Havertown or Ardmore? Why town boundaries can become heated debates

A 29-year-old man was shot and killed Saturday on a sleepy road in a quiet suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. On Philly.com, the original story indicated that the shooting happened in Ardmore. The next day that was changed, locating the incident in Havertown and Haverford Township.

But some readers took issue with that.

“The location is not correctly identified in the article(s),” Stacy Bartels emailed.

“ARDMORE. Haverford township, but not havertown … different zip code,” Tom Wing wrote on the Philly.com Facebook page.

“I think you would be concerned about the accuracy of the location because it’s just wrong. It’s not opinion, it’s not an editorial opinion. It’s incorrect,” Mollye Readinger-Scott (from the Ardmore section of Haverford Township) said in a voicemail.

Boundary disputes and complaints are a frequent occurrence in newsrooms and police departments nationwide. Sometimes it’s a simple clerical issue, a dot and a line on a map. But other times, those dots and lines take on a life of their own.  Some readers even accused us and other media outlets of shilling for more upscale Lower Merion by falsely locating the crime in Havertown, not Ardmore.

David Sullivan, assistant managing editor for editing and standards at Philadelphia Media Network, said locations are a tricky issue, especially in the suburbs “where many locations are based on railroad stations and old country crossroads, not municipal boundaries.”  In the city, Sullivan added, “we have a map we have used for decades defining neighborhood boundaries.  But in the suburbs it can be chancier.”

So, let’s set the record straight and attempt to explain what the borders are, and why they are so confusing in the first place.

The shooting happened on the 2300 block of Haverford Road.  By municipal boundaries, as shown in the map below, that’s well within the boundaries of Haverford Township.

By Municipal Boundaries

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A map of the incident by municipal boundaries.

However, if you map the crime based on zip code or by U.S. Census maps, the shooting appears to be just over the border in Ardmore.

The site is within the Ardmore zip code (19003), which includes parts of the municipalities of both Haverford Township and Lower Merion Township. The Havertown zip code is across the street.

Zip code boundaries

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Incident map by zip code.

U.S. Census-designated place boundaries

By U.S. Census maps, the site is within Ardmore. Not all of the area is within a census-designated place. Other nearby places include Narberth, Penn Wynne, and Broomall.

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Map of the incident based on U.S. Census maps.

When facts conflict

That’s what our data show: There are factual answers to this question. But the facts are in conflict with each other.

Speaking for the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, Sullivan said the primary goal must be accuracy.

“We want to be correct, and we also want to communicate effectively,” he said. “In this case, we were concerned that since the neighborhood involved is so close to the line between the Ardmore and Havertown zip codes, saying ‘Ardmore’ might lead people to say, ‘That’s not Ardmore. Ardmore is on Lancaster Avenue, near the train station.’ And they would think we were wrong.

“So we used ‘Havertown,’ which many people use interchangeably with ‘Haverford Township’ to make clear they don’t mean ‘Haverford,’ the area around Haverford College.”   However, he added, “not everyone, as we have found out, uses them interchangeably, and so THEY thought we were wrong.  So we’re going to refer to it as ‘Haverford Township’ in the future, because that is incontrovertibly true.”

We weren’t alone.  Other news organizations offered similar descriptions of the location:

What readers say

Some readers undoubtedly will stick with their own understandings of the neighborhood boundaries.  Among them is our own editor-at-large, William K. Marimow.

Marimow, a Havertown native, said he knows the area by only one name.

“Having grown up there, from age 6 to the time I graduated high school, I had friends who lived in every nook and cranny,” he said. “And no one that I remember ever said Ardmore.  This was Havertown.”

Phil Goldsmith, a former Philadelphia city official who lives on Old Forest Road in Haverford, said that when he moved into his current home in 1974, it had a Philadelphia zip code.

Oddly, his home was in Haverford Township, but all the houses across the street were in Lower Merion Township.

Nick Millas owns Original Eagle Pizza, on Haverford Road near Wynnewood Road. “I’ve been here for 10 years,” he said. “My taxes are paid to Haverford Township, but my address is Ardmore.”

The distinction, he said, is easily understood by local residents. “People around here know” the difference.

Trudi Meyer has worked at a nearby bowling alley, Wynnewood Lanes, for more than 20 years. “We have nothing to do with Wynnewood, though,” she said. “I can’t even say where that came from.”

But Meyer has found that the is-this-Ardmore-or-Havertown discussion is one that sometimes confuses visitors. “We’re in a weird cut of the world,” she said.