York Road, Part 1: Growing Up on Someone Else’s Driveway

The long twisting driveway that curved past the house in East Oak Lane where I was raised was a gnarly and vicious hubcap destroyer. You either got caught coming in or you got caught going out, but no matter what… you got caught. Maybe that’s why my driveway was relocated. IMG_1784

Rev. Samuel F. Hotchkin, in 1892, wrote an extremely descriptive narrative of the development and changes of York Road, the road that connected Philadelphia, PA with New York City via the port of Elizabethtown. In his work, York Road: Old and New, Hotchkin describes in-depth, the tumultuous history of a road that intersected my early years here in Philadelphia again and again.

My mother, the avid ancestorian and patron of the past, used to regale us with stories of how “our driveway used to be the original Old York Road”. For those who might not be concurrent with Philadelphia traffic patterns and street layouts, Old York Road is a lengthy stretch of street that reaches from North Philadelphia to Jersey City, all the way into the far Northeast corner of New Jersey, directly across the Hudson from New York City. While not the longest road, even in Philadelphia, as it was shortened in the 1800s by new construction, it remains a historically significant route nonetheless.

York Road, as Hotchkins goes on to say, played a key role in General Washington’s prevention of the British’s occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution. York Road has even greater ties, as Hotchkin explains, when you travel back to its nominal roots. Brought over by the British, the name York, has ties to lords, and even kingdoms, dating through the British Rule. It even dates back to the Roman Empire.

“The Roman Emperor Severus died at York, A. D. 205, and Constantino Chlorus died there in 306. His son, Constantine the Great, who succeeded him, was born at York, and proclaimed Emperor in that town. The Emperor Maximus was [even] born there.”

While this history demonstrated no direct connections to my driveway, it did, however indirectly, make me ponder the other connections we may experience in our day-to-day lives.

Growing up I hated that driveway. It was gravelly and crooked, uneven and dangerous, and it was most likely the cause for a few of my trips to the local emergency room. Over the years, my anger has ebbed, leaving Senor Hubcap Destroyer and I at an apathetic and unemotional state. But each time I revisit my old stomping grounds, I do find its character and history a bit more appealing.

Maybe – and I pale in thinking this – it’s just an old driveway, in front of an old house, that was paved by someone much older, and much deader, than I am. This could be true.

But then again, maybe it has stood the sands of time. Maybe it has experienced the feet of Constantinople and snaked its way through England, Scotland, and Wales. Perhaps it has felt the warm blood of freshly fallen soldiers, Colonials and British alike. And maybe it has inevitably changed routes over time to finally rest as the street I used today to avoid rush hour traffic.

Either way, it will always be MY driveway.

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Rev. Samuel Fitch Hotchkin M.A., The York Road: Old and New, Univ. of California Libraries, 1982