had been treated in America, so they weren't too quick to want to return, but she assured them that Canada was nothing like the US in that respect, so they soon followed her and settled in Vancouver, BC.

Mary Park
It was there that my great-grandmother Mary met and married her husband, Bjarne. The two raised two boys there together and lived mostly happily until his death in 1950. Afterwards, she lived in the house she'd bought with her husband, moving in her sister so she would not be alone. When the two grew too old to be living on their own, her remaining son (the other had died during World War II) moved her down to Washington so she would be nearby. She was never happy about the move, though, hating to live in the country that had treated her family so badly.

Park Family History
Park Family Tree


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About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.