by Charles R. Barker
Charles R. Barker (1876-1961), a resident of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, was a freqent contributor to the Montgomery County Historical Society publications.
(Planned as a series of newspaper articles, but never published)
Much more than two and a half centuries have rolled by since the founding of Pennsylvania. During that lapse of time, many things have occurred. The forests have gradually given place to fields; the fields have grown to plantations; villages have sprung up, and are now thriving towns. The beaten trail of the Indian has become the path of the necessities of the settler; then a confirmed road; and finally, a graded and paved highway. Travel and industry have had their evolution. Horseback rider and drover, Conestoga wagon and stage-coach, have followed one another out of sight down the old turnpike; the taverns that fed and lodged the traveler have disappeared, or are transformed into comfortable homes. Now, every man is his own stage-driver, and every road a turnpike; while, on specially constructed roads, electrically-driven and -controlled trains more than triple the speed of the old stage-coach. The mills that sawed the logs and ground the grists of the first settlers have crumbled to ruin, and the very streams that turned their wheels have shrunken to insignificance. Now, in a single large factory, a hundred wheels are turned at once by the power of steam, and of electricity that depends upon steam, while already, with a diminishing fuel supply staring him in the face, man talks of turning again to the streams for his power.
To pen a complete record of what has happened in just one township during all of these changes, would be to spend a lifetime and to produce a volume which, if not one of the six best sellers, would at least be one of the six biggest. And, so, at this point, we must disclaim any attempt to write a history of Lower Merion. Likewise, we are going to keep before us as a warning some ponderous works of the past which combined a maximum of general history (because that was already written) with a minimum of local history (because that required research). So we shall touch lightly on Indian and Dutchman and Swede, say not too much about the founding of Pennsylvania and the coming of William Penn, and then, by a series of historical sketches, we shall “stir your pure minds up to remembrance” of the things your grandfathers used to tell you about, and try to awaken your interest in the more remote past of our neighborhood, when Indian and Quaker and German lived peaceably side by side, and when the struggle with the wilderness and with the soil made more for democracy than any legislation we have been able to enact ever since.
That the Indians had settlements in Lower Merion, or, at least, resorted here frequently, before the coming of Europeans, is very likely. The writer has now before him two Indian relics. The first, an arrow-head, was given him by Mr. Harvey Taylor, who ploughed it up, along with many another Indian arrow-, spear- and axe-head, on the Taylor farm, on Lafayette road. Now, this farm was, many years ago, a part of the Llewellyn plantation, which its owner named “Indian Fields,” and the two facts taken together indicate that it was probably cleared and planted by the natives.
The other relic is an Indian pounding-stone, given the writer by Dr. Clifford H. Arnold, who found it in the bed of Mill creek, near the Black Rocks. Tradition says that the Black Rocks neighborhood was the last dwelling-place of Indians in Lower Merion. The site of another encampment, where the blackened soil yielded many arrow-heads, battle-axes and bits of pottery, could be plainly traced, within a generation, on the Hansell property, Montgomery avenue, Libertyville.
In laying off what later became the Black Horse property, the surveyor took as one of his points “a poplar Tree standing in the Old Field.” This, perhaps, marks a field which the settlers found on their arrival – that is, an Indian field. Another place where Indians resorted in great numbers, probably on account of the good fishing, was Peters’s island in the Schuylkill, above Columbia bridge. Here, when the river was low, arrow-heads have been found in abundance. That the Indians fished with the bow and arrow, is shown by Campanius, in his “History of New Sweden”: –
“They shoot deer, fowls, and birds with the bow and arrow; they take fishes in the same manner; when the waters are high the fish run up the creeks and return at ebb-tide, so that the Indians can easily shoot them at low water and drag them ashore.”
A few Indian names survive in our geography. One of the purchases of land made by William Penn in 1683 was described as beginning “on ye West side of Manaiunk, called Consohockhan.” Two years later, the Indians conveyed to him all the lands lying between Chester and Pennypack creeks, and their description ran, “Beginning at the hill called Conshohockin, on the river Manaiunck or Skoolkill.” From this hill, lines were surveyed ‘south-west and north-east to the two creeks, respectively. According to a map of 1857, one of the Gulph hills was “Conshohocken”, but others say, with much more reason, that the name belonged to what is now called Prospect hill, in Lower Merion. Perhaps it applied to the region generally; certainly it does now, for with the thriving boroughs of Conshohocken and West Conshohocken, built upon iron, if not upon rock; with the Conshohocken road running the full length of Lower Merion, and with Conshohocken road station pointing the way from another direction, the ancient name appears fastened to the map. Nor can the Philadelphian’s habit of referring to the “21st Ward” dissociate the flourishing manufacturing town across the river from its Indian name of “Manayunk.”
Emptying into the river below Conshohocken, the Arrowmink creek, a picturesque little stream, keeps alive another native name, while Indian creek, at the opposite end of the township, further suggests the vanished Delawares.
From several sources, we learn that some of the early roads of the township were laid out along former Indian trails. According to the late George P. Donehoo, an authority on Pennsylvania Indians, the turnpikes and railroads of the state generally, have followed old trails. The east-and-west trails were used by the Indians in trading; the north-and-south trails were war-paths – that is, between tribe and tribe. In summer, they followed the streams, because of the fishing. In winter, they passed along the ridges – not, us some have asserted, to watch for their enemies, but to avoid the snow-drifts in the hollows. So we may suppose that the Lancaster road and the Pennsylvania Railroad preserve, in a general way, the routes of the Indian trappers, while the Old Gulph road through the valley of Mill creek, would follow the trail of the fishermen.
The compact made between William Penn and the Indians, under the treaty elm at Shackamaxon, ensured peace for more than seventy years. But if there were no massacres in Lower Merion, there was an occasional barbecue, for the Colonial Council of Pennsylvania, sitting at Philadelphia in 1685, recorded the following minute: –
“The Complaint of ye friends, Inhabitants of Concord and Hertford (Haverford), against the Indians, for ye Rapine and Destructions of their hoggs was read.
Ordered that ye Respective Indian Kings be sent for to ye Councill with all speed, to answer their Complaint.
The Inhabitants of the Welch Tract Complaines of the same, by an Endorsemt, on ye aforementioned Complaint”
As the “hoggs” of that day ranged the woods at will, it is not surprising that they offered a tempting target. But in spite of some unruliness, friendly Indians probably continued to live amongst us until well up into the last century, and even during the French and Indian War, there was no danger near at hand. Later on, as the tribes gradually vanished westward parties continued to visit the neighborhood of Philadelphia. A granddaughter of John Hull, who was keeper of the toll-gate on the Lancaster Turnpike at Radnor, about 1816, recalled, a few years ago, hearing him tell of disputes he had had with Indian chiefs over the payment of toll for their parties!
In looking back to William Penn as the founder of Pennsylvania, we must not forget that his colonists were by no means the first to settle on the banks of the Delaware and Schuylkill. European ships had been sailing into the Delaware, and European adventurers making landings, if not settlements, on both banks, for nearly three quarters of a century before his arrival. First came the Dutch, in 1609. In 1616, one of their number – Captain Hendrickson – more venturesome than the rest, discovered and entered the mouth of a tributary of the Delaware, which then or later received the name “Schuylkill,” meaning “hidden stream.” The Dutch came, not as colonizers, but as traders. In 1633, they established an extensive fur trade with the Indians, and in 1648 bought from them a tract, supposed to have been near Gray’s Ferry, on which a fort, called “Beversrede,” was soon completed.
Meanwhile, in 1638, had come the Swedes. Unlike the Dutch, they came prepared to found a colony. Others followed, and in 1643, their settlements were extended to Tinicum island, near the Schuylkill’s mouth, where, under Governor Johan Printz, they built a mansion house, a fort and dwellings, and called the place “New Gothenborg.” The same year, they built a grist mill on Cobb’s creek. Later, they settled at Upland (Chester), and gradually spread along the Delaware, and up the Schuylkill.
In 1641, a party of English from New Haven had settled on the lower Schuylkill. But they were never numerous, and in 1653 they were finally expelled by their neighbors. For overlapping claims soon led to hostilities, and Old World feuds found their echo on the Delaware. Officials of New Netherlands, New Sweden and New York held sway by turns, and a mimic warfare – serious enough at the time – was waged up and down the river. The Dutch, easily reinforced from Manhattan, were able to force their authority on the Swedes (1655); but when the English conquered New Amsterdam, now New York (1664), the Dutch traders on the Delaware succumbed. Title to the right bank of the river was then vested in the Duke of York (who was later to reign as King James II of England), under a grant from his royal brother, King Charles II; and although temporarily lost to the Dutch (1673-1674), it remained the Duke’s until 1681, when it was included in the grant of Pennsylvania to William Penn.
Those of us who pass the south portal of the Philadelphia City Hall, are familiar with the two bronze tablets, one on each side of the entrance, commemorating the Dutch and Swedish governments on the Delaware. A great deal more might be said here about them, and about the settlements farther down the river, but we are only trying to tell, very briefly, of how these settlements affected our own neighborhood.
When Penn sailed up the Delaware, in 1682, there were probably 1000 Dutch, Swedes, English and Germans settled within the present limits of Pennsylvania. The chief settlement was at Upland now Chester, where a court held session, its jurisdiction extending as far along the river and back into the country as the strong arm of the law could reach. The meadows of southern Philadelphia were occupied by Swedes, who had a church (now known as “Old Swedes’ Church”) at a place called Wicaco. There were English Quakers on the site of Kensington. Near there, Jurian Hartsfelder, a Dutchman, owned 350 acres of land. The Drinker family had a house near Second and Walnut streets; the Mifflin family were living in what is now east Fairmount Park. Across the Schuylkill from Mifflin’s, and near the present Zoological Gardens, was the house of William Warner, ancestor of the Warner family of Lower Merion and of many other places. He called his place “Blockley,” which name was afterwards extended to the surrounding township. North of Warner’s, John and Andries (or Andrew) Wheeler – Swedes – owned a tract of 400 acres, known as “Netopcum,” which extended right up to the borders of Lower Merion.
Many of these settlers held patents from the English governors of New York – Nicolls, Lovelace and Andros – who represented the Duke of York, and through whose grants some Philadelphia land titles can therefore be run back to dates much earlier than 1681.
No Swedes settled in Lower Merion, nor did any other European, before the arrival of Penn’s colonists – unless we except “Clean John” who may have been Welsh, Dutch or Swedish. In 1702, Hugh Roberts, who was then dwelling in Lower Merion, bequeathed to his son Robert, “One half of the meadow (which was formerly called Clean John’s Meadow.”). In 1707, Robert Roberts sold to Edward Reese ten acres of marsh or meadow, “by the name of Clean John’s Meadow,” in Merion, “at the head of Mill Creek.” Six months later, a conveyance in Blockley mentions a white oak, “called Clein John’s Corner tree,” also, “land lately belonging to the sd. Cline John.” If “Cline John” represents an attempt to spell “Kleenjan,” then there may have been a very early Dutch settler on our borders. The “Mill Creek” referred to was not the Mill creek of today (which had not acquired the name so early); but was the stream which parallels the Pennsylvania Railroad through Merion and Overbook. Formerly, this crossed West Philadelphia, and emptied into the Schuylkill just south of Woodlands cemetery, and was known as Mill creek.
Although Lower Merion remained a virgin forest during all of this time, the Schuylkyll, on which it borders, was a much-used natural highway. Not only did the Indians use it, but here they also plied their trade with the Dutch, chiefly in beaver skins, the animals being so plentiful as to give the name to the Dutch fort, “Beversrede,” as well as to Beaver island, near the Falls of Schuylkill. In the vicinity of the Falls, the Swedes, who preferred meadows and the banks of streams, later made quite a settlement. On the west side, beside the Wheelers, already mentioned, the Swedish family of Garretson settled. This name, in the space of more than two centuries, has been reduced to “Garrett,” and has become rooted to the soil in the villages of Garrett Hill and Garettford. In 1777, Major Morton Garrett held a commission in the Seventh Battalion, Philadelphia County Associators, which was recruited in Upper Merion, Lower Merion, Blockley and Kingsessing townships.
In 1677, four years before the founding of Pennsylvania, the Court at Upland granted the petition of “John mattson, Swen Lom and Lace Dalboo desiering of ye Court to take upp three hundred acres of Land, at ye place Called wiessahitkonk on ye westsyde up in ye Schuylkill.”
It is supposed that there was a trail, sometimes spoken of as the “Swedes’ Path,” connecting the lands at the Falls with the seat of government at Upland. An interesting view of the life of that day may be had by reading “The Record of the Court at Upland,” published in the Memoirs of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
While the Swedes took up no lands in Lower Merion, they made an important settlement within two miles of our borders. In 1684, two years after Penn’s arrival, a company of them took up a right to 1000 acres of land which was afterward laid out in what is now Upper Merion township. About 1712, a number of families moved up from the Delaware to their new farms, which were laid out along the Schuylkill from Bridgeport nearly to the Gulph hills. Among them were families named Rambo and Yocum, many of whose descendants live amongst us, some still bearing the old family name. At the Swedes’ ford, in 1733, they raised a small school building, which was also used for religious services, whenever a pastor could journey so far into the country. Burials were made in the adjoining ground. In 1760, a church, now known as Christ Church, was built here, and in 1765, it was incorporated, with the Swedish churches at Wicaco (“Old Swedes'”) and Kingsessing (St. James), as the “United Swedish Lutheran Churches.” Several Lower Merion families attended Christ Church, and tombstones in the churchyard bear the names of Broades, Yocum, Rambo and Egbert.
Because the Swedish Lutheran church is episcopal in form, it was sometimes served, when without a regular pastor, by ministers of the Protestant Episcopal church. So as the Swedes became merged with the other elements of the population, the Swedish churches, one by one, became Protestant Episcopal churches. From 1792 until 1821, Christ Church was served by Rev. Slater Clay, who was also pastor, at about the same time, of St. David’s (Radnor), St. Peter’s (Chester Valley) and St. James of Perkiomen (Evansburg, Montgomery county).” The good pastor seems to have kept one register for several charges, for the records of St. James of Perkiomen, as published in the State Archives, give the names of many Lower Merion residents whom he united in marriage. Among these are the names of Horn, Trexler, Cline, Colflesh, Goodman, Krickbaum, Stillwagon, Lindsay, Ramsey, Menzies and Young.
In local geography, there are many suggestions of the Swedes. “Swedesford” is still there, though no longer fordable. The village surrounding Christ church is called Swedeland, farther north is Swedesburg, and there is a Swede street in Norristown, while at Conshohocken, the new Matson’s Ford bridge, recently dedicated, is a permanent reminder that the Swedish tongue was once spoken along the banks of the Schuylkill.
How many residents of Lower Merion can bound the township? Get out the map of Montgomery county – the State Highway Department furnishes one at moderate cost – and we find this: –
On the south-east, Lower Merion is bounded by City avenue, which divides it from that part of Philadelphia city formerly known – as Blockley township.
On the south-west, it is bounded by the Delaware county line, which divides it from the townships of Haverford and Radnor.
On the north-west, by Matson’s Ford road, which divides it from Upper Merion township; by the borough line of West Conshohocken; and by the Schuylkill river, which here separates us from Conshohocken borough and Whitemarsh township – all these places being in Montgomery county.
And on the north-east, by the Schuylkill aforesaid, which separates us from Whitemarsh, and from that part of Philadelphia city generally known as Roxborough and Manayunk.
Although this completes the outside boundaries, Lower Merion is also bounded within – by the borough of Narberth, which it surrounds on every side.
Such is the township of today. But a glance at early maps shows that it has changed not only its bounds and its area, but its name and its county, since provincial days, while the territory adjoining it has likewise changed.
Some time after the founding of Pennsylvania, the three original counties of the state – Chester, Philadelphia and Bucks – were laid out, fronting on the Delaware, their side lines running back into the country in a northwesterly direction, and with very uncertain limits. These counties were much larger than they are today. Chester included the present counties of Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Dauphin and Lebanon; part of Berks, etc. Philadelphia included the present counties of Philadelphia and Montgomery; part of Berks, etc. Bucks included the present counties of Bucks, Lehigh, Northampton, and a good deal more. As settlement progressed, townships were laid off, their boundaries naturally being run either paralled to, or at right angles to, the county lines. Looking again at the map of Montgomery county, we see how this plan underlies its geography. Of course, the Schuylkill provided a natural boundary, and was so used.
Again, within each township, lands surveyed to purchasers followed the same lay-out, and this was true, in a general way, of Lower Merion.
A glance at Thomas Holme’s Map of Pennsylvania – a part of which is reproduced in Bean’s “History of Montgomery County” – shows that while the townships of Haverford and Radnor are already named, Upper and Lower Merion are not indicated by name. Thomas Holme was Surveyor General of Pennsylvania, but his map, although dated 1681, is only a running record of surveys covering quite a period of years. On this map, the territory of Lower Merion is divided into a number of right-angled tracts. The tract in the eastern corner is marked “Edward Jones & Compa being 17 Families.” This was the first settlement, and we shall say more of it later. Edward Jones and several of his associates arrived in Pennsylvania nearly two months before William Penn, and their tract was probably laid out to them soon after their arrival, being confirmed by a complete survey in 1684. Its boundary extended from the Schuylkill along the line of City avenue to a point beyond Overbrook station, then northwestwardly by a slightly bent line to and beyond Libertyville, then straight to the Schuylkill, which it met just north of Ashland Heights. This tract was laid out in right of 2500 acres, and was the original township of Merion, or Merioneth, being named for the county in North Wales from which its purchasers hailed.
Old deeds show that it was some time before the name “Merion” (or “Meirion,” as often spelled) began to be applied to other parts of the present Lower Merion. In 1685, an early conveyance of the Llewellyn plantation, one mile north of Gladwyne, locates it “on the west side of Skuil-kill, in the county of Philadelphia.” In 1686, a deed for 410 acres, covering practically all of Ardmore, describes it as “set out . . . adjoyning or neere to the sd. Township of Harford” (Haverford). A tract including a large part of the Clothier property at Wynnewood, is located, in 1687, as “adjoyning Harford township” and land of John Bevan. A document of 1689 refers to 200 acres “that lies between Merion and Haverford,” this being in the southern angle of the present township of Lower Merion.
In 1691, Thomas Lloyd, Deputy Governor of Pennsylvania, deeded to Edward Rees 125 acres, “scituate and being between the Township of Haverford and Meirion,” and bounded south-south-east “with Merion Tract.” This land lay on both sides of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Wynnewood. On the very next day, Governor Lloyd sold to Robert Owen what old residents yet recall as the Jones property, at Wynnewood. This the deed describes as being in the “Township of Meirion, County of Philadelphia,” but bounds it on the south-southeast by “Meirion line,” thus placing it outside the town!
But in 1695, Edward Rees is “of Meirion”; in 1696, Robert Owen is “of Merionath, county of Philadelphia,” while in 1697, a farm at what is now Gladwyne is located “in the upper part of Merion Township,” and dwellers on the site of Ardmore and at Black Rocks give their residences as “Meirion.”
So, as the land was sold off and settled, the name gradually spread westward to the county line, and northward into the woods.
As “township consciousness” developed, the distinction between the residents of “Merion” and those whom they were pleased to call the “back inhabitants” – that is, dwellers beyond the Gulph hills – became more marked. In 1714, a petition “of some of the Inhabitants of Upper Marion, and adjacent settlers and some others of the Inhabitants of Chester” (county), asks for the confirmation of a road which runs “near Rees Thomas’s house.” This was their outlet to market, and, as we shall see later, the subject was the source of much discussion and neighborly hard feeling for many years. In 1725, a petition complains that “the Overseers of Lower Merion . . . have not Obayed Your Order . . . and we the Inhabitants of Upper Merion have no Road to go to Market”; etc. Here we have put both townships on the map. In 1731, we find David Price “of Lower Merion” selling the “Green Hill” property on City avenue; while in the same year Howel ap Howel states in his will that he “lately redded in keeping skool at the township of Lower Meirion in the county of Philadelphia.”
Meanwhile, in 1683, Penn had laid out the “Manor of Mount Joy.” Manors were an English institution, transplanted to Pennsylvania only in name, which Penn had applied to his “Proprietary tenth,” or lands reserved for his own use as Proprietor of Pennsylvania. The Manor of Mount Joy, which he later (1701) patented to his daughter Letitia, was laid out for 7800 acres, and embraced nearly all the present Upper Merion, whose boundaries it overlapped.
In 1684, Penn laid out the great “Welsh Tract.” It contained 40,000 acres, and included, besides other lands, a large part of the present Lower Merion; hence, many references to “Merion in the Welsh Tract” – of which more later. The Welsh Tract adjoined the Manor of Mt. Joy, and it is probable that the boundary line between them was made the basis for the division line between Lower Merion and Upper Merion. This township division line, as shown on Mr. Benjamin H. Smith’s fine map of Lower Merion lands, did not follow the Matson’s Ford road, as at present, but began at Radnor township line, and then, skirting the Gulph hills, proceeded towards the Schuylkill by a course which looks, on the map, somewhat like the side view of a flight of steps, finally reaching the lowest step at Spring Mill road, whose line it followed for a mile, down to the Schuylkill.
The use of this irregular boundary line would give a very different map of Lower Merion from the one we are familiar with. In the first place, the beautiful little valley one sees on his left, as he approaches the Gulph hills in a Philadelphia & Western train, would fall within Lower Merion. Here, close to the boulder marking Washington’s encampment, once stood the Gulph grist and saw mills, of which but a fragment remains. A deed for one of these mills, in 1795, describes it as still in Lower Merion. The Gulph Christian Church and the adjoining school-house would also be on our side of the line.
On the other hand, half of the old Broades farm, the high rolling estate of Mr. Richard G. Wood, and, in fact, practically everything enclosed by State road, Spring Mill road and the Schuylkill, would fall in Upper Merion. In this bend of the river was the landing place of Spring Mill ferry. In 1799, when William Hagy sells his interest in this ferry, the deed describes it as yet in Upper Merion.
The adoption of the Matson’s Ford road as the division line resulted in a confusion of location which is reflected by the records. No doubt the tax returns were also confused, the question of being on both lists, or on neither, forming a matter of some concern to the taxpayer.
Mention has been made of the Manor of Mount Joy. After its sale by Letitia Penn, the greater part of it became absorbed into the township of Upper Merion. It is interesting to note that the description of this Manor, as given in 1701, begins at the lands of Morris Llewellyn, on the west Hide of Schuylkill, showing that at that time it extended to the Spring Mill road.
While a rectangular town plan, with everything laid out on the square, may be ideal, it is not always one to be attained. Some of the old property lines of Lower Merion look as if an earthquake had played havoc with the monuments, making necessary a readjustment.
There are several good reasons, and perhaps some bad ones, for this. As every engineer should know, and as every rodman does know, running straight lines up and down hill through a virgin forest is no light work. Many instruments of that day were imperfect, and some surveyors, it is feared, not above question. In the bustle of building a new world, overlapping grants were made, resulting in conflicting claims. And then, as now, the bait of special inducement; was ever present, tempting the surveyor to swerve from his standard, or his line to depart from true.
In our school days, we spoke of trading articles “sight unseen.” Penn’s practice was somewhat like that: he sold a right to so many acres of land, and afterwards issued a warrant under which his surveyors laid out to the purchaser the required number of acres, at such place or places as the authorities thought proper. This did not always suit the purchaser, so to the surveyor general and his deputies fell the not too easy task of reconciling complaints and pleasing everybody – including friends.
Many lands were surveyed, and some townships laid out, before county lines had been determined. In 1684, there was laid out to Edward Prichard & Co. – not a business firm, but a land company – a single tract of 1250 acres.” This included practically all the land now lying between Gulph road and the Radnor township line, and extending from the line of Haverford township northwestwardly two and three-quarters miles. Although a small township in itself, the Prichard tract did not fall within any established township, and even its county was somewhat in doubt, the description locating it merely as adjoining Radnor township and land of John Humphreys. Within a short time, Prichard & Co. conveyed the whole tract to John Eckley.
It was not until 1685 that the Provincial Council, sitting at Philadelphia, fixed the line between Philadelphia and Chester counties. (Remember that Montgomery county was part of Philadelphia until 1784; Delaware part of Chester until 1789). Beginning at the Delaware, the line ran up Bough (Bow) creek to Mill (Cobbs) creek, up Mill creek “to a W.S.W. Line [City avenue], which Line divided the Liberty Lands of Philadelphia from Severall Tracts of Land belonging to the Welsh & Other Inhabitants; and from thence E.N.E. by a Line of Marked Trees, 120 perches more or Less; from thence N.N.W. by the harford [Haverford] Township, 1000 perches more or less; from thence E.N.E. by ye Land belonging to Jno. Humpheris, 110 perches more or less; from thence N.N.W. by ye Land of Jno. Ekley, 880 perches more or Less; from Thence Continuing ye said Course to the Scoolkill River;” etc.”
This was the unanimous verdict of the Council, after weighing the expressed wishes of Governor Penn, who was then absent in England. The distances given are approximate; they were probably not intended to be exact. But it appears that the line of Haverford township was placed too far north-east. No sooner was the line surveyed than it was challenged by Henry Lewis, John Bevan & others “in behalf of Welsh Friends.” Lewis’s lands were in Haverford; Bevan’s were in what is now Lower Merion, adjoining Lewis’s. The complaint was against Charles Ashcome, deputy surveyor of Chester county, who, with Ralph Fretwell, had run the line. Ashcome was frequently involved in disputes with land-owners. As he had previously laid out some of the lands in Haverford township, he was required to bring in a draught of them. After comparing his with that of David Powell, who had laid out Merion, Council recommended a compromise, which probably resulted in the line now separating Lower Merion and Haverford.
More serious problems arose on the borders of Radnor town-ship. There, the new county line had left John Eckley’s 1260 acres on the side of Cheater county. This is shown clearly on Holme’s map of Pennsylvania, where the boundary is indicated by a “pricked line.” But it had also divided the Welsh Tract. Now the Welsh Tract was the dream of the Welsh settlers, who had planned to live in Pennsylvania in one compact settlement, or Barony, where they would retain their own institutions, language and religion, and elect their own representatives, independently of county boundaries. This they had understood they could do. In 1684, the Welsh Tract had been surveyed, to include the townships of Merion, Haverford, Radnor, etc., and the blazing of the county line right across it came as an opening wedge to divide their Barony.
For several years, these two questions ran parallel, and seriously affected local politics. Penn was absent most of the time, and his deputies knew, or cared, little about the Barony, of which, they declared, nothing appeared of record. In 1689, after hearing testimony tending to prove Penn’s expressed wishes in the matter, Council confirmed its previous action by declaring “the bounds & dividing lyne betwoene ye Countyes of Philadelphia & Chester” to be as “Exprest by the dividing line marked in the large map of the Province.”
The boundary dispute now seems to have simmered until 1721, when a petition from inhabitants of the upper Schuylkill, who were being taxed in both Philadelphia find Chester counties, reopened the whole question before Council. The Secretary, being called upon, reported he was unable “to find out any authentick Act or order by which the said Counties have been divided,” but that “At the first Settlement of the Country under the Proprietor, the Creek or Run on this side of Darby, called Cobs Creek, made the first Division of those Counties in the lower parts towards the River Delaware, as far back from the said River as Haverford township; That in the printed Maps there is laid down from thence a prick’d Line for the Division of those Counties by the side of Haverford Township, departing from the said Cob’s Creek to the Eastward, and again above the sd. Townships, taking another Turn further to the Eastward to leave John Holland’s [Eckley’s?] and some other Lands on the side of Radnor Township to Chester County; And that thence the same Line is continued from thence streight to Schuylkill, dividing Loetitia Penn’s Mannor almost in the middle and laying part of it to each County; That He is apprehensive This was done arbitrarily by the Surveyor General without any authority for the same at the Time the Map was made, and that in his Opinion it would have been more regular to carry the Division Line along the side of Radnor and the upper part of that called the Welch Line, laying all those Tracts called Mannors to Philadelphia County, as in all appearance they were at first intended by the Proprietor.””
Strange to say, the Secretary did not report, until a year later, the failure of his predecessor to turn over records which would have reversed this opinion. But his suggestion “to carry the Division Line along the side of Radnor” must have been taken seriously, or perhaps it only reflected what had already become current practice. Although we find no further minute, beyond one ordering the missing records to be called for, it is certain that by some means a strip of land three-fourths of a mile wide, and 8 miles in length, was transferred from Chester county to Philadelphia county. Benjamin Eastburn’s “Map of Part of the Province of Pennsylvania” etc., surveyed in 1739, indicates this. Of this strip, there remains in the present Lower Merion a tract of approximately 1500 acres, which now sustains a population of several times that many persons, being one of the most highly improved of urban and suburban sections.
In considering thus lengthily the boundary between Philadelphia and Chester counties, we found reference to “a W.S.W. Line, which Line divides the Liberty Lands of Philadelphia from Severall Tracts of Land belonging to the Welch & Other Inhabitance.” This is the line of the present City avenue, which had been run, at least in part, by David Powell, when he surveyed the township of Merion. “The Liberty Lands,” or “City Liberties,” as sometimes called, were lands reserved for a kind of bonus to purchasers of large tracts, who were given 10 acres for every 500 purchased. These “Liberty Lands” (there were others east of Schuylkill) were afterwards absorbed into Blockley township. It was many years before Lower Merion had a road all along this boundary; Levering’s map of 1851 shows that at that time, a mile of it, next to the Schuylkill, was still unopened.
Now we have “beaten the bounds” of our township on all sides but one – the Schuylkill side. This, being a river, might be supposed to have remained the same. But even here, there have been changes – first, by the shrinkage due to cutting away the forests; then, by the backing up of the water by Fairmount and Flat Rock dams, which has caused the disappearance of several islands once considered parts of the township. And finally, a railroad company,, filling in a large portion of the river to provide a yard for itself, has added not a little ground to Lower Merion’s territorial possessions!
Besides the English and the Welsh, a good many Irish Friends followed William Penn into Pennsylvania. These formed a large settlement in Chester county. But some of their lands, like those of other purchasers, had to be located elsewhere. So it came about that while there were no Irish settlers in Lower Merion, a little group of Friends, of the counties of Cork and Tipperary, owned 2000 acres of the high and rolling land fronting on the Schuylkill.
In the summer of 1682, Joshua Holland, living in the town of Chatham, on the Medway, in the county of Kent, England, bought a right to 5000 acres of “rough and unseparated land” in the Province of Pennsylvania. Holland is called “marriner”, and as the royal dockyards were situated at Chatham, he was possibly an officer in the royal navy. He did not come to settle here, but his son John, a shipwright of Chatham, made the long voyage to Pennsylvania in the spring of 1683, bringing a letter-of-attorney, by which his father empowered him to sell 1000 acres, “so as the same be a mile distant from the Waterside or River there” (meaning, no doubt, the Delaware).
Under this right, there was surveyed to Holland, in 1685, a plantation of 500 acres on the west side of “Skuil-Wll”, in the county of Philadelphia, extending (as bounded today) from the Schuylkill back to State road, and along the river from Spring Mill road to Young’s Ford road. Like most early surveys, this was generous measure, for the rectangular “farm” actually contained about 660 acres. In May of the same year, Holland, who was then a shipwright in Philadelphia, sold the tract to George Collett, a glover of that city. The new owner was a son of George Collett, of Clonmell, county Tipperary, Ireland, and had emigrated to Pennsylvania with other Friends. An accident, in December, 1686, seems to have shortened his life. A tree which he was felling caught his foot, and in despair of getting free, he made a verbal will in the presence of his apprentice lad. Although he did not die until October, 1687, the apprentice’s affidavit forms his only will of record. He left “all nee had in this Country” to his nephew Nathaniel Pennock. As Nathaniel was yet a minor, his father, Christopher Pennock, was made guardian. Ten years later (December, 1697) the father became the son’s administrator, and, on the first of March following, to meet the debts of the estate, he sold the whole plantation to Morris Llewellyn, of Haverford township. But more later of the Pennock family.
We now soon begin to hear this property called “Indian Fields.” The new owner had his lands surveyed, but probably did not live there, but on his Haverford lands, 84 where he built, in 1699, the stone house which still stands, at Ardmore Avenue station, P. & W. In 1708, he deeded to his son Morris, as a gift, his plantation of Indian Fields, comprising practically all the lands now enclosed by Spring Mill, State and Lafayette roads and the Schuylkill, and containing about 500 acres, although called 400. A house, which probably stood on the site of the present Taylor farm house, went with the land, and was no doubt already the home of Morris the younger, as the record of his marriage, two years earlier, to Elizabeth Thomas, calls him “Morris Llewelin of the Indian Fields in Merion township.” In the same year (1708), Morris the younger bought 230 acres covering half the site of Ardmore. This gave him a nominal acreage of 630, on which, in 1713, he obtained a patent to reinforce his title. In 1709, he served as constable, and in 1729 he Was made an overseer of roads, for Lower Merion. But as yet, there was no public road leading near Indian Fields, so in 1735, he headed a petition to Court, setting forth that he and some others were “Shut up after such manner that we Can Neither go to Meeting Mill nor Markett without Trespassing on our Neighbors.” A road was granted. In 1740, he was again an overseer, and was several times appointed to view and lay out roads.
Morris Llewellyn the younger was married a second time, in 1733, to Katherine Lewis, of Haverford township. In 1738, he deeded to his son-in-law and daughter, Evan and Margaret Evans, all the land now enclosed (roughly) by Church road, Linwood, Athens, Ardmore and Montgomery avenues, in Ardmore, excepting 5 acres in the angle between Montgomery avenue and Church road, which he afterwards left to their son, Morris Evans.
Morris Llewellyn, the younger, died in the early fall of 1749, leaving no sons, but five daughters: Margaret, aforesaid; Cicily (wife of Alexander Crukshank); Mary (wife of James Trueman); Elizabeth (wife of George Webster); and Katherine (wife of Isaac Taylor), to whom he had bequeathed his lands. By this time, the homestead had been removed beyond the line of Stony lane. By the partition of the land, in 1755, Isaac Taylor received a farm, with the old house, in the northern angle of Lafayette road and Stony lane.” Here he built a new house, yet standing, which has been occupied right up to the present century by the Taylor family – a continuous possession for more than two centuries by the Llewellyn family.
Griffith Llewellyn, a brother to Morris the younger, received from their father the rest of the plantation bought from Pennock, with other lands south of it – 400 acres in all. Here he built a stone house. Perhaps it combined house and barn, after the ancient fashion, for at the front were two archways, six feet wide and six feet high, through which carts could have passed. It is said there was a distillery here; its nearby barrel shop could be pointed out, not long since. The stone in the front wall reads “G M L” (Griffith and Mary Llewellyn). Another stone, inscribed “J L 1750” marks the addition built by Griffith’s son John, who married Martha Thomas, and carried down the family name.
This old house was still standing recently, near State road. The archways, at first boarded up, and provided with window and door, have been built in with masonry. In recent years, the whole building has received a plaster cast. In his book, “Rural Pennsylvania”, Rev. S. F. Hotchkin gives a full-page view of this old house, as it was before the remodeling. Griffith LLewellyn was frequently made the trustee or the executor of a neighbor. He was made Justice of the Peace in 1741 and 1745, and he attested and proved many wills of residents of “Merion.” He was constable of the township in 1734, and served as overseer of roads in 1744. In 1734, the road now known as Young’s Ford road was laid out, its curved course passing through his land for more than a mile, finally reaching the Schuylkill at what was then Reese ap Edward’s ford. A strip of his land, cut off by this road, was used as a family burying-ground, and a number of interments were made there; but in later years nearly all remains have been removed, and today, probably the only tombstone standing in the little patch of woods which covers the old cemetery is that of a daughter of George and Margaretta Knorr, who died in 1832.
Griffith Llewellyn died in 1750, aged about 62. One hundred and twenty years later, descendants still owned a portion of his farm, and doubtless there are many now living in the township.
In telling of their successors, we have neglected our Irish purchasers – but we return to them again. In 1681, Francis and George Rogers, of Cork, Ireland, bought a right to 5000 acres of land in Pennsylvania, of which each was to hold half. At this time, there was living in Cork a preacher of the Society of Friends, who bore the name Francis Rogers – perhaps the one concerned in this transaction. Two years later, the purchasers assigned their right to George Collett, of county Tipperary, who sold it, in May, 1686, to Christopher Pennock, who had married his sister Mary. We have met both these men before. It is said that Christopher Pennock had been an officer in the service of William of Orange. Previous to 1685, he settled in Philadelphia, where he followed the trade of wiredrawing. His purchase, besides other lands which it included, put him in possession of a tract in Lower Merion laid out for 1000 acres. This formed an irregular square, extending down river from Young’s Ford road to Hollow road, and back from the river one and a half miles – actually more than 1600 acres (including allowance for roads), sloping southward to Mill creek, which it included for almost a mile back from its mouth.
Four months later, Pennock sold, from this tract, 100 acres to Matthew Clemison, and 150 acres to Cadwalder Lewis, the northern line of these farms being now Godley road, with the line of Righter’s Mill road between them. No road reached them, except perhaps a rough trail leading to the present Young’s ford, which was not opened as a high-way until nearly fifty years later.. In a few years, both farms were sold to Richard Walter, whose family owned them for many years. The village of Merion Square (now Gladwyne) is built upon them.
In 1689, Christopher Pennock obtained a patent for his 1000 acres, and in 1693 he sold to Morgan David (a Welsh-man, and an original purchaser in Ardmore) 750 acres. It seems that Pennock now planned to return to Ireland, for near the end of the year 1700 he proved, before the Commissioners of Property, his son Joseph’s right to an original purchase of 6000 acres, which included “an old Survey on Schuylkill” of 1000 acres, with an overplus, besides, of 200 acres. Shortly after, the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting granted Christopher Pennock a certificate to visit “the six weeks meeting at Cork in Ireland”, but in 1701, he died, in Philadelphia.
Joseph Pennock declined to take up the excess 200 acres in Lower Merion. After engaging in business in Philadelphia, he removed, about 1714, to Chester county, where his lands were located. There he became a prominent man, dying in 1771, and leaving numerous descendants of the name. Among the names of the original purchasers of Lower Merion are found those of two Englishmen – William Shardlow and William Wood, who were partners in the land venture. On early property maps, their names are almost inseparable, for, like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, wherever Shardlow owned a tract, Wood was sure to own one beside it. Holme’s map of Pennsylvania indicates the Wood and Shardlow lands in Lower Merion, but (as if it did not matter!) reverses the names, thus giving to each the land belonging to the other. Shardlow, who was a London merchant, never came to Pennsylvania, Wood, however, did so, but lived only a few years after his arrival, and never settled in Lower Merion.
In 1682, Shardlow and Wood bought 5000 acres of land in Pennsylvania. Some time elapsed before it was all laid out, but in 1684, a survey of 500 acres to each of these men was made in what is now Lower Merlon. The Shardlow tract does not “square” with many existing roads, and is hard to describe without a map, but on the south, it was bounded by the line of Summit avenue and (approximately) Flat Rock road, which parted it from the land of William Wood. It took in the Mill Creek valley from Toddtown to Murray’s mill, the high lands known as Fairview and Crow hill, and about half of “Penshurst”, late the estate of Mr. Percival Roberts, Jr., and had a frontage on the Schuylkill from Hollow road to Flat Rock tunnel.
In transacting the business of his Pennsylvania lands, Shardlow acted through attorneys. One of these was John Blunston, a prominent citizen of Darby. In 1690, the Board of Commissioners of Property (Penn’s land office) received a petition from John Blunston, requesting “that no Pattents be granted by the Commissrs to the Damage of Wm. Sherlow.” William Wood was dead. In the settlement of his estate, his interest in lands held in common with Shardlow might be sold. The object of the petition was probably to guard against granting to a purchaser of this half interest, the full title which a patent would confer. In 1692, Blunston sold for Shardlow 150 acres of his Lower Merion land – a narrow strip, extending along Flat Rock road from the river almost to Fairview road. Perhaps it was the steep grade of this hilly farm – some 350 feet in the mile from river to summit – that caused Robert Jones, a subsequent owner, to name it “Mount Ararat.”
No more deeds passed on William Shardlow’s Lower Merion plantation for nearly fifty years. Although he frequently corresponded with his agents here, about his real estate in Philadelphia and Chester counties, the Lower Merion tract seems to have interested him least. By his will, made in 1704, he devised his lands, in England or elsewhere, to his sons-in-law, Joseph Collins, a citizen and mercer of London, and John Wightman, merchant, also of London. Both these men left wills, but, strangely enough, failed to dispose of the Lower Merion property, which seems to have been unimproved and unprofitable. The five daughters of Collins, and Wightman’s eldest son, therefore fell heir to it by intestacy, and in 1740, they sold it, together with other lands in Philadelphia and Chester counties. The heirs, as they signed, were Catherine Collins, London, spinster; Elizabeth Gary, London, widow; David Jennings, Parish of St. John Wapping, county Middlesex, gent, and wife Sarah; Edward Cowper, Parish of St. Ann Soho, Westminster, county Middlesex, hosier, and wife Mary; Nathaniel Sanderson, citizen and draper, London, and wife Anna; and John Wightman, London, Esq., and wife Rebecca. It is thus interesting to note that, 69 years after the founding of Pennsylvania, this land was still owned by English people, of whom, probably, not one had ever set foot in the Province.
Richard Harrison, of Philadelphia, gentleman, was the purchaser. Elsewhere in Lower Merion, he owned a much larger estate, of which we may speak later, After his death, title to the 350 acres on the Schuylkill became vested in his wife, Hannah-Harrison, and in her brother, Charles Norris.
In 1760, Hannah Harrison, widow, sold to John Righter about 100 acres – the upper end of the tract. In 1762, she sold Frederick Bicking the middle portion – 150 acres. Finally, in 1770, Mary, widow of Charles Norris sold Bicking the residue, about 100 acres, fronting on the Schuylkill. No house is mentioned in any of these deeds, and the Norris land was advertised as “woodland”, showing that improvement in this region had been slow. The mills built by Righter and Bicking, soon after this, were the beginning of industry on this part of Mill creek.
We now come to the last of the English and Irish purchasers. William Wood emigrated with his family from Nottingham, England, in 1683. He settled in Darby (now Delaware county), where there was laid out for him S20 acres; and here he and his son Joseph established grist mills. He called his estate “Mountwood.” He owned other land – in Upper Darby, Newtown and Easttown townships, and in the Liberty Lands. In 1684, 500 acres was surveyed for him in Lower Merion.
William Wood was a man of ability and prominence. His occupation is given as “gentleman.” In 1684, he was appointed a Provincial Judge; in the same year, he was made a member of the Governor’s Council, and also Justice of the Peace for Chester county. His untimely death, in 1685, cut short a promising career.
His wife Susanna died in 1687. In 1689, their son Joseph administered on the estates, and was granted a patent for his father’s land in Lower Merion, which adjoined Shardlow’s land on the south, and extended from the Schuylkill to Righter’s Mill road. This he sold, the same day.
The purchaser was Katherine Thomas, of “Merioneth”, widow of John Thomas, of Merionethshire, Wales. In 1681, in company with Dr. Edward Jones, Thomas had bought 5000 acres in Pennsylvania, to which he had intended to remove, but in 1683, he had died, and his widow and children had made the voyage to America.”
In 1684, one half of the Jones and Thomas purchase was finally surveyed within the present limits of Lower Merion, the tract having a front on the Schuylkill from West Manayunk to City Line avenue, and a depth on City Line avenue from the river to Wynnewood avenue, Overbrook. This constituted the original township of Merioneth, or Merion, of which one fourth, or 612 1/2 acres, was laid out to Katherine Thomas, in right of John Thomas, at the upper end of the tract, adjoining her later purchase from Joseph Wood.
Katherine Thomas died about 1697. Like her husband, she bequeathed all lands equally to their sons, Thomas, Robert, Evan and Cadwalader. After the Welsh custom, these men took the family name Jones. Evan Jones, who did not long survive his mother, bequeathed his share to his brothers. In 1703, they obtained a patent for their father’s lands; these, with their mother’s, now totaled 1227 acres. It was one of the largest estates ever held in Lower Merion, having a river frontage of one mile – from Flat Rock tunnel to Westminster Cemetery; and an average depth of nearly two miles. This estate they divided in 1704.
All three men rose to prominence. Thomas Jones was influential in the Society of Friends. Robert was Constable of Lower Merion in 1730 and 1737, and Road Overseer, 1730 and 1742. In 1787, he was made Justice of the Peace, and from 1741 to 1745, inclusive, was a member of the Provincial Assembly. He was an original contributor to the Pennsylvania Hospital.
Cadwalader Jones built up a profitable shipping trade. He made numerous journeys to Jamaica and Barbadoes, in the course of which, he was finally lost at sea, about 1727, leaving no issue. His elder brother Thomas, as his legal heir, sold most of Cadwalader’s farm to their brother Robert, who was thus the owner of upwards of 1000 acres in his own right. Part of this, on the river, opposite Manayunk, he named “Glanrafon.” Adjoining it on the north, was “Mount Ararat”, which he had bought in 1699. In 1709, he bought one acre adjoining Merion Meeting-house, and there built a house which, years later, was to become the “General Wayne” tavern. He also owned other lands. By his death, in 1746, his children, Gerrard, Robert and Elizabeth received most of his real estate.” Robert, the younger, bought the Gulph mills; much of his Lower Merion land was sold to Frederick Grow, Frederick Bicking and Rudolph Sibley, the German families thus displacing the Welsh.
Gerrard Jones fell heir to “Glanrafon.” His family, up to the present century, have continued to hold parts of the estate, Mr. Jonathan R. Jones owning a considerable portion, and retaining the old name “Glanrafon.”
Thomas Jones, son of John and Katherine Thomas, died in 1728, leaving 5 daughters, and an only son, Evan. Evan inherited his father’s 400 acres, and bequeathed them to his only child, Ruth, who later married William Lewis. Evan Jones’s lands extended to, and across, Montgomery avenue, and the village of Libertyville was built upon a corner of his farm.
To the Promised Land in the western world,
Heeding the call of their prophet, Penn,
Came sailing a group of sturdy men –
Hardy Friends, from the hills of Wales.
To the unsearred depths of the great Penn’s Woods
They followed the ancient Lenapi trails.
And soon the sound of the woodman’s axe
Tells of log homes in the forest raised –
Of a homely temple, where God is praised
By the simple rites of the Quaker faith.
They grub and furrow, and plant, and them –
Lo! the fields of Merioneth
Are green with the grain of the Cymric men.
The name Welsh is from an old German word. At first applied to Celtic neighbors, it was next applied to Roman invaders; then it came to mean anything foreign. So the German spoke of Italy as Welsckland, while on another part of Europe he fixed the name Wallachia.
The Anglo-Saxon tribes, bringing this German custom with them to England, called the natives, or “foreigners’, whom they found there, the Welsh (as we spell it today). They also gave to our language the words walnut and welsh-nut.
Nine centuries later, the descendants of other German tribes, coming to Pennsylvania, not as invaders, but as refugees, found here animal and vegetable life that was strange to them, and, therefore, Welsh. So today, the Pennsylvania Dutchman still calls Indian corn welschkorn, and the turkey, welschhahn.
In their own tongue, the Welsh are the Cymry – a name preserved in Cumru, a township of Berks county, Pennsylvania. Hence the Roman name for Wales – Cambria. So we find that the Welsh are not Welsh at all. Perhaps it would have been better to speak of them as Britons, since that is what they called themselves. In a memorial addressed to the Pennsylvania Commissioners of Property, in 1690, the preamble reads: “We, the inhabitants of the Welsh Tract, being descended of the Antient Britains.” The Welsh Tract, we remember, included the greater part of Lower Merion, with many other townships west of it. About 1704, petitioners of Radnor and Merion asked to have a minister sent them “that understands the British language”; and Hill’s “Map of the Environs of Philadelphia” (published in 1809) indicates the original township of Merion as “The first British settlement, 18th of Sixth Month, 1682.”
It is often remarked that nothing of the Welsh language has survived in Pennsylvania, but this is not true of geographical names. Our own county, although not christened until 1784, has a namesake in Wales. Of its townships, Upper and Lower Gwynedd (once forming the old township of North Wales), Montgomery, and Upper and Lower Merion, were all settled and named by the Welsh. The road over which the Gwynedd Welsh carried their grain to the mill is still called, in Holmesburg and Bustleton, “Welsh road.” In Delaware county, there are the townships of Haverford and Radnor (names brought from South Wales); in Chester county, we have Tredyffrin, Uwchlan and Nantmeal; and in Berks county, Brecknock, Cumru and Caernarvon; while in Lancaster county there is the Welsh mountain. Thus has the Welshman not only enriched our local geography, but also inspired his English speaking neighbor to do likewise.
After coming to Pennsylvania, the Welshman adopted a family name, which in time became attached to the locality where his tribe lived and multiplied. Old Main Liners will recall Humphreysville, Morgan’s Corners and Reeseville, as erstwhile villages long since enlarged and renamed; while more remote, but still on the map, are Howellville, Pughtown and Morgantown.
In our own time, the coming of the Welsh colonist has been commemorated by bestowing, first upon railroad stations, then upon the towns growing up around them, next upon the roads and streets of those towns, and finally upon private estates, college dormitories and what-not, the native names of Wales. And lastly, two churches, St. Asaph’s of Bala, and St. David’s, of Radnor, preserve the names respectively of the cathedral city and the patron saint.
America was in so many ways an asylum for the oppressed of Europe, that it would be useless to dwell on the subject here. In his quaint book, “Sufferings of the People Called Quakers”, Joseph Besse has given in detail the charges under which the Friends were prosecuted, and the penalties inflicted. Chief of the alleged sins of commission mentioned by Besse were “declaring the truth in Steeplehouses”, and holding meetings. Among the omissions were non-payment of tithes and “steeple-house rates”, neglect to attend public worship, and refusal to take oaths and to “put off the hat.” The “steeple-house” (be it explained) was the parish church, and this practice of “declaring the truth”, or speaking out in church, was perhaps not unjustly considered an invasion of the sanctuary, as well as an interruption to the service. The indifference to consequences shown by those who would thus dare all for a principle, was naturally exasperating to the authorities, who could not comprehend that a new order was at hand, and who must, in any event, enforce the law. Prosecution naturally followed. But where feeling runs high, prosecution becomes persecution, and penalties are none the less rigidly inflicted when the offender upholds an unpopular belief. When payment of tithe and tax was refused, goods were levied upon, and the petty official made this his opportunity. A table computed by Besse shows that the forcible collection of the church-rate in Wales often amounted to four times the tax actually due! All the old-fashioned methods for suppressing belief – whipping, the stocks, chains, confinement in loathsome jails – were cruelly applied, but only strengthened the determination of the persecuted.
A very large element of the Welsh immigration to Pennsylvania consisted of men of means and education. Many understood both Welsh and English, and there were not a few women who could sign their names – a sure indication of culture in those days. Welsh servants also came in. “Servants”, however, were not always menials, for the word covered all persons bound to a term of service, and included much skilled labor. No doubt the masons and carpenters who built the early houses of Lower Merion, some of which are still used as dwellings, were of this class.
Mary Hughs, a maid, is mentioned by John ap Edwards in 1683. Margaret Howell, who, until 1696, lived at what is now Ardmore, had a maid Katherin Priss [Price]. Hugh Roberts, prominent Welsh settler of Merion, had “servant lads Griffith and Morris”, and “old servants, Morris Roberts and John Roberts,” while James Winter served Richard Walter, on whose farm Gladwyne is built. All these are Welsh names. An advertisement of 1751 shows that a servant sometimes grew discontented: “Run away last night, from Joshua Humphreys, of Merion, A Welch servant man, named David Jones,” etc.; but usually, it seems, they were satisfied, and were respected members of the family circle. Much more could be said about servants, which we reserve until later.
A writer describes the Welsh immigrants as having “Red, freckled faces, shaggy beards, and genealogies dating back to Adam.” But the national aptitude for genealogy must be charged as much to motives of safety as to family pride, for where one’s relatives were held responsible with him for infraction of law, a correct knowledge of the family tree might be one’s only defense! The native Welshman of that period had no family name; but wrote his own Christian name, followed by his father’s Christian name, with the word ap (“son of”) between them. If required, he could add the names of grandfather, great-grandfather, etc., indefinitely.
By the date of the founding of Pennsylvania, a transition from the Welsh to the English custom, was under way, and immigration hastened the change. Many dropped ap, but otherwise held to the old custom. Griffith John, of Merion, had sons Evan Griffith and John Griffith. Mary Winter, who married Walter Walters, of Merion, in 1719, was a daughter of Winter Jones. Often, in place of ap, the son added “s” to the father’s Christian name. So John (pronounced with a long “o”) became Jones: John Evans of Merion, in 1707, devised land to his son Edward Jones. David became Davis: David Davis was son of Thomas David who was son of David Thomas. Some cases are still more puzzling. Rees John William, an early settler of Merion, was also known as Rees Jones, and his sons took the family name Jones. Thomas John Evan, of Radnor, had four children: John Thomas, Rowland Thomas, Joseph Jones and Elizabeth Jones; and he himself was frequently called Thomas Jones.
By slurring ap, it was often blended with the name following, the combination finally becoming the family name. Hugh Parry [ap Harry], of Merion, who died in 1731, called himself “son of Harry Pugh” [ap Hugh]. In the same year, Howell Powell, who had been “keeping skool at the township of Lower Meirion”, made his will, calling himself “son of Samuel ap Howel.” In the same way, ap Evan became Bevan; ap Adam, Badam, and so on.
To make matters worse for the antiquarian, a widow often resumed her maiden name. Katherine, widow of John Thomas, was known both as Katherine Thomas and Katherine Robert, while the sons, as named in their father’s will, were Thomas Jones, Robert John, Evan John and Cadwalader John.
It is not hard to believe that the confusion resulting from this practice had as much to do with bringing it to an end as had the need of conforming to English customs in general.
In our progress through the annals of Lower Merion, we have several times referred to the Welsh Tract, so perhaps we should explain, at this point, just what the Welsh Tract was, where it was, and why its existence was short-lived.
William Penn’s mind was a tireless machine, turning out endless plans for the good of his Province. But whether because he lacked lieutenants with his breadth of vision, or because (as some consider) he himself was only a visionary, many of his ideas never took practical form.
Soon after the founding of Pennsylvania, it appears, Penn was approached by some of his Welsh friends, with the request that he permit them to set up in Pennsylvania a barony, or county palatine. As “barony” and “county palatine” were old-world institutions, neither of which ever reached our shores, perhaps the plan is best explained by saying that the Welsh wanted a tract to themselves, where they could retain their own language and customs, choose their own representatives, maintain their own courts, and, in a general way, be responsible only to Penn as their head. In short, there was to be set up, among the hills of Pennsylvania, a “little Wales”, which was to provide the freedom and liberty of conscience not to be had at home.
As to what understanding was had, accounts differ. The Welsh say that the matter “was soon granted by him [Penn] before he or we ever came to these parts, and when he came over, he gave forth his warrant to lay out 40,000 acres of land to the intent we might live together here & enjoy our Liberty & Devotion in our own Language as afore in our Country.” li0
But Penn, in issuing the warrant for the survey of these 40,000 acres (the Welsh Tract), says he had been assured “that the number of settlers already come and suddenly to come are such as will be capable of planting the same much within the proportion allowed by the custom of the country and so not ly in lazy and useless vacancies”, and makes this his main reason for granting the “barony.” In other words, the Welsh were to be bound by the rules governing other settlers. These rules, called by Penn the “conditions or concessions agreed upon between him and the adventurers and purchasers”, contained the following clauses:-
“That when the country lots are laid out, every purchaser, from one thousand to ten thousand acres or more, not to have above one thousand together, unless in three years they plant a family upon every thousand acres, but that all such as purchase together, lie together, and if as many as comply with this condition, that the whole be laid out together.”
“That every man shall be bound to plant or man so much of his share of land as shall be set out and surveyed, within three years after it is so set out and surveyed, or else it shall be lawful for new comers to be settled thereupon, paying to them their survey money, and they go up higher for their shares.” *_
It is plain that this is what Penn meant when he wrote of “the proportion allowed by the custom of the country”; and that the Welsh were having their 40,000 acres surveyed in one tract, on the understanding that they were to settle at least 40 families upon it. Even then, if a man did not improve his land as stipulated, he must make way for others, and “go higher up” – that is, farther back into the country – if he wished to make good.
In 1684, three years after the founding of the Province, Penn finally issued a warrant for the survey of the Welsh Tract. This warrant directed Thomas Holme, surveyor general, to “lay out the said tract of land in as uniform it manner as conveniently may be upon the west side of the Schuylkill River running three miles upon the same and two miles backward, then Extend the parallel line with the River six miles and to run westwardly so far as till the said quantity of land be completely surveyed unto them; a description whose vagueness would be the despair of a modern title-runner! Much of Penn’s writing is anything but clear; but in this case, there may also have been a verbal understanding. Comparing Holme’s map of the Welsh Tract with modern maps, we find that the boundary, as laid down, would be substantially as follows:-
From the Schuylkill, by the line of City avenue, to Darby creek; up the creek to the line of Newtown township (extended eastward); by Newtown line to Crum creek; up the creek to the line of Willistown township; by the Willistown and Westtown line to Chester creek. Thence by a northwesterly straight line to the top of the South Valley hill, near Morstein. Thence by the line of West and East Goshen and Willistown townships northeastwardly to Trout creek, in Tredyffrin township. Thence by a straight line to the top of the hill just west of Gulph Mills (a corner of Upper Merion township). Thence by a broken line to and through Lower Merion township to the Schuylkill at West Manayunk; thence to place of beginning. “”
The line through Lower Merion we shall say more about later. There is another map of the Welsh Tract, which differs a good deal from Holme’s, but it does not agree with township lines of today. The Welsh Tract, as bounded above, included the greater part of Lower Merion, all of Haverford, Radnor, Newtown, Easttown, Willistown, East Goshen, and parts of Marple, Westtown, West Goshen, Tredyffrin and Upper Merion.
Thus the Welsh Tract was the first county in Pennsylvania to be precisely laid out. In the following year, the boundary between Philadelphia and Chester counties was fixed, but although the line, as run, cut off Merion from the rest of the Welsh Tract, the matter seems to have been disregarded. Deeds of this period locate land and residents as in “Merion in the Welsh Tract”, or “Haverford in the Welsh Tract”, without mention of any county.
Welsh and English seem to have had no great love for one another. When Penn sailed for England, in August, 1684, their differences, which his diplomacy had smoothed over, came to a head. Unfortunately, we have no newspapers, and only an occasional entry in the Colonial Records, to show which way the political wind was blowing. The enemies of the Welsh sought to break their growing political power by dividing their “barony”, and by running the county line, they could do this in a practical way.
In December, 1688, John Blackwell became Deputy Governor. Disagreements soon occurred between him and Thomas Lloyd, a Welshman, who had been President of Council. In the spring of 1689, Lloyd appeared before Council, to say “he understood something had been moved about ye adding ye Welsh towns or tracts to the County of Chester, and if any such thing were proposed, desired they might be heard.” He was assured “no such thing was yet brought before Them.” Yet, on the same day, Council heard “The Humble Petition of ye Justices of Chester County”, asking that the bounds be extended “until they took in Radnor and Herford [Haverford] Townshipps” – an arrangement, it was claimed, which Penn had granted verbally. This claim was affirmed by prominent men of Chester county. It was alleged that Welshmen in both counties have refused to pay taxes or to serve on jury, saying “they were a destinct Barrony, wch tho they might be [says the record] yet that several] Barronys might be in one and ye same County.”
This showed the temper of the authorities, and subsequent events confirmed it. When Lloyd appeared on behalf of the Welsh Barony, he was told there was nothing on record about a barony; and Council thereupon voted that the county line, as previously ordered, should stand. When, in 1689, a member of Council was returned elected from Philadelphia county, the return was thrown out, because Chester county Welsh-men, disregarding the county line, had voted for him. After Governor Blackwell retired, in 1690,198 the Commissioners of Property took up the attack, charging that lands in the Welsh Tract had not been improved according to agreement; and while the Welsh produced evidence to the contrary, and prayed that their tract might, be confirmed to them by patent, this was refused.
By the time Penn returned, in November, 1699, his Provincial government had made the Welsh Tract almost a thing of the past.personal There is no record that the contest was resumed after his arrival, or that he found any fault with what his lieutenants had accomplished. Perhaps, in view of his personal troubles at that time, he thought the whole matter a tempest in a tea-pot.
Up to this time, the term “Welsh Tract” had often been used in deeds; by 1700 its use had practically ceased. In 1701, the whole tract was ordered resurveyed, but the purpose is not known.
By the time the Welsh Tract was laid out, the lands of the English and Irish purchasers in Lower Merion had been surveyed. So the latter were not included in the tract. The line of division, which was intended to be parallel to the Schuylkill, is plainly shown on Levering’s map of 1851, where it appears as an unbroken property line. The late Horace H. Platt, of Roxborough, whose field engineering had made him familiar with Lower Merion real estate history, first pointed this out to the writer as the line of the Welsh Tract, and descriptions given in deeds confirm the supposition. Early deeds for lands between this line and the river, locate them “on the west side of Schuylkill, in Philadelphia county”, but not in the Welsh Tract.
Roughly speaking, this line runs from a corner of West Conshohocken borough to the intersection of Righter’s Mill and Hagy’s Ford roads. Here it joined the line (running to the Schuylkill) of the original township of Merion, which was included in the Welsh Tract A portion of the State road, in front of the Crawford properties; a lane joining Godley road with Black Rock road, at Gladwyne; a part of the Ardmore road, at the same town; and Righter’s Mill road, from Summit avenue to Hagy’s Ford road, preserve the line of the old Welsh Tract.
The Ford road, which was in use from the earliest times, may have been opened by the Swedes – the Wheelers, Garretts and others – who lived on the borders of Lower Merion, for it passed through their plantations. The fording place was just north of the Fairmont Park trolley bridge. From here, the westbound traveler climbed the steep hill, and crossed Fairmount Park to the former Woodside Park. From Woodside to Belmont avenue, the old road is still used, under the old name. Beyond Belmont avenue, it can be traced by boundary fences and rows of trees, and by a depression in the field in the rear of St. Asaph’s Church, to the Wisconsin House. This old hotel, first built and used as the Wisconsin State building at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, was afterwards removed to this spot, and reset, minus its tower, facing Ford road. When Conshohocken avenue was opened, the front of the hotel became the rear. William H. Doble, proprietor here for many years, was brother to the famous jockey, of whom Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:
“Bud Doble, whose catarrhal dabe Reega id the clariud trubp of Fabe.”
The position of the hotel sheds indicates the course of the Ford road towards the railroad. There, Righter’s Ferry road once joined and there, also, can be seen the embankment of the old Columbia Railroad which crossed both roads at grade. 800 Beyond tracks, coal yard and greenhouses, Ford road reappears as “Montgomery avenue.” Before reaching Merionville, it formerly swerved to the right, entering Old Lancaster road at the corner by Mr. Luther C. Parson’s house, where it is still called “Ford road.” The change came with the Columbia Railroad, which not only diverted Ford road southward, but made “Bowman’s Bridge” necessary to carry Old Lancaster road over the deep railroad cut.
In 1703, a petition “of some of Inhabitants of the West side of Schuylkill” for a road from Merion Meeting-house to Powell’s ferry (at Fairmount), also asked for a road “branching out of the former thence over the Lower ford of Schuylkiln to the Road that leads from Wissahickon to Philadelphia. This Road also being of great use, and of about twenty years standing, altho not established by Law.”
These roads were confirmed in 1704, and the “branch” is evidently Ford road. The “lower ford of Schuylkiln” was afterwards known as “Robin Hood” ford, from a nearby tavern. Close to the ford was a ferry, which landed eastbound passengers at the foot of Nicetown lane, whence they could connect with Germantown, York and Frankford roads.
The same sledge-hammer blows of time, that first weld short links of road into an important highway, are certain, in a later generation, to break that again into pieces, of which some will be “scrapped”, and others used to make new roads. So with the Old Lancaster road; after developing into the main high road westward, it has steadily declined, until now, various parts are known by half a dozen different names, while others have been entirely vacated.
As early as 1687, dwellers in Radnor township had a road in use “to the ferry of Philadelphia.” In that year, they complained to the Provincial Council “yt part of ye road … is ffenced in, & more likely to be”; and asked to have it confirmed. A jury was ordered, but what they did is not of record, the minutes of that period recording little but quarrels between governor and representatives. But in 1703, the petition (as noted above) for a road from Merion Meeting-house to John Powell’s ferry makes it known that “the Road from the said Meeting House to the upper Part of Radnor” is already laid out.
Here we have the beginnings of Old Lancaster road. But as yet, there was no Lancaster; while the unimproved highway, winding through the woods from Radnor to Failmount, was entirely local in character, and was named according to the point of view. A petition of 1712 calls it “the road from Jonathan Jones’s to Merion Meeting-house.” Another of 1719, speaks of it as “the great Road that comes by Jonathan Jones to Philadelphia.” The Jones plantation, at Wynnewood, was a landmark, and as late as 1789, that part of Old Lancaster road which lay within its limits was called “Jones’s lane.” A draft of 1714 indicates “Meirion road” on the Lower Merion side of the township line, and “Radnor road” on the other, both, of course, being parts of this same old road. In that year, also, a deed for the Anderson property at Ardmore, locates it on the “road from Radnor to Philadelphia.”
On a petition from inhabitants of Chester county, asking to have this road reaffirmed, the Provincial Council, in 1721, ordered:
“That the Road now and heretofore used leading from Philadelphia to Conestogoe, through the Townships of Meirion and Radnor, and laid out by the authority of this Government as far as Thomas Moore’s Mill [Downingtown] on Brandy Wine River or Creek, be deemed the King’s Highway and public Road.”
It does not appear just when the road wan extended from Radnor to Downingtown. In 1730, the town of Lancaster was laid out. Within a few months, residents of Lancaster county petitioned for a road “from the Town of Lancaster till it falls in with the high Road in the County of Chester, leading to the Ferry of Schuylkill at high street.”
This was granted, and the road was laid out as far as John Spruce’s house, in Whiteland township, Chester county, the return, however, not being made until October, 1733. For some reason, further progress was delayed. In January, 1736, a petition was received from inhabitants of Tredyffrin, Easttown, Willistown and elsewhere, praying for the “perfecting” of the road. In November, 1739, citizens of Lancaster county laid the blame on their neighbors of Chester and Philadelphia. Finally, in 1741, all three counties joined forces, and their united petition resulted in a resurvey of the road from Spruce’s to High street ferry. The return, made in July, called it “Conostogo road”, and in the following November, it was confirmed, and the overseers were ordered to open it. Thenceforth, it was known as “Conestogo” or “Conestoga” road, until about 1760; after that date, deeds usually call it “Lancaster” road.
In 1767, the Provincial government of Pennsylvania took under consideration the straightening of the road, and to that end, it was completely resurveyed. But nothing further was done in that direction, and it remained for the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Company, twenty-five years later, to lay out a shorter route, and so bring into use the name “Old” Lancaster road, for those portions of the old road, through Lower Merion and Radnor, which the Turnpike company did not utilize.
The motorist of today, who plans to trace the course of this old highway, finds himself puzzled; for, while his Blue Book refers, more than once, to “Old Lancaster road”, and even to “Conestoga road”, there is plainly no continuous road bearing either name. But the Lancaster farmer of Colonial days met with no such difficulty. Lumbering westward over High (Market) street, his four-horse wagon reached the Schuylkill, where, being drawn upon a flat-boat, it was ferried to the western shore. Here the team climbed the bank, and following the present course of Market street to West Philadelphia station, bent to the right into what is still “Lancaster avenue.” The traveler was now in the open country, and the few and strong needs of himself and his horses were amply supplied by the smithies and taverns dotting the way-side. Near what is now 40th street, he crossed the high road leading from the upper ferry (Fairmount) to Haverford, and thence to Goshen (West Chester). Half an hours journey from the ferry, the road again bent to the right, where, today, stands 52nd Street station. Railroads have here made a “no thoroughfare”, but the old road is known, beyond, as 54th street. Plodding up the hill, past the George farms, the team was finally halted, to rest and refresh man and beast, at the “Black Horse”, just within Lower Merion, on what is now called “Old Lancaster” road.
From here, grades were easier, and progress as steady as dirt roads admit of. Beyond the seven mile stone (Merionville), the road is now known as “Montgomery avenue.” Here a straggling village was passed – Tunis’s weaver shop,
Griffith’s store, Silas Jones’s house (later the “General Wayne”), and finally Merion Meeting-house. Two miles farther , was the “Three Tuns” tavern (now the Anderson house, at Ardmore); shortly before reaching it, the traveler passed, on the left, the old smithy where Stephen Goodman had now set up a weaver’s shop.
Just beyond Merion Cricket Club, the driver bent to the left (where the road is now called “Old Lancaster road”), and, after passing the intersection of Gulph road (at P.R.R.), climbed the grade back of what was once called “Kilkenny”, and found himself at the “Buck.” Passing along the front (today, the rear), of the tavern, he crossed the corner of Haverford township, again entered Lower Merion at the county line, and, at the “Five Points”, finally left it. And here, we leave him, to pursue his dusty rural way to the town of Lancaster.
In 1787, it was resolved, by the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, that “the road from the Middle-Ferry on Schuylkill to Lancaster, declared to be a state road, to be improved and repaired at state expense”; but the resolution was “carried in the negative.” One year later, the Assembly voted to raise $42,000, “by way of lottery”, to be used “for improving the public roads leading from the city of Philadelphia to the western parts of this State”, etc., but the matter dragged along for several years, and finally, the laying out of the Turnpike brought it to an end.
Within a few years after the coming of the settlers to our neighborhood, a road was in use, connecting the present townships of Upper and Lower Merion. It was not an improved highway, laid out by practical engineers, nor even the “all-dirt” road known to our childhood, but merely an improvised cart-track through the woods, replete with turn-outs, and with all the pitfalls and windfalls known to wood-men. Even thus, it was accounted a convenience, for it opened the way to the lime region of the Chester valley, gave ingress and egress to Griffith’s mill, at the Gulph, and provided the “back inhabitants” (as the residents of Upper Merion were called by their more fortunate neighbors) with a road to Roberts mill, on Mill creek, to Merion Meeting-house and to the Philadelphia markets.
By 1713, there were three roads leading from the Gulph into Lower Merion. The first of these – the present Gulph road – followed the division line between properties, until it joined “Meirion” (Old Lancaster) road at the point, west of Haverford station, where the Pennsylvania Railroad now crosses.
The second route, leaving the present Gulph road near the 13th mile stone, ran eastward along the ridge to the site of Mr. William L. Austin’s house; then, descending to Mill creek, it crossed at what was lately Pyle’s dam, and followed the present Roberts road to John Roberts’s mill. From this mill (whose successor is placarded “Ye Olde Grist Mill”), the road continued along the creek; then, crossing near the “1690 House”, it passed through the Jones plantation by way of Cherry lane, and so to Old Lancaster road at Wynnewood.
The third route branched off the present Gulph road near Panorama road, and after following the present course of Montgomery avenue to Rees Thomas’s house (near Rosemont station), it turned southward, meeting the roads to Radnor, Darby and Philadelphia at the “Five Points.”
An active group of partisans strongly urged the merits of each of these roads. But the road along the division line was the straightest, and the shortest way to Philadelphia. Besides, it divided more equably the expense of fencing; and, being the central route, it provided a compromise between extreme views. These facts no doubt appealed to the Justices of the Court of Quarter Sessions for in June, 1713, they ordered this road, now known as “Gulph”, or “New Gulph”, road, to be laid out. At the same time, they authorized the opening of the present Roberts road from Lower Merion Baptist Church to the Delaware county line.
It is difficult to believe that more than ten years elapsed before these roads were finally opened and confirmed. But in 1724, a petition (not the first) informed the Court that the work was yet incomplete. The overseers, being haled into Court, protested that they had tried to open Gulph road, but on finding it laid out through the improved land of Benjamin Humphreys (who owned a large tract eastward of Penn street), had come to a stop.
A jury assessed damages, and reported in June, 1725. But in September, a petition was received, complaining that “the Overseers of Lower Merion Abel Thomas and William Walter have not Obayed Your Order Given out Last Court to our Great Disappointment and we the Inhabitants of Upper Merion have no Road to go to Market.” It then developed that Benjamin Humphreys was still the stumbling block. The stubborn Welshman insisted on cash in hand, before he would permit a swath to be cut through his cornfield. And thereupon, the matter was referred to the County Commissioners for their order on the Treasurer for £10 – and in June, 1726, the road was declared completed!
During the height of these proceedings – in June, 1725 – Roberts road, from Lower Merion Baptist Church to John Roberts’s mill, was returned and confirmed. This is sometimes misleadingly called “Old Gulph road.”
Early settlers of Haverford and Merion soon opened a way to the lime region of the Whitemarsh valley. Turning off the road that led from Merion to Haverford (Wynnewood road), and crossing the site of Ardmore by way of Argyle road, Church road and Glenn road, they wound down into Mill creek valley. Beyond Roberts’s mill, they again began to climb, and after mounting the ridge beyond Gladwyne, descended long grades to the Schuylkill. Here they crossed at Rees ap Edward’s (later Young’s) ford, and passed on to Barren Hill, where, as roads later developed, they could branch off to Plymouth meeting, and to Norriton (Norristown). Part of this road is now called Young’s Ford road, and was confirmed in 1734. Other portions were opened in 1736 and 1751.
The Spring Mill’ road, a much-used way to Radnor meeting, probably also connected, in early days, with Young’s ford, near which an old road can still be traced on the hillside. Later, another approach was made, from the river bank opposite Spring Mill, where a ferry was established. With this course, the road was confirmed in 1771,233 but both ford and ferry have now disappeared, and the road today reaches the river midway between the two.
Another early route connected the market place of Germantown with Merion, by way of School lane to Robeson’s (later Righter’s) ferry, thence across the river, and along the present Righter’s ferry road and Highland avenue to Conestoga road. This road was confirmed in 1765.284
Haverford road, from Powells ferry (Fairmount) to Goshen, (the vicinity of West Chester) was opened in 1705. By 1739, that part of it between Haverford Meeting-house and the ferry had become lost in the woods, and had to be relocated. The old road beyond the Meeting-house is still known, in some places, as “Goshen road.” In 1755, a road was opened from Humphreys’s mill (Wynnewood road station) to Conestoga road at the “Five Points”; this, also, is now called “Haverford road.”
In 1758, Christopher Robins, a prominent citizen of Whitemarsh township, informed the Court that he had built saw and paper mills in Lower Merion, but that no recorded road passed by them. Residents of Lower Merion joined him in asking confirmation of a road which then led from Old Lancaster road (at Narberth) to the ford near which the mills stood; thence to the Norriton road, in Roxborough. This was opened, the same year. In 1769, Robins sold his mills to Jacob Hagy, and the road has since been known as “Hagy’s Ford road,” although with the changes in local geography, half of it has vanished. In 1762, Robins’s mill road was connected with the new mills of John Roberts, on Mill creek, by a road beginning “near John Roberta’s house.” This is now mistakenly called “Old Gulph road.”
Another miller, John Righter, at about this time established grist and saw mills where a long-used horse path crossed Mill creek. In 1762, he asked to have this road opened, to connect with the established highways on either side of him. This was accomplished in the following year. Righter’s mill stood close to the place now popular as a bathing pool, and the road, although partly vacated, is still “Righter’s Mill road.”
Black Rock road was opened in 1765, as a short cut for dwellers near Rosemont, who, in traveling towards the Schuylkill, had been forced to make a detour by way of the ford (near the former golf course.)
The road to Darby, now known as Merion avenue, was petitioned for in 1750. As laid out, it connected the Merion and Darby Meeting-houses, by way of Overbrook, Haddington, 69th Street terminal, Fernwood, and Woodland avenue. In Lower Merion and Delaware county, the road is still intact, but large portions have been wiped out by the growth of West Philadelphia.
There is a good deal of misunderstanding regarding the milestones still in place along Gulph and Haverford roads in Lower Merion. Levering’s township map of 1851 indicates them as “Penn Milestones”, and it is generally thought they were set up by the Founder. But Peter Kalm, a distinguished scientist who visited Pennsylvania in 1748-49, noted in his journal, “there are not yet any milestones put up in the country; the inhabitants compute the distance by guess.” Practices have changed but little since Peter Kalm’s time. But we may suppose from this, that our milestones have been set up since his visit, and indeed, the one at the Mill creek ford is dated 1770. Mr. F. H. Shelton, an authority on local history, believed that when the original stones were removed from the Pennsylvania-Maryland boundary line, they were set up in Pennsylvania as milestones. The arms of Lord Baltimore being then chipped off, a number wast chiseled in their place; and so the Penn arms are (as originally) raised, while the number on the other side of the stone is sunk. In view of the fact that William Penn died before either of the Gulph roads was laid out, this theory is doubly interesting.