Submitted by kingintheyunk t3_10l9f7u in philadelphia

I was looking at a house to buy near 46th and Locust. I had some experienced real estate guys tour the house with me and they discovered some structural issues. Turns out when we checked the mill creek overlay, the house is built directly over the creek. I had no idea the creek was even buried below the city. They advised me to avoid buying any house over the creek, as structural issues are common. Makes me wonder how many people know about this when they buy in that area. Anyway, this is what I learned today.



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jbphilly t1_j5vglzk wrote

I was just thinking about this earlier today as I went past 43rd and Baltimore. The path of Mill Creek runs south, approximately under 43rd St, from about Walnut down to Baltimore where it then goes under Clark Park (the Bowl was a former mill pond) and onward to the Schuylkill. Upstream of there, it goes more to the northwest. Maybe someone else can link to a good map, as I'm lazy/in the middle of work.

I would be pretty hesitant to buy a house anywhere along that creek. Now, obviously the vast majority of blocks on top of its course are fine....but there have been some dramatic cases where they were very much not fine in the past century.

Two big examples come to mind:

  • Around 50th and Brown, about half a city block worth of rowhomes were swallowed when the ground caved in along the creek/sewer's course. There's now a playground on the site.

  • The location of Supremo at 43rd and Walnut was formerly home to houses on the 4300 blocks of Sansom and Walnut, many of which were also destroyed by a similar cave-in.

As an honorable mention, the 2019 sinkhole in the middle of Baltimore Ave at 43rd was of course caused by subsidence along the same path. And before the redesign of Clark Park, you'd often get ridiculous flooding at the corner there - I have a photo from 2010 of at least a foot of water engulfing the northeast corner of the A Park.

Even if houses along the creek's course aren't necessarily at a super high risk of collapse, it has to be higher than...well, literally anywhere else, and also I have to assume they deal with way more basement flooding than the average.

Personally I like living, if not on the top of a former hill, at least on the upward half of a slope, in between former creek basins.


be_author t1_j5vhhwg wrote

Not sure if it also is related but the street between the 43rd Street CVS and Penn Alexander is constantly needing to be repaired and covered in standing water. Lots of bad signs around there.


mrhariseldon890 t1_j5vhw98 wrote

The sewer that carries Mill Creek collapsed in the 50s and took like two blocks of 50th and Parrish with it.

It is also the reason the El does not continue underground all the way to 69th St. They couldn't figure out how to safely tunnel under it.


P_Duggan_Creative t1_j5vi305 wrote

I'd have thought 46th was up the hill enough to not have creek issues.


kingintheyunk OP t1_j5vo7xb wrote

I'm wondering if an inspector would catch this. They would see the strucutal issues, but would they know it's built on a creek? Maybe not all inspectors. My guys knew because they have been in the west philly real estate game for 40 years.


GoldenMonkeyRedux t1_j5vrcz5 wrote

Unless I’m mistaken, the colIapse was between Pine and Osage and only affected porches/cars not homes. The CVS block has never had homes on the east side as it was formerly the Clark estate and then Penn’s Divinity school. The west side was the Burnham estate as of 1899. My 1905 map stops at spruce, so I can’t tell what happened afterwards.

I live nearby and have never heard of anyone’s basement flooding between Spruce and Baltimore on 43rd. Keep in mind the collapse meant they had to rebuild the terra-cotta pipe in large areas. That said, if the city doesn’t regularly clean out the catch basins at Spruce and 43rd, the flooding is terrible. Over a foot-deep pond. I could imagine that getting into Cafe Pho Saigon and the underground apartments on the north-west corner.

My house is fairly close to 43rd and Spruce and I have zero structural issues; however I’ve noticed that my concrete basement floor has lifted in several areas over the last 13 years. Definitely moisture underneath.


jbphilly t1_j5vwm03 wrote

They've had to expand it westward, as now the original area Penn was trying to gentrify has become entirely unaffordable to buy in if you aren't upper-upper-middle-class at least.


jbphilly t1_j5vxfia wrote

I don't know which Pine/Osage collapse you're talking about. Not one by 43rd Street for sure - all the houses around there are original AFAIK. But yeah, the low-lying corners of 43/Spruce and 43/Baltimore are for sure big flooding zones.


GoldenMonkeyRedux t1_j5vykcr wrote

Hmmmm…I’ll have to see if I can find info on it. I went to lecture at University of the Sciences about the Mill Creek about 15 years ago. I may be confusing the collapse on Sansom between 43rd and 44th with the smaller one on 43rd. Will try to look into it later.


all4whatnot t1_j5vz02i wrote

After the sinking homes of Logan fiasco in the 80-90s the USGS put out a topo map with an overlay of “probable” and “possible” fill on two quad maps comprising parts of Philly. These fills coincide with buried streams. It’s public info. Also parts of our suburbs are underlain by limestone which can cause sinkholes - geology maps are also public info. Check both of these before you buy a home.


User_Name13 t1_j5vz3ea wrote

A lot of the city is built over various brooks, streams, and creeks.

It's also where Overbrook gets its name from, cuz the train station is literally over a brook.

The city put a lot of streams and creeks into pipes when they were building the sewage system.


Bumblebeee_tuna_ t1_j5w70pb wrote

In a competitive market it can be a value add. We did this in Wildwood and no problems arised (we were smart about it).

But also, inspectors are a joke. They call out the nail pops, go through the motions, and aren't held accountable for any issues that arise.


quoimeme t1_j5w7s6x wrote

Just had to check if my house at 53 and Woodland was safe. Big phew.


martinkelley t1_j5w8vgz wrote

I grew up in Wingohocking Street as a toddler, over the creek of the same name, the source of the Logan sinking houses. And I lived on 45th across from Clark Park ages ago: there wasn’t a flat surface in the place and there were missing gaps in the row from houses that had disappeared. It looks like most of the row has now been torn down and replaced with new houses that will presumably now start settling. I know there were gaps further north along Mill Creek that were the victims of gas explosions arising from leaks caused by the settling.


Alpacalypse84 t1_j5wapad wrote

The lot that became the community garden at 44th and Locust was appropriated by residents of a local hippie house because it couldn’t be developed due to the creek.

Source: I was one of the residents of that house.


kilometr t1_j5wbb9y wrote

I’m a civil engineer and unless your friend inspects houses for a living, which is rare for a civil engineer, I would still hire one.

Issues that a home inspector would catch don’t overlap much with what most civil engineers do. structural stuff maybe, but not smaller things involving utilities, etc.


squee_bastard t1_j5wdjjh wrote

Used to live in that neighborhood 20+ years ago and hearing this blows my mind. When I lived at 48th and Pine in 2000 there were a ton of abandoned properties around me. I can remember an entire block that had apartment buildings on both sides that were burned out and boarded up.


joaofava t1_j5wdn8u wrote

Not needed in todays market so who cares.

But, if you obviously need to replace and renovate a lot, it’s arguable that the inspector is needed. I’ve waived inspection ever since a great inspector missed basically all the relevant major issues in my first house purchase. You can’t really catch structural issues especially.

Even when I waive inspection I bring in the inspector later for a punch list of little things.


libananahammock t1_j5wew0z wrote

Greater Philadelphia Geo History Network

This is a great site that has the modern day google map of Philadelphia but on the side you can click a number of different years to have a historical map on top of the modern map. I use it all the time as a genealogist that specializes in this area but it’s also a good tool for stuff like OP is mentioning like former bodies of water and also stuff like former cemeteries, former factories (to see if crazy chemicals might be in the ground) and other maybe cool maybe not so cool stuff lol


Delfiasa t1_j5wfwbt wrote

It’s not hard to look at a historic map of the city and see where houses were built over creeks. There are houses that flood on the west side of northern liberties/old Kensington for this reason.


Uwogymnst t1_j5wgl8r wrote

Does that mean houses right there could collapse or just not a good/safe long term buy?


HyenaPowerful8263 t1_j5wgofi wrote

I’m an agent whose done many sales in west Philly. If you are buying in the catchment; refer to a map of the creeks. After what just happened in parts of SF built over a similar creek system; people need to know the risks.


zac987 t1_j5wh872 wrote

Uhhhh yeah that house is going to be a sinkhole in 50 years or less.


AbsentEmpire t1_j5wi07n wrote

It's pretty crazy if you Google a map of buried streams in the city.

I heard there was a movement among cites to daylight these streams again, probably not a bad idea to start considering here.


subgraphics t1_j5wj3ps wrote

Ugh, thank you. Everybody's first instinct is "sue, sue, sue". I'm not saying there's never a place for lawsuits, but maybe parallel & equally important questions more often should be, "Hello prospective homeowner, how many inspectors did you look at and consider? Did YOU do your due diligence? Ultimately, YOU chose this person to represent you and your interests...why?"


Stunning_Move7375 t1_j5wjvd4 wrote

Always go with a local realtor who knows the neighborhood. If you're looking at multiple neighborhoods, don't be afraid to have multiple realtors. Never waive the inspection, and don't be afraid to ask the neighbors what they think of the location.


DuvalHeart t1_j5wl6ne wrote

It's crazy how common this is in American cities. We just don't think about how many streams feed our rivers.

And how they are often still there, just covered up.


Astrogrover t1_j5wn3am wrote

Penn and Drexel both have housing assistance programs for faculty and staff. They have different regions. Penn's is a five year forgivable loan for up to $7500 that prevents the property from ever being used as a rental in the future. Can be used for purchase or renovations. Drexel is a five year forgivable loan for up to 15000, or 5000 for renovations.


ad-astra-per-aspirin t1_j5woer0 wrote

my architect/urban planner friend from Portugal was visiting not long ago and told me all about Mill Creek and the activism around it since the 80s. He went and spent hours there. I had absolutely no idea about the history.


doublestoddington t1_j5wpax4 wrote

The station is also the beginning of the encapsulation so if you walk just north of it you can see where the stream goes under and, in theory, walk underground along Mill Creek, beneath this damaged home, to the Schuylkill at the intersection of 42nd and 43rd.


jimsinspace t1_j5wsuoz wrote

When shopping for homes in philadelphia always check old maps just in case of old water ways and scary old cemeteries. Lived at 43rd and Baltimore years ago and Mill creek 100% returned whenever tropical storms or hurricanes rolled through. You just can’t change the shape of the land that easy and water will always flow where it had always flowed.


dannygunz t1_j5wt0hi wrote

A lot of home inspectors just go through a checklist and aren't very thorough. I would recommend people not just feeling safe because they have an inspector. Do as much homework as possible before and scrutinize the hell out of the place with the inspector while walking through, or better yet bring your civil engineer/contractor/whatever friend or family to do it too.


pottsnpans t1_j5wtc7b wrote

Back in the late 80s, my first apartment was at 43rd and Baltimore on the second floor over of what is now Clarkville. Back then it was the Wurst House (anyone remember that gem?). All the floors were slightly slanted and over the time we were there a crack, running from the floor to the ceiling slowly grew in my bedroom. I've eaten there a couple of times and it's really nice now.

The living room, where I proposed to my wife, is now the second floor ladies room.


zachus t1_j5wv72j wrote

I used to live at 43rd and Baltimore and half the house was a foot lower than the other half because it settled into the underground creek. Imagine navigating those stairs while drunk!


nolandeluca t1_j5x1iou wrote

Wut... There are tons of creeks buried below our city, once an area expansion they close up the creek and incorporate it into the sewer system. It's quite a good read if you have the time. Also with Philly look into the trash pile homes, many collapse.


USSBigBooty t1_j5x4i4j wrote

Yeah, guys, do yourselves a favor, and go into the basement and inspect the joists. Was in a house weekend before last and I think five had serious rot, and three were completely eaten away by termites. Doing your own due diligence with a flashlight and your hands or a screwdriver can save you from even making it to the offer/inspection stage.


Hoyarugby t1_j5x6t4z wrote

That's what happened to the "Logan Triangle" in north philly (if you were ever browsing google maps and wondered why there were randomly a bunch of completely empty blocks with a full street grid. Except there the creek that had been there (40 feet deep in places) was not only filled in, but filled in with coal ash which is basically the worst possible landfill material - it's not at all dense, erodes easily, and is both flammable and creates flammable gas


8Draw t1_j5xhqys wrote

This is exactly what regulations and licensing are supposed to be for because the average person isn't an electrician, doctor, lawyer, home inspector and truly has little idea how to vet one beyond the opinions of other people just as unqualified.


eva-geo t1_j5y3nmg wrote

When I’m doubt call geophysics in they can run a few different scans depending on the results can tell you if your at risk of a sink hole.


BlondeOnBicycle t1_j5y52py wrote

Also check out it will tell you a lot about your risk of flood because of subtle topography, old water sources, and more.


atheken t1_j5y9aeg wrote

The fallacy in your argument is that the average home buyer has the time or expertise to (critically) evaluate different home inspectors.

Do they need to hire an inspector? Yes.

Should the inspector have insurance and a certification? Yes.

Beyond getting recommendations from friends and your real estate agent, the typical home buyer mostly “doesn’t know what they don’t know.” - which is why they’re paying $500 to someone to do a basic walkthrough of a house.

This extends to all sorts of areas of our lives where it’s basically impossible for an individual to be fully informed, at some point we make a judgement call and make a decision.


atheken t1_j5y9yd5 wrote

As far as I know, you can’t get a mortgage if you can’t get insurance.

The insurance company has a lot of data about geographic issues that could generate a claim (such as a pocket of housing built over a creek).

The OP story sounds scary, but they caught the issue, and there are so many different gates you have to go through when buying a house with a mortgage that I think these types of horror stories are the exception, not the rule.


8_Foot_Vertical_Leap t1_j5yb4kp wrote

Buddy I'm not thr biggest fan of west philly, or cities in general, but if you think west philly is some sort of dangerous bombed out hellhole, you obviously haven't been here in decades, or possibly ever.

Specifically the area being discussed here is one of the nicest parts of town there is. People jogging and pushing strollers. Old ladies on porches. Kids playing in the street. And yes, people walking their dog. I can't think of a time I've ever felt legitimately unsafe here.

The real estate prices are far too high, I'll give you that, but that's almost exclusively compared to the shoebox-level of square footage you get in most of these rowhomes, especially if you have or want to start a family.


8_Foot_Vertical_Leap t1_j5ybmo3 wrote

There are still pockets of that around, it's pretty block-by-block. But by and large, it's getting gentrified af. Especially around Clark Park / bordering the penn campus, it's getting tough to find anything that isn't approaching $1mil.


GoldenMonkeyRedux t1_j5ycu0q wrote

It’s literally going back to it’s origin. My house had maid’s quarters on the 4th floor. Average Joes didn’t live in 9-bedroom homes.

For the record, houses on my block sold for under $200k in 2001. I’ve lived here for 25 years, and I could have purchase my whole block for what the city is claiming my house is currently worth. Luckily, we bought in 2010, when the market bottomed out.


GoldenMonkeyRedux t1_j5yd7rb wrote

LOL, my kid literally goes out on their own or with friends all the time. As an elementary school student. Our block is safer than Rittenhouse according to crime stats. Penn police are here in less than 5 minutes if I need them.

You’re fucking delusional.


uptheirons726 t1_j5ysoea wrote

Why would anyone deliberately want to buy a house in west philly?


KFCConspiracy t1_j5yww80 wrote

All I'm saying is Frank Lloyd Wright builds a house with a creek in it and everyone celebrates it, and it's a tourist attraction. You get a house with a creek in West Philly, and all of the sudden, it's a problem. People are so unappreciative of our homegrown modern urban architecture.


havpac2 t1_j5yxkze wrote

I mean the city was built on top of a swamp. I saw a map some where that showed all the old streams vs what’s left. And what was capped

Some one probably posted it (I didn’t read all the comment)

One day Philly will return to its original swamp lands . And we will be gone


uptheirons726 t1_j6005fd wrote

Jeez if you get offended by someone calling somewhere the hood, which is was for the longest time, I can't imagine how bunched your panties get over something actually offensive. Sorry I'm not well versed in Philadelphia's up and coming neighborhoods. I moved to NJ a few years ago.

Ps, everyone is a dude.


GoldenMonkeyRedux t1_j601nru wrote

The more I look into it, the less I can find about what I wrote about, so now I’m questioning if that actually happened. Maybe my memory is jumbled, but I swear there was a collapse south of Spruce on 43rd that took out a bunch of porches and some cars. One little girl fell in but was rescued.

Oh well. I am glad to see it doesn’t run under my house though.