With a sense both of responsibility and anticipation, the founding governors of a new town called Aldan met at the home of Mr. F.S. Shisler on October 20,1893, to begin the work of organization. Six members of the borough council and a Burgess took the oath of office before Justice of the Peace Bonsall of Clifton Heights, after which Mr. Wallace J. Cain was elected President of Council. In their first official action, the governing body instructed the Secretary to purchase a journal and a copy of “Prickett’s Borough Laws”. The council met weekly thereafter to make provisions for the orderly development of the new community.
Established as a borough under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on September 22, 1893, Aldan was a part of a flurry of town incorporations which occurred in eastern Delaware County at this time, including Lansdowne, Collingdale, and Swarthmore. Status as a borough gave to these communities an important measure of governmental independence; very significantly, it accorded them the power to tax for civic purposes. The new community often looked to nearby boroughs for models of organization and legislation but in many ways it would exhibit signs of distinctiveness which gave it it’s special character.
Tradition has it that the name Aldan was suggested for the new town by the wife of a council member, she having in mind a River Aldan which flows for 1,300 miles through Siberia. Why there should have been an association with a region so distant in space and culture is hard to imagine. Another more credible tradition holds that a witty local woman developed the name from those of local residents. Her suggestion proved to be much more popular than the other two names proposed – Adamsford and Rabida. In any event, it would appear that Aldan had a “naming mother” as well as “founding father”. Formally part of Clifton the newly incorporated area had been known as East Clifton. The decision to form a separate community was prompted, on the face of it, by a desire on the part of residents in this part of Clifton to have a greater civic independence and to establish their own public school.
Initially, the borough stretched for approximately a mile west to east between Oak Lane and Springfield Road and south from the rail line running between Philadelphia and West Chester to Providence Avenue (as it originally known), Within six years after incorporation, in March, 1899, the town grew southwardly as a result of land annexations from Darby Township south of Providence road, along what was then known as the “Cherokee Strip”. By the turn of the century, Rively Avenue marked the borough’s southern boundary.
In its earliest years, Aldan had very much the character of a rural settlement. At the time of the Federal Census of 1900, the town’s population stood at 296 individuals. Most of the houses – many of them piped for gas in an age prior to electrification – were clustered in north-south lines along Woodlawn and Clifton Avenues, south to Rively. Within the town, precincts were designated as “thickets”, farmlands, orchards, “swampland”, and a cow pasture. The Lobb Homestead, dating back to colonial times, stood south of the rail line and across Lobb’s Run, near the present day Priscilla Lane. At the corner of Clifton and Wayne Avenue stood an impressive residence known as “The Castle”, built by the Philadelphia lawyer John Adams, whose keen eye for land development resulted in the construction of a new residence, “Gray Towers”, at the corner of Springfield Road and Maryland Avenue in 1892 as well as other stately dwellings along Maryland Avenue, giving rise to a community which came to be know as Adamsford. A post office with this name operated for many years in the Clifton railroad station. Visual remains of ”The Castle” are still to be seen today in the stone pillars along Wayne Avenue at the corners of Clifton and Glenwood Avenues.
Almost from the beginning of their community, Aldanites showed a penchant for association, a concern for civic mindedness, and a desire to establish for themselves the institutions of a developing community. Two years after incorporation, a schoolhouse stood on Providence Road at Woodlawn, with Mrs. Emma Fries serving as a teacher and first principal. In June 1898, seven students were graduated from the school, three from the “High School” Department (eighth grade) and four from the “Grammar Department”. The school auditorium was a frequent locale for community entertainment, including a January, 1901, “Old Maid’s Convention, a Most Amusing and Popular Entertainment”. In 1909, a Home and School Association formed.
Predecessor to all the town’s civic organizations was the Neighbors Club, founded in 1898; a year later, the club presented a farce, “The Lady from Philadelphia”, part of a series of monthly entertainment being presented at that time, and in 1907 it erected a clubhouse. Women of the borough organized a club in 1913, calling it at first the Mother’s Club. Among their many activities was the opening of a lending library. Books were acquired through purchase and through house-to-house collections. After being moved to several locations, the library eventually opened in the Aldan School in 1954 where it remained until its closure in 1968.
Concern for the health of the town and its citizens prompted the creation of a Board of Health as early as 1894, and it made annual reports to the borough council. Measles and Chickenpox were the most common afflictions reported by the board. A branch of the American Red Cross opened in the borough in 1914, meeting at the Neighbors’ Clubhouse. They rendered special service during the First World War, sewing and knitting garments of various sorts. In later years, members of this organization worked with the Bloodmobile or in hospitals as Gray Ladies.
By the close of the First World War – some 66 men of the borough gave military service to the nation in that conflict – Aldan was well on its way to becoming settled and developing community. Still something of a country town, but yet a streetcar suburb linked to an enlarging Philadelphia, the town stood poised for its period of most rapid growth and cultural achievement.
Between the First World War and the Korean Conflict, that is between 1920 and 1950, Aldan experienced extensive population growth and physical development – some of it apparently the result of promotion of the town as a residential community. In 1910, the population was recorded at 661. In 1910, the population grew to 1,136, but between 1920 and 1930 it doubled in start of the Great Depression. Following a period of slowed growth in the 1930s, the population burgeoned again between 1940 and 1950. Some of the population growth was, to be sure, the result of natural increase as new generations were born in the town. Most of it stemmed, however, from the arrival of new people attracted to the charms of a pleasant residential community with a fine stock of good housing.
Crucial to the future appearance and character of Aldan to its emergence as a “community of homes” was the resolution made by the borough council at its meeting of November 13, 1924, to maintain the residential character of the community by limiting the expansion of commerce within it. In practice over the years, commercial enterprise has been confined to the fringes of the town, most of it being developed as residential properties. The beginnings of what is now Aldan Industrial Park in the northwest corner of the borough go back to the early forties at least. In October, 1943, the Pennsylvania Lawn Mower Company and the Equipment Company of America were located there – the vanguard of more enterprises to be located in the “park” later.
As in the past, Aldan’s citizens continued to display a sense of civic pride and energy, as well as a desire to establish the town’s good reputation as a cultural center. The Aldan Boosters Civic Association began its activities in 1924, working in conjunction with the Council and the School Board to improve the town. During its initial year of activity, the Boosters successfully petitioned the borough council to make a contribution of funds for a 4 th of July celebration in the town. For the next 54 years, the Boosters would continue to be responsible for this annual event. The actions taken in 1924 probably did not represent the first celebration of national Independence Day; as early as July, 1904, a Fourth of July flag raising ceremony took place on the grounds of the Aldan School. The Boosters also sponsored the Christmas visits of Santa to the town’s children. In 1926, a Ladies Auxiliary, later know as the Women’s Civic Association, began its activities which included decorating the Christmas tree erected annually on the school grounds.
Aldanites could read their first locally produced newspaper in 1925 when George Schultz, a real estate broker, began publishing “The Aldan News” published in the various interests of Aldan Delaware County. Between 1933 and 1943, at least, a weekly publication styles “The Aldan Nooze” rolled off the press.
Free mail delivery began in the borough in 1925, but the residents of Aldan had to struggle with postal authorities to keep a post office in the community. On June 29, 1925, the full service office was discontinued and Aldan became “Contract Station Number 1” of Clifton Heights. Twenty three years later, on July 1, 1948, the name of the borough station was changes to Aldan and it was designated a “branch” of the Clifton Heights post office.
Several important developments occurred on the cultural scene during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Aldan was well served by several theatre ensembles, including the Guild Theatre, the location of which is not known, where the the Aldan Women’s Club presented a comedy “Minick”. In the early 1940’s there existed “The Funster’s Aldan Theatre” located on Ridley Avenue south of Magnolia. This theatre became the Colonial Playhouse in the late 1940’s. Their original theatre burned to the ground, but not long afterward, through the solicitation of funds, the Colonial Playhouse succeeded in building another playhouse.
During the Second World War a number of Aldan men and women joined the fight for democracy. By October, 1945, some 345 individuals — about thirteen percent of the town’s population — had signed up or been drafted for service, the women contribution their service to the WACS, the Army Nurses, and the Red Cross. In the aftermath of the war, the new patriotic and youth organizations emerged in the town. The Aldan American Legion Post 1000, having applied for a charter in 1947, received it in the following year. In the context of an emerging “Cold War” the Aldan Boys Club began in 1951 to promote among its members a commitment to democratic ideals. The residents of Aldan continued to display that sense of civic pride and action which have long characterized the place. The Aldan Girls Club was incorporated in 1968.
Scouting for both boys and girls continued to be strong in the borough. By 1975, the town could boast of a number of scouting units: two boy scout troops, two cub scout packs, a sea scout unit, and an explorer post – no small achievement for a town of Aldan’s size. As a result of the concerned efforts of local residents — many of whom contributes hours of voluntary labor–the Aldan Swim Club opened its doors in 1955.It was there perhaps, that Mary Ellen Olcese honed the talents which in 1965 enabled her to take first place in the United States National Swim Meet by winning the 400 yard individual medley; she went on to break the world record for the 400 yard individual medley in England in the same year.
When in 1956, the old Aldan School Annex burned to the ground, many borough organizations were deprived of their customary meeting place. This vacuum was filled permanently by the new Aldan Recreation Center (now the John P. McBlain Community Center) which opened on May 30,1968.
In the 1970’s several residents came together to form the “Townwatch Association” which, starting in the summer of 1974, patrolled the street at night.
A major development in the administrative history of Aldan occurred in the spring of 1988 when the first borough hall (joined with a police station) opened. For the first time, borough council had an appropriate place to hold its private meetings- the public sessions held, as today, in the John P. McBlain Community Center.
Now, after more than 115 years, Aldan is much more than just a chartered corporation, more than a collection of organizations, more even than a community of homes. It is an assemblage of families pursuing their individual destinies in the context of a shared community life.