Roxborough: Digital Archives Keep Residents Connected to Neighborhood History During Pandemic

When Donna Persico says that she is Roxborough’s Review Archives, she is not exaggerating. 

After Persico discovered the expansive archives of the community newspaper Roxborough Review in 2012 while researching the 1959 murder of a teenage girl in the area, former editor George Beetham appointed her administrator of the Archives where she promised to work to digitize the collection.

Since then, Persico has become something of a household name across the Roxborough, Manayunk, Wissahickon, and Andorra communities in the city’s Northwest section. Through her daily posts on the Review Archives’ Facebook group, which boasts nearly 7,000 members, she provides her community with a way to reminisce about their community and a reminder of how Roxborough and Manayunk have changed over the last century. 

She posts interesting archive finds and recently digitized materials, drawing comments and memories from across the neighborhood. 

James Armstrong of Roxborough, September 30, 1955. (Donna Persico/Review Archives)

“We post everyday, either photographs from the Archives or full editions of one of the newspapers,” Persico said. “And we juggle around the years and decades so that there’s something for everyone.” 

In a regular year, Persico runs the Review Archives out of a donated room at Roxborough Memorial Hospital, usually accompanied by volunteers. However, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been working on preserving the Archive from her home. 

“It’s been very difficult, working from home,” Persico said. “The Archives themselves is a massive collection. I can only bring a few boxes home, so I’m limited in the selection I have.” 

Other than the Roxborough Review, Persico digitizes other short-lived Roxborough-area publications including The Manayunk Review, The Manayunk Sentinel, and the Suburban Press, among others.

The Roxborough Review, though still in circulation, is no longer run out of an office in Roxborough. The Review is now owned by Montgomery Media, which operates out of Lansdale.  

When asked about the public response to the Archives on its website and the Facebook pages, Persico noted that the Roxborough Review itself was a powerful tool for community involvement and celebration for many decades. Though some people may feel the reputation of the paper is different today than it had been, through the Archives, people get a sense of nostalgia and reconnect with their town and their neighbors. 

“The thing is, for many of us, it means looking back and reliving our lives,” she said. 

Madge Deery has been a Roxborough resident for 58 years. The Roxborough Review has played an important role in her life in the neighborhood.

“The Review was scheduled for delivery on Thursdays,” she said. “However, I always received my copy on Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, I would wait for my copy to arrive.” 

The Review also helped far-flung friends and family stay connected to life in the community, she said.

“For those serving in the military, a subscription was ordered by family members for them,” she said. “I also saved the Review for family members that moved outside of Roxborough so that they could keep up with what was happening in their old neighborhood.” 

The Facebook page for the Review Archives, which started simply as Persico’s profile, had to be converted to a public group after exceeding the 5,000 Facebook friend limit. 

A snowy Ridge Avenue. March 13, 1996. (Donna Persico/Review Archives)

“There used to be a phrase in this hometown that the Review covered our lives from our births to our deaths,” Persico said. “It’s not like that anymore, but for a long time you could look back and recall anything that happened in your lifetime in the Review.” 

Residents appreciate Persico’s work digitizing community history, reminding them of what life used to be like in the neighborhood.

“Through the Archive, Donna has helped preserve the history of the Roxborough and Manayunk area,” said Bern Boccella, a longtime resident of Roxborough.

The review has long served as an important record of community memory, Boccella said. Digitizing these documents and bringing them online has brought that memory to the modern era.  

“My family goes back five generations in Roxborough,” Boccella said. “And the Review was essentially the internet of the 1900s in this area.” 

Boccella noted the advertisements for local businesses that used to run in the Review, as well as the Roxborough Manayunk Advertizer. Looking at old issues of the paper, he realized that for those two decades, Roxborough residents essentially did not need to leave the neighborhood to shop or dine. The Ridge Avenue business district had a variety of businesses that supplied community members with nearly all of their basic needs. 

“Everything that you could possibly need was there,” Boccella said. “You could live your whole life in three blocks on Ridge Avenue. Now all there is are pizza shops, nail salons, and breweries.” 

The Archives have had that same relevance to those looking to connect with their community virtually, Deery said. Digitizing the archives and sharing them over Facebook has provided residents a way to keep up with their neighbors, reconnect with those who have left the area, and draw attention to the ways the neighborhood has changed over the decades. 

Persico noted that like all of the Archives’ funding, the storage space for the collection at Roxborough Memorial Hospital is donated. She is unsure how the Archives will function when she’s gone, in part because there is no permanent resting place for the collection. 

“I want it to go on forever, but I won’t be able to finish it in my lifetime,” Persico said. 

Timmy Green at Kendrick Recreation Center. July 25, 2001. (Donna Persico/Review Archives)

Persico said the Review Archives project has been made with love for the community and a desire to preserve the personal histories of its residents. A lot of her work involves looking through the Archives for specific photographs or stories on a case-by-case basis, as residents ask her to help them revisit a personal memory or story they have, she said.

“I don’t mind it, though, because this project belongs to the community,” Persico said. 

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