Back in the early nineteenth century, the street grid of Philadelphia barely extended south of Wharton St. on the east side of Broad and South St. on the west side. Areas to the south of the grid consisted of a network of old Indian trails and dirt highways that ran through the swampy wilderness. Some of these streets still are in use with their original names intact (Passyunk Ave., Penrose Ave.), but some of lost their really cool names. The 1843 Charles Ellett, Jr. map has a few nice ones.
Beggar’s Town Lane (now Harntraft St.)
Beggar’s Town? Was the homeless population so high that they would name a highway and a town after them? This was a wilderness with a handful of ramshackle structures. The worst part is, there WAS a Beggarstown at the time, but it was located far from here (at least in those days), in what is now Mount Airy. This road didn’t even go there! Beggar’s Town Lane intersected with another country highway with a cool name, Puddlehole Lane, now an access road for the massive gas tanker field that fills the area.
Point-no-Point Road (now Richmond St.)
In the days before the consolidation of the coterminus city-county of Philadelphia, the Bridesburg section was its own town. The road leading to it was known as Point-no-Point Road. Unlike Beggar’s Town Lane, Point-no-Point actually led to a place called Point-no-Point. Point-no-Point was a well known area to people who often traveled up and down the Delaware River. When approaching the mouth of Frankford Creek from the north or south, the land around it would create the illusion of jutting out into the river. When passed, the point would disappear, hence the name.
Poorhouse Lane (now Rittenhouse St.)
In 1809, a corporation called the Managers for the Relief and Employment of the Poor of the Township of Germantown of the County of Philadelphia (whew) formed and purchased 20 acres on which to built a poorhouse. The road that ran through the property became locally known as Poorhouse Lane, and the name stuck for a brief period of time. The street was later renamed Rittenhouse Street, since it ran next to David Rittenhouse’s Mansion in what is now Wissahickon Valley Park. This is not exactly a cool name, but a cool example of house a colloquially known street name got onto official maps.
If you like old maps and how they relate to the current street grid, check out the Greater Philadelphia Geohistory Network.