Celebrating Easttown's 300th

By David Schmidt
Main Line Life
March 13, 2002

About 1704, Easttown Township may have received its name.

Or maybe not.

Actually, the date may or may not be correct. All we know is in that year the first official mention of the township was recorded.

“It’s the first record we have of the name, used when Chester County appointed a constable for Easttown,” said Herb Fry, head of the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club.

So in 2004, the township will celebrate its 300th anniversary and will make certain it’s a great celebration. Karl Klingerhoeffer is chairman of the Easttown Township Tricentennial celebration, and the 45-year resident wants this to be done well and remembered.

“I’ve actually been at it two years already; we knew we wanted to do something special and that takes time,” he said.

“We get no money from the township, so we are raising the money ourselves, and looking for volunteers to help out, as well,” he said. “It’s a lot easier getting people involved the last year before a celebration such as this, three years is a long time, but there’s a lot to be done.”

Klingerhoeffer moved into Easttown in the early 1950s. An advertising executive and an artist, he had his own agency until he retired in 1995. He’s concentrated on painting in the area since then.

“I’ve been doing a lot of painting and I’m interested in history so I’ve sort of specialized in historic places and things,” he said. “I’ve painted Valley Forge and Waynesborough. I guess painting covered bridges is my forte.”

He’s been president of Chester County Tourist Bureau and has a good understanding of what it will take for the celebratory year to be a success. He’s also going to paint one of the 12 scenes to be done by local artists. Those paintings will be made into a calendar and sold to raise money.

An essential part of the process is 45-year resident and history committee chairman Herb Fry. As head of the local history club, he’s the arbiter of not only what the township was like 300 years ago but in the intervening centuries. He was born in Pottsgrove, and served as an infantryman in World War II.

After the war he studied on the GI Bill to become a certified public accountant and attributes this to his avocation as a historian. “I guess there’s some similarity of personality type; accountants and historians both have to dig inside the records to come up with what really happened or is happening, so I’m well-suited to it,” he said.

The most important distinction between Easttown and its neighboring portions of the wilderness was the Welsh who settled there weren’t Quakers but Anglicans.

The initial Anglican congregation was the area’s best known, St. David’s. Named after the patron saint of the Welsh, this congregation didn’t want to be confused with the other protestant groups settling throughout the area, including Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. These sects disagreed with the European concept of a state religion.

Just as the Anglican – or Church of England – was state-sponsored, there were similar arrangements throughout Europe. So Pennsylvania’s expansive acceptance and tolerance of other religions motivated many devout families to pick and move to America.

The first place of worship, according to Fry, was a log cabin at Waterloo and Newtown roads. After that cabin burned, the church was built in what would become Radnor. “The area near the intersection was known as the old burial ground because that land was home to the congregation from probably 1700 to 1705, when it burned, so there certainly would have been a cemetery there,” Fry said.

The men who bought the original 5,000-acre tract from William Penn were William Wood and William Sharlow. There is some confusion about the spelling of Sharlow’s name, but evidently none about the fact that he never came to the New World. Wood came in 1685 but died five years later. His descendants began in 1690 to attempt to clear the title of the land from the original partnership so they could sell it. Eventually that came to be and the land was broken down into several plots of either 1000 or 500 acres.

The oldest house still standing in Easttown Township is Travelgyn. There was a manor named that by Morgan Hughes, after he bought the land from Wood’s children, evidently in 1690, although the house evidently dates from early in the 18th century, probably 1706. According to the township, in 1715 there were only 16 males in the township and only 50 families in 1798.

By the time of the revolution, the character of the township hadn’t changed. It was a farming community, sending its crops to Philadelphia. It had a tavern and those support services necessary for any rather remote farming community. But remote as it might have been, Easttown’s revolutionary claim to fame includes one of its heroes and one of its victories – at a time when both were rare.

Anthony Wayne was an Easttown native, and his family’s property, Waynesborough, is the primary historical attraction within the township. Signal Hill in Devon is named for being the end of a line of signal sites that communicated with the American troops in Valley Forge during the winter encampment. Asmall group of Americans under the command of another famous American, Capt. “Light Horse” Harry Lee, beat off an attack of British troops after being caught on a foraging mission.

Lee, in addition to his exploits during the Revolutionary War, had a much more famous descendent, son Robert E. Lee, considered America’s best soldier until he decided to command the Confederate forces during the Civil War. Lee’s home was confiscated by the government and became what is now Arlington National Cemetery.

At the time of the fight, he was under the command of Wayne, bringing things full circle in Easttown. The success of the fight on Signal Hill wasn’t important strategically but probably served as a tremendous morale booster for the troops suffering through the winter in Valley Forge.

Following the war and the turn of the century, Easttown took part in the expansion of America and its economic advantages with the building of Lancaster Pike through the edge of the township on its way west. That brought about a group of four taverns: The Stagecoach, The Lamb, The Springhouse and at the bottom of the social spectrum, The Drover.

Men coming up or down the pike would keep to their own kind, and the grimy drovers – driving everything from cattle and oxen to ducks and geese – left their charges nearby when they patronized the facility.

In addition, smithies and all the services needed by the transportation industry popped up and lasted until the next leap in transportation technology, the railroad, came through. Over the next generation, from the mid-1830s with the arrival of the train, these businesses began to fade and were replaced by services supporting the building and maintaining of the railroads.

“By 1850 they were essentially gone,” said Fry. The buildings occupied by the Lamb and Stagecoach still exist now, as private residences.

The township’s primary village was named Reesville but was renamed Berwyn in 1887 by the Pennsylvania Railroad as it created Welsh names up and down the railroad line. One clever way they did it, being the nation’s most powerful corporation, was to exercise influence on the postal system to name their post offices as the railroad wanted.

Even during the time of the railroad barons, there were only a few major estates in Easttown, including those of Gardner Cassatt, brother of the A.J Cassatt of railroad fame, and the Wilbur family, chocolateers who were competitors of the Hershey brand at the turn of the century. Their mansion, Hilltop, sits next to the Easttown Township Building and is used for displays and shows.

For most of the families of the township, these events had little impact compared to what happened after World War II. With the return of the veterans and the pent-up demand unfilled for the years of World War II, America suffered a severe housing shortage.

Through the 1950s, houses and developments sprang up all over the township, causing an 80-percent explosion in the township’s population.

Both Fry and Klingerhoeffer were among the veterans who moved into the area after leaving the service and finishing their educations with the help of the GI Bill.

The growth that economic success triggered hasn’t really changed, as more and more affluent people want to enjoy the pleasures of a still mostly bucolic area such as Easttown.

According to both Klingerhoeffer and Fry, the township has a desirable mix of housing, with services and amenities well balanced with open land and a lovely nature. “The traffic is the only problem; that’s the price we pay now,” Klingerhoeffer said.