At the heart of the thriving early industrial community known as RittenhouseTown, the first paper mill in British North America built by William Rittenhouse and his son, Nicholas, occupied the north bank of the Monoshone Creek. A second mill, Homestead and Bake House quickly followed. For the next 200 years, while eight generations of Rittenhouse family members continued to live and work all along the Monoshone and Wissahickon Creeks, the focus of the community remained this intimate cluster of buildings enclosing both public and private space.
From the early 18th century, Rittenhouse Street linked the early settlement at Germantown with RittenhouseTown and brought a constant stream of people, horses and wagons into the community past the Homestead on their way to the mill across the Paper Mill Run. Weavers transformed flax grown in Germantown into linen textiles and when the fabric was reduced to rags it was brought to RittenhouseTown to be made into paper. Paper produced at the Rittenhouse mill was sold to printers in nearby Germantown, Philadelphia and New York for use in Bibles and newspapers.
As the Rittenhouse family expanded so did the village of RittenhouseTown. In later years, the Baptist Chapel located just yards from the Homestead’s front door welcomed mill workers who lived in the tenement building directly across Rittenhouse Street. By the mid 19th century, over 40 buildings populated this busy self contained industrial village including numerous residences for family members and mill workers, several mills producing paper, textiles, rugs, and blankets or grinding grain, a school, firehouse, general store and smithy. Until the construction of the Walnut Lane Bridge in 1908, Rittenhouse Street continued to be one of only a few routes linking Germantown with Roxborough, Manayunk and the Schuylkill River.
1707 – Second Rittenhouse mill
In 1891, the Fairmount Park Commission demolished the Mill and a number of nearby buildings as part of their plan to create parkland for city residents and to eliminate sources of pollution which were making the city’s drinking water taken from the Schuylkill River unsafe.