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Landscapes in Overbrook
Part of

John L. Puckett

Mill Creek, Indian Run, Morris Park, and City Line are notable historical features of the Overbrook landscape.

Mill Creek, once a power source for sawmills and gristmills, achieved notoriety in the 20th century as an underground culverted sewer and submerged floodplain that wreaked havoc with the West Philadelphia landscape. Indian Run, an above-ground creek, powered Overbrook mill complexes as late as the 1890s. Morris Park, which includes Indian Run, is a preserved woodland, today part of the Fairmount Park system. City Line, which may have been a Lenape Indian trail, marks West Philadelphia’s western boundary, its most notable feature being the vehicular bridge above Overbrook Station.    

Mill Creek

One tributary of this stream originates in a spring in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, and runs above ground north of 63rd and City Line Avenue. Once called “Nangensey” by the Lenape and “Nangenseykill” by the Dutch, the creek takes its English name from sawmills and grist mills that dotted its course in the Colonial period.[1] In the 1890s, the creek’s flow in Overbrook was routed into an underground culvert that formed part of the city’s sewer system. The creek entered the culvert on the Montgomery County side of City Line Avenue, across from Overbrook Station. The submerged creek/sewer ran southeast roughly paralleling the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks to 55th Street, where it turned more sharply southeast and flowed into the Schuylkill on a line with 43rd Street. The 1865 Barnes Map of Philadelphiashows the watercourse as it looked before it was culverted.

Once Mill Creek was in its tunnel, it was “forsaken and forgotten.” As Adam Levine writes, “It is not surprising that when a section of the Mill Creek sewer near 51st and Brown collapsed in 1961—swallowing up four houses and taking three lives—it was the first time many people in the Mill Creek area of West Philadelphia learned the origin of their neighborhood’s name.”[2] 

Indian Run

Unlike Mill Creek, Indian Run, a Cobbs Creek tributary, remained for the most part above ground, its “east and west branches . . . preserved mostly intact in Morris Park.” The exception is a small stretch of the west branch where the stream, routed into a buried culvert, flows below a section of Morris Park and Landsdowne and Haverford Avenues.[3]

The west branch once provided the waterpower for dozens of flour, paper, and textile mills along its course. Philadelphia’s first mill, built by Swedes in 1642, stood here.[4]

As late as the 1890s, two mill complexes operated on Indian Run. The largest operation was the Coquanock Mills, near the intersection of Haverford and Landsdowne avenues

Morris Park

The land that became Morris Park in the 20th century was an extension of an estate acquired by William Morris in 1799 and held by three generations of the Morris family in the 19th century. In 1911, the Wistar Morris Estate donated Indian Creek and twenty acres of adjacent land to the city for the development of Morris Park—a tract that ran from Malvern Avenue to City Line between 66th and 70th streets.[5] A Bromley map from 1916 shows Morris Park and its adjacency to the Wistar Morris Estate. The park, now part of the Fairmount Park system, straddles the 66th Street boundary of Overbrook Farms. 

City Line

The original footprint of City Line, Philadelphia’s western boundary was reportedly a Lenape Indian trail. The line appears on the Holmes Map of 1681 as the dividing line between the Welsh Tract and the Liberty Lands. By the early 18th century the line separated Blockley Township from Marion Township. Built at the request of Edward Williams in 1705, a road covered the line “from the Ford at Schuylkill near Garrett Moreton’s up to Haverford Road.” Improvements to the road followed a resurvey of the boundary line in 1855.[6] In 1913, a concrete, single-span, barrel-arch bridge on City Line Avenue replaced a grade crossing over the east branch of Indian Run.[7] In 1935, the city spanned the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks at City Line Avenue just east of 63rd Street with a concrete, rigid-frame bridge (above the present-day Overbrook Amtrak station.)[8]  

[1] Tello J. d’Apéry, Overbrook Farms: Its Historical Background, Growth and Community Life (Philadelphia: Magee Press, 1936), 52–54; Adam Levine, “A Brief History of the Overbrook Neighborhood, Focusing on Changes in the Natural Landscape,” a report for JASTECH Development Services,” accessed from, July 10, 2018.
[2] Levine, “Brief History of Overbrook.”
[3] Ibid.
[4] Levine, “Brief History of Overbrook”; Overbrook Farms Club, Overbrook Farms (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2014), 67.
[5] d’Apéry, Overbrook Farms, 55–56
[6] Ibid., 44–45.
[7] “City Line Avenue Bridge,” List of Bridges on the National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania, accessed from, 22 July 2016.
[8] “Amtrak Overbrook Station Bridge,” Historic and Notable Bridges of the U.S., accessed from, 22 July 2016. 

Continue reading Overbrook

Map of Blockley Township Including All Public Places, Property Owners, etc., 1849

Arriving in the mid-1680s, Welsh Quakers held the original patents in the Western Liberties. The descendants of these immigrants maintained sizable estates in the 18th and 19th centuries that evolved into the modern Overbrook.

Mill Creek, Indian Run, Morris Park, and City Line are notable historical features of the Overbrook landscape.

Overbrook Farms, an elite turn-of-the-20th-century suburban development notable for its curvilinear streets and late-Victorian and early-modern houses arose in the quadrant of 59th to 66th streets between City Line and Woodbine Avenues. The project involved more than 50 architects; its hallmarks were (and still are) spacious late-Victorian and early-modern houses arrayed on curvilinear streets.

From the late-17th to the mid-19th century, Overbrook was home to agricultural estates and water-powered mills. By the turn of the twentieth century, it was a residential section of the city dominated by Overbrook Farms, with business activity concentrated along 63rd Street above Lancaster Avenue.  

From the mid-19th century onward, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Main Line” trains spurred the development of affluent suburbs just northwest of the City of Philadelphia. Overbrook’s residential development benefited immensely from the railroad’s passage through West Philadelphia to the central city. Electric trolleys arrived in Overbrook in 1895.

Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, houses of worship and benevolent/charitable institutions played a role in the Overbrook section.