The village on the west bank of the Schuylkill River was originally called Rocky Hill and is located in the lower section of the township directly across the river from Philadelphia’s historic Manayunk. When the Reading Railroad was built in 1838, the village became known as West Manayunk. The first settlers were Welsh, followed by the English, Germans, Irish, and Italian-Albanians. The first permanent settler was the wife of John ap Thomas, outstanding Quaker and one of the original purchasers of the Welsh Tract. John died before the family departed for the colonies. On November 16, 1683, Katherine Robert (who, by custom, had resumed her maiden name) sailed with her children from Chester, England on the ship Morning Star. About a month later, she arrived and settled on her 612-acre purchase. The deed to Katherine Robert’s property was made out to her in the name of Jones, and her children assumed this name. For the next 14 years, she skillfully managed her large farm parcel.
In the 1880s, immigrants from Italy began to arrive, many descended from Christian Albanians who had fled Moslem Turks to settle in southern Italy. They in turn sent for relatives, and by 1914 the Albanians and Italians constituted a considerable portion of the lower section of the community. The town resembled a Mediterranean hill town with its goats and chickens, garden plots, and women in black, seldom seen on the streets without their menfolk. The upper reaches of the settlement were home to the earlier English, Welsh, Irish, and German immigrants, most of them employed on the area’s farms and mills.
Belmont Hills still has a number of historic homes. Leedom House and the Jones-Smith House are described on the following page.
A home located at 100 Lyle Avenue, built around 1787, was sold to Stewart Lyle, master farmer. In 1901, this estate was purchased by Wood, Harmon & Company as a real estate development known as Belmont Heights. Narrow Hills, on 88 acres, was probably named for the strait that separated Jones Island in the Schuylkill from the mainland. The Ashland Heights section was named after the local Ashland Paper Mill. In the 1950s, the name West Manayunk was changed to Belmont Hills. The diverse community has been an asset to Lower Merion since the days of William Penn.
The Pencoyd Iron Works
Remains of a ghost town. The name Pencoyd is Welsh, a corruption of Penn-y-Chlawd, meaning “treetops.” Pencoyd was the name of the farm of John Roberts, who came to this country in 1683. The Roberts family (Algernon Roberts and Percival Roberts) founded the iron works along the west bank of the Schuylkill River in 1853. The plant developed into a vast industry; the village grew and Pencoyd iron became known worldwide. Bridge building was the main manufacture when, around 1895, the plant acquired 40 acres of river front and two miles of rail track. The Pencoyd works declined after World War I and had a brief revival during World War II. The business was liquidated in 1944. Much of the old site is now occupied by Connelly Containers, Pencoyd’s only heavy industry. The location has lately shown some new signs of life.
Ardmore began on 410 acres of land bought by Richard Davis in 1686 from five Welshmen for 32 pounds, 16 shillings. One of the few local towns without a Welsh name, the village’s original name was Athensville, a nod to the fascination with the Greek revival style movement of the time (1811). William J. Buck reported in his 1884 history, “Athensville is situated on the Lancaster turnpike, seven miles from Philadelphia, and is the largest village in the township. It contains [at the center] 8 houses, three stores and one hotel.”
The first roads were but trails, and only horse and foot transportation were available. Conditions were impossible: dusty in hot summer, muddy after rains. The settlement of Lancaster led to a demand for an adequate highway that led there from Philadelphia. In 1796, the Lancaster Turnpike (first one constructed in America) allowed ponderous Conestoga wagons to carry merchandise and interior bound settlers.
That important progress led to a line of inns and taverns along the route to serve drivers and their stage coach passengers. None but the General Wayne remain; the others were replaced by charmless commercial structures.
Early Arrivals. The original settlers of the area were Welshmen who came to work in the neighboring farms and the thriving mill industry along Mill Creek. Then followed a wave of Germans who contributed their industrial skills. Next the Irish added their abilities and found work in the hotels and staffed the lavish estates built in the mid 1800s.
Later Expansion. About the same time, the establishment of railroad systems added to Ardmore’s expansion and prosperity. The first Board of Commissioners met in 1900 (at the General Wayne) to establish a local government. The same year, The Autocar Works relocated from Pittsburgh, attracted by good roads, a high grade of labor supply, the closeness to Philadelphia and a location on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Ardmore is a popular residential area with a lively business center.
80 Years of Inns. Built sometime before 1730, it began as a stage stop. Richard Hughes built a house there that year and then, as coach travel increased, converted it to an inn called Three Tuns. Here the traveler could obtain lodging, food, cider, punch, toddies and stronger liquids. It also served as the post office and unofficial community center. In 1759, Mr. Hughes announced the property was for sale. It included a “30 x 20 foot house with cellar, a fine spring of excellent water with an adjoining dwelling house, frame barn and four stables.”
It was sold that year to Francis Holton, a Philadelphia tavernkeeper who renamed it The Prince of Wales. In 1772, the property was sold to Philip Syng, the noted Philadelphia silversmith. Syng used it as his country residence, enjoying the healthy climate and proximity to a pleasant village. Eleven years later, it was bought by Capt. Robert McAfee who reopened it as a tavern, The Green Tree. In 1797, Godfrey Lainhoff was the next owner, who called his inn St. Georges.
It was razed in the 1950s.
Ardmore’s Gingerbread Age
Ardmore has retained a number of examples of the wooden houses of “The Gingerbread Age.” From the mid 1800s through the end of the century, as the suburbs were burgeoning, there was a need for tastefully designed, practical housing at moderate cost. Because Victorians admired the English and American Queen Anne styles of domestic architecture, there was a growing housing market. For those who could not afford an architect (too expensive, too difficult, too time consuming) one could buy plans books, choose a style and have a local builder put up the house. There were hundreds of designs available; some books also featured designs for gates, posts, inside doors, hardware and bookcases for the average woodworker to follow. A medium quality home could be built, complete, for $2,000 to $5,000. There are no building records, though, for these:
Businesses, along a short commercial stretch of “The Pike” in Ardmore, are shown in approximately their original locations. A few of the establishments are in business today.