In a modest exhibition room off the main hall of the Historical Society of Frankford (est. 1905) on Orthodox Street you will find, by appointment with secretary Pat Coyne, cast-iron stoves not much larger than dollhouse furniture.

They are miniature, 19th-century sales samples (one coal, two wood-burning), evidence of the reach of the Industrial Revolution into the home kitchen, not only shrinking it - no need for that commanding hearth anymore - but also liberating women from endless hours slaving over a hot fire.

Still, for countless girls and young women, the newfangled, labor-saving blessing was a mixed one.

"It freed up the woman of the house," the society's Diane Sadler offered wryly, "to go to work in the [textile] mills."

There's a history lesson for you: A revolution giveth and it taketh away. (Also on display, in that spirit, are pieces of blue-and-white china depicting triumphs of the American Revolution, all of them made, rather sportingly, in old England and imported by sea captains.)

The society mounts one of its exhibitions each year in conjunction with a project by middle-school students at Frankford Friends School, which has its own historic digs directly across Orthodox Street, a block west of Frankford Avenue.

And if the local foodscape (this year's theme) in Frankford currently bears little resemblance to the one on exhibit, well, all the timelier.

Who's left who witnessed the ghost world that once existed along this avenue, east of the Roosevelt Boulevard, in the all-day shadow of the rumbling El?

Where the American Pants Co. is (at 4612) stood the Jolly Post Inn, a watering hole for Generals Washington and Lafayette, a Frankford center for 200 years.

Oyster houses were as ubiquitous as the avenue's pizza shops are today. (Before pollution and overfishing emptied the Delaware's beds.)

If you walked along the dreary, run-down commercial corridor last week - still bravely called "the gateway to the Northeast" - you could still see at 4649 the impassive facade of Castor Bros., the coffee roaster.

At the turn of the last century, it was deploying 49 wagons to deliver tea and fresh-roasted coffee around town. (A sign now designates it as the home of the Strait Gate Church of Faith and Deliverance, Inc.)

Off the avenue, you could find the bones of other food-supply stalwarts - the 52,000-square-foot Baldwin Dairies, at Duffield and Foulkrod, whose truck bays were being used by head-kerchiefed auto painters; and the Frankford Grocery Co.'s mammoth warehouse at Penn and Unity, which advertised, in 1911, state-of-the-art food storage ("electric elevators, vacuum heating, interior telephones, ventilation, lighting, rolling metal door").

Associated corner groceries all over Philadelphia posted the familiar green-and-white Unity-Frankford sign as a seal of quality. And last week you could encounter Marlin Newcomer, 77, a Frankford native, who was still awestruck by the building's once most-visible wonder - train tracks that entered it at the second floor, discharging grocery provisions right inside the building.

But as much as the words coming resurgence are occasionally uttered in connection with the avenue these days, they are not with any sense of imminence: A patisserie tried to make a go of it 10 years ago, before the site was bought up by Frankford Hospital. A jazz space briefly animated the old umbrella factory, but withered on the vine.

The Frankford Friends youngsters documented the obvious in a street survey: The days of the Jolly Post, which dated its founding to the 1680s, and Becker's Bakery (circa 1850s), and the old oyster houses have given way to a cheap-eats parade of pizza joints, doughnut shops, and fortified Chinese take-out counters.

One of them - Happy Garden, at 4710 Oxford Ave. near the base of the El's Market-Orthodox station - is owned by the family of Wei Chen, a Friends middle schooler.

His favorite dish? "General Tso chicken," he said, an homage to one general who it is safe to say never set foot in Frankford - or, certainly, in the Jolly Post of yore.

Historical Society of Frankford

1507 Orthodox St. (one block west of Frankford Ave.)
215-743-6030

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.