Fort Washington, Pennsylvania

From Academic Kids

Fort Washington (Pennsylvania) is an unincorporated census-designated place located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. As of the 2000 census, the community had a total population of 3,680.



The story of Fort Washington begins in 1777, when George Washington's army stationed themselves at the Emlen House during the Revolutionary War. The house was built by George Emlen, a Philadelphia Quaker, during the summer of 1745. The troops were stationed here during the Whitemarsh Encampment, which was prior to the fateful march to Valley Forge. Washington's army erected tents and earthworks on Camp Hill. Today Dreshertown Road and Camp Hill Road contain large homes in the very shadow of American history.

On January 1, 1946, the Township of Upper Dublin was created, and in doing so, encompassed Fort Washington along with nine other communities. During this time, the area was primarily a farming community with additionally activity in limestone mining. The 1970s saw a change for Fort Washington as it became more industrialized. Today the center of business for the town is the Fort Washington Office Park: a 536 acre (2.2 km²), 6 million square foot (560,000 m²) industrial complex that boasts more than 65 buildings. Some of these buildings include the Fort Washington Expo Center (the largest single floor center of its type on the East coast), Honeywell,, Aetna Healthcare, and GE Financial. At the center of the industrial park is the corporate headquarters of McNeil Pharmaceuticals, makers of the Tylenol family of OTC pain relievers. Their building is based on a 110 acre (450,000 m²) site and has a workforce of 2100 employees.

The residents and businesses of Fort Washington are protected by the Upper Dublin Police Department and the Fort Washington Fire Company.

The Great Train Wreck of 1856

Little do the residents of Fort Washington know that their small town was the site of the worst train disaster in US history. It was the year 1856 and the country was still young. The North Pennsylvania Railroad was only a year old. Train technology was still in its infancy. Air brakes hadn't been invented yet. The telegraph was just beginning to gain popularity. Locomotives were prone to boiler explosions and wooden box cars were heated with coal stoves. All these factors created a disaster waiting to happen.

It was very early morning on Thursday July 17th, 1856. St. Michael's R.C. Church in the Kensington section of Philadelphia was sending their Sunday School children on a picnic to Shaeff's Woods, a Fort Washington park. At about 5 AM, 1500 pupils, teachers, and parents were loaded onto twelve cars pulled by two trains at the Master St. Depot.

The first train pulled out of the station 23 minutes late. The engineer was confident he could make up for lost time. He knew of a passenger train due to be coming in the opposite direction on the same single track, but calculated they could use the siding at Edge Hill to safely pass each other. The passenger train engineer also knew of the excursion train due to be coming towards him, but also calculated a safe passing at the Edge Hill siding. He carefully continued on his way.

It was now about 6 AM. As the engineer neared a blind curve near Camp Hill, he slowed the passenger train to about 10 MPH and blew the whistle almost continuously. Due to the primitive communications of the era, neither engineer knew exactly where the other was. The excursion train was on a long downhill run and still trying to make time travelling at 35 MPH. They caught sight of each other at the blind curve, but it was too late.

The trains collided with devasting impact.

The boiler of one exploded, being heard up to 5 miles away. The Sunday School train derailed. Being made of wood, the cars were perfect fuel for the ensuing fire. Some reports say 59 people died in the crash, others say 67. The reports agree, though, that most of them were children. Their screams were said to be heard a mile away. Hundreds of others were injured. The Reverend Sheridan was among the dead. Most of them perished not in the actual crash, but in the fire that followed.

The conductor of the regular passenger train was so devastated by the accident that by the end of the day, he took his own life. Ironically, he was later absolved of any blame. A jury placed the blame on the engineer of the Sunday School train for his "gross carelessness".

Mary Johnson Ambler One of the first people to the accident was Mary Johnson Ambler, a 56 year old widow who lived about two miles away. For almost 24 hours, she worked through the sweltering heat, caring for the injured and dying. She brought medical supplies and dressed the wounds of the injured. She comforted the dying. And she opened her house as a makeshift hospital. The railroad company offered to pay her for her assistance, but she refused.

Mary Ambler died on Aug. 18, 1868 at the age of 63. A year after her death (in 1869), the Wissahickon Railroad Station needed to be renamed. The station happened to be located across the tracks from Mary Ambler's former home. The railroad company decided to honor the heroine by naming the station in her memory. Eighteen years later, on Nov. 22, 1887, the surrounding village voted to incorporate into a borough, and named itself Ambler, after the station and the woman.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ran an article on the 112th anniversary of the disaster. The article uncovered some small discrepancies about the original story. It reported that 1000 people were on the train, not the 1500 of the original report. It also states that "more than 100 people died later" from injuries received in the accident.

In addition, it disputed the claim about the conducter taking his own life "by the end of the day". Instead, the article stated that the engineer of the southbound train fled the scene followed by an "angry mob". He ran west on Morris Rd. to Werstner's Mill. The proprietor of the mill hid the man and later helped him slip back to Philadelphia. "But the event so preyed on the man's mind that he committed suicide in his own home within the next few months."

Note: Although the Great Train Wreck of 1856 is more commonly known as the Camp Hill Disaster, the station near where it occurred was called Sandy Run at the time. Later, the station would be called the Camp Hill, and today it's known as the Felwick Station but is not in use. This line of track is now used by SEPTA with nearby stations at Oreland, Fort Washington and Ambler.

Note: Trenton Cutoff The 1856 Train Wreck line should not be confused with the Trenton Cutoff. The Cutoff runs parallel with the PA Turnpike and crosses over Camp Hill Road, Susquehanna Ave, and Welsh Road. The Trenton Cutoff was constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the late 1890s. It was used to bypass the congestion of the Philadelphia rail lines and to create a direct route to Trenton, New Jersey.


Fort Washington is located at 40°8'19" North, 75°11'29" West (40.138559, -75.191419)Template:GR. It is located approximately 10 minutes outside of Northeast Philadelphia and 20 minutes outside of center city Philadelphia.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the community has a total area of 7.1 km² (2.7 mi²). 7.1 km² (2.7 mi²) of it is land and none of the area is covered with water.


As of the censusTemplate:GR of 2000, there are 3,680 people, 1,161 households, and 1,013 families residing in the community. The population density is 520.5/km² (1,349.9/mi²). There are 1,173 housing units at an average density of 165.9/km² (430.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the community is 91.30% White, 3.04% African American, 0.08% Native American, 5.03% Asian, 0.00% Pacific Islander, 0.11% from other races, and 0.43% from two or more races. 0.71% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 1,161 households out of which 45.4% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 81.7% are married couples living together, 4.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 12.7% are non-families. 10.9% of all households are made up of individuals and 4.0% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 3.06 and the average family size is 3.32.

The population is spread out with 28.5% under the age of 18, 5.2% from 18 to 24, 22.1% from 25 to 44, 32.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.8% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 42 years. For every 100 females there are 100.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 91.6 males.

The median income for a household in the community is $103,469, and the median income for a family is $112,863. Males have a median income of $76,205 versus $37,321 for females. The per capita income for the community is $43,090. 3.4% of the population and 1.5% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 3.7% of those under the age of 18 and 0.0% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

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