OLD GROUND RENTS PLAGUE TO REALTY Long Forgotten Charges Often Rise Up to Entangle Modern Progress Ground rents

, the original form of encumbrance on real estate in Philadelphia, which were used by William Penn in almost every transaction into which he entered, continued to be for many years after his death a favorite form of investment, particularly those ground rents which are inaccurately described as “irredeemable.” All of these rents were originally made for a period of ten or twenty years, generally the former period, with the stipulation that they should be paid off at or before the expiration of the term. If the owner of the property on which the rent was secured neglected or was unable to pay the principal of the rent within the prescribed term, it became thereafter “irredeemable,” which meant that the owner of the property had lost the right to pay the principal of the rent, except on such terms as the owner of the rent chose to accept. This price, if accepted, was in almost every case much in excess of the original principal of the rent. An annual ground rent of $40 a year, the interest on a principal of $100 at 4 per cent, which had been allowed by the owner of the property to get into the “irredeemable” class, could not be extinguished, as It was known, except by the acceptance by the owner of the ground rent of a payment of $200 or more, instead of the original principal of $100. There is or was till recently an irredeemable ground rent of $400 on a Market Street corner, which was created almost two centuries ago, the original principal of which was $10,000. The owner of this rent refused $20,000 in payment, even at a time when he could have accepted this payment and reinvested the money in a 6 per cent mortgage offering equally good security, which would have earned him an annual income of $1200. Long-forgotten ground rents, occasionally dating back to William Penn or his daughter, Letitia Aubury, to whom he gave large tracts of ground in the older section of the city, now included in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eleventh Wards, occasionally turn up in the search of old titles. These rents were probably paid off many years ago, but no record was made of such payment. In such cases application is generally made to the courts for extinguishment of the rent. After due advertisement, in which the original owner of the ground rent, dead in most cases for many years, is called upon to appear in person or by counsel and show cause why the rent should not be marked “extinguished.” About twelve or fifteen years ago the name of Letitia Aubury was called by a court crier in the corridor outside Quarter sessions Court, in City Hall, in such a procedure. The crier, according to age-old formula, reported that no answer had been received either from the original holder of the rent or from any representative of hers, in consequence of which the court made an order that the rent, as it appeared in the deed books, should be marked “extinguished” or canceled.

For years after the Penn family had severed all connection with Philadelphia and their vast possessions in Pennsylvania had been confiscated, old Penn ground rents, made by himself or his descendants in the second generation continued to turn up from time to time to be declared extinguished. The court’s presumption in every such case was that they had been paid off years ago, or probably forgotten as the right of Penn’s descendants to sell out on them was at best questionable. In purchasing ground two or three years ago at Franklin and Race Streets by the Delaware River Joint Commission several old ground rents on property in that vicinity, made over 100 years ago by Zion Lutheran Church on Franklin street, north of Race, were disclosed in the search of titles. The Delaware River Joint Commission had to pay large prices for three old rents, which were all created for a period of 999 years about the years 1832-34. The heirs of the late David Lane, for many years a powerful political factor in Philadelphia, who bad purchased a number of these rents many years ago, were among those who benefited by their sale to the Joint Commission. Zion Lutheran Church owned none of them, having sold the rents years ago. Now that there is talk of widening Vine Street on the south side from Franklin to Broad Streets, some more of these 999-year ground rents will probably be brought to light, as the church originally owned the whole block of ground from Race to Vine Streets and from Franklin to Eighth Streets, which was sold off in lots many years ago, subject to these rents. The latest forgotten ground rents secured on the site of the garage 301 to 309 Richmond Street, in a very old section of the city, will be before Common Pleas Court No. 2 on March 22 in extinguishment proceedings brought by the Suburban Building and Loan Association of Philadelphia., present owner of the property. Samuel Howell and David R. Garrison owned the ground rents. The former had purchased in 1754 a yearly ground rent of £12 secured on part of this lot. This rent was reserved by the original owner of the ground, Thomas Boride, when he sold it in May, 1751 to John and Benjamin Koster. David R. Garrison purchased many years later a yearly ground rent of £1, secured on another part of the lot. This ground rent had been reserved by Michael Apt and wife when they sold the lot in May, 1788, to George Kremer; the Apts also reserved a ground rent of 20s, secured on another part of the lot, when they sold this part to George Kremer in 1795. The proceedings for the extinguishment of three ground rents are directed against Samuel Howell and David R. Garrison, last recorded owners of the ground rents, and their heirs.