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The Communities

Belmont Hills

The village on the west bank of the Schuylkill River was originally called Rocky Hill and is located in the lower section of the township directly across the river from Philadelphia’s historic Manayunk. When the Reading Railroad was built in 1838, the village became known as West Manayunk. The first settlers were Welsh, followed by the English, Germans, Irish, and Italian-Albanians. The first permanent settler was the wife of John ap Thomas, outstanding Quaker and one of the original purchasers of the Welsh Tract. John died before the family departed for the colonies. On November 16, 1683, Katherine Robert (who, by custom, had resumed her maiden name) sailed with her children from Chester, England on the ship Morning Star. About a month later, she arrived and settled on her 612-acre purchase. The deed to Katherine Robert’s property was made out to her in the name of Jones, and her children assumed this name. For the next 14 years, she skillfully managed her large farm parcel.

In the 1880s, immigrants from Italy began to arrive, many descended from Christian Albanians who had fled Moslem Turks to settle in southern Italy. They in turn sent for relatives, and by 1914 the Albanians and Italians constituted a considerable portion of the lower section of the community. The town resembled a Mediterranean hill town with its goats and chickens, garden plots, and women in black, seldom seen on the streets without their menfolk. The upper reaches of the settlement were home to the earlier English, Welsh, Irish, and German immigrants, most of them employed on the area’s farms and mills.

Belmont Hills still has a number of historic homes. Leedom House and the Jones-Smith House are described on the following page.

A home located at 100 Lyle Avenue, built around 1787, was sold to Stewart Lyle, master farmer. In 1901, this estate was purchased by Wood, Harmon & Company as a real estate development known as Belmont Heights. Narrow Hills, on 88 acres, was probably named for the strait that separated Jones Island in the Schuylkill from the mainland. The Ashland Heights section was named after the local Ashland Paper Mill. In the 1950s, the name West Manayunk was changed to Belmont Hills. The diverse community has been an asset to Lower Merion since the days of William Penn.

An old engraving of the first bridge built across the Schuylkill River, linking Philadelphia’s historic Manayunk to Belmont Hills in Lower Merion. The bridge was built in 1810, destroyed by a flood in 1850, and never rebuilt.

The Flat Rock Hotel was popular with farmers who brought produce from upstate and traveled down Domino Lane (in Manayunk), across the river to Belmont Hills. Canal men enjoyed the inn as a place to relax, enjoy the spirits, and play dominoes. The hotel was also called the Tunnel House. It was demolished when the expressway was built in the 1950s.

The Green Lane Bridge (photo c. 1931), looking towards Manayunk. Built in 1833 and rebuilt in 1928, the bridge linked Philadelphia to Lower Merion. The Belmont Avenue ramps to the Schuylkill Expressway are now at this location.

Belmont Hills as seen from Manayunk, looking west. The church steeple is St. David’s Episcopal Church on Dupont Street, Manayunk.

This painting by local artist Francis Speight shows his romantic, realistic style. Across the River, 1926, shows Jones Street houses on the west side of the Schuylkill.

His 1933 oil Little Italy looks upriver from atop Jefferson Street in Belmont Hills. Mt. Ararat stands at top left.

Mill workers at Rudolph’s paper mill rented these row houses from Sebastian Rudolph. They were demolished in the 1950s when the Schuylkill Expressway was constructed. An open area along the river bank between Rudolph’s Row and the bridge was a popular site for prize fights, vaudeville performances, carnivals, and gypsy encampments. Some workers at the Pencoyd Iron Works were housed here when the mill was in operation.

The building, still standing, had been converted into apartments years ago.

The first Albanian immigrants to reside in the village were Nicolo Minisci (Myers), wife Maria Domenica, and son George Joseph. Photo c. 1910. In 1895, Minisci purchased land on Jefferson Street from William D. Jones for $250 and built their home. They later purchased the house next door for $935. Son George married Alphonsina Scavello, from St. George Albanese in Italy, when she was 16. They had eleven children.

St. George’s Day parade,1950. The celebration began around the turn of the century when a handful of Albanians and Italians organized the Mutual Relief Society of San Giorgio, their patron saint. Every May, until recent years, the procession carried the statue of St. George through the steep streets of Belmont Hills.

By 1940, Speight was well-known beyond Philadelphia. Reviews of his exhibitions in New York, Washington, Cleveland, and other cities praised the freshness of his impressionistic style. Unlike his contemporaries in the 1930s and 1940s who made commentaries on social reforms, Francis Speight’s spirited brushwork shows the beauty of the working class neighborhoods of Manayunk.

The 200-year-old building on Mary Waters Ford Road was the home of the late Lewis and Marie Smith for 50 years. Gerrard, grandson of widow Katherine (Thomas) Jones, had built the original stone portion of the farm house in the mid 1700s. Additions were made in the Federal period to accommodate Charles Jones and his 12 children. It was remodeled in the Victorian taste after the house passed out of the Jones family. In 1969, Marie Smith gave the house, a smaller tenant house, a barn, and grounds to the township for use as a public park. Vacant for five years, the historic Jones-Smith House seemed a sure bet for the wrecker’s ball. Thanks to the efforts of members of the township’s Historical Architectural Review Board, a lease agreement was made with a resident who pledged to make renovations. Though structurally sound with a good roof, the plumbing, wiring, and boiler were replaced. The overhaul preserved the home’s essential historic character.

Leedom House on Mary Waters Ford Road at Centennial Road. The 15-room stone house was built in 1787 as a manor house of Glanrason Plantation. The land was inherited by Robert Jones, second son of Katherine (Roberts) Jones, in 1689. Gerrard, oldest son of Robert, inherited Glanrason farm in 1746.

The Pencoyd Iron Works

A 1900 panoramic view of the vast Pencoyd Iron Works.

Remains of a ghost town. The name Pencoyd is Welsh, a corruption of Penn-y-Chlawd, meaning "treetops." Pencoyd was the name of the farm of John Roberts, who came to this country in 1683. The Roberts family (Algernon Roberts and Percival Roberts) founded the iron works along the west bank of the Schuylkill River in 1853. The plant developed into a vast industry; the village grew and Pencoyd iron became known worldwide. Bridge building was the main manufacture when, around 1895, the plant acquired 40 acres of river front and two miles of rail track. The Pencoyd works declined after World War I and had a brief revival during World War II. The business was liquidated in 1944. Much of the old site is now occupied by Connelly Containers, Pencoyd’s only heavy industry. The location has lately shown some new signs of life.

The Pencoyd offices, one of the few remaining buildings in the vast industrial complex.

The rear section of the Pencoyd Iron works with a Reading Railroad train delivering supplies to the manufacturing area.


Ardmore began on 410 acres of land bought by Richard Davis in 1686 from five Welshmen for 32 pounds, 16 shillings. One of the few local towns without a Welsh name, the village’s original name was Athensville, a nod to the fascination with the Greek revival style movement of the time (1811). William J. Buck reported in his 1884 history, "Athensville is situated on the Lancaster turnpike, seven miles from Philadelphia, and is the largest village in the township. It contains [at the center] 8 houses, three stores and one hotel."

Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, in the horse and buggy days.

The first roads were but trails, and only horse and foot transportation were available. Conditions were impossible: dusty in hot summer, muddy after rains. The settlement of Lancaster led to a demand for an adequate highway that led there from Philadelphia. In 1796, the Lancaster Turnpike (first one constructed in America) allowed ponderous Conestoga wagons to carry merchandise and interior bound settlers.

That important progress led to a line of inns and taverns along the route to serve drivers and their stage coach passengers. None but the General Wayne remain; the others were replaced by charmless commercial structures.

Early Arrivals. The original settlers of the area were Welshmen who came to work in the neighboring farms and the thriving mill industry along Mill Creek. Then followed a wave of Germans who contributed their industrial skills. Next the Irish added their abilities and found work in the hotels and staffed the lavish estates built in the mid 1800s.

Later Expansion. About the same time, the establishment of railroad systems added to Ardmore’s expansion and prosperity. The first Board of Commissioners met in 1900 (at the General Wayne) to establish a local government. The same year, The Autocar Works relocated from Pittsburgh, attracted by good roads, a high grade of labor supply, the closeness to Philadelphia and a location on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Ardmore is a popular residential area with a lively business center.

North side of Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, 1910 photo.

The automobile age comes to Ardmore.

St. Georges

80 Years of Inns. Built sometime before 1730, it began as a stage stop. Richard Hughes built a house there that year and then, as coach travel increased, converted it to an inn called Three Tuns. Here the traveler could obtain lodging, food, cider, punch, toddies and stronger liquids. It also served as the post office and unofficial community center. In 1759, Mr. Hughes announced the property was for sale. It included a "30 x 20 foot house with cellar, a fine spring of excellent water with an adjoining dwelling house, frame barn and four stables."

It was sold that year to Francis Holton, a Philadelphia tavernkeeper who renamed it The Prince of Wales. In 1772, the property was sold to Philip Syng, the noted Philadelphia silversmith. Syng used it as his country residence, enjoying the healthy climate and proximity to a pleasant village. Eleven years later, it was bought by Capt. Robert McAfee who reopened it as a tavern, The Green Tree. In 1797, Godfrey Lainhoff was the next owner, who called his inn St. Georges.

It was razed in the 1950s.

St. Georges was a large, beautiful, wooded tract near the corner of Montgomery Avenue (then called Old Lancaster Road) and Mill Creek Road, at the end of Anderson Avenue. It is now the site of an apartment house and the Main Line Y. It had a long and interesting history, beginning as a series of inns and ending as the fine estate of the Anderson’s, a family with a long line of prominent local physicians.

Homeworth or Ellerslie. Homeworth or Ellerslie dating circa 1800. Originally part of the 100 acre Lloyd tract in 1686. Mrs. Jonathan Jones called the place Homeworth in the mid 19th century. The MacFarlan family bought the 11 acre property form the Jones' in 1893 and renamed it Ellerslie after their Scottish ancestral home. Dr. Douglas MacFarlan a founding member of the LMHS lived there until 1966. It was demolished in 1971 to make new homes and Llanfair Circle and a small LM township Packer Park.

Ardmore’s Gingerbread Age

Picture of a sample house and floor plan taken from from a plan book from which the prospective owner and builder could choose pre-designed plans; thereby, saving the cost of an architect.

Ardmore has retained a number of examples of the wooden houses of "The Gingerbread Age." From the mid 1800s through the end of the century, as the suburbs were burgeoning, there was a need for tastefully designed, practical housing at moderate cost. Because Victorians admired the English and American Queen Anne styles of domestic architecture, there was a growing housing market. For those who could not afford an architect (too expensive, too difficult, too time consuming) one could buy plans books, choose a style and have a local builder put up the house. There were hundreds of designs available; some books also featured designs for gates, posts, inside doors, hardware and bookcases for the average woodworker to follow. A medium quality home could be built, complete, for $2,000 to $5,000. There are no building records, though, for these:

Levering House as seen in 1913, later owned by Kate Lesher (Lancaster Pike, opposite South Wyoming Ave.).

Josiah S. Pearce Home, built in 1868 (northeast corner of Lancaster Pike and Station Road).

Charles Kugler Home, built about 1875 (southeast side of Lancaster Pike, west of Church Road).

Dr. Smith’s House, 1911 photo, after removal to Cricket Avenue.

Businesses, along a short commercial stretch of "The Pike" in Ardmore, are shown in approximately their original locations. A few of the establishments are in business today.

A. Talone Cleaners, photo c. 1900s, still continues to serve the public.

Photo c. 1915, of corner site of the Andrew P. Rolli Insurance Agency.

Odd Fellows Hall, built in 1846, seen in a c. 1923 photograph.

1915 photo of building, next to the Autocar plant, that housed W.E. Morris Lunch Room; Nick Talone Barber Shop; W.W. Francis Stationery, Candy, Cigars; A.A. Francis Jewelry.

Y.M.C.A. Building, 1910 photo, housed a barber shop and the Township’s first free library on the first floor.

Commercial blocks at corner, seen in 1940s photograph.

Dirigo Club House, built 1890; Republican Club; James S. Lyons & Bros. Plumbing Supplies; Eddy McKenty’s Restaurant; Bill Werner’s Poolroom. Franklin Azpell, harness maker, was in the building on the left.

Early photograph of William Lesher’s General Store, built in 1880.

Williamson Store, 1911 photo.

Harrison Store, 1911 photo, formerly the Baker Store.

Commercial block, early 1940s.

Palace Movie Theatre, c. 1910.

Ardmore Post Office building.

Looking east on Lancaster Pike from Ardmore Avenue, c. 1940.

Merion Title and Trust Company building. Built in 1892, the building was severely damaged by fire in 1977.

Merion Title and Trust President Josiah Pearce (1841-1915).

1917 photo of retail row.

Ardmore Trolley Station, c. 1910, and Llanerch Railway Station.

Ardmore National Bank.

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