Lower Merion Historical Society

The Lower Merion Historical Society

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What's in a name?

By David Schmidt
Main Line Life
originally published January 22, 2003

As with anything, the things we name orcall places is something that definesus. How we choose names, as well asthe names themselves, tell us aboutourselves. More than that, they are assubject to what we call fads as anythingelse.

Take the naming of the MainLine train stations. It was an era ofproud and vain men, rich and powerfulbeyond their own comprehension,and they couldn’t see themselvesas occupants ofHumphreysville, Athensville orany other “common” name.

So they became places full ofWelsh heritage, as if a muddy pathway through amean Welsh village would seem more genteel. ThePennsylvania Railroad officials responsible for thenames thought that many of those men would justfeel better coming home to a Bryn Mawr, BalaCynwyd, Radnor or Tredyffrin.

But in the proceeding centuries, names had comefrom different reasons and to different purposes.Many of those names have disappeared, or beensuperseded. But back in 1978 a group of amateurhistorians from the Tredyffrin-Easttown HistoryClub put together a list of folk names and places nolonger on the map.

Its object was to document names formerly inuse in the two townships. They began with namesthat once designated hills or hollows or woods orcrossroads. Here are some of the more interesting ofthem.

Bear Hill

The sloping ground northof the Black Bear tavern onthe old Lancaster Pike at whatis now the east end of Paoliwas known in the 19th centuryas Bear Hill. The clienteleof the Bear was primarilywagoners and teamsters.

The tavern is included inthe well-known “SorrelHorse” toast, in which the 11old taverns along the oldLancaster Pike (or ConestogaRoad) between the presentdayIthan and Paoli werenamed in order:

“Here’s to the SorrelHorse, who kicked theUnicorn; and made the Eaglefly;

Who frightened the Lamb,upset the Stage, and drank theSpringhouse dry;

Who Drove the Blue Ballinto the Black Bear,

And raced General Jackson to Paoli on a dare.”

Today state Route 252 is known at places as bothBear Hill Road and Bearhill Road.

Hickory Hill

Hickory Hill was the name given to a section ofCabbagetown or Waterloo Mills, presumablybecause of a stand of hickory trees there.

An oak on Hickory Hill was called the “GoldenOak” because a resident of the area, according totradition, dreamed on three successive nights that apot of gold had been hidden near it in earlier times.It is also alleged that he dug many large holes allaround the tree in an unsuccessful effort to locate thetreasure.

Signal Hill

The high ground near the southeast corner of theintersection of Sugartown and Newtown roads inEasttown township was known as Signal Hill, a talltree on the hill having been used asone of a chain of signal trees orsentry trees to provide communicationwhen theContinental army wasquartered at ValleyForge.

It was in this areathat Capt. “Lighthorse”Harry Lee, with a detachmentof 12 men assignedto him to harass Britishsupply routes and foragingexpeditions, successfullywithstood the assault of 200 British dragoonsunder the command of the notorious BanastreTarleton in January 1778.

Tunnel Hill

An area near Diamond Rock School, on YellowSprings Road in Tredyffrin Township, was known asTunnel Hill in the mid-1850s. It has been describedas being a section “noted for its unruly boys whothought nothing of riding an unpopular schoolmasteron a rail and were the terror of all who attempted toinstruct them.”

Joseph Addison Thompson, the schoolmaster atDiamond Rock School in 1852, however, is creditedwith finally bringing them into line by taking on theringleader, much to the approval of the boy’s parents.

Devil’s Pocket

Also sometimes known as Deadman’s Hollow,the Devil’s Pocket was a name given to the hollowwest of what is now Irish Road, behind the old logcabin at Conestoga High School, in TredyffrinTownship. According to oral tradition, the namestems from a time when the area was inhabited by arough family of unsavory characters, knownthroughout the immediate vicinity for their profanityand drunkenness. To discourage their children fromgoing into the hollow or associating with these residents,the place was described by families livingnearby as the Devil’s Pocket.

The name Deadman’s Hollow similarly wasderived from an occasion on which one of the occupantsof the hollow was found dead from hanging -whether a suicide or murdered is no longer recalled.

Hammer Hollow

The ravine through which Trout Run flows northinto the valley was for manyyears known as Hammer Hollow.The area was generally boundedon the east by what is now WestValley Road and on the west bywhat is now Valley Forge Road,north of Conestoga Road inTredyffrin Township.

With early America dependenton waterpower for its industry,Hammer Hollow was the siteof a pre-Revolutionary War gristand flour mill. It is traditionallytold that during the Revolutionthe American army commandeeredwheat from neighboringfarmers and took it to the mill tobe ground into flour for the soldiersat Valley Forge.

Hammer Hollow in the late1870s was used as a hideout by anotorious burglary ring known asthe “Hammer Hollow Gang.”Through the efforts of a detectiveemployed by a secretly organizedBerwyn Protective Association formed by the leadingcitizens of the town, four men and one womanwere arrested and convicted, though the leader wasnever caught.

Neilly’s Hollow

The hollow along Old State Road in TredyffrinTownship running north into the valley from the loghouse and shop of James Neilly was known asNeilly’s Hollow. Neilly was a linen weaver, andaccording to tradition, it was he who supplied thelinen used to bury the dead after the Paoli Massacrein September 1777.

Prissy’s Hollow

The ravine running north from behind the BlueBall tavern in what is now Daylesford in Tredyffrintownship was known as Prissy’s Hollow, taking itsname from “Prissy” Robinson, for many years themistress of the Blue Ball Inn after the death of herhusband. She was known for both her sharp tongueand her sharp temper.

Paoli Grove

On the map ofTredyffrin Township inthe Atlas of ChesterCounty published by A.R. Whitmer in 1873, thewooded area east of Paoliextending along the northside of what is now RussellRoad is identified as PaoliGrove. In the 1850s it wasa popular Sunday resort and picnic grove, but later itreputedly became ahangout “of toughs”and “an unbearablenuisance to the neighborhood.”

And a few crossroads:

Bull’s Corner

Bull’s Corner wasthe name popularlygiven to the crossroadsat the intersectionof Church andSwedesford roads inthe northwest cornerof TredyffrinTownship. The namewas taken from theBull family, who owned the property at the corner. Ablacksmith shop was located at the corner for manyyears.


The crossroadsformed byHowellville Road andthe old Lancaster Pikein Cockletown inTredyffrin Townshipwas known as Peggy’sCorner. It was sonamed because of thelog residence on thenortheast cornerbelonging to PeggyHambleton, who hada “Cake and BeerShop” in her home.

Priest’s Corner

The intersection of Leopard and Sugartownroads in EasttownTownship from whichLeopard Road runsnorth from SugartownRoad, was formerlyknown as Priest’sCorner. The name wasderived from the ownersof the farm buildingsnear the intersection.


The area whereCassatt runs intoSwedesford Road wasfor many years popularlyknown asWidow’s Bridge. Just east of the intersection was aserpentine stone bridge over the Chester ValleyRailroad, the road curving to enter the bridge fromeither side. The bridge was the scene of many accidentsas a result of itscrooked location onSwedesford Road.

The “widow” wasthe widow Rees, neeMary Moore, thewidow of Col. AbelRees, who died shortlyafter the War of1812 from wounds hereceived in the war.Widow Rees, whowas the sister ofPrissy Robinson of theBlue Ball tavern, livedinto the 1880s.

This compilation isas interesting in its development as some of thenames themselves. The information came frommany sources and people, including theTredyffrin-Easttown History ClubQuarterly, the recollections of variousT.E. History Club members,unpublished notes ofFranklin L. Burns as well as studentpapers produced by ConradWilson’s American Heritage Classat Conestoga High School and TheDaily Local News.