Monday, October 29, 2012

Son of Frankenstorm: The Great Flood of 1843

Witness to the Flood of 1843:  Goshen Rd bridge over Darby Creek

Pundits have labeled the current storm we are in the midst of "Frankenstorm.  Middle-agers remember Hurricane Agnes devastating the area and the state in 1972.  Old-time Jersey shore residents remember the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962, reported in Wikipedia to be "one of the ten worst storms in the United States in the 20th century, it lingered through five high tides over a three day period, killing 40 people, injuring over 1,000 and causing hundreds of millions in property damage in six states." 
Since the beginning of time, Mother Nature has periodically proven her strength and unleashed her fury on the human population.  
Today, with power and backup power, modern communications, flood hazard areas where no building is permitted, and building codes and better construction materials and methods, and weather forecasting, we are somewhat better prepared to face what she throws at us.  We have some warning; frankly we have had non-stop warnings.  We have been told to say inside.  Today whole cities and transit systems and school systems are shut down as a precaution.  We have emergency backup systems in places; we have warm and dry places to go if all else fails at home.  We have been warned, we have the benefit of experience; and yet still some will go out in it; some who can't resist getting close to the edges of life will fall in.  Our emergency workers - fireman and police and National Guardsmen - will put their lives at risk; and others, safe and secure in their homes, may be injured when winds and debris break through their safety net and do damage.  
But imagine now that you are living in the 19th century, without the benefit of all of these modern conveniences.  Imagine that the power to run your main industries is water power - mills up and down the creeks in this area - the Darby, the Crum, the Ridley and Cobbs.  Imagine the places where the roads must cross over these creeks - we hardly notice them today as we glide by over concrete and steel bridges.  But imagine the 19th century, where many crossings are simply fords - low areas where it is usually safe to cross; and in the more heavily trafficked areas there are relatively simple wooden bridges, with piers and pilings driven into the ground by hand labor.  Your dams are not vast concrete and steel reinforced structures, but stone and earthen dams, good enough for your run of the mill storm, but not your storm of the century.  
When a storm is coming, you have no way of knowing.  Perhaps you live in a wooden house near a creek, that you and your neighbors built with available materials. You have not moved your carriage, your wagon, your horses and livestock, your crops in the barn, to higher or more secure ground or places.  You have not moved your merchandise to higher floors.  You have not evacuated your home near the water, because you don't know the storm is coming.  Your fuel - your wood pile, your coal, may be stacked outside or in a small shed.  
That is the world you would wake up to in Delaware County on August 5, 1843, when the 19th century Frankenstorm arrived.
Ashmead's History of Delaware County described what happened that day:  "At daybreak, the sky indicated rain, and about seven o'clock a moderate fall set in, which, while it slackened, never entirely ceased until between the hours of two and six o'clock that afternoon, when the extraordinary opening of "the windows of heaven" took place which made such extended ruin and misery in a brief period of time. The rain, when falling most abundantly, came down in such showers that the fields in that part of the county removed several miles back from the river are said to have been flooded with water almost immediately, and where the road was lower than the surface of the ground on either side, the water poured into the highway in a constant stream of miniature cascades. The lightning played incessantly through the falling torrents, reflected from all sides in the watery mirrors in the fields producing a weird and spectral appearance, such that those who witnessed it could evermore recall."
"In those sections of the county where its greatest violence was expended, the character of the stream more nearly accorded with that of a tropical hurricane than with anything which appertained to this region of country. The clouds wore an unusually dark and lowering appearance, of which the whole atmosphere seemed in some degree to partake, and this circumstance, no doubt, gave that peculiarly vivid appearance to the incessant flashes of lightning which was observed by every one. The peals of thunder were loud and almost continuous. The clouds appeared to approach from different directions, and to concentrate at a point not very distant from the zenith of the beholder. In many places there was but very little wind, the rain falling in nearly perpendicular streams; at other places it blew a stiff breeze, first from the east or northeast and suddenly shifting to the southwest, while at a few points it blew in sudden gusts with great violence, accompanied with whirlwinds, which twisted off and prostrated large trees, and swept everything before it."
"The almost instantaneous rise of the water in the creeks throughout the county is hardly paralleled in any flood on record, and the manner in which the current is related to have moved clown the various streams to the Delaware would be incredible if it were not that the destruction it produced fully sustains the statements."
"Darby Creek … was a wild, struggling torrent, swollen seventeen feet beyond its usual level, crushing even solid masonry before it as it rushed outward towards the river.  Ithan Creek … in Radnor, rose to such an unprecedented height that the arched stone bridge which spanned the stream on the old Lancaster road [Conestoga Road - ed], near Radnor Friends' meeting-house, unable to vent the water, was undermined and fell, allowing the torrent to escape through its broken archway. On the west branch of Darby Creek, before that feeder enters Delaware County, considerable damage was done in broken dams, which, freeing the water therein restrained, resulted in augmenting largely the force of the freshet, which rushed in irresistible force to Hood's bridge [Goshen & Darby Paoli Roads - ed], where the Goshen road crosses the creek, and the double arched stone structure there yielded before the mass of water that was hurled against it, attaining at that point a height of seven feet beyond the highest point ever before reached so far as records extend. In its mad career the torrent injured the mill-dam of Clarence and William P. Lawrence's grist-mill [near Barnaby's and the carwash along West Chester Pike - ed], and more than a hundred feet of the western wing wall of the stone bridge that spanned the creek on the West Chester road was swept away, the water reaching a point thirteen feet beyond its usual level. The stone bridge near where the Marple and Springfield line meets on Darby Creek [near intersection of Burmont and Reed roads - ed] had a large part of the guard-wall demolished."
"The stone arched bridge, known as Howard's bridge, on the road that intersected with the Newtown and Marple Line road [Marple Road where it now crosses high above the Blue Route and the creek- ed], was almost destroyed. Below this point and above Hunter's Run a sleeper bridge was bodily carried off its abutment."
Homes, dams, bridges, mills, factories, livestock, people, were all swept away in the ensuing floods.  "Most of the bridges on Chester, Ridley, Crum and Darby creeks, numbering 52, have been swept away, and the loss to the county will not be less than $80,000. The county had just finished building bridges; we boasted of the best bridges in the State, and the finances of the county were in a flourishing condition, and next year there would have been a great reduction of taxes for county purposes. This dispensation of Providence will cause a large expenditure of money to rebuild our bridges, and consequently the taxes will be necessarily high."
On the day of the flood, a mill owner named Beatty was putting in extensive improvements to his mill. A neighbor seeing the work, said, "Mr. Beatty, you are building a monument which will stand when you and your grandchildren are six feet under ground.  It can't get away."  Yet at five o'clock that afternoon there was not a stone to be found in place. 
The toll in human life was high.  Nineteen people died in Delaware and Chester counties alone.  Some of their stories were recounted at the time:
Mr. John Rhodes and five of his family were swept away with their dwelling at Rockdale, and all of them lost. A women and child who arrived from Philadelphia the same evening, named McGuigan, were drowned at the same place.
At Flower mill a colored woman named Ellen Jackson, whom in attempting to save the life and property of Mr. William G. Flower, lost her own. The sudden rise of the water swept her away, and Mr. Flower's life was saved by his clinging to a tree.
At Kelly Mills on Darby creek, a house was carried away by the torrent, and Mrs. Julia Knowlin and her four children were drowned. Their bodies have been recovered and interred at St. Michael's Church, Philadelphia.
"The large stone bridge over Darby creek, at the village of Darby, was swept away, and Mr. Josiah Bunting, Jr. and Russell Flounders who were upon it at the time, sunk with it, and lost their lives. They were both worthy young men, and their premature death is most afflictive to their relatives and friends."  "The body of Flounders was found four days afterwards on the meadows two miles below, while Bunting's was not recovered for two weeks, when it was discovered wedged in among the broken arches of the bridge."
Intermingled with the stories of tragedy, there were stories of heroism, and of luck, of people thrown into danger, and acting to save themselves and others:
"A double frame house, occupied by William Tombs and James Rigley and their families, floated down the stream, lodging against the factory, opposite a window in the picker-room. From the upper window of his house Rigley succeeded in passing his wife and child into the mill, and then rescued Tombs (who was ill at the time), his wife and two children from the garret of the house, to do which he was compelled to break a hole in the roof. How quickly he acted may be gathered from the fact that in six minutes from the time this house rested against the mill it was again whirling down the stream. "
"In one of the centre dwellings resided George Hargraves, his wife, five children, and his brother, William Hargraves, and in the adjoining one lived Thomas W. Brown, his wife and child. When the flood came they endeavored to secure the household goods in the basement; the water rose so rapidly that their escape was cut off, and they retreated to the second story. William Hargraves, finding the walls of the building yielding to the force of the flood, plunged into the water and was carried down the stream for more than half a mile until, catching in a standing tree, he succeeded in holding on until the flood subsided and he was saved. While there, his brother George and his four eldest children on a bed borne by the current, passed by, and a moment after William saw them hurled into the water and drowned. The bodies were found about nine miles farther down the stream, that of the youngest child firmly grasped in its father's arms. Jane Hargrave, the wife of George, when the water broke through the house, with her baby in her arms, was standing in a corner of the room, and strangely that part of the floor, only a few feet square, remained, and there the woman stood for five long hours until rescued by Thomas Holt."
"At the time the torrent poured down upon them, John Rhoads, his daughters, Hannah and Jane, and his granddaughter, Mary Ann Collingsworth, were in the dwelling, and with it they were swept away. All of them were drowned. In one of the houses, Mary Jane McGuigan and her infant child was washed away and perished. Her body was found early in April, 1844, a short distance from where the house which she occupied at the time of the freshet stood. The body of John Rhoads was found two and a half miles down the creek, one of his daughters at Baldwin's Run, nearly five miles away, while the body of the other daughter was borne into the Delaware, and was found near Naaman's Creek, about six miles below the mouth of Chester Creek. The corpse of the grandchild was not found until nearly six months afterwards, when a heavy rain on Jan. 17, 1844, washed away some earth near where Rhoads' house had stood, and exposed the remains to view."
"William G. Flower, who was at the time lessee of his father's mill, was in the meadow when the waters rushed down upon him, and he was whirled along until he succeeded in catching a vine which was entwined around a large tree on the race bank, and by means of which he mounted into the branches, but the tree was torn up by the roots, and among drift-wood, timber, and trees he was carried down by the flood until he was lodged in a standing tree, to which he clung, although much exhausted, until the flood had in a measure abated, when Abner Wood bravely swam to him, carrying a rope, by means of which Mr. Flower was safely brought to shore."
Today, in 2012, we hope we will not see that kind of destruction from this storm.  We've been warned.  We've had time to stock up on supplies.  We’ve had time to go outside and secure our possessions, to put our porch furniture away, to take down our decorative items, political signs, wind chimes so they do not turn into weapons of destruction when they are hurled through the air at 70 miles per hour.  We know better.  Don't we?  We'll see what Mother Nature hath wrought later in the week.  As I say to my children:  make good decisions.
For further reading on the flood of 1843:
A contemporary newspaper account of the Flood:
Ashmead's account of the flood goes on for several pages, and can be found here:
The flood was so remarkable that a committee of the Delaware County Institute of Science was appointed to investigate and make report bout it.  Here is their report, with a fuller account of the devastation of the storm:

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Wild West Comes to the Philadelphia and West Chester Trolley

I had found and put aside this old Philadelphia Inquirer article to do something with, and now have decided the easiest thing to "do" with it is simply republish it.  And then found "the rest of the story" as well.  Here is a slice of life from 1905 ... 


While Passengers Sit in Trolley, Near Newtown Square, Carman Is Held Up
Victim, Not Knowing Robber’s Purpose at First, Accidentally Knocks Weapon From His Grasp
Special to The Inquirer
LLANERCH, Pa,  Jan. 1 [1905].  A holdup with a dash of wild Western color to it occurred last night on the Philadelphia and West Chester trolley line, halfway between Newtown Square and West Chester, when a man, armed with two big revolvers took Conductor Robert E. Patterson off his car, relieved him of all the silvers and coppers he had, then forced him to get back and ring the bell to go ahead.  All this happened while four passengers remained seated in the car, all but one ignorant of what was going on.
Chester county officers believe they will be able to run down the highwayman, who is described as tall and slender, with light hair and a small light moustache.  He wore a dark slouch hat and a long tan mackintosh.  He is not believed to be a professional, although there is evidence to show that the man had planned the robbery carefully.
Two leather revolver holders, covered with mud, were found in the little wait-room at Street road, where the hold-up took place, and also a dinner pail of coal oil and pieces of rag.  The highwayman, the police think, had his revolvers hidden somewhere in the woods which line this part of West Chester Turnpike on either side.  When he went for them last night he took the coal oil along to clean the weapons.  The dinner pail was a brand new one, and the police are trying to find the store where it was bought.
The Conductor’s Story
The story of the hold-up, as told by Conductor Peterson [sic], and corroborated by Horace Bishop, who lives near West Chester, is as follows:
About half-past ten o'clock last night the car on which Conductor Patterson and Motorman Alfred Walton of Llanerch were the crew was several blocks off from Street road [today better known as Rt. 926 ed.] coming toward Newtown Square, when the crew of a car going toward West Chester, Able Herring and Walter Rebe, informed Patterson that there was a suspicious looking man at the switch on the other side of Street road.
Motorman Walton was notified to watch for the person referred to, but when he received a signal from a man standing on the platform at the Street road waiting room he stopped the car, thinking it was an ordinary passenger.
 Was "Well Heeled"
The moment the car stopped, this man, who was evidently the one the other crew saw at the switch further down, jumped on the rear platform, revolver in hand.  Conductor Patterson did not see the weapon, and in throwing up his arm to ring the bell and give the signal to start he struck the man's hand and knocked the pistol to the floor.  Patterson was about to apologize for the accident when be realized the situation.
Quick as a flash the highwayman whipped out another and still larger pistol and pointing it at the conductor’s breast said: "Don't ring that bell, but get off the car.”
“When I hesitated for a moment," said Patterson, in telling the story, "the man brought his gun closer to my breast and I naturally decided the best thing to do was to obey him.”
"Hurry up now, shell out,” said the stranger, who had picked up his other weapon and shoved it into his pocket.  The conductor drew out the change he had in both side pockets of his coat, $8.15 in all, and handed it over.  Then he threw open his coat and satisfied the robber that he had no wallet.  He did have a number of one and five-dollar bills in his trousers pocket, but he was not going to give up that until he had to.
 “Now Get Back and Go”
“Now get back on your car and pull the bell” said the highwayman, and he drew the second revolver as be spoke and held it ready for the motorman or any of the passengers who might prove troublesome.  He was not hindered, however, and when the car pulled away he vanished in the dark.  
In the smoking compartment, which was next to the rear platform, Horace Bishop, who is employed in the car barn at Llanerch, was seated when the stranger jumped on the car.  He was dazed for a moment when he saw the revolver flash, and then he got up and walked through the car to the front platform.
I didn't have any gun," said Bishop, in telling about the affair, "so I thought I'd see if the motorman had one.”
Motorman Walton says that by the time Bishop reached the front platform and started to tell him about the hold-up, he got his signal to go ahead and the robbery was over.
Seated in the front part of the car at the time of, the robbery was a man and two women, but none of the three knew anything about the hold-up until after it was over and the car was in motion again.
At the substation at Ridley Creek, Conductor Patterson telephoned to the Llanerch trolley station and two of the men from the car barn, Robert Knox and George Henson, armed with revolvers, took the next car to the scene of the holdup.  They hunted about for some time, but could find no trace of the highwayman, except the revolver covers and the oil can and rags he had left behind.
[Editor’s note:  The next day, January 2, 1905,  the Inquirer reported that Ralph Crole was arrested when found in Joshua Garrett’s woods near Malvern.  He admitted to the crime, and said that he had recently been released from prison for a year, convicted of shooting at a farmer.  “He declared he could get no work and turned to robbery that he might buy food.  It is said that the man’s mind is affected.”   
 A search of census records shows no Ralph Crole in the area, but a Ralph Crowl from Chester County was married with a child in the 1920 and 1930 census.  Hopefully that was our Ralph, who straightened up and flew right, after his brush with the law and hard times.]

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Homeless Shelter Opens in Newtown Square!

Author's note: Okay, that headline was a cheap trick to draw you in to the article. But it is true–a homeless shelter did open in Newtown Square, in 1932.  Here is an article from the Chester Times (March 22, 1933that talks about the shelter, how it was initially viewed by the locals, and how it has contributed in beneficial ways to the community and to the men who were housed there. An interesting look at how a small community coped with the problems brought by the Great Depression.)

Rapid strides have been made in caring for the unemployed men at the Shelter located on Goshen Road near Paoli Road, Newtown Square, since the project was launched less than a year ago, it was stated today.  The headquarters, in which the men are housed, is next door to the home of General Smedley D. Butler, retired from the United States Marine Corps, and he has given unstintingly to help them maintain an independent existence.
Dr. Charles E. Gordon, head of the Shelter, started in May last with a few men.  He secured the house, which is now the headquarters of the institution improved it with their help and is now caring for between 20 and 30 residents. They not only maintain the institution but  have proven their worth to the community by constructing a road for the Pennsylvania Hospital, enabling it to reduce a haul  from about two miles to one of less than a  half mile in length. They also have assisted farmers in the locality with the harvesting of their crops and other work which has benefited the neighborhood.
The growth of the institution has been so rapid that it has become necessary to secure additional quarters to house the men.  Oswald Chew, of Radnor, a member of the committee of the Food Gardens Association of Philadelphia, which is interested in the Shelter, has written a lengthy article which explains the work accomplished during the Shelter's existence.  "When the Food Gardens Association of Philadelphia was started last May," Mr. Chew states, "it was with the idea of supplying gardens on which the unemployed could raise vegetables and other crops. 
These gardens were to be cultivated on unused or vacant land obtained from the owners, and for which no rent, or at a most purely nominal sum was to be pa id, and this actually took place, but it is not all that took place."  Within a few weeks of the beginning of the Food Gardens Association another undertaking of a similar nature was made possible.  This was the Shelter for unemployed men at Newtown Square, and is due chiefly to the initiative of Dr. Charles E. Gordon that this was made possible.  After having offered his services gratis to the city of Philadelphia, and having been refused, Dr. Gordon heard of the Food Gardens Association and called to see Congressman E. Lowber Stokes who gave him encouragement and his approval.
Finding a vacant house on the Goshen Road near Newtown Square, Dr. Gordon to use his own words, “just decided we needed that house, and so we moved in."  The Fidelity Philadelphia Trust Company agreed that no better use could be made of the property and a lease at one dollar a year was negotiated through the kind offices of J. Gordon Fetterman.
When Dr. Gordon took possession with  four or five unemployed  men from the Shelter Home, Eighteenth and Hamilton streets relief quarters, Philadelphia, which was  about  to close its doors for want of  funds, he and his men  faced a difficult proposition. The building had not been tenanted for years. There was scarcely three whole panes of glass in the entire edifice. Dirt and rubbish littered the floors and worse conditions prevailed outside the house.
No furniture, furnishings or anything of use was visible in the entire building.  Dr. Gordon and his few companions were obliged to sleep on the floor of the building wrapped in a few scanty blankets obtained from the Red Cross. 
It was in October that the writer next had the opportunity of seeing the Shelter and he could hardly believe his eyes, so great had been the change. The dirt and rubbish had been cleared and in its place were chairs, benches, tables and beds well supplied with blankets. Phonographs, pictures and things of all sorts to make men comfortable and life worth living were in evidence.
Instead of the four or five pioneers there were between twenty and thirty.  The story of how this transformation had come about is as strange as it is true.  The  neighbors who had at first been very skeptical about  the whole  affair,  refusing to give it their support, or sanction, had been  entirely won  over not only  to give  the  movement  their approval, but even their  wholehearted support, aid and  co-operation.
Practically all the furniture outside of the beds and blankets, which had been supplied by the Red Cross, had been given outright by the people in the neighborhood.  Large  quantities of  fruit and vegetables also had been given and a  number of the kindly disposed ladies, who had already  contributed the  vegetables came  and supervised  their being put up in jars which they also furnished.
Dr. Gordon secured work for the men on the Pennsylvania Hospital farm and the hospital repaid them with meat, and vegetables from the farm.  The men also planted potatoes and other crops, on the White Horse Farms owned by T. De Witt Cuyler, who returned them food for their labor.  They worked crops for the neighbors in the vicinity who were short-handed. For this they were paid in food.
During the winter they have been constructing a much needed road for the Pennsylvania Hospital which will reduce the haul from about two miles to less than one-half a mile.  They have also fixed the heater in their building, wired the structure for electricity, constructed a cesspool and have made countless other improvements.
Within the past two weeks their numbers have so increased that it has become necessary to obtain additional quarters.  They have been fortunate in securing these at the old Devon Inn, which was destroyed by fire a few years ago.  They are  rapidly  turning  the old  pump-house into comfortable living  quarters for themselves and they also  have  the  job of  pulling down  what  remains of  the old walls of the inn itself.
The erection of a new apartment house or hotel on or near the same site is being seriously contemplated and these same men are to do most of the work.  Meanwhile the job of salvaging the ruins goes merrily forward.
It should be mentioned that it has not been a case of all work and no play.  Several times a month bands and other entertainers have given their services.  Every Wednesday evening the men conduct a business meeting when the various matters are discussed and solutions reached; Every Sunday evening Dr. Sparkman, of the Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr, conducts religious services and two young women from the church lead the music.
 It would be a serious omission not to mention that General Smedley D. Butler has given them his hearty support, both by his presence and his gifts.  He furnished them with a large amount of lumber left over when he remodeled his home.  He also donated several large wooden pillars, which the men have built into their living room.  He also gave them two heavy duty tires for their truck and an excellent radio.
The general is perhaps next to Dr. Gordon and the Food Gardens Association, their nearest and best friend.  Certain it is that he has done more than could have reasonably have been expected of him by talks, by his gifts and by speaking about the project wherever he has had an opportunity.
The Shelter has also many other good friends, but it would take too long to enumerate them and to list all they have done. 
They are so numerous that it would be dangerous to list them for fear of omitting some of the more important ones.  It is only fair however,  to  say  that  Mrs. Pitcher, who together  with her mother, has been one of the most  constant and devoted friends of the men at the Shelter recently decided to enlist herself even more closely with the destiny of  the Shelter for only a few weeks ago she became the  wife of Dr. Charles Gordon.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hanging Out At The Newtown Square Hotel In 1903

I just came upon this photo (actually a larger photo of which this is a cropped section). With a good, clean, old photo, I have found that you can scan it at high quality and pull up things in it that you didn’t notice at the outset. So I cropped the most interesting part of this photo to focus on the people who are in it. I will publish the larger version later because it tells a different story. 
According to a handwritten notation on the back, the gentlemen at the center of the photo is Dr. M.P. Dickerson of Media, PA. He is sitting in a “horseless carriage," which was probably one of the first ones seen in Delaware County. A man named Henry Ford had been experimenting with putting engines on carriages, and a few years earlier had formed Detroit Automobile Company, and was just putting cars into production in 1903. 
Various other companies were making cars like this–Ransom Eli Olds and his Olds Motor Vehicle Company were also building in Detroit, MI. I am always amazed when I meet people who can look at an old car and give me the make and model and year. I don’t have that facility. If any of you in the reading audience recognize what this early automobile is, please send me a note and let me know, and I will add a P.S. to this article.
Usually within a few minutes I can take a person in history, run him through google and, and come up with the basics on him. I had no such luck with M.P. Dickerson. I found that he was an alumnus of the Medico-Chirurgical College, the early medical school and hospital associated with the University of Pennsylvania. 
Beyond that, I struck out with M.P. Dickerson, but he appears to be doing okay in 1903, tooling around in his new carriage. And, of course, doctors in those days made house calls, and so while most of his contemporaries were still doing so with a horse and buggy, Dickerson was out on the cutting edge making his rounds in this new device. 
But the roads in those days were not paved. On a good, dry summer day, they would be firm but dusty. On a spring day after weeks of rain, the roads would be rutted and muddy. We take our smooth paved roads for granted these days, but in 1903 the roads were there for horses and horse-drawn carts and wagons. And the horses, fueled by hay and oats, would leave their spent fuel on the roads that they passed along, which added a certain aroma to travel as well. Dr. Dickerson had his work cut out for himself to take the carriage out in less than perfect weather conditions. 
The gathering of boys–a serious and rough looking bunch. The tallest one, dressed in a suit, looks like someone who has a job. Another relatively new invention sits in the foreground, a bicycle. The dangerous high wheelers of the 1870s had given way to the “safety bicycle” of the 1890s–equal-sized wheels, a steerable front wheel, a chain drive, and pneumatic tires–all dramatic improvements over the earlier versions which resulted in a safer, smoother ride, and a wider popularity as a means of transportation in the early 20th century. 
So, perhaps the boy in the suit owns the bike–a messenger perhaps. When you had to get an important message to someone in those days, you sent a telegram, which went across telegraph wires from one Western Union Office to another one, but was then printed out close to the destination and dispatched to its intended recipient by uniformed messenger boys like this, who would then be tipped. To receive a telegram in those days was an exciting event–though like a late night phone call these days, it could be good or more likely bad news. 
The other boys–perhaps they heard the noise of the horseless carriage and ran out to follow the doctor and his carriage up to the hotel. Newtown Square was farm country before World War II, and so these were all boys who likely lived on nearby farms. There was not a lot of action out on the farm. An 1891 newspaper article described the town as follows:
“The village at the present day consists of a general country store, which is also the Newtown Square post office, a country tavern, a town hall, the usual blacksmith shop and wheelwright, and about a dozen dwelling houses. In addition, it has the new “test" station of the long distance telephone company. Such is Newtown Square at the present time.”
As to the hotel and tavern that they are standing in front of, the same visitor had this to say:
“At the present day the old inn has degenerated to an old country tavern, a mere stopping place for the few who still travel the almost deserted turnpike, while the outside benches and bar room chairs offer a gathering place for the idle gossips of the vicinity–the only exception to the humdrum routine being the days when cattle sales are cried from the tavern porch, or in the winter when some merry sleighing party wakes up the nooks and crannies of the old hostelry for the time being.”
So to be a young boy in those days, and see Doc Dickerson in his new-fangled carriage, and perhaps a Western Union delivery boy, would be a memorable day.  And to top it off, someone with a camera was there to take their picture. 
This picture walked into our historical society board meeting a few nights ago– someone in the community had given it to someone to give to the Society. We love receiving photos like this, or even simply borrowing them so we can scan them and give them back. A picture can be worth a thousand words. This one definitely is. It captures a lot going on in a single moment with a single image.
If you have old photos like this–of Marple or Newtown or other local areas or simply undetermined–contact me to see about getting them scanned. We add them to our collection, and it preserves people like Dr. Dickerson and these boys of 1903 for posterity.  

Friday, June 3, 2011

Historic Newtown Square Day on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 4th, 2011
 10AM – 4PM


Self-guided tours of Historic Sites (ticket required)

10AM – 4PM Events at the Square Tavern:
Newtown Market Square:  Artisans, crafters, community groups & vendors
Colonial Re-enactors and Encampment Children’s hands-on activities & games
Live music by Hugh Mason’s Bluegrass Band
Food & beverages for sale Historical Society Gift Shop open
Pick up your Historic Newtown Square Day T-shirt (limited to first 200 people, ticket required)

1PM – 3PM Newtown Square Antique Roadshow (ticket required)

6PM Volunteer Party at the Paper Mill House Museum (invitation required)

The Paper Mill House Museum (c. 1770)
The Friends Meeting House (c. 1711, 1791)
The Hood Octagonal School House (1842)
The Square Tavern (1742)
Old St. David’s Church (1715)
Bartram’s Covered Bridge (1860)
PRR Freight Station & Railroad Museum (1895)

Ticket Information
1 Ticket gets you into all the historic sites,
the Antique Roadshow and a T-shirt.
$5 in advance, $6 the day of and can be purchased at the Square Tavern
Site descriptions found throughout book
See map on page 6 for map/ site locations

In 1976, The Newtown Township Tricentennial Commission was formed by Stan Short to celebrate Newtown Township’s 300th Anniversary. With the help of many individuals and organizations, this was a successful undertaking that included a spectacular parade and celebration, acquisition of the Paper Mill House property, restoration of the Square Tavern and the publication of an acclaimed book, History of Newtown Township.

In 1984, the Tricentennial Commission reformed as the Newtown Square Historical Preservation Society. For many years the main focus was the daunting restoration of the Paper Mill House with the bulk of the labor being provided by Jim Crossan and Stan Short, creating what is now the Paper Mill House Museum of Newtown Township. Since then, the Society grew and broadened the scope of interests and accomplishments to include the annual Historic Newtown Square Day (formally Colonial Heritage Day), educational tours, lectures/ programs, an elementary school tour, improvements to the Museum and a number of publications. We continue to lead the effort to protect threatened historic homes and resources in Newtown Square. We hope to save as much as possible of yesterday for tomorrow.

We are always seeking new members and participation. See back of this book for a membership application.

The Paper Mill House Museum is open in July and August on Sundays from 1-4PM


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Historic Newtown Square Day: Creating and building community …

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood of the 50’s and 60’s that represented everything that was right about a community.  The generation now called the Greatest Generation had moved out to the new suburbs springing up all around the city.  Almost every house on our street had a young family with children.  We roamed in packs from back yard to back yard all day long, and each mother kept an eye on us when we came within her “zone”.  Our whole neighborhood was built around a central elementary school, and everyone could walk there.  In addition to providing education, it was the focal point of the community – the place to go for the spring Highland Fling, the 4th of July celebration, summer arts programs, little league baseball, movies in the auditorium, summer basketball leagues, etc.,  My parents were involved from the time they moved in.  My father was one of the early presidents of the civic association, and my mom was the editor of the community newsletter for several years.  My mother also ran the candy concession for each gathering at the school, and was the cookie storage location for the annual Girl Scout cookie sales.  At various times in our lives we would come home to find boxes and boxes of candy and cookies – and were told to stay away – they were for the community events.  Having parents and their friends involved in the community was my “normal”.   We took for granted that every community has these events, and this energy level of involved residents.  And of course as I grew up I found out … they don’t.  It was something special that only certain communities have. 

In Marple and Newtown, we are fortunate to have many of these community events still.  We have one of the largest 4th of July parades in the County.  We have two great little league organizations and facilities.  At the elementary school level, my experience was that we had very involved parents and there were a lot of activities at the school.  There is good community support for the excellent Marple Newtown High School band and its annual Bandarama.  However, when I first joined the Newtown Square Historical Preservation Society in the mid 1990’s, there was very little going on in the Society.  We had a monthly public program during the school year, but not much else.  I agreed to be treasurer back then, because I was told “you only write 10-12 checks a year.  No problem.”  And then Sam Coco and Jan and Sid Elston and some others had this idea for Colonial Day, and all hell broke loose. 

The original idea was to celebrate our Colonial history.  According to a contemporary news article, "It's going to be like a little Williamsburg," said chairman Sam Coco. ''We're going to have people in costume doing colonial crafts like carpentry, smithing, and colonial art."  That year, on June 10, 1995, we hosted that first Colonial Day.  Costumed guides provided tours of eight of the historic locations in the township. A fife-and-drum corps and volunteers in costume kicked off the event at the Paper Mill Museum.  George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Betsy Ross were in attendance at the opening ceremonies.  Isobel Snyder taught students that day at the Octagonal School House.  Several private homes were open for tours as well.  Sam sold ads for an event program to raise money for the Society as well.  We were not sure what the outcome would be for the event, but it was well received, and that first year has served as a template for what has become an annual event. 

My favorite memories of Colonial Day involve two weddings that were held at the Newtown Square Meeting House.  In 1999 or so, we had arranged for actors to act out a Quaker wedding, and sent out invitations, and promised a wedding reception at the Square Tavern after the event – open to all.  At the last minute, the actors canceled on us.  A friends of a friend and I agreed to step into the role of bride and groom, we had a full meeting house for the event, the wedding went off without a hitch (pun intended!), and then on a beautiful moonlit night, we had a wedding reception at the Tavern, complete with band and wedding cake.  I recall sitting off to the side at one point and marveling at the music and dancing and laughter behind this old tavern that used to see its share of celebrations like this in the 1700’s.  I thought “what a great way to bring the community together.” 

The second wedding was similar to the first, but with a wrinkle.  My daughter, a senior at Marple Newtown High School that year, chose to do her senior project on a Colonial wedding.  She found the original records from the Meeting House during the time of the American Revolution, and read about how the young Quaker boys were eager to join the troops defending the area when the British invaded in fall of 1777, much to the dismay of the pacifist parents.  She wrote a script for the day, incorporating those facts into an actual marriage that occurred that year.  She recruited her friends to dress up and play roles in the wedding, with speaking parts.  And then on the night before the event, the dress rehearsal, it poured rain – and the weather forecast the next day called for more on Saturday.  I never felt lower at a Colonial Day than that Friday night, when she was close to tears because the hours and hours of work and planning for the event might be rained out the next day.  Can you imagine having your wedding canceled on account of rain?  But that next morning, our chairperson, Madaleen Ellis, made a bold call – “we are holding this event” – and we did.  The rain was intermittent, but did not keep the wedding crowd from showing up for my daughter’s wedding.  The wedding was held, afterward in the Quaker custom everyone in attendance signed the wedding certificate, and we had a happy volunteer’s party at the end of the day, as we do each year. 

Last year’s volunteer party was a favorite memory as well – a number of the musicians who had played during the day brought their instruments back to the party.  We set up outside, overlooking the Darby creek outside the Paper Mill House, and we sang and played till the wee hours.  The ghosts of the hundreds of millworkers who had lived and worked along those banks in the 1800’s must have been thrilled to hear such life and laughter in this old building after too many years of empty silence. 

So this year we are again hosting this community event, the 16th one, on Saturday, June 4th, from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.  We have changed the name – our history is not limited to the Colonial era and so we are simply calling it Historic Newtown Square Day.  We have over 30 merchants and vendors who will set up behind the Square Tavern, to display their wares and show off their skills.  We have tours still at the Paper Mill House, the Tavern, the Octagonal School, the Bartram Bridge, and the Newtown Square Friends Meeting.  There are no private home tours this year, and the Sandy Flash Dash, a 5K event, is on hiatus this year.  But there will be food, music, children’s activities and fun for all ages at the event.  Please come out and join us that day.  Support your community, see your neighbors and friends, and learn a little history in the process as well. 

For additional photos and videos of past Colonial Day celebrations, see the blog article on Patch at

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Local Elections in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Newtown Square Hotel (circa 1891)

Today is Primary Day when our political parties each select candidates for the fall elections.  2011 is a typical “off year” election, with no federal offices in play, and just a few statewide races for judges, and a few local offices. Most races are uncontested this year. Where I vote, a slate of school board candidates was running “against” the party, but otherwise there were few contests. It has been a rainy morning as well, and so the turnout is expected to be very low. 
What were elections like in Delaware County at the beginning of our independence, and for the next 100 years?  Up until 1789, there was no Delaware County. All of the townships that now form Delaware County were then part of Chester County, and the county seat was at the city of Chester, at the far eastern border of the county, equally inconvenient to everyone in the huge county. 
The courthouse was located in the city, voting took place in the city, and if you were a party to a lawsuit, a witness, or a juror, you had to come to the city. In the days of transportation by foot and horseback, this trip was a major investment of time for those who lived far from the city of Chester, such as those in Oxford, West Grove or Kennett Square. As Henry Ashmead noted in his 1884 History of Delaware County
“It involved considerable labor to go and return in those days, and in winter time, when, in a warm spell, the roads would be wretched beyond expression, it was a journey such as no man of these modern times would contemplate calmly.
Of course, traveling over this distance to vote was not a problem for the women of 18th and 19thcentury Pennsylvania: they didn’t have the right to vote until 1920. However, all of the county offices were there as well, and so the distance had to be covered for the probate of wills, will challenges and the like. Imagine the trip for an elderly widow living in Oxford, Pennsylvania, and having to travel the very hilly and muddy Baltimore Road (today’s Route 1) for 37 miles to get to the city of Chester to deal with the estate of her husband.  
With the separation of the eastern townships of old Chester County into the new Delaware County in 1789, the legislature also took aim at making it more convenient to vote in the elections in the new country. George Smith’s History of Delaware County gives a good account of the beginning of local elections:
“In early times the general election for the whole county of Chester, was held at the Court-house in Chester. Before the Revolution, Chester County was divided into three election districts, called Chester, Chatham, and Red Lion—the places at which the election was held.  Chester district embraced nearly the same territory that is now included in Delaware County.  After the division, the people of the whole county continued to vote at Chester till 1794, when an Act was passed dividing the County of Delaware into four election districts.  This Act constituted the townships of Concord, Birmingham, Thornbury, Aston, Bethel, and Upper Chichester, the second election district—the election to be held at the house of Joshua Vernon, in Concord; the townships of Newtown, Edgmont, Upper Providence, Marple, and Radnor, the third election district—the election to be held at the house then occupied by William Beaumont, in Newtown; and the townships of Darby, Upper Darby, Haverford, Springfield, and Tinicum, the fourth election district—the election to be held at the house then occupied by Samuel Smith, in Darby. The people of the remaining townships still held their election at Chester, and those townships composed the first district.”
In the first contested presidential election in 1796, voters in Marple and Newtown made the trek to the Farmer’s Wagon tavern kept first by William Beaumont (until 1810), and then by his son Davis Beaumont (see photo), at the crossroads of the Newtown Street and West Chester Roads (now Route 252 and West Chester Pike/Route 3).  The 439 voters in Delaware County that year, generally free, white, male property owners age 21 and older, preferred Federalist John Adams over Democratic Republican Thomas Jefferson, giving Adams, the ultimate winner, about 71 percent of their votes.
Davis Beaumont
The Farmer’s Wagon tavern where they cast their votes, and the adjacent general store, formed the commercial hub of the local community, as the stage coach from Philadelphia to West Chester stopped there as well, bringing mail, news and visitors from each place to this small country crossroads. 
In 1838, Newtown became its own election district, and voting continued to occur at the tavern.  In 1846, under new management, the tavern upgraded its image, changing its name from the Farmer’s Wagon to the Newtown Square Inn.  Davis Beaumont owned the Inn, inherited from his father in 1810, until 1868, two years prior to his death, when he sold it to William T. Davis. 
Davis, a former cattle drover, knew the needs of farmers traveling with their cattle to market, and made the inn a destination for drovers and their cattle.  Cattle auctions were held on the porch of what was then called the Newtown Square Hotel.  The auctioneer?  William T. Davis.  As one of the few businessmen in town, Davis was a political force, and so the hotel remained the polling place in Newtown township for well into the 20th century. 
In the last presidential election of the 19th century, Delaware County voters overwhelmingly turned out for Republican William McKinley, giving him 13,952 votes to 4,071 for his Democratic opponent William Jennings Bryant. There were a number of third-party candidates that year, and the next highest vote total was 184, for the Prohibition party candidate Joshua Levering. 
As we leave the 19th century, I want to share a description of the hotel as it existed in 1891 (see photo), when local author and travel writer Julius Sachse passed through:
“At the present day the old inn has degenerated to an ordinary country tavern, a mere stopping place for the few who still travel the almost deserted turnpike, while the outside benches and bar-room chairs offer a gathering place for the idle gossips of the vicinity—the only exception to the humdrum routine being the days when cattle sales are cried from the tavern porch, or in the winter when some merry sleighing party wakes up the nooks and crannies of the old hostelries for the time being  . . .”
And, of course on election day, when local farmers left their farms and made the trek into town, to vote, to meet and greet, pick up supplies, and talk about the political issues of the day.