From the tower of the Bromley Mill at Fourth & Lehigh Avenue there are more textile mills within the range of vision than can be found in any other city in the world.
—John James MacFarlane, 1912

ORINOKA HISTORY

For a century after the Civil War, Philadelphia was known as the “Workshop of the World,” and Kensington was its center. Hundreds of textile mills, tanneries and leather works filled the neighborhood.

According to Workshop of the World—Philadelphia, Solomon Brothers began Orinoka Mills in the 1880s. By the 1890s, the mill contained 85 looms for silk upholstery and curtain materials.

By 1913, three hundred looms were used to produce silk, wool, worsted, and cotton upholstery. But in the 1930s, weaving operations were moved to York, Pennsylvania, and the South. In the 1980s, the remainder of the firm moved to Horsham, Pennsylvania.

 

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Afterward, the factory fell into disrepair and many buildings were demolished. The mill tower was frequently broken into and vandalized, becoming a nuisance for the community.

New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) began to work closely with the Kensington community north of Lehigh Avenue in 2007, providing housing counseling, food referrals, tax rebate assistance and other services to interested residents. Conversations with community members highlighted complex issues in the neighborhood and showed that residents are strongly interested in improving their community.

Beginning in 2010, NKCDC engaged the community in four volunteer-led studies, community input meetings and door-to-door surveys of 400 residents that resulted in a North of Lehigh Neighborhood Plan, released in 2014. Development of Orinoka Civic House is part of that plan.

“It took years, literally,” to transform the building,  NKCDC Director Sandy Salzman told Generocity in 2016.

“The Orinoka Mills building was the biggest, baddest, ugliest thing going. We worked really, really hard with lots and lots of people from the Redevelopment Authority and the Office of Housing and Community Development and Councilman [Mark] Squilla and Councilwoman [Maria Quiñones] Sánchez, the Commerce Department—all these city agencies, to try to get this building. … And then of course, we had to raise the money to renovate it.”

 

DEVELOPMENT FACTS

Sponsor: New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC)
Groundbreaking: June 2015
Expected Completion: 2017
Location: 2771-2777 Ruth Street, Philadelphia PA 19134
Construction Cost:  $17.8 million
Residential Units: 51
Commercial Space: 7200 square feet

 

FUNDING SOURCES

  • Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
  • Citizen’s Bank
  • Philadelphia Housing Authority; Unit-Based Operating Subsidy/Mixed Finance
  • Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development CDBG/HOME funds
  • NeighborWorks America
  • TD Bank
  • City of Philadelphia Commerce Department Neighborhood Economic Development Grant
  • Federal Home Loan Bank of New York
  • Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston