Cobb's Creek
in the Days
of the Old Powder Mill

By John W. Eckfeldt, M.D. 1917

Text conversion using ReadIris OCR Softwarefrom copy in the collection of Adam Levine

This self-published 104-page volume provides an glimpse of the Cobbs Creek watershed north of Philadelphia, in Delaware and Montgomery counties, as residential development was poised to sweep away the last remnants of the past. Eckfeldt worked as a physician for many years in the area, and had watched the landscape he had grown to love begin to disappear. The photos reproduced here are poor, having been scanned from the halftone images printed in the book; and as you'll see, some of them have been doctored, with out-of-scale buildings drawn on the images to represent those that had already been demolished.

The book was an outgrowth of Eckfeldt's more substantial "preservation" effort, a collection of about 300 photographs now housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia's Print & Picture Collection. These sharp and beautiful images show open farmland, scattered houses and villages, and streamside industrial sites, with many of the old buildings captured just before dense urban and suburban development overrran the area. The Philadelphia neighborhood of Haddington, through which Indian Creek, a Cobbs tributary, flowed, is well documented with dozens of poignant pictures. I have copied about 100 of Eckfeldt's images, and hope to get permission at some future date to post them on PhillyH2O.

In a letter of tramsmittal that accompanied the copy of this book that Eckfeldt gave the Free Library, he wrote: "Everything else to be seen by using the book a a guide, will be found so might doubt that such a place ever existed."

Click here to see more Cobb's Creek Watershed Information

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

Compiled by Adam Levine
Historical Consultant
Philadelphia Water Department
HomeCreek to sewerDown underarchivesmapsAdam LevineLinks

Upper Cobbs Creek


[6] A long association with the Cobb's Creek Valley has filled my mind with pleasing recollections of days happily spent in this region now so utterly changed by the lapse of time. Being attracted to this location by its beauty, and having associated with the inhabitants of the valley through my professional calling, I learned much of the people, their mode of living; and also of the various industrial establishments where they were employed. In compliance with numerous requests of interested persons, I have endeavored in this book to relate many of the events which took place in the valley, to describe the scenery, the people, their homes, and tell of what remains of the old places of industry.


[7] It has been my intention for a number of years to give as complete an historical sketch of the region herein embraced as is within the power and scope of my knowledge. Along the valley of Cobb's Creek this place commences with the eastern line of Penfield, which is situated a short distance north from the Philadelphia Golf Grounds, winds through the ravine at Beechwood, and terminates at Ardmore Junction, on the Philadelphia and Western Railway. This locality once had an existence associated with much of particular interest. Here, about one hundred and five years ago an industry flourished and large amounts of gunpowder were annually manufactured. These mills were closed about the year 1840, having been in active existence for at least seventy-seven years, and were followed by others for the making of cotton and woolen goods. The greatest difficulty encountered in the preparation of this historical sketch has been the finding of authentic records [8] and meeting people now living who could give even meagre account of the past. For this reason the work of tracing what is here recorded has been a difficult and tedious process, but I have been extremely fortunate in obtaining the facts and accounts of much that went on there in those early days. For fifty years I have been associated with the region, and for the last forty-five years closely connected with the people; and I have a thorough knowledge of all the houses and places of interest. It is safe to say that I have conversed with several of the now elderly people who worked there and who grew up from childhood in the valley.

Notes as taken were preserved with the view to use should a day come when they would be of greater interest. The whole field has now been covered and I doubt if there remains any further knowledge to be divulged.

The endeavor to illustrate with photographs the actual places once standing has been attended with much difficulty and covered a long period of years, yet with the attempt to render the scope of the work more interesting I feel I have been [9] remarkably successful in bringing together this series of views. The result of this was done principally by myself, with only two exceptions, in which pictures were found to be extant and in the possession of persons who by mere chance had traveled many years ago through this region. The views here presented embrace places that existed at the earlier dates. It was my intention to add more, yet those selected from the series seemed to be the most appropriate and of greater interest.

October 1, 1917.


[10] The views were taken along the Valley of Upper Cobb's Creek about one-quarter of a mile to the north from the Philadelphia line, more properly and better known as the Township Line Road. The object of illustrating this particular section with photographs occurred to me several years ago as a means of preserving and perpetuating the past scenes of a truly historical region which is but little known to the people of today.

The Powder Mills, situated as they were in an almost isolated location, in a truly wild and picturesque valley, must have been a pleasure to see in those days. The little group of houses, the several mills, the people, the wild scenery, the groves of willow trees, made the place a charming spot. Certainly this was a quiet little settlement nestled almost in the solitude of nature, the only disturbance to the quiet being the low pounding of the stampers which could be heard by day and night.

This location, with which I have been associated for the past fifty years and thus gone over, was known more familiarly to the old inhabitants as the Nitre Hall Powder [11] Mill Valley, the mills being technically known by that name. It was here about one hundred and fifteen years ago that a lively enterprise was being carried on. Gunpowder was manufactured on an extensive scale and the demand for orders was unusually large at that time.The original mill and other buildings connected with it were modest in appearance and small in dimension, yet a large amount of the refined product was turned out in the course of years.

The process of manufacturing gunpowder in the Nitre Hall Mills may be interesting. First the charring of the wood was done in the willowhouse. The powder manu­factured at this mill was used mostly for ordnance and blasting purposes. The action of such powder is less violent than that made from harder wood; and willow charcoal was preferably employed. The willow sticks were cut small size, not over one to five inches in thickness. The wood was always prepared in the early spring when the sap began to flow, so that the bark might be peeled off easily. I t was then placed in the seasoning house before charring.

[12] We now come to the most important operation conducted in these mills. At the first mill at the head of the lane was done the refining and reducing of the component parts. The charcoal was first broken up separately by the stamping mill. The stamping mill was manipulated by a horizontal shaft several feet in length which ran a series of stampers. There were the same number of mortars or receptacles made of heavy oak planks several feet in diameter which received the stampers, being connected with the revolving shaft above. If necessary the crude sulphur was purified by melting, then run into cores. This, however, was not generally required. It was not sublimed as might be supposed to obtain a pure product. As made by this process it was apt to contain more free sulphurous acid and would not make a suit­able gunpowder. In this mill the sulphur was broken up very finely by the stampers and was further pulverized by the same process as the charcoal by rolling or re­volving in cast-iron cylinders or barrels, with brass balls. The nitre received very little extra preparation unless impure through containing [13] foreign matter, when it was dissolved and re-crystallized. It usually came in casks and was generally very pure.

At the time for incorporating the materials, the ingredients were mixed and further pulverized in a revolving iron barrel. The next step was the grinding process. This was done in a strong frame under two heavy cast-iron wheels following each other in a cast-iron trough. Previous to this the powder was sprinkled with water. For greater safety there was an established rule in this process not to allow too large an amount to be ground in this way for fear of an explosion. The limit was from forty to fifty pounds. It took from two to three hours to thoroughly incorporate the mixture.

From the grinding mill it went to the compressing house, where the necessary density was given to the mass. The product as it left this stage went to the milling machine. Here it was again broken up into a fine powder, which was passed between soft iron rolls set in a substantial frame. The powder was then spread out in layers about four inches thick, separated by copper plates, i.e., one layer above the other. These were placed under the powerful [14] press, thereby reducing the thickness to about one inch. The powder was then transferred to the first mill house where the graining was done. This was accomplished by passing the compressed cakes through fluted rolls and afterwards passing the broken up mass through sieves.

Following this came the glazing. This was accomplished in barrels by constant rolling or revolving for some time. This wore down the edges of the grains and gave them smoothness. Finally, remaining moisture was dissipated, when the finished product was taken to the drying house, where the powder was spread out on shelves around a room heated by a furnace. The dusting process was done with fine meshed sieves to relieve the grains of any fine powder which would lessen the value. The powder was then ready to be placed in the kegs and stored in the magazine. As the kegs were filled and headed they were stamped " S. B." to show the approval of Samuel Bloom, the cooper who did the filling.

It must be remembered that at this early date the manufacture of gunpowder was [15] accomplished under many difficulties. The lack of machinery forced upon the workmen much laborious work which is entirely overcome today by modern improvements. Some of the machines and presses in this old mill were handled by the men with remarkable facility in view of the strength required. The amount of gunpowder manufactured annually in these mills was very considerable. In a pamphlet issued in 1826, being a report on the Manufactures in Mills of Delaware County, a statement is made that in 1825 ten thousand quarter casks of gun­powder were made. The proprietors of this mill were two elderly men, retiring in their mode of life, who closely and strictly guarded their works, allowing no trespassing within the grounds. One of them, being of an irritable nature, was frequently annoyed by the boys of the surrounding meighborhood, and those who came too near were severely dealt with for their folly. These men were William Rogers, Jr., and Israel Wheelin, the latter having established the plant some years prior to his partnership with Mr. Rogers. They carried on their association until [16] the year 1825. Mr. Wheelin being in failing health died about that time, and Mr. Rogers, assuming the entire control of the business, carried it on until 1840. Mr. Rogers as we knew him was a tall and dignified man. He resided in a fine old stone mansion which he built, and which was situated on the bank of the stream (Cobb's Creek) overlooking a beautifully planned mill dam.

The dwelling houses along the creek in this immediate vicinity were comparatively few in number and many poorly built, others were of but one story, and as little attention and care had been given them for the past fifty years, they became weather worn, and time and decay have caused them to fall to pieces. What material was left has been either removed or destroyed. A number of workmen, probably twenty-five, were employed in the mill and such houses were made comfortable homes. Since the disappearance of these houses other industries have come and gone in this historic valley.

In the year 1840 or' 41 the entire property, including a number of acres with dilapidated dwellings, was purchased by Dennis Kelly, who came to this country and [17] started the milling business on Cobb's Creek, and at different locations not far from one another four mills were erected. Until a period about forty years ago these mills did a flourishing business in the manufacture of yarn, and produced a good grade of cloth.It was found, however, that the mills were inconveniently located for the requirements of more modern times, and the difficulties encountered in transporting the goods became more and more a burden until it was impossible to compete with other mills nearer the city. The encroachment of other surrounding improvements led the managers to lose interest, financial failure forced abandonment, and the manufacture of cloth and yarn in this locality practically reached its end.

From my early recollection I can say with much pleasure that there never was a more beautiful locality to visit than this old romantic valley. Here was found nature's solitude, with wild and lovely scenery, wooded hills, bright and cheerful places, running water courses and homelike places, a truly restful spot for the mind and body, producing a livening influence among the old trees, flowers and birds. [18] The people who lived and worked there walked to and fro to their places of employment and life and pleasure was truly theirs in those days. The men had their amusements and home gatherings and in the evening their music and games and friendly smokes, while the country store was their place to assemble after the day's work was over. Here they talked and exchanged their views and gathered the news from the outer world.

Today all this has changed and gone. Nothing of the people, places or industries is left to mark the day of prosperity. The landmarks have become greatly changed to the eye by destruction. The magnificent old trees have reached their limit of life and gone, and the familiar places in many instances are dumping grounds.Modern improvement has come to the valley, but the real beauty of the place has vanished.

To reach this valley one has to travel along the public highway leading from the Haverford Road southwesterly until the bridge which spans the creek is reached. At this point the entrance is to the right on a slight rise in the road where the railroad now crosses. [21] Walking down this road one will notice several houses. The first on the right on rising ground was the home of Dennis Kelly, a large stone building with well cultivated grounds, an attractive and shady lane leading to the entrance. A short distance below is the second building, a stone structure, also on the right side of the road. This was the property of Patrick Boyle, the successor of Mr. Kelly. About two "squares" down the road and just across the bridge we come to an old familiar place called the "lower bank." Here stood a row of tenement houses, neat and well kept, with the old mills on the left at the border of the woods. These houses were built by Dennis Kelly and were occupied by the families who were employed in the Cedar Grove Mill. Opposite this row there stood a two-story frame house, occupied by four families. The old house was kept neat and attractive, and here lived for a number of years a worthy old widow, Kate Nelson, who also worked in the mill and finally became the practical nurse of the neighborhood.

The tenement row was left to its fate and during later years the place was occupied [22] by Italians and negroes. The row was destroyed in 1915 by a tramp or some reckless individual, who, probably being intoxicated, desired to see what mischief could be done by a fire. Some years ago, during the active period of the mill industry, there lived in one of these houses a prominent character, William Sharkey, who not only worked at his trade, but reached a professional standing in the community and was generally titled "Squire." He managed to settle the disputes, which were of rare occurrence, leaving them more to the judgment of the people themselves.

Tenement Row, Lower Bank

Cedar Grove Mill

Opposite this row of houses may be seen an old house now greatly remodeled. This building was the office of Cedar Grove Mill, erected and conducted by Dennis Kelly and after his death by Patrick Boyle. After Mr. Boyle discontinued the business this was converted into a dwelling. It was here the famous John Hannigan, a curious character, lived for many years.

A short distance behind this house were two stone buildings. These were the dye and a stock room for Mr. Boyle's mill, which stood a short distance away, and properly known in the business world as the [25] Cedar Grove Mill. This was quite a large mill and one of the earliest built. Patrick Boyle kept up the industry and in his days the mill was conducted very properly and extensive manufacturing was accomplished. The output from the mill was yarn and woolen fabrics. He furnished the Government with cloth and received large orders during the Civil War. The mill at that time was running overtime and such a condition continued until the year 1873. The building soon fell into decay after it was abandoned following the closing of the industry, and all that now remains are a few foundation stones.

On the north side of the bridge which spans the creek on the public road there was located at one time a large mill dam. The power given to the mill was from this source, and the water was conducted several hundred feet to the mill by an underground conduit. All this has now entirely disappeared.

A short distance up the road to the west will be found all that remains of the entrance to the Powder Mill Lane. Entering the side of the hill through a deep cut, going through this lane over a [26] wooded hill, we come directly to the magazine. This building was erected about one hundred years ago, a strong and well built structure composed entirely of stone and covered with a slate roof. There were two doors, one east and one west, but no windows. The floors were white oak timber, pinned to the joists, as no metal was used in the construction. Here the powder was received from the mills and stored in the kegs, the entire process as accomplished in this building being done by one man. The building has been slightly altered at one corner in order to furnish ample room for the railway (Philadelphia & Western) bed which passes. This building fortunately has been preserved by the considerate company.

To the north side of the lane and opposite this building will be found the remains of the deeply sunken tail race which conducted the water from the powder mill, and later the cotton mill, running parallel with the roadway, and continuing its course to the bend, where it united with the creek below. Along the banks grew massive gnarled willows and other trees [29] which sought the nearby water, while the sloping banks were adorned with masses of glowing ferns and patches of the yellow celandine.
At this section the lane passes through a more open space, the sides of the road being lined with old willow trees, as were also the adjoining fields. These trees had been planted in every available space for rapid growth. They were annually trimmed and the wood used for the purpose of making charcoal.

A short distance from here will be seen the eastern end of the second cotton mill erected by Dennis Kelly at the close of the powder-making industry. It may be of interest here to mention that the wall of the first story of this mill was the original wall of one of the old powder mills. At this section of the creek we come directly to the powder-making centre. Situated over a small area were located five special buildings. The first of these was a large one-story stone structure with strong walls and strengthened on the outer side by four massive stone braces. This building was used as the finishing house, and for safety the roof was so arranged in case of an accident that it would be simply [30] lifted off by the force of an explosion, not being securely fastened to the walls. The second building was a little further up the lane and protected by a high bank which carried the race above, furnishing motive power to the mill. This building was the "Mixing or Incorporating House" where the most dangerous portion of the work was done. On several occasions there were accidents quite disastrous of which there is authentic record.

The Nitre House was by the bank below the race and was somewhat hidden by the hill toward Mr. Rogers' mansion. This was a one-story stone building amply constructed and after the decline of the older industry was converted into a dwelling, finally becoming a stable. This building was torn down in 1879 after fulfilling several useful purposes for years.


[35] Standing among the trees by the race bank, with water wheel in the basement at the right side, the lower walls of this old building were constructed of stone and very thick. The main building was frame with a double pitched roof. It was in this building that the greater portion of the general work was done. The grinding of the mixture previously incorporated by the heavy iron rollers in an iron receptacle was attended with great risk, yet all precautions were taken.For many years this building stood and remained in a fairly good state of preservation.

The grinding mill was entirely on the first floor and the basement was used for developing power from the wheel, and a storehouse for material used. The entrance was from the south side toward the race bank. In later years it was converted into two dwellings, one was the home of a very clever old man, Patrick McGinty, who raised a family and lived comfortably until his death. The building was finally torn down in 1878.

On the other side of the creek below the dam a third stone building was located, [36] also having strong, thick walls, and containing but a single room. This was the drying house for the newly made powder. The front walls of this building were strongly reinforced with four massive stone braces and stood facing the creek with a door at the front and side. The remaining portion of the building was in the form of a crescent and close to the ascending bank several windows admitted light. The roof had a double pitch and was covered with oak shingles. So odd was the appearance of this building that it was frequently called the "Bee Hive" and "Round House." For accommodation there was abridge crossing the creek at this point, giving easy access to the entrance.

Within this building was a large heavy iron vessel constructed in the front wall over the furnace, which was directly in the centre and set low in the foundation. This furnace was lined with soapstone. It was by this means that when the device was thoroughly heated it diffused the heat more evenly through the interior, where the finished powder was placed on shelves, dis­sipating any retained moisture. It is also [41] very possible that other work than drying powder was done in this building.

Nitre Hall Magazine

Nitre House

Old Powder Mill

Old Drying House

Charcoal House
Situated to the east was a frame house connected by a closed passage. Here it was that the employees could rest while waiting their turn to watch the operation of distributing and drying the powder. The Sulphur House stood on the bank by the dam. This was merely an open frame structure. The old storehouse for charcoal occupied a piece of ground a little further up the lane and facing the dam, being commonly known as the "black house." This was also a frame and later converted into a rude dwelling. Other uses for this house were made. Here was stored the willow wood after being cut and dried previous to the carbonizing process. How few persons passing the spot today could be led to realize that a large frame house once stood there! After it fell into disuse at the closing of the mill it was tenanted and made comfortable apartments for those who dwelt there. A few years ago this building was removed to make room for the railroad then being constructed (Philadelphia & Western).

[42] A short distance above this point was to be found the spring alongside the road bank in an excavation in the rocky bed, being overhung by the shade of the low branched trees. Here was a spring whose water was cold and refreshing, and many a time travelers sat beside it in the heat of a summer day. The tract of land containing these buildings was enclosed in a high board fence with a gate at each end. The gates were always closed except on Sunday, when they were opened at a certain hour to allow the people to pass along the lane through the enclosure on their way to church.


[45] On the other side of Cobb's Creek on the brow of a small hill there still stands a small house partly built of logs, the remainder frame. This building is also very old. It has a large stone chimney on the outside at one end, and was built about 1810. During the earlier days of the powder mill industry this house was occupied by an old lady familiarly called Betsy Hall. She worked for a living as a seamstress and was a very popular person in the neighborhood. She did much work for the families who were employed in the region. She raised her own flax and spun the thread, and the cloth, linsey-woolsey was woven in the nearby mill.

Nearby stands a two-story stone house originally used as a stable but later converted into four dwellings. To the left of the road in the present location, also on a rising elevation, there stood until recently a row of stone houses and three dwellings in one. These were the residences of the principal employees in the powder mill. The dwellings had a peculiar title and were known at a later [46] date as "The Widows' Row," but just why or how they were so designated I have been unable to verify. The only reason I could suggest for the title belongs to a very recent period. It appears that the families who occupied these houses during the Civil War sent their men to the front, and of the men who were engaged in the service many failed to return, losing their lives while on duty, hence those left were the widows. The western end was occupied by Samuel Bloom, the old cooper, his wife and two children, John and Sarah. Beneath this house was a spacious cellar or basement, and

Betsy Hall's House

Widow's Row

here was located the cooperage. All the tasks connected with the making of the kegs were accomplished in this place. The filling and heading of the kegs was done in the magazine.

The second house was occupied by Thomas Cochran, who carried on his trade of shoemaking. His work included the making and mending of the wooden-soled shoes for the employees, besides doing other repair work in leather that was needed in the mill. At one time this was an attractive spot and many days were spent by the old [49] cooper under the shade of his trees in his garden. He had pleasure at times when not employed, but when the day came for filling the kegs the danger to his life was fully appreciated by his wife, yet he lived to be eighty-six years of age and never was injured.


[50] In previous remarks in connection with the second cotton mill located where the powder mill stood, we have stated that at the death of Mr. Kelly, Patrick Boyle succeeded him and carried on the business for a number of years. Mr. Boyle failed and the building was rented and occupied by John and Thomas Burns, who ran it as a cotton yarn mill for forty years. Finally, the loss of the water supply caused by the bursting of the dam above, together with other financial embarrassments, led them to relinquish the business. The old mill stood idle for several years. One night during 1910 it was set on fire and finally the remaining walls were torn down.

West of this mill stood the old factory pump, and in its day it gave good water to many hands and to passers-by. Just beyond this old relic there stood, overshadowed by the trees, an antiquated structure which was the blacksmith shop of the neighborhood, extremely dilapidated. It soon fell into decay. In more recent years it fulfilled the purpose of a storage house for the adjacent cotton mill. [55] Beyond this spot will be seen still standing an old chimney. Here once stood a building constructed upon thick and strong foundations and situated along the bank upon which the head race was conducted. The building was frame and of late years was remodeled and used as a dwelling. It was the quiet home of Hugh Dessert as late as 1878.

Although there were few buildings entirely devoted to the powder industry that were substantially built in those days, this one was more lightly constructed than the others and was the general press house. Here the powder was further manipulated, being compressed into cakes to secure more density, making it safer to transport it to the other houses prior to the next stage. Until a comparatively short period there could be seen the remains of the presses with the long copper bars used for levers. These machines were so arranged and managed that they gave the desired result. The old building, finally so decayed, eventually fell into ruins.

Alongside of this house and about in the centre of the lane there was a very old one­story frame house which weathered the [56] storms and floods for many years. This place was a sort of notion store, and was a particular attraction for the children. It was kept by a worthy old lady who not only derived a benefit from her sales but also worked by day in the cotton mill. This old person was Peggy Keenan, but was generally known by the village people as "Peggy the Burler." What little things she sold were evidently attractive, besides the soft sort of drinks she made at home. It was

Cotton Mill No. 2

Old Press House

Peggy Keenan's House

found necessary for the township to widen the lane to a public township road on the proper plans, and the house was removed, much to the regret of her friends. This old building was really two dwellings, the other occupied by Mrs. Harriet Lysett, who also kept a little notion store. In the early days this building was erected to be used for a school and was conducted as such for a number of years, later being abandoned. It seems that for this use the building was little known by those who followed. About forty years ago it was raised and carried on rollers for half a mile up the creek to a place that was called the "English Row," where the same occupants still conducted their business.


[59] In this vicinity it was not uncommon to see almost daily a peculiar character wandering from one place to another seeking work in exchange for food and a place to rest at night. For simply a meal a day, by his services he would keep the people in a supply of firewood, as he excelled with the saw and axe. His general appearance was rude and forlorn. He allowed his hair and beard to grow extremely long and it was very tangled. He was always clad in the poorest form of clothing, and would wander along the roads calling at the houses. He was extremely loath to enter into conversation, particularly with people he met, rarely replying to a question when addressed and taking no particular notice of those who addressed him. His power of resistance to cold, rain and heat was remarkable. He seemed absolutely to shun a warm room, preferring to sleep in some old barn or outhouse, and would arise in the morning vigorous and ready for work. He rarely ever wore a hat and always carried in his hand a corn­cutting blade, more for companionship than for protection or for purposes of defense. [60] This man, advanced in age, yet very unsociable, was kindly looked upon by the people. His name and whereabouts were very obscure and uncertain. The name by which he became designated was "Old Riccard" and finally "Colonel." For many years he passed his time on the creek, when one day he suddenly dis­appeared, never returning to his favorite haunts. Innocent and mentally peculiar he was never known to do any wrong.


[63] Behind Peggy's house on a high bank was Mr. Rogers' spring house, a well­built stone structure. The water, used for cooling purposes, was brought from a still higher hill along an open conduit many feet away. The judgment in this method had been both well and successfully planned.
To the north of the creek at this location and by the side of a path or narrow road stood a one-story stone building. This was the schoolhouse for the neighboring country, yet there was never a very large attendance as the whole territory was sparsely settled. This building has been remodeled within a very recent period and now has the appearance of a modern dwelling.

There still remains a portion of the overflow gate of the intake race that led to the mixing house. It was used principally for the purpose of allowing the water to escape when the mill was not being used. On one occasion during a heavy rainstorm this supply race became overly filled, and reaching the water wheel the power and speed became so greatly increased as to damage the machinery, thereby causing [64] much consternation among the people. A short distance above was the beautifully located powder-mill dam. In its earlier days this was a fine sheet of water covering several acres, and at one side banked by rocky and wooded hills redolent with trailing arbutus. From this source two mills derived their power, as every mill was then run with water power.

The dam was built over the bed of the creek. After a heavy and disastrous flood in 1909 the masonry gave way and a general catastrophe followed. The destruction was so great there has been no attempt since to repair it. For the past ten years nothing has been seen of this fine body of water that once adorned the valley. The long continued drainage from the surrounding country and the accumulation of silt and refuse for a period of years has completely filled the whole space, the bed of the creek being left exposed and lined with stumps of ancient trees that stood there prior to the period of the dam, preserved by long immersion.

Mr. Rogers' house is seen above the bank of the intake race and directly opposite where the dam stood. The old house was [67] very pleasantly located, situated on high and level ground overlooking much of the valley. It was built directly upon a rocky bed, since it was impossible to dig a cellar. The first story, therefore, was used as a basement and for general cellar purposes. The first floor stood high above the cellar floor. In front there were stairs to the ground and in the rear of the house, a bridge at least twenty feet in length, that extended to a still higher incline which brought the story to the level of the yard containing fruit trees. The interior of the house was commodious and fairly well planned, the hall passing through the centre and a large, well­lighted room opening on either side. The

Powder Mill Dam

Powder Mill Dam Falls

William Rogers' House

second floor was similar to the first. The third floor contained five rooms of medium size. The western wall of the third story was constructed with a door and one window. Singular as it seems to place a door so high and beneath the eaves, the plan has led many persons to doubt its utility. All sorts of ideas have been suggested for its use, many too "far fetched" to answer the purpose or solve the problem and no conclusion drawn seems capable of solving [68] the mystery. The present resident, Mr. John Burns, who has occupied the house many years, states that it is beyond his explanation.

It became my opinion, after carefully examining the location of the door and the ground around the house, that another house of smaller proportion stood five to ten feet to the west. This was admitted by an old resident, who stated it was used by Mr. Rogers for some particular purpose. Here he spent much of his time, and the two houses were connected by a passageway enabling him to go from one house to the other, especially in bad or inclement weather, without being exposed. This theory seems more plausible and is probably correct.

This was a pretty location in those days; wild, yet adorned with the beauty of natural surroundings. As Mr. Rogers lived here in plain simplicity, so he died in his old and cherished home; and the present tenant, Mr. John Burns, has spent nearly half a lifetime, forty years, in this old and lasting memorial building, which was built over one hundred years ago.

There were other buildings of less importance situated along the dam. There was a stone house on the opposite side, but [71] this has long since fallen into decay. The remaining stones simply mark the spot where it stood. A short distance up the creek, through a very beautiful ravine lined with noble trees, were located the old grist and sawmills, situated at the bend of the road on the same site where the railroad power house now stands.


[72] These mills were built about 1810 by Jonathan Miller. A few years later David Quinn became associated with him in the business and served as manager. In 1827 Samuel Leedom took charge. In 1844 Mr. Leedom purchased the Miller Mills and lived there until his death in 1872. Augustus B. Leedom, his son, became the owner and was succeeded by a Mr. Lambert. The latter was in turn succeeded by George Dickinson, who as the last owner, purchased the property in February 1879, and came to reside in April of the following year. The decline of the sawmill industry, due to the depletion of the woodlands in that section of the country, together with the failure of the milling business as already described, caused the mills to be closed and the property sold to the Philadelphia

Saw and Grist Mill, "Echo Hollow"
& Western Railroad. The mills were removed about 1907 and the railway company's building erected. Situated where the lane united with the public road, these mills were snugly and prettily located. The surrounding rocky and wooded hills, with the dam and creek in the valley, gave pleasing responses to [75] sounds uttered in the stillness of the cool, shaded hollow. This was "Echo Hollow." Within a few years past there has been built in this section one of our interesting and pleasant suburbs, with cheerful and ornamental houses and grounds, scattered throughout the wooded hills and slopes, and known as Beechwood. The railway built a station at this point prior to the erection of these homes, at the same time establishing an amusement park. Fortunately, this park had a short existence, as the disquieting nature of the place was undesirable to the neighborhood, and finally proved to be an unsuccessful investment. It was closed, removed and more refined improvements laid out, much to the delight of the older residents.


[76] In this vicinity and on the top of the hill overlooking Cobb's Creek Valley, and a short distance from the saw and grist mills, there was built in the year 1830 a stone schoolhouse. The ground on which this building stood was part of the tract of land owned by Jonathan Miller. For a number of years this school served all the requirements, as the number of children in attendance was then very small. As the neighborhood developed and the population increased it was found necessary to rebuild the school or else make an addition. As suggested by the school committee, it was finally decided simply to enlarge the building. In the year 1854 or 1855 work on the schoolhouse began and soon the reconstruction was completed. It was found then that the building was more than large enough to hold the daily attendance. Many of the children who attended this school came considerable distances and often the attendance was small, particularly in bad weather.

One of the early masters who taught in the school was John B. Moore, a man well advanced in years, who held his position for along time. He had a very harsh and [77] irritable disposition and often severely chastised the children for tardiness or any indiscretion which led away from his peculiar rules. On the whole the teachers were well selected by the County Commissioners. The school continued holding its sessions for nearly sixty years, and many persons who lived in the valley can say that the limit of their education was that obtained within those walls. A few years ago the building was closed to educational activities. It has been put into tidy condition and a religious body is now holding meetings there.


[78] The Leedom mansion stands a short distance from the mills on the bank to the right of the public road. It is an imposing, well-built home, the yard adorned with noble trees, aged box bushes and cheerful flowers. The road leading north winds through the rocky valley among the hills and several locations have been the scene of some interesting incidents.Through this region at the summit of the hill there existed a large deposit of glacial rocks, many of great size. At the highest altitude one rock weighing many tons was so evenly balanced that the slightest effort could rotate it several degrees, yet it was impossible to dislodge it from its natural position. The attractive mill pond is situated here, and fortunately this has been preserved and is now used as a reservoir for the power company. The banks are rocky and the slopes are finely wooded.

Castle Hill Mill

As the creek extends up this valley, winding to the left, crossing a small bridge, we come to Castle Hill. About 1826 Dennis Kelly purchased Joshua Humphrey's grist mill, which stood [81] at this point, and altered it to a cotton and woolen factory. He gave it the name Castle Hill Mills, and it was the third mill on the creek. Samuel Rhoades conducted the business as lessee for a number of years, and during the night of February 20, 1834, it caught fire from a picker and was entirely consumed.
At a later date this mill was rebuilt. It was then leased for about ten years to John Hazlett, and from then on the mill was run at different periods by George Bumley, Joseph Howorth, Patrick Boyle and James Callighan. These were men who did promising business up to the year 1880. Sometime later the mills were run by Taylor Wolfenden & Company and were taxed to their utmost capacity, furnishing steady employment to over one hundred operatives. They turned out cassimeres worth several thousand dollars every month. This interesting place of industry was finally sold and the building destroyed. At the western end of the mill a number of dwellings were also located. Most of these too have entirely disappeared.

A short distance to the west of the mill was a large pond covering several acres, which added much to the beauty of Castle [82] Hill. Splendidly wooded hills extended to the edge of the water on one side and a lovely lane on the other side. Few persons today can remember this body of water. It was a delightful place to visit. The stillness and peacefulness of the valley were rarely disturbed. Occasionally a voice could be heard, or probably the rumbling of the mill below. A row of tenement houses suitable for ten families was built along the roadside facing the large mill pond. At one time they were attractive and looked very neat, but for want of care, and negligence on the part of a class of careless persons, the entire place soon presented a forlorn appearance. Formerly these houses were tenanted by old and familiar families who led happy and contented lives during the days when there was prosperity on the creek. This old row was often called the "English Row," evidently because the occupants were of that nationality.


[83] The old Haverford Store stands a short distance to the west where the Church Road crosses the Haverford Road. A long time ago the store was the centre for the general country and mill-hand trade and was a very popular place. Later, in the days of its greater prosperity, a post office was established there, which was conducted by Taylor Wolfenden for a number of years. One person whom I met some years ago and who was probably one of the last to keep store at this place was William Denver. He was formerly an employee in the old Nitre Hall Powder Mill. After the decline of the milling business in this region the store failed to such an extent that it was scarcely able to maintain itself. In the light of its past prosperity its present state seems very deplorable. On the other side of the Church Road there is a row of old stone houses. These were built during the time Mr. Kelly operated the upper mill. This row accommodated about ten families, and to all appearances they lived very comfortably. The houses have been preserved and still present a very tidy appearance.

Clinton Mill


[84] The last and fourth mill on the creek within this locality was the Clinton Mills. In the year 1814 Dennis Kelly purchased the mill site on Upper Cobb's Creek from Isaac Ellis and built a small stone mill for the manufacture of woolen cloth. This mill he called the Clinton Mills. His venture was successful. He was associated later with George Wiest as partner, when larger tracts of land were purchased and the capacity of the Clinton Mills considerably enlarged. About this time his partner severed his connection with the firm and Mr. Kelly conducted the business alone, after doing an enormous business.

These mills were worked to their capacity and large contracts of goods for the army and navy were fulfilled for the United States Government, but they have been lying idle for many years and within the last quarter of a century have received no care and have been allowed to deteriorate and fall to pieces. About fifteen years ago the property was sold and what mill material remained was removed.
The situation is now disappointing and desolate, a place where active life existed, [87] and the sound of busy mills. All is now hushed, and there only remains the history of an animated place, merry with voices of a country village that has virtually passed away. A few other houses in the immediate vicinity have long since outlived their use­fulness, and being without tenants, they have fallen into decay. One frame still stands. This was used as a storehouse for material for the mills. It is now an old residence and is of little value. The old dam connected with the Clinton Mills has also fallen into disuse and very meagre traces of it can now be found, while the race is filled up with tangled undergrowth and shrubbery.


[88] There remains to be given in connection with this pleasant valley an account of the church that was used by many people. The only Roman Catholic church in the neighborhood, where most of the people worshipped, was built on higher ground above the Clinton Mills, not far from the Friends' Meeting House. This building, St. Dennis's Church, the first edifice of this denomination erected in Delaware County, was built during the year 1825. Dennis Kelly, the well-known manufacturer, donated the site and the land for the burial ground, and was one of the most benevolent contributors to the fund for the erection of the church. It was principally built for the accommodation of those of that faith who were employed in his mills. The original building was small, very plain and somewhat unattractive. Later the building was remodeled and a very handsome house of worship stands there now. Mr. Kelly lived until July 21, 1864, being then 84 years of age. He was interred in
these grounds.

St. Dennis's Church


[91] In reference to the history of the days of the old powder-making industry it might be of some interest to know more of the family of William Rogers. This can be briefly stated as far as my recollection goes. Since Mr. Rogers lived in this locality for many years, the members of his family had become well advanced in life when he discontinued the business. At an advanced age Mr. Rogers died at his place on the creek, while his wife survived him a number of years. He was a Lutheran in his religious belief, and was a frequent attendant at the old Lower Merion Lutheran Church. It is probable that he was buried in the same churchyard.

The other heirs were a son and three daughters. The son, William Rogers, Jr., was not deeply interested in the pursuits of his father , thinking the business too risky. He therefore undertook the study of medicine, after graduating went South on a venture, located permanently in the city of New Orleans, and properly followed his professional career. [92] The daughters were Jane, Ann and Eliza. They remained for several years at their old home, and finally decided to dispose of it and seek another locality more suitable to their future plans. About the year 1841, or probably a little later, Mrs. Rogers, Jane, and her sisters removed to Philadelphia and opened a private school for young ladies and little boys, at the corner of Thirteenth and Walnut Streets. Jane took care of the young ladies, while Ann and Eliza conducted the primary department for the boys.

After being located at this place for several years, they changed their residence to the corner of Fifteenth and Pine Streets, in order to enlarge the facilities of their school, and in a short time later decided on a still more favorable location, on Pine Street below Nineteenth Street. They lived there prosperous and happy for a few years, when Jane died after prolonged ill health culminating in consumption. Ann died later in the same year. Eliza broke up her home and went South, residing with her brother until her death. Mrs. Rogers died at an advanced age about the year 1843.

It was always Mr. Rogers' desire that [93] the enclosure of the powder works be kept in a neat and tidy condition. He had all the walks and lanes leading to and from the mills carefully laid out and the stones removed and the surface covered with several inches of ground bark, thus securing an almost absolute safety. Traffic within the enclosure, including the hauling in wagons by horses, was never allowed if it could be avoided. At each end of the yard, outside the fence, the roadway was diverted to the opposite side of the creek, making it easy and safe to deliver the supplies over bridges or through the ford, which was easy and practicable. From this point the Powder Mill Lane extends in a northerly course, coming out at a point on the Haverford Road.

Mr. Rogers had often remarked to his family and friends that his men had become careless, at times a little reckless and fearless of the dangers to which they were subjected. He constantly cautioned them about their indifference in the habit of using iron hammers, shovels, unprotected shoes, and of smoking their pipes around the works, yet his advice was frequently regarded with indifference. This caused him much worriment for the safety of the [94] outlying country and the danger which would attend an untimely disaster. It happened at one time that a violent explosion occurred, either through carelessness or from some unaccountable cause, which resulted in damaging the works quite considerably. Masses of rock were hurled in all directions, the force being so great that rocks falling a quarter of a mile damaged a house owned by Levi Lukens.

Marked evidences of the old powder mill may still be seen, particularly after a freshet in the creek, when much of the surface is disturbed, resulting in the exposure of numerous brass balls used in the process of pulverizing the charcoal powder. On many occasions these balls have been found plentifully in the bed of the stream and around the adjacent regions where the farmers did their plowing. Frequently they have been picked up a half a mile away, sustaining the theory that there had been explosions at various times. These balls were somewhat oxidized and darkened by long exposure and were often irregular in form, indicating that they had been much worn by extreme usage. The weights of these bullets averaged 133, 171, and 256 grains. The location of these balls has led me to [95] surmise that when accidents occurred they had been hurled in every direction by the explosive force. Mr. Rogers had frequently predicted an explosion. He was keenly aware of how totally indifferent his men had become to the dangers and to his admonitions. On one occasion while absent from his mill, which was a rare occurrence, he was awakened with the impression that something was going wrong, and he returned to find a portion of the mill destroyed. The loss of life cannot be authenicated, but burns and injuries and losses to property were common occurrences.
On all occasions there was quiet and orderliness. The only sound that could be easily heard for some distance was the pounding of the milling machine, the stamping of which, though low in tone, was always heard. As I have said before, the whole place was worked so quietly and was situated in such an isolated location that nothing disturbed the solitude. Occasionally the alarm bell was rung, only to sound the news to those employed, but this was rarely done. This old mill bell, which weighed about two hundred pounds, was erected at the upper [96] end of the enclosure on an elevated structure suitable for the purpose. It hung silently in its place for many days in the quiet valley. On one occasion, on a bright and beautiful day, when all was still and the people busily employed, the bell suddenly pealed forth, and the alarm was soon widespread. All hands rushed out to see the cause of the commotion. The houses were emptied, yet no cause for the confusion could be found. The mill ceased running and an investigation was started. Upon reaching the breast of the mill dam it was discovered that a man driving a yoke of oxen was coming down the lane and when crossing the bridge which spans the head race the timbers gave way and the team was precipitated into the race. As the oxen were unable to extricate themselves, the driver, being unaided and unable to render assistance, he seized the bell rope and sounded the alarm.

Mr. Rogers was extremely loath to sell a small quantity of powder to the country people, who often had uses for it. A neighboring farmer sent one of his hands, Charles Fulton, down to the mill for a pound of powder to blow up a log which he could not split with an axe. Mr. Rogers sternly [97] replied that he never sold a pound of powder, and being highly indignant at the request became somewhat infuriated. In order to get rid of his caller he seized a handful or two of powder, placed it in a paper and handed it to the man with final remarks showing his utter distaste for such a transaction.

It was customary to see Mr. Rogers with cane in hand walking around the grounds watching for heedless boys of the neighborhood, whom he had so intimidated by his threats that they were afraid to trespass.


[98] A noted and very daring individual in the employ of Mr Rogers was William Johnson, known around the place as "Billy ." It was his custom to haul the powder to its destination. On one occasion he started out with his load of powder down the road towards Philadelphia. His horses were fine, but his wagon was old and much worn. He had gone a considerable distance on his journey over an extremely rocky and generally rough road when he noticed the darkening of the sky and the approach of a thunder storm rapidly gathering. The man usually had little fear, but on
this occasion he wisely gathered his wits, turned his team around, and hurried for the nearest place of shelter. This proved to be a barn by the wayside. The storm increased rapidly, the wind blew fiercely, the lightning flashed, and the roar of the thunder was terrific. On he dashed, upsetting the kegs of powder, but despite all his fear he reached the place in safety. On examining his load he found that a keg which was directly over the king bolt of the wagon had been jolted to pieces, allowing the bolt to rise up and down. [99] Powder was strewn over the floor and was hammered by the bolt as it hit against the iron plate on the bottom of the wagon, yet there was no explosion--certainly a remarkable coincidence.

An interesting relic which can be seen still, is the original lamp used by the old cooper when he was pressed with overtime work or during the short and dark days of the winter. The lamp was made of iron, flat, and partly rounded, with a projecting lip which served to carry the wick. The top closed by a sliding lid. In this lamp lard or whale oil was generally burned. At the base of the bowl rose a handle arched above and connected to an iron stylet by a ring at the end. The lamp could be carried from place to place, and wherever it was desired to remain the pointed end of the stylet was thrust against a beam and securely held. In this manner was his workroom illuminated.

Another particularly interesting act was the making of the kegs of those days. They were made entirely by hand on an old­fashioned cooper's bench. The wood used was principally oak cut to the required lengths and split to a certain size and thinness by the axe and finished by the hand [100] drawing knife. The method of shaping the kegs was interesting. Each keg as made was put together in an upright iron frame in the shape of a keg and secured by a metal hoop at each end. Through the open frame the heat of a slow fire was allowed to pass which heated the staves and gave them pliancy. When this was secured the upper and lower hoops were driven into place and the desired bend of the kegs obtained. They were afterwards stored in a cool and well ventilated cellar in readiness to be filled and headed as orders were received.


[103] In reference to the buildings that stood along Cobb's Creek and vicinity in the earlier days there remains one which should be duly noticed in connection with my former remarks as being one of the earliest and especially noteworthy. This is the Friends' Meeting House in Haverford, situated a short distance from the Clinton Mills and adjacent to St. Dennis's Church on the opposite side of the road. It was constructed substantially of stone and was built at two different times. The older end was erected about 1700 and was used for one century. In 1800 it was enlarged and made more commodious and comfortable.

In the earlier days the building was constructed without a chimney and, in order to warm the meeting,

Friends' Meeting House, Haverford

a rude sort of stove or furnace was built on both sides of the building and the fuel furnished from outside of the house. The construction was such that the tops of the stoves were of iron and the smoke escaped by side flues parallel to the walls on the outside, a short distance above the entrance through which the fuel was introduced. By this means the walls on both sides of the house were heated [104] and the air of the room was made quite comfortable. At the southern end of the building may still be seen a portion of this construction. While doing the rebuilding most of it was removed. Within a recent period the interior of the Meeting House was decidedly altered, and the long standing antique appearance remodeled to conform to modern designs, a change attended with much dissatisfaction by the few existing members of the older Meeting. This building will stand for many years, being substantially built.

In this building many of the older residents of the powder-mill section attended public worship, it being the only church or meeting house in that part of the country where religious services were then conducted. At one time this Meeting House was largely attended, but now the membership has dwindled to very few. The religious sect has greatly decreased, and the younger members of the older families have sought other denominations for their religious beliefs. [Note from January 2008: Stephen Loughin, the current clerk of this meeting, now called the Old Haverford Meeting, provides this update: "We have about 50 adult members at present and continue as a vibrant community within the Religious Society of Friends. I realize that Eckfeldt wrote the piece some time ago, and perhaps his observations are correct for that time, but would you consider adding a footnote to indicate that we are still an active Meeting?" Anyone interested in more information about Old Haverford Meeting can visit their Web site,]

To Top of Document

Back to

Website by Panacea Design and Adam Levine
Page last modified Movember 15, 2010