Holmesburg Jam History

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The stone arch  bridge on US Rte 13 (Frankford Avenue) where it crosses the Pennypack Creek in the Holmesburg section of Northeast Philadelphia was built in 1697 at the request of William Penn and is the oldest highway bridge in the United States.  The King's Highway, as it was known then, followed a Lenape indian trail from what is now Philadelphia to the Falls at Trenton, NJ.  A dam and grist mill were also built at this time using the same source of local stones used for the bridge.  Remnants of the dam can be seen just upstream from the bridge.  An image of the bridge is on the latest Holmesburg Jam tee shirt and is taken from a painting by Slim Chamberlain who has been playing  guitar and singing with the Jam since the mid seventies.

The initial jam occurred on Holy Thursday, March 30, 1972 in the basement of George Steck's parent's house on Marple Street in Holmesburg and was attended by George Steck, his cousin Bill Sullivan, Dave Purtle, and Mike Coonan.  It pretty much remained at that location gathering momentum until George got married in 1974 and the jam moved with him briefly to Cottman Ave.  About this same time Bill Sullivan moved into a rented apartment in a big old ramshackle house at 8027-8029 Frankford Ave where his sister Fran and her husband Fred Moore  lived.  Soon the jam was taking place on Thursday nights in Bill's kitchen.  His brother Tim Sullivan lived upstairs and it was not long before Tim, Fred, and George had formed the Stone Arch Bridge Boys, the first of many bands to be spawned by the Holmesburg Jam.  As a result of the band's radio appearances on WXPN, the jam gained some notoriety outside of Holmesburg resulting in increased attendance.  In 1978 the Blue Ribbon Rounders came into being as the jam continued to grow.  It was about this time that the jam moved outdoors in warm weather to take advantage of the space and of just being outdoors.  An old defunct in-the-ground fish pond, 13 feet in diameter, in the once opulent backyard behind the ramshackle house provided an excellent fire pit for the burning of wooden pallets of which there was virtually an endless supply right next door.  Thursday nights became wild bacchanalian/pyrolatrious music fests lasting well into and often well beyond the wee small hours.

The kitchen could no longer handle the revelers in the cold weather and the jam moved it's winter quarters to Budd's Tavern on Rhawn Street around the corner in 1979-80.  Barry and Fran's Tavern, south on Frankford Ave, became the winter location four or five years later.  Around 1986 an influx of new musicians began arriving from the western suburbs and after a while it was not unusual to find 25 people playing and another 25 hanging around by the fire. The late, great Fran Hoffmann was among the first as was Ed Pollack.  The jam really took off at this point.

Alas, all things come to an end, and the fire was forever extinguished in 1988 after a totally tipsied irregular reveler toppled into the hot coals at the jam's annual Longest Saturday of the Year party.  A couple of more years and we had lost access to the Backyard proper anyway due to there no longer being any jam enthusiasts living in the old ramshackle house.  So we moved about 50 feet south to the adjacent parking lot from which we were told by the Authorities in June of 1998 to remove ourselves completely.  The jam had been at essentially the same location for twenty-five years but the Delaware River beckoned.  It was time to move on.


Earliest known Holmesburg Jam T-Shirt circa 1990