1520 Franklin Street



  • Photo for next blog.

   Five young sisters looking over garden fence on Franklin  Street –   many years before Helen Ottens Schlichter  is born

We hear so much about 1520 North Franklin in the letters that I thought we should take a visit.

1520 Franklin is an address,  although Helen generally is alluding to the group of people living there when she refers to it.  But, it is, although secondarily, a place. I am so sad that among the boxes of photos we have of the family from that era,  we have found none of  this house. I will keep looking.

Many of Helen’s descendants have been there, however, because the Franklin Street home remained in the family until 1965.  My husband clearly remembers it.

And Helena lovingly described it to me when I interviewed her last spring. 1520 Franklin street was an important part of her childhood: Grossmama made vegetable soup and little dumplings, many wonderful aunts and cousins were in and out- always a bit of interesting  bustle going on, I would imagine.

1520 Franklin Street  (the North has generally been dropped in family conversation) was a four story, clapboard row house on the east end of Broad Street, near Philadelphia’s city center.

The home was owned by immigrants Amalia (Grossmama) and John Conrad Hungerbeuhler, the maternal grandparents of our letter writer. ( I have been given a contact by Aunt Betty of a descendant who did a thorough genealogy of the German Hugerbuehlers – if only I had time…)

The seven Hungerbuehler children were raised in the house – but  no one knows the family’s date of  occupancy, so it s not clear if they were all born there or if some or all moved there as children. John Conrad was in the wine business. Judging by their residence and some other indicators – they seemed to have been financially solid and were able to provide well for their children,  having four stories to spread out (rather “up”) in, and sending their son, Conrad, to medical school.

But more about the house.

Helena described it in such detail (she is her mother’s daughter), that I could almost see it. The front door opened into a hallway, a staircase on the right. The hall continued past the stairs to the back of the long, narrow building. Rooms went off the hallway, also to the right. First there was the formal living room.  Helena remembers  a large  piano in there.  (Aunt Betty remembers it being a “big, square Cunningham.”) Helena remembers tables with inlaid marble and a crystal chandelier – which the ladies of the house dismantled for cleaning once a year. There were big windows. Helena alluded to  “house parties.”

Moving down the hall, past the living room, was the formal dinning room. At the end of the hallway, at the back of the house, there was a side wing – the kitchen and family room. This is where everyone hung out. It was furnished with a table, a chaise lounge – and a blackboard hung on the wall!  Helena remembers parakeets (Betty thinks it was a parrot) in that room. The Hugerbuehlers liked animals and also had a very old cat. I have something in my notes from Helena’s interview about a poodle and a ferret – but don’t recall the conversation – and hesitate to make the claim – but, maybe…

The family room  looked out onto the garden and a side yard. Aunt Betty remembers a high fence around the yard. I believe that must be it in the photo at the top.

The photo is of the first generation in the house – a houseful of young Victorian women. You can almost hear the swish of their skirts. Then, our letter writer (second generation) grows up near the house and is surrounded (nurtured) by grandparents, many aunts and a loving uncle.  Helen’s daughters, Helena and Betty, own Frankilin Street  in their childhood experiences (third generation). My husband, Helena’s son, also visited Franklin Street during his childhood and early adult life. Well – if we count Grossmama and John Conrad – FIVE generations!

Alma and Uncle Conrad never left Franklin Street. Both grew up there and died while living there – perhaps in the house. Bert stayed there until it was sold in 1965, when she was elderly.

And now – I have to talk about a  really pertinent  letter, which I  sadly can’t quote from at the moment – and this should be the moment!

When I first got the letters, and before I arranged them chronologically (they had gotten a bit out of order), I randomly looked at a few. One was so beautifully written and wonderful that I had to stop then and there  and read it to my husband:

Helen is reminding her mother of how she thinks in pictures and she can just see  everyone at 1520 – the 1520ites. She then clearly describes what she sees them doing at that moment. To date, my favorite passage out of many amazing bits of writing, and clearly establishing the importance of the inhabitants of Franklin Street in this story.

I will come across it as I read through the letters and I promise to share it when it pops up.

I will have the Hungerbuehler sister’s of the previous family portrait identified soon (via Aunt Betty). I fear I made a mistake on saying which one was Louisa – and I have a bit more information about the siblings to share.

Then – on to the Ottens. I have had a preliminary conversation with Aunt Betty about that side of the family. Truly – a book of it’s own. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to China.

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