Upper Darby Township (often shortened to Upper Darby) is a home rule township bordering West Philadelphia in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, United States. Upper Darby is also home to the Tower Theater, a historic music venue on 69th street built in the 1920s. Upper Darby's population is diverse, representing over 100 ethnic cultures located within its densely populated, rowhouse streets. It is Pennsylvania's sixth most populous municipality. Within the northwestern borders of the township lies most of the census-designated place of Drexel Hill.
Located just 2.8 miles from Center City (downtown Philadelphia), Upper Darby houses the western terminus of the Market-Frankford Line of the SEPTA mass transit system of Philadelphia, with the location at 69th street in the heart of Upper Darby's principal business district. Multiple trolley and bus lines connect the 69th Street Terminal to all major SEPTA lines of Philadelphia.
Upper Darby is 65% residential, 25% commercial, and 8% other. As of the 2010 census, the township had a total population of 82,795. Because of a home-rule charter adopted in 1974 and effective in 1976, Upper Darby utilizes a mayor-council form of management, unlike communities that are still under the Pennsylvania Township Code. ("First Class" townships in Pennsylvania have a board of commissioners divided into wards, and "Second Class" townships having a board of supervisors, which are usually elected "at-large".)
In 1650, the area that eventually became Upper Darby had been inhabited by the Lenape tribe of Native Americans for hundreds of years, but war with the Susquehannock to the west along with devastating smallpox and measles epidemics had significantly reduced their numbers. The first permanent Europeans settlers arrived in late 1653 with a group from New Sweden. Soon after, in 1655, New Sweden was taken over by the Dutch, and then came under English rule in October 1664 as part England's overall conquest of New Amsterdam. The region was controlled as a possession of the English king until it was included in a large land grant to William Penn in 1681.
Upon Penn's founding of the colony of Pennsylvania the next year, the area was designated as part of the municipality of Darby Township, in Chester County. It was subsequently part of the eastern section of that county which was split off on September 26, 1789 to form Delaware County.
The Lower Swedish Cabin, thought to have been built in 1654, is located on Creek Road along the Darby Creek and is believed by many to be a remnant of the early Swedes, who introduced the log cabin to this area. Today the "Swedish Cabin" is designated with a Pennsylvania Historical Marker. The Cabin is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Division of Upper and Lower Darby
Darby Township originally occupied the area between the current border of Upper Darby to the north, Cobbs Creek and then Darby Creek to the east and south, and Ridley and Springfield townships to the west. This continued until 1736, when, for the convenience of the inhabitants, it was decided at a town meeting to separate the upper part from the lower "in all matters save the levies made for the support of the poor," with the northern part thereafter to be called Upper Darby Township. The exact boundary was not established until 1787, when a petition was presented to the court. The following is an excerpt from this petition:
19th and 20th centuries
Reflecting the Quaker background of its earliest English settlers, Upper Darby was active in the antislavery movement. At least one abolition society existed prior to 1830, and sent a committee of twelve prominent citizens to the 1830 meeting of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia.
Many homes in the area were stops on the Underground Railroad, including Hoodland, the home of abolitionist Thomas Pennock, which was eventually bequeathed to the township's public library and which currently houses the children's library, connected to a much larger modern annex which houses the Main Branch. Another prominent abolitionist, Thomas Garrett, grew up in the township and Thornfield, his home until the age of 32, still stands at Garrett Road and Maple Avenue in the Drexel Hill section of the township. Two regiments from Upper Darby took part in the fighting in the American Civil War, and one, the 106th, was involved in the Battle of Antietam.
The abundance of creeks and streams in the area favored the development of mills, and it was in Upper Darby that the first mills in Delaware County could be found. The mill trade greatly increased the population of the township, from just over 800 in 1800 to almost 5,000 by 1890. However, beginning in 1885, the township also lost large sections of territory as the citizens of more populated neighborhoods petitioned the state to be recognized as separate municipalities. The first of these was the borough of Clifton Heights (incorporated on June 1, 1885), followed by the boroughs of Lansdowne (July 6, 1893), Aldan (September 22, 1893), Millbourne (October 12, 1909), and East Lansdowne (June 3, 1911). (Part of the territory of Aldan was also taken from Darby Township.)
In 1907, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company recognized the potential for growth in the township and extended the Market-Frankford elevated train line (or "El") from just west of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia to 69th and Market Streets in Upper Darby. The El terminus at 69th Street Station became a busy terminal serving several trolley and light rail lines into the suburbs, as well as numerous city and suburban bus routes. Commuter traffic spurred the development of the 69th St. shopping district in the 1920s by John McClatchy, and made Upper Darby the second busiest shopping area in the region, second only to Center City Philadelphia. The business district is noted for many fine examples of Art Deco style buildings. A population explosion in the township followed, and by the 1960s Upper Darby ranked as the 7th most populous municipality in Pennsylvania.