William Sellers invented the United States standard screw thread. Sellers, a man from a family of industrialists, owned the deeds to a string of plots in the 3400 block of Powelton Avenue in Powelton Village. Besides being a landowner, he was also president of the Franklin Institute from 1864 to 1867. More inclined to pursue his inventions than manage real estate, he sold his land holdings at 3411-27 Powelton Ave. in 1883. He transferred the deed to his prime property, 3427 Powelton, at the northeast corner of 35th Street and Powelton Avenue, to Elizabeth Emery, Jr. She transferred it again a decade later to Harrison D. Stratton, an ice manufacturer.
That’s where the history of residential development along 34th and Powelton commenced in earnest. Stratton built a Victorian-style mansion at 3427 Powelton. The brick mansion with a massive roof deck enclosed by a small stone fence allowed Stratton to throw lavish parties with his wife, daughter and 20year-old niece, including her wedding party. He also had two servants on staff.
The mansion was sold to his niece in 1912 and demolished in 1914. In its place rose the Sunderland House, a massive apartment building of grey Wissahickon schist. The land and four-story apartment building was sold for $235,000 in 1922.
Starting in 1940, a series of middle-class families lived there from teachers to lodgers to opticians. Before that, its residents were mostly upper-class. The rest of the homes on the block remained upper-class homes for a long period. The home at 3411 Powelton became a sort of rooming establishment in the 1930s. In 1958, 3411 Powelton Ave. was sold to Drexel University. That was six years after Drexel bought 3421 Powelton Ave. in 1952. Twenty years later the flagship of the block, the lot at 3427 that had housed the old Sunderland Apartments and onetime home of the man who made it all possible, William Sellers, was sold to Drexel in 1972.
The Sunderland Court Fire
“It occurred on a late Friday night after heavy partying on our part. I was on co-op at the time, but had returned from New Jersey for a date with my old flame. At any rate, it occurred in late winter or early spring of 1974, if I’m not mistaken. I distinctly remember Frater John (Slim) McGlynn literally dragging me out of a VERY sound sleep in the wee hours of the morning because he was unable to shake me awake. I had borrowed an empty bunk in the Barn, his room at the time. Anyway, I remember a close friend of the old flame lived in the apartments between the SAM house next door and Pi Kappa Phi made breakfast for a bunch of us, since we were not allowed back into the Chapter House until all smoke had been cleared and the house checked out for fire. It was AMAZING that the house escaped major damage, because there was probably a space of less than 15 feet between them and us. That’s all I have to say about that, to steal a line from Forrest Gump.”- Frater Chuck Persch (Funk) A.T. 907
The site of the old Stratton mansion and Sunderland House is now a playground owned by Drexel University. This view is to the north from Powelton Avenue.
Not a single testament shows people the spot where the man who invented the modern screw once spent so much of his time.