The First 300

The Milestones

Ancient Landmarks

As a unit of measure, the mile dates back to Roman times. The Latin is “milia passuum,” meaning a thousand paces. The Romans also erected stone markers at mile intervals to notify the passerby of distances covered or the number of miles to go to reach their destination. These markers were conveniently called milestones. Distances from Rome were measured from the “gilded column” in the Forum which was inscribed with the names of the principal roads and the distances of the major cities.

Colonial Landmarks

Early in American history, Philadelphia was a major city in Pennsylvania. Roads radiated in all directions like a spider’s web to the surrounding towns. Philadelphia’s equivalent of the Roman “gilded column” was located at the old Philadelphia Court House which stood on Market and Second Streets.

It was Benjamin Franklin, the Colonial Postmaster, who insisted on having milestones erected, because they expedited mail delivery by keeping the postal riders on schedule. These milestones also became popular as a way of identifying the location of a property. For example, on the 1752 Scull and Heap Map, under the “Table of Distances,” we find the Merion Meeting House listed as having the address of 7—5 (7 miles and 5 furlongs). Many inns were intentionally located near these markers because the innkeepers thought milestones brought them good luck and fortune. Finally, along the turnpike roads, these markers were a means for seeing that no person was charged for more miles than he traveled.

As a note of interest, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the invention of the “odometre.” This ingenious mechanical device was used to determine the exact location for each milestone. The “odometer” was attached to a carriage wheel and as it passed over the road it recorded the distance of a mile.

The Three Roadways

Granite milestones continue to mark the distance to Philadelphia along the rights-of-way of our three local roadways: Old Lancaster Road (now Montgomery Avenue), Old Gulph Road and Lancaster Road. There are a total of fourteen milestone sites that exist in Lower Merion. Let’s take a brief look…

Old Lancaster Road

One of the oldest roadways in the state, Old Lancaster Road began as a Lenape foot path. After the arrival of the Welsh, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) established their Merion Meeting House and used this path to link them to the their fellow Quakers who lived and worshipped at the Great Meeting House at Second and High (Market) in Philadelphia. A short time later this path was extended in a westwardly direction to connect to the Radnor Meeting House.

There is no clear documentation when milestones 7 through 10 were installed, but they were probably in place by c. 1740. They were erected on the north side of this roadway and were inscribed with the appropriate mileage numeral on the front side.

round-top stone carved with number 7
Old Lancaster #7 by the entrance to the municipal parking lot near the intersection with Levering Mill Road.
round-top stone, some damage on left, carved with number 8
Old Lancaster #8 by the front door of Beneficial Savings Bank near the intersection with Gordon Ave.
round-top stone carved with number 9
Old Lancaster #9 at 349 East Montgomery Ave. which is between Wister and Owen Roads.
round-top stone carved with number 10
Old Lancaster #10 at 111 West Montgomery Ave. near the intersection with Woodside Ave

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set —Proverbs 22.28

Old Gulph Road

Old Gulph Road, an extension of Old Lancaster Road, was constructed to enable the Welsh Quakers easy access into the Mill Creek Valley region. In the valley or gulph (a hollow place in the ground), they constructed their mills along Mill Creek which was used to power their grist, lumber, woolen, paper and powder mills.

Milestones 9 through 13 were erected on the north side of this roadway in c. 1793 by the Mutual Assurance Fire Company of Philadelphia as a price for their charter from the Penn family. Because of their unique design, this group of milestones is commonly referred to as “William Penn Milestones.” On the front side, which faces the roadway, there appears the appropriate mileage numeral, while on the back side are three raised cannon-balls on a bar within a shield which is the coat-of-arms of Admiral Sir William Penn.

round-top stone carved with number 9
Old Gulph #9 at 201 Old Gulph Road across from the entrance to the Friends’ Central Lower School.
round-top stone carved with number 10
Old Gulph #10 by the entrance to the ford at the intersection with Williamson Road.
round-top stone carved with number 11, surrounded by iron fence
Old Gulph #11 at 703 Old Gulph Road near the intersection with Morris Ave.
round-top stone carved with number 12
Old Gulph #12 near the gatehouse at Beaumont Retirement Community between Great Springs Rd. and Ithan Ave.
round-top stone carved with number 13
Old Gulph #13 on Old Gulph Road at the corner property of 104 Mt. Moro Rd.

Lancaster Road

The War for Independence was over and the country was focused on opening up new territories to the west. Traffic was so heavy on the Old Lancaster Road that there was a demand for an additional road between Philadelphia and Lancaster. This led to the construction of the Lancaster Road (Route 30), which was completed in 1794 and called “The Great Road to the West.”

Milestones 5 through 9 were erected on the north side of this roadway in 1795 by Joseph Price who was awarded the contract by the State of Pennsylvania. It’s important to note that the Lancaster Road milestones used a different starting point of reference from the other two roadways. These marked the distance to the Market Street Bridge (30th Street) at the Schuylkill River. Therefore, there is a difference of two miles in their measurement to Philadelphia. On the front side, which faces the roadway, appears the appropriate mileage numeral followed by “M to P” or “Miles to Philadelphia.”

wide round-top stone carved with 5 M to P
Lancaster Ave. #5 at St. Charles Seminary across from the main entrance to Lankenau Hospital.
narrow round-top stone carved with 6 M to P
Lancaster Ave. #6 between Stanford Drive and Clover Hill Road.
round-top stone carved with 7 M to P
Lancaster Ave. #7 at the intersection with exit roadway from the Township Administration Building.
round-top stone carved with 8 M to P
Lancaster Ave. #8 at 423 Lancaster Ave. at the intersection with Llanalew Road.
round-top stone carved with 10 M to P, surrounded by iron fence
Lancaster Ave. #9 on the south side of the road in front of Ludington Library.