Llewellyn House, Pont Reading, Penn Cottage, Green Hill, Early Notables, Harriton House

Llewellyn House

The Llewellyn homestead in Gladwyne, c. 1896.

Morris Llewellyn, Jr., upon coming of age in the early 1700s, received 400 acres in another area of the Township (now Gladwyne). Called Indian Fields, it was the site of an Indian village at the bend of the Schuylkill River. An agricultural people, they raised corn and beans for their staple diet. Morris Jr. built himself a dwelling of rough flint rocks gathered from nearby fields. Date stones of 1716, 1750 and 1939 indicated the additions to the house over the years. It had been named Inspiration Farm and Stonehearth by various owners. The home survives (today it is white stucco) along a bend on Conshohocken State Road.

The Humphreys’
Pont Reading

Pont Reading, on Haverford Avenue, dates to 1683. The earliest part of the dwelling was built of logs and was home to the Humphreys for over a century. A 1980 photo shows three sections, built in 1683, 1746 and 1813. Here lived Charles Humphreys, notable member of the Continental Congress and Joshua Humphreys, who designed the first ships of the United States Navy. His famous warships included the Constitution (Old Ironsides) and the Constellation.

Joshua added the handsome Federal wing of the house in 1813. His grandson, born here in 1810, would gain fame as Chief of Staff to General Meade after the Battle of Gettysburg. So many Humphreys gravitated to the Township that Bryn Mawr was originally named Humphreysville.

Side view shows three sections, the original 1683 part is at right.

Front, facing Haverford Avenue.

Penn Cottage

Penn Cottage, so-named because William Penn was supposed to have spent time there, was built on land occupied for centuries by a Lenape village. The original building was constructed in 1695 by Robert Owen on 442 acres he purchased for 100 pounds in 1691. Owen was the magistrate in service to William Penn, Justice of the Peace for Merion and a state assemblyman. After the Welsh Quakers settled in 1682, one of their first activities was to build a place of worship, Merion Friends Meeting. Robert Owen, a Quaker member, hired the same stone masons to build his house two miles west on wagon tracks that were to become Old Lancaster Road and then Montgomery Avenue. Upon completion, a gala housewarming was held; venison, purchased from the Indians at sixpence a hind, was served. In 1873, the original modest stone house was altered, then a new wing was added in 1903. All of the original stone walls remain intact. Renovations by the current owners have preserved many aspects of Owen’s original “plantation” home, including four working fireplaces.

The “plantation” land surrounding Penn Cottage encompassed a major portion of what is now Wynnewood. Robert Owen died in 1697 shortly after the death of his wife, Rebecca (Humphrey). The house became the property of their son, Evan, one of eight children. Evan Owen was a magistrate in Philadelphia.

The house next passed to Jonathan Jones, grandson of Dr. Thomas Wynne after whom Wynnewood was named. Jones was married to Evan’s sister, Gainor. The following owner was their son, also named Jonathan, who died in 1747. In 1770, the house came under the ownership of the first female owners, Gainor Jones and Mary Jones, granddaughters of the first Jonathan.

William Penn (1644-1718) in an early engraving.
Datestone, 1695, remains on the building.
Penn Cottage, photo c. 1900.
The enlarged home today.

At some point, the house was said to have been occupied by Gen. John Cadwalader, who married Martha Jones at Merion Meeting. Martha was a daughter of Edward Jones, founder of Wynnewood. Cadwalader taught at the Friends’ School in Philadelphia, then moved to the city where he was chosen a member of City Council and the Pennsylvania Assembly.

For the next 150 years, the home passed through a succession of Joneses. The historical list of owners may not always allude to the occupants of the house at any given time, since, apparently, the house was also known as the “bride’s cottage” and the brides who occupied it may not have been the owners.

The Toland family (cousins of Mary R. Jones) lived there for 34 years. The first non-familial owners were the Evans, who purchased the home in 1923.

In 1979, Penn Cottage, one of the oldest residences in Pennsylvania, was included in the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places. In 1997, a bronze plaque was placed in front of the old house by the Welcome Society of Pennsylvania, so-named for the ship that carried William Penn to America in 1682.

Green Hill

Like other Welshmen who were persecuted for their Quaker faith, brothers Charles and Thomas Lloyd were members of a landed aristocratic family, the Lloyds of Dolobran. In 1682, the Lloyd brothers, along with Welsh Quaker leader John ap John, gained ownership of a sizeable portion of the 40,000 acre Welsh Tract. Their rectangular parcel included the southeast corner of Lower Merion, and south and west of the corner of Lancaster Pike and City Avenue.

Thomas Lloyd, his wife, and their children arrived in Pennsylvania in June 1683 after an eight week journey on the ship America. Lloyd’s wife, Mary, died shortly after their arrival. Three of Lloyd’s daughters would later marry men who would each serve as mayor of Philadelphia. Educated at Oxford, Lloyd’s rare qualities became apparent in the developing city of Philadelphia. William Penn appointed Lloyd, only a year after his arrival, president of the Provincial Council. (When Penn returned to England, he put his wigs in Lloyd’s care with the stipulation that he could use them if he wished).

Upon Lloyd’s death at age 54, an unimproved 118 acre tract was sold to David Price, Yoeman, of Merion, who immediately settled on the farmland in 1694. On land, identified from then on as the Greenhill tract, Price built a solid stone house, known for 269 years as the Old Homestead. Over the next dozen years, Price added adjacent land until he owned almost 300 acres.

In 1731, Price conveyed 207 of those acres to his son Issachar, a carpenter: “…houses, outhouses, Edifices and Buildings.” For almost 30 years the property was leased to a succession of farmers: John Hughes, John Evans (who owned land northwest of the Hughes farm), and Ludwig Knoll.

Rare photo (c. 1940s) of the Old Homestead, built in 1695 by David Price. It was demolished in 1964 to make way for the Green Hill Apartments.

John Hughes was active in colonial affairs, member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and friend of Benjamin Franklin (who appointed him Stamp Distributor for the Provinces).

Upon his death in 1772, Hughes’ land was inherited by his son, John, Jr.

John Hughes, Jr. married Margaret Pashall, the great granddaughter of one of the original Lower Merion settlers, Dr. Thomas Wynne. Both John and Margaret died in their twenties, leaving two daughters. The orphaned sisters were raised at Greenhill by a cousin, Mary Hollingsworth. But the Hughes girls, unmarried, both died in their twenties.

In 1799 Mary married Israel W. Morris, a well-to-do broker and commission merchant, and son of Captain Samuel Morris of Revolutionary War fame. About 12 years later, the couple moved from Philadelphia to Mary’s farm at Greenhill.

Israel W. Morris, photographed by his son, Wistar.
Israel Morris’ residence, built in 1862.

From 1815 to 1835, the Morris’ leased the farmland section (…”except for Mansion, lawns, raspberry patch, bath house, old barns, orchard, fields & meadows…”) to John Esray. At Mary Morris’ early death, the Greenhill tract was inherited by Israel and their children, Wistar, Hannah and Jane, all born at the Old Homestead.

Wistar Morris, founder of Morris, Tasker & Company in Philadelphia, held many positions of importance in Philadelphia. He was also a director of the Pennsylvania Railroad, president of the Board of Pennsylvania Hospital and trustee of Haverford College.

In 1863, Wistar married Mary Harris and built a large stone mansion 300 yards west of Old Homestead.

Their only daughter, Holly, was born the following year. Thirty years later, Wistar remodeled the spacious country house and built a copy of a castle in Scotland of granite, designed by Mantle Fielding, and trimmed with fossiliferous limestone.

Holly married Rev. Charles Wood but died eight years later, also leaving two small children, Margaret Paschal and Charles Morris who were raised by their grandmother, Mary Harris Morris, in the mansion. Margaret married Logan McCoy; Charles managed the Green Hill Farms Hotel. Wistar Morris’ elaborate Green Hill Farm, with 18 acres, was sold to Friends’ Central School in 1925.

Wistar and Mary Morris with their daughter, Holly.
Wistar Morris’ Green Hill estate, purchased by Friends’ Central School in 1925.

Harriton House

Americans often search for their heritage in the homes of their patriots. Harriton House in Bryn Mawr is no exception. Charles Thomson, first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses, was Harriton’s most famous occupant, but the story of the house and estate encompasses more than 300 years beginning with the settlement of Merion by Welsh Quakers. The property was originally a 700 acre land grant from William Penn in 1682 and part of a much larger tract of land known as the Welsh Barony or Welsh Tract. Today the restored 1704 house and surrounding 16-1/2 acre park are open to the public as a cultural resource owned by Lower Merion Township and administered privately by the Harriton Association, a not-for-profit membership corporation.

Photo, c. 1890, by the well-known 19th century photographer, S. Fisher Corlies.

Bryn Mawr. The house we know as Harriton was built by Welsh Quaker Rowland Ellis (1650-1731) in 1704 and called Bryn Mawr (meaning “high hill”) after Ellis’ ancestral farmstead in Wales. The three story, T-shaped stone house with its flaring eaves and tall brick chimneys is a unique survivor of substantial early domestic architecture in southeastern Pennsylvania. Interior paneling and the closed-string staircase endure in the house from this early period.

Prominent Quaker. Rowland Ellis was a substantial member of his Welsh community, serving as a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, tax assessor, tax commissioner, justice of the peace, overseer of Radnor Meeting and overseer of the Quaker public schools in Philadelphia. Ellis served his Welsh neighbors as a translator in the marketplace and courts.

He first arrived from Dolgellau, Merionethshire, northwest Wales, in 1687 and settled here ten years later on his 700 acre estate. He experienced financial difficulties and was forced to sell his beloved home in 1719.

1897 sketch of Harriton House.
c. 1908 view of Harriton House when the house was the dairyman’s home for the Harriton Guernsey Dairy.

The Harrison Era. The name change of the house and estate came in 1719 with the sale of the property to Maryland tobacco planter Richard Harrison. Harrison had married Philadelphian Hannah Norris in 1717; some of the vast Norris family holdings were known as Norriton, thus their land became known as Harriton.

Though a Quaker, Harrison brought tobacco culture and black slaves with him from Maryland, and the Harriton estate is believed to be the northernmost tobacco plantation on the southern slave economy in the colonies prior to the American Revolution.

Harrison ran into some controversy with his fellow Quakers at Merion Meeting and was chastised not for owning slaves but for owning too many. At the time of his death in 1746, Negro slaves represented better than half of his personal estate, (690 pounds sterling), while all of his household goods, wearing apparel and implements of husbandry represented only about 25% of his estate (390 pounds sterling). Tobacco was grown successfully and profitably at Harriton at least until Harrison’s death.

Charles Thomson, as a young man, by Charles Willson Peale,
(Collections of Independence National Historical Park)
The Harriton cemetery started by Richard Harrison in 1719 and the burial ground for nine generations of the Harrison family. It was also the 1824 burial place of Charles Thomson, from which his remains were removed to Laurel Hill Cemetery in 1838.

The Thomson Occupancy. Charles Thomson was Harriton’s most famous occupant. He came to Lower Merion and Harriton by his marriage to Richard Harrison’s daughter Hannah. Hannah had inherited the property the same year as her marriage to Thomson, just four days prior to his election as the first and ultimately only Secretary to the Continental Congresses.

The restored c. 1787 kitchen as it might have been furnished by Charles and Hannah Thomson.

Thomson would be most quickly remembered as the designer of the Great Seal of the United States as well as the man who attested to the Declaration of Independence as an official resolution of Congress.

Thomson spent his retirement years at Harriton, from 1789 until his death in 1824, after 15 years (1774-1789) of public service. Thomson had two major interests in his retirement. The first was America’s principal industry after the Revolution, agriculture. He experimented with new agricultural techniques and crops, and he was an avid beekeeper.

Thomson was an ardent abolitionist, and he managed his farm not with slaves but by letting out on “shares” with his workers. His second interest was the completion of the first translation of the Bible from Greek to English, to be published on the North American continent in 1808.

Tenant Farmers. The Thomson’s had no children, and the estate eventually descended through a blood relative of Hannah’s sister, a young woman named Naomi McClenachan who married Levi Morris (for whom Morris Avenue is named).

Rowland Ellis’ “great hall” or common parlour at Harriton, used by Charles Thomson as his study. The closet bookcases were described by a c. 1820 visitor: “with the doors standing open and the books and papers tumbling out”!

After Thomson’s death, the substantial stone house was the home of Naomi’s tenant farmers through the 19th century. The huge Harriton estate was divided essentially in half in 1901 with the sale of a parcel of ground to William Austin, who built his manor house known as Beaumont. Harriton House was last used as a tenant farmhouse by the dairy manager, Frederick Huggler, for the Harriton Guernsey Dairy (1908-1927) which provided milk and cream to the growing suburban Lower Merion community.

An Historic Treasure. The house was sold out of the family in 1927 and purchased by Lower Merion Township as an historic site in 1969 through the efforts of the Harriton Association. Today, the house has been faithfully restored to the period of Charles Thomson’s occupancy and is open to the public on a regular basis. It is furnished with a fine collection of 18th century American decorative arts, including objects owned and used by the first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses, Charles Thomson.

Charles and Hannah Thomsons’ formal parlour at Harriton House.
The restored exterior of Harriton House as it appears today complete
with pent eave and balcony across its front.