The Pennepack
in Lower Dublin Township

By I. Pearson Willits, M. D.
written for The City History Society of Philadelphia
and Read at the Meeting of
October 13th, 1911
A Sketch of the Life of Samuel Cawley Willits
written for the Society by George S. Clark

Philadelphia: Published by the Society, 1911

[Pamphlet, pages numbered 241-264]

Created using ReadIris OCR Software
from a copy in the collection of Adam Levine

Lower Dublin was one of the townships in Philadelphia County before the City of Philadelphia absorbed the County under the Act of Consolidation in 1854. The modern-day spelling for the creek referred to in the title of this pamphlet is Pennypack. The Pennypack watershed includes a large section of Northeast Philadelphia and contiguous sections of Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

The History of Philadelphia's Watersheds and Sewers

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

The Pennepack in Lower Dublin Township

[PAGE 241] The Pennepack is one of the few streams within the limits of the present Philadelphia which is destined to remain a "thing of beauty and a joy forever" to the coming generations. Indeed, only the unmatchable Wissahickon can excel it in the beauty of its natural scenery. In the historic associations-those indices of the past-which cluster upon its banks, it is the peer even of the Wissahickon, and the "story of the Pennepack," but little known or thought of to-day, will be an interesting study to thousands when its valley has become the people's pleasure-ground. In anticipation of that time, and as an introduction to the story, the following paper is presented this evening.

The Indian name "Pennepack" is said by Heckewelder to mean "deep, dead water; water without much current." There are many forms of the word. Lindstrom's map of New Sweden (1654) calls it "Penichpaska Kil," and his larger map of the Delaware River names it "Penickpackakyl." Some early Swede patents call it "Pemipacka." Campanius, the Swedish pastor, spells the word with two "n's," "Pennishpacha Kyl." "La Riviere de Pennicpacka" is also found. The Indians themselves seem to have called it "Pennipacka" or "Pennicpacka" or sometimes "Pennepahka." In more recent years "Pennypack" or Pennepack" has been the spelling. Holme's map of 1681 calls it "Dublin Creek," doubtless of his own naming, while Gabriel Thomas in 1698 dignifies the stream with the title "Dublin River," although William Penn, three years later (1 701 ), adheres to the old name in speaking of Pemmapecka Mill.

When Penn obtained his grant for the province, the Swedes had been in possession of the land along the Delaware for many years, and the new proprietor did not disturb them in their ownership. Bordering on the Pennepack, and extending back into the country about one mile, we find on Holme's map the names of Neels Nelson, Peter Rambo, [PAGE 242] Erick Meels, and Andrew Salter, as owners, each with the creek as his northeast boundary; while on the opposite or left bank was Peter Rambo, Jr. The latter had a residence on his property which was known as "Rambo's Dorp," and was situated probably about where are now the farm-house and barns of the House of Correction. When Penn's commissioners--one of whom was Thomas Holme--sought along the Delaware a site for the new city, this "navigable stream running up into the country" offered itself to their consideration, but there is no evident foundation for the tradition that the "Hen and Chickens" rocks prevented the selection of this situation, or that the Commissioners had ever thought favorably of recommending to Penn the Pennepack district as the proper place for Philadelphia. Holme's choice of the country back of the Swedes as a plantation, would seem to indicate that he never had contemplated founding a city there. Thus the land in Lower Dublin remained farm-land--most of it is still farm-land---and the township is to-day one of the least developed portions of our great city. There are few localities where the changes have been less marked or where descendants of the original settlers have longer retained the titles to the properties.

A short distance above the mouth of the Pennepack there was early established a ferry across to Cinnaminson, which necessitated the road leading to the highway, still known as Ferry Lane. About 1825--when steamboats were coming into vogue--it became the custom to take passengers out in row-boats to board the larger boats on their way to and from the city. This brought prosperity to the "Pennepack House" at the ferry, owned and kept for many years by Job Bartlett. The hotel was not only an inn for the accommodation of ferry passengers, but a very popular summer boarding-house. It had been built by Joseph Brick, who kept the ferry there, but Bartlett, who was the son-in-law of Brick, constructed the wharf and enlarged the house, placing his brother Edmund in charge. In 1840 the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad Company planned to bring its patrons up the river by boat, where they might meet the train and continue the journey by rail, selecting the Pennepack House property as a suitable place to build its wharves and railroad yard. Bartlett, thinking that the company would be compelled to buy, demanded such a high price that it proved prohibitory, and the railroad purchased at Tacony the landing which it still owns, and where, for a number of years, Philadelphia passengers [PAGE 243] were transferred from boat to train. Gradually the popularity of the Pennepack House became less and less, until just before the beginning of the Civil War its doors were closed to the public. After the war the property was purchased by the late Joseph Harrison.

About five hundred yards from the river the creek bends sharply from the south, a course which it had followed for nearly half a mile, and to which it had turned from the west, after having approached to within two hundred yards of the river. This neck of land, in 1850, was owned by James Williams, who had bought it from Jacob M. Kunkle early in the previous year. It contained about eighty acres, part of the original property of Neels Nelson. It, with Freshley's meadow at the extreme point, came into the possession of the city of Philadelphia in 1869, and on it was erected the House of Correction. The farm had long been known as "Boon-Cot," from a tradition that Daniel Boone, the noted pioneer of Kentucky, was born there. So strong was this tradition that when, shortly before the consolidation of the city and county, the citizens of Lower Dublin decided to divide the township, "Boone" was one of the three names voted upon for the title of the new township, and received a plurality of the votes, although it was afterwards abandoned, and "Delaware" substituted as more appropriate. In 1880, while digging a ditch on the House of Correction meadows, the workmen unearthed an old buck-horn-handle hunting knife, badly rusted, but still showing the initials D. B. cut deeply into the horn. It is well known now that Daniel Boone was born near Exeter Meetinghouse, and that he lived in Oley until migrating to the Yadkin at the age of eighteen. His grandfather, however, had lived in Abington and North Wales before going to Oley, and, as there were fifty-two grandchildren, it is possible that some of the family may have resided here at the mouth of the Pennepack.

The question of a Philadelphia House of Correction was considered as early as 1853, but it was not until six years later that the State appointed a commission to select a site. The commission chose the location at the mouth of the Pennepack, the price then being $20,000 for the eighty acres. Philadelphia City Councils thought this amount too great and refused to purchase. Nothing more was done until after the War of the Rebellion, when James Billington of Common Council proposed to consider the subject again, and was appointed the chairman of a committee to study similar institutions in other cities and to seek a

The House of Corrections
(Page 244)

[PAGE 245] situation for the new one in Philadelphia. The committee failed, however, to agree upon a place. The late William F. Smith then had an act passed by the Legislature authorizing the appointment of a commission to erect and control such an institution. Governor GeRry, at the request of Councils, vetoed the bill, but threatened to sign any similar measure within a year, if Philadelphia itself did not take steps towards starting the building. The next day Samuel W. Cattell, then President of Select Council, instructed Samuel C. Willits, a member of Common Council from the Twenty-third ward, to ascertain the price of the Pennepack land, which was found now to have been raised to $25,000. A committee reported in favor of the purchase and Councils passed the ordinance appropriating the necessary money. This was in 1869. James H. Windrim was chosen architect and Richard J. Dobbins obtained the contract for constructing the buildings, hi's bid being $950,000. The work was finished in 1874--the two diagonal wings, "D" and "E," being occupied on January 7th of that year in charge of Assistant Superintendent W. Alexander Bulkley,--the six remaining wings in December. The main building is seven hundred feet long, and each wing over three hundred feet. There are cells for about two thousand inmates, but during the Centennial there were over twenty-two hundred in the house at one time. Samuel W. Cattell became the first superintendent. A few years later the city bought from R. J. Dobbins the Nathan E. Knight farm, also of eighty acres, lying on the north side of the creek opposite its first purchase, and including the site of Rambo's Dorp. For this it paid $40,000. As a further extension of the farm it leased from the Harrison estate about three hundred and twenty-five acres, consisting partly of the Pennepack House property, partly of a farm of ninety-five acres once belonging to Mrs. Triesley (1850) and lying along the creek between the Pennepack House and the Knight farm, already mentioned, and partly of the Ashton Farm, called "River Dale," on the Delaware river. This latter portion is now occupied by the Torresdale Filter-plant, but the House of Correction still controls both banks of the Pennepack for over three-quarters of a mile from its mouth.

Passing up the creek the first bridge is met at the western boundary of the House of Correction grounds, and carries the new State Road over the stream. It was built about 1872. Some three hundred yards further up is the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge, now a solid stone [PAGE 246] arched structure, but formerly a trestle with but two tracks, built by the old Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad. Between the State Road and the railroad, on the south bank of the creek, was the farm of Andrew Keen, who had been a soldier in the Revolution and who claimed to have witnessed the execution of Major Andre. In 1850 his son, Jacob Keen owned the place, which contained about eleven acres.

Immediately after passing the railroad bridge is seen the new county prison, built on ground which fifty years ago was owned by J. Goldsmith, whose land extended to the Bristol turnpike and. was known as "Mountain Ridge." R. J. Dobbins purchased the eastern half when building the House of Correcion and all the stone, except the brownstone, used in that structure, was quarried on this ground and carried down by boat. The iron bridge now spanning the stream here was erected for the prison. On the south or right bank, high above the creek, is a large old-fashioned whitewashed stone house. This is Lynfield, built by William Lardner before 1800. He lived here until his death in 1827. His two daughters continued to occupy it until about

Lynfield, the home of William Lardner
From a photograph by Lincoln Cartledge
(Page 246).

[Page 247] 1880, when it was sold to Moro Phillips. A short distance above Lynfield, on the same side of the creek, are the ruins of one of the oldest mills about Philadelphia--the Pennepack, or, as Penn called it, the Pemmapecka mill. The ground upon which the mill was built was part of a tract sold by Thomas Burrows as attorney for his brother Charles to Charles Saunders acting for Peter Dale. After Holme's death, Silas Crispin, his son-in-law and executor, so1d the land on which the village of Holmesburg stands to this same Charles Saunders. The

Ruins of the Old Mill, built in 1697
(Page 247)

mill commons of sixteen acres, was partly Dale's land and partly Saunders'. In 1697 Saunders built the mill, engaging Dale to do the work. The stone was of local origin, but the bricks which form the front gable were brought from England. Peter Dale or Deal, who was called by Watson, quoting Gabriel Thomas, "a famous and ingenious workman in water mills," became one-third owner in the mill and business. Dale died in 1703 and his widow retained the joint ownership. She afterwards married John Holme, ancestor of the [PAGE 248] Holmes for whom Holmesburg was named. About the beginning of the nineteenth century Robert Lewis became the owner of the mill, and lived in the house nearby. Before the middle of the century George Pennock acquired the property, and it remained in his estate after his death. About 1870 the mill was operated by Ryan and Negus, followed by Joseph Cartledge. It was destroyed by fire October 11th, 1880, and never rebuilt. In the early days this mill was a noted one, the settlers coming from long distances to have their corn ground here--the Welsh from the Gwynedd district traversing the road which even to-day is known as the Welsh Road and is the highway between Holmesburg and Bustleton; the farmers from the Jersey shore crossing the river and rowing a mile and a quarter up the creek directly to the mill door. Adjoining the grist mill on the west was a saw-mill, established before 1800, of which Richard Rue was the proprietor. Later it became part of the Pennock property, and finally was operated by Ryan and Negus in connection with the flour mill. Near the sawmill was at one time a cooper shop where were made hogsheads and barrels for the flour and Indian meal which was shipped even to the West Indies and Europe. A short distance above these mills David Lewis; a nephew of Robert Lewis, the one-time owner of the grist mill, erected about 1812 a cotton factory. This was burned during the war, but rebuilt by Jonathan Lodge. In 1873 it was again burned, and again rebuilt and operated--this time by C. H. Wilson and sons. Afterwards it came into the possession of Dr. Bray.

On higher ground, above the factory property and separated from it by the railroad, is the burying-ground of the Holmesburg Methodist Church. Formerly the church building itself stood here, but it was burned in 1873 and the congregation then built on the main street. Early in the nineteenth century Deacon Samuel Harvey, of Germantown, first president of Germantown's National Bank, gave this ground and helped to establish the church. In 1819 he records the number of members as twenty-seven.

A short distance above the church yard the creek is spanned by an old stone bridge, built in the seventeenth century for the King's Highway between Philadelphia and New York. On the advent of the trolley line the bridge was widened and its roadway raised, but the original arches and walls still stand. It was erected about 1697 by the community, each adult male inhabitant contributing his share, [PAGE 249] either in day's work or in money. Following the courses of the creek it is almost two miles from the river (1.9 m.), but in a direct line is but slightly over a mile (1.1 m.), so that the road lies nearly on the boundary of the Swede's land. Throughout the eighteenth century this was the post road from Philadelphia to New York and New England, and many, noted men and women of colonial days and the early years of the Republic have crossed this bridge, and looked upon the beautiful stream. It is related that the Massachusetts delegates to the First

The Old Bridge, built about 1697
From a photograph by Lincoln Cartledge
(Page 249)

Continental Congress dined at the "Red Lion" on the Poquessing on August 29th, 1774, and then journeyed on to Philadelphia. We can picture the four, Cushing, Samuel and John Adams, and Robert Treat Paine, crossing the Pennepack bridge between the hours of one and two on that late-summer afternoon and passing on to the city over this road which, in a little while, would cease to be the "King's" highway. Washingtop was many times a passenger here, stopping at the hotel over the hill to the south, which has ever since been known as the [Page 250] "Washington House." Portions of the continental army are believed to have traversed this same road. When Lafayette made his triumphal journey through this country on his second visit, he dined at Bristol on Monday, September 27th, 1824, and reached Holmesburg in the afternoon. On a summer's day of 1866 General Grant, driving to the city after a visit to Adolph E. Borie near Andalusia, followed the same course to find an enthusiastic crowd awaiting him at the Athenaeum.

Old Log Cabin, known as Lewis's Cabin
From a photograph by C. Henry Kaln, 1907
(Page 250)

At the north end of the bridge there still stands an old log cabin, enlarged in recent times by the addition of a second story, which for years was known as Lewis's cabin, its owner being Mrs. Hetty Lewis, the widow of Nathaniel Lewis. The log portion is old--antedating the Revolution--and there is a tradition that Washington once stopped here for a drink of water. In the early part of last century the cabin was tenanted by Harman, who posed as a herb doctor and who had an infallible remedy for hydrophobia in pills made of paper!

[Page 251] On the 24th of March, 1803, the Frankford and Bristol Turnpike Company was incorporated, and the old country highway became a modern macadam road. At the south end of the bridge, but north of the mill-race, the company placed their toll-gate number three. This, like so many old-time toll-gates, had its noted keepers--among them Samuel Daunton, who collected the toll from about 1840 and was celebrated for his curiosity and inquisitiveness, always having a flow of questions ready for each traveler, whether resident or stranger. After the war William Ashton obtained the position, and it remained in his family until the gate went out of existence when this section of the turnpike was sold to the city July 1st, 1892. Following this came the changes in grade and width mentioned above--the first trolley going into service between Cedar Hill and the Poquessing on October 3rd, 1895.

Upon the high right bank, near the dam, the ground was first broken, July 29th, 1868, for the construction of the Frankford and Bustleton Railroad. The president of the road, Lewis Thompson, raised the first spadeful of earth, which was received in a barrow wheeled by George Clark, the contractor,--appropriate addresses succeeding. Next comes the dam, probably of equal age with the grist mill below, and imniediately above is the railroad bridge. To the north, the graveyard running down to the tracks, is St. Dominick's Catholic Church.
The corner stone of the first church building, fronting on the turnpike, was laid September 9th, 1849. This building was destroyed by fire, and the present one erected on the same site. Further up the railroad, on approaching Rowland's Station, is seen a large old-fashioned white house, once the residence of the late Francis King, a well-known shipping merchant of Philadelphia. The property at one time belonged to Joseph Kirkner, who, in the early part of the nineteenth century, sold it to John W. Chapman. Mr. Chapman was a native of England who had established himself as a teacher in this country, and when he purchased this house from Kirkner gave up his position as principal of the Thomas Holme School to found here a private school which he called Pennepack Hall. After his death the place was sold to a St. Domingo refugee named Pradeth, who, in turn, sold, about 1843, to Mr. King. The latter renamed it "Lindenwood," and lived there until his death February 14th, 1870. His wife was a descendant of Anders Bengtson [PAGE 252] --modernized Bankson--a prominent Swedish settler and member of the first Provincial Assembly of 1683.

Rowland's Shovel Works -- The Annex
The main works are on the other side of the creek
From a photograph by Lincoln Cartledge
(Page 252)

Just south of Rowland's station, on the creek, is an old mill, once a grist mill, which stands on the site of an eighteenth century saw-mill. This saw-mill was owned in the Paul family before the Revolution, but fell into disuse shortly after 1800, although much of the lumber to build the Lower Dublin Academy in 1800 and 1801 was sawed here. William Milliken and Peter Graham built the grist mill about 1814. In 1842 Samuel C. Willits and Brother bought the mill and converted it for the manufacture of linseed oil;--which they continued until 1852, when the Rowlands purchased it as an extension to their shovel factory. The small house adjoining the mill was formerly the miller's residence. The water-power was obtained from a dam on a small stream known as Wooden Bridge run, which empties into the Pennepack nearby. This dam once went by the name Page's, and the remains of an old powder mill may stiil be seen below the flood-gates. Many years ago a dye-works stood here of which a [PAGE 253] Mr. Tinker was proprietor. On the wooded hill to the north of this dam and of the railroad, is the Thomas Holme cemetery, on the northeast side of the line of his imaginary Susquehanna Road.

Proceeding up the Pennepack, now in a southwesterly direction, we find on both banks of the creek the Rowland shovel works, founded by Jonathan Rowland about 1827. His son, Maxwell Rowland, became the head of the firm in 1854, and continued at the head until his death in 1882, at the age of sixty. He took a prominent part in local affairs and was a member of Select Council from 1875 to 1878. The main building of the works, situated on the east side of the creek, was burned December 14th, 1883, but immediately rebuilt.

About a quarter of a mile above the shovel works the creek is crossed by the Welsh road--the road already spoken of as leading from the Welsh country to the Pennepack mill. Washington Irving must have crossed this bridge in the early evening of June 4th, 1810--almost a century ago. In a letter to Mr. Hoffman, describing his trip from New York to Philadelphia, Irving says that he reached Holmesburg between 7 and 8 P. M., after having had a fine day for traveling. He was acting as escort for Mrs. Hoffman and her three little children and, to quote his letter, "You cannot conceive what speculation our appearance made among the yeomanry of Jersey and Pennsylvania. Many of the excellent old Dutch farmers mistook us for a family of Yankee squatters, and were terribly alarmed, and the little community of Bustleton, (who are very apt to be thrown into a panic), were in utter dismay at our approach, insomuch that when we entered one end of the town I saw several old women in Pompadour and Birdseye gowns, with bandboxes under their arms, making their escape out of the other." Across this bridge went the party of seemingly "Yankee squatters," driving in a rickety old carriage which they had hired in Trenton and which, just after they had entered Philadelphia, Irving tells us "sank beneath its burden and gave up the ghost."

One third of a mile above the Welsh road bridge are the Pennepack Print Works, long operated by Andreas Hartel, the present superintendent of the Forrest Home. The first mill on this site was John Sheppard's saw-mill--about 1800 to 1810. Part of the lumber for the Thomas Holme Academy came from this plant. Later a corn mill was built here. Later still the Print Works were erected by [PAGE 254] Samuel Comly (1830). These finally came into the possession of Joseph Ripka, of Manayunk, and a partnership was formed between Andreas Hartel, a nephew of Mr. Ripka, Andrew A. Ripka, a son, and John B. Willian. This was in 1852. Mr. Willian afterwards left the firm and went to La Grange (1864). Rhawn street, leading from Holmesburg to Fox Chase, here crosses the Pennepack, and makes a second crossing about five hundred yards to the west, owing to the changing course of the stream.

Crystal Springs, built in 1855 by James Pierson
From a photograph by Lincoln Cartledge
(Page 254)

Opposite the Print Works--on the right bank--is "Crystal Springs," for years the home of Col. James Lewis. This is one of the most interesting sections of Lower Dublin. The house itself is not old, having been built in 1855 by James Pierson, who used it as a hotel and summer boarding-house. Pierson sold it in 1864 and since that time there have been at least ten different owners. Thomas Holme's patent for the plantation in Lower Dublin which he called "Well Spring," is from Markham and dated Septembeer 8, 1682--before Penn's arrival.
Penn, however, confirmed this by a second patent dated [Page 255] August 15, 1684. Between these two dates he had obtained the Indian title to these lands--one deed, June 23rd, 1683, for the country between the Pennepack and the Neshaminy, signed by the great Tammany and others, and a second deed, June 7th, 1684, for lands on both sides of the Pennepack from Mettamicont. The "Well Spring" plantation consisted of 1646 acres, of which the greater part--about two-thirds--lay south of Susquehanna road. This lower part was first held in the name of Eleanor Holme, Thomas Holme's daughter, but before his death she transferred it back to her father. Eleanor married Joseph Moss and the two took up their residence on the wife's portion of "Well Spring." It is not improbable that the house was situated near this crystal spring, which may have given name to the plantation,--a situation which was near the center of Eleanor Holme's tract, was provided with an abundance of water, and was accessible by boat from the Delaware. Joseph Moss died in 1687, his will is dated at "Well Spring" on July 23rd, of that year. In 1688 Thomas Holme came from his house at the northwest corner of Front and Arch streets, in Philadelphia, and took up his residence at "Well Spring." In September of the same year he went to England, returning to this country and to the Pennepack about the end of 1689. In the Fall of 1690 he again went to England, but did not return until 1694. He died at "Well Spring" in March or early April of 1695-his will was proven April 8th--and was buried in his cemetery on Susquehanna road. His executor was his son-in-law Silas Crispin, who married Esther Holme in 1683 and in the next year took up his residence on his tract of five hundred acres at the present Abington line. Crispin, as executor, sold about nine hundred and thirty-three acres of the lower portion of "Well Spring" to Charles Saunders, mentioned in connection with the mill; the balance was inherited by the six Crispin children. The land adjacent to the crystal spring remained in the Crispin family until August, 1864, when the hotel property was sold by James Pierson, whose wife was a daughter of Paul Crispin. Seventy years ago Paul Crispin owned fifty-seven acres, extending along the Pennepack from the Welsh road to "Crystal Springs," while south of Rhawn street was a farm of eighty acres, reaching from the creek to the Bristol turnpike, owned by George Fox and known as "Foxdale." Crispin and Fox in partnership conducted a picnic grounds in the woods about the spring, [PAGE 256] which they called "Foxdale Grove," and which was a popular place for the residents of Holmesburg and Tacony to enjoy a day's outing. As an example of these outings, and at the same time to show how the people of Lower Dublin, two generations ago, could celebrate a sane Fourth of July, the following account is taken from the United States Gazette:

Tuesday, July 4th, 1843, was a lovely summer day--cool and pleasant. At an early hour in the morning committees were industriously engaged in collecting together the various articles of refreshment, bountifully supplied by the families of the village and its vicinity. The roads leading to the Grove were literally thronged with persons hastening to the scene of festivity; the members of the Liberty Fire Company paraded their apparatus and made quite a creditable display. By ten o'clock the arrangements were completed, and soon after the orators of the day, Morton McMichael, Esq., and Rev. Thos. O. Lincoln, ascended the platform. The scene at this moment was one of no ordinary character, and cold indeed must have been the heart of that individual who viewed it unmoved. The whole area in front of the staging was occupied by ladies, the assembled refinement, intelligence, and respectability of the neighborhood, their dresses of the purest white, truly emblematic of their own purity and loveliness, contrasting most beautifully with the green of the magnificent trees which served as a shield to protect them from the beams of the sun, who on this occasion seemed more disposed than ever to obtrude himself, uninvited, upon their notice. One solitary remnant of the Revolution, alone in his glory. occupied the staging; age it is true had bent his form, but the kind1ing of his eye and the animation of his countenance when the orators spoke of the deeds of the Revolution, evinced, that though the sands of life were nearly exhausted, the fire of patriotism still burned unquenched in his bosom. The address of Morton McMichael, Esq., was truly eloquent; he completely enchained the attention of his auditory; the oft repeated history of the sufferings of the early settlers of our country, and the trials of our forefathers during [PAGE 257} the stormy period of the Revolution was presented in vivid and glowing language, and there was not a heart in the assembly which did not respond to his description of the growing greatness and importance of our beloved country. He was followed by Rev. Thomas O. Lincoln in an address characterized by his usual ability and eloquence, after which the company separated to partake of the good things which had been furnished; the tables were profusely covered with articles of various kinds; substantial rounds of beef, comfortable hams, cooling and grateful ice creams, delicious pies and cakes innumerable, and it was amazing to see with what rapidity they disappeared. The assemblage separated at an early hour, truly gratified that not a single accident had occurred to mar the festivities of the day.

As compared with the Independence Day of the present age this celebration of sixty-six years ago seems very attractive--from the ladies in white to the pies and cakes and comfortable hams--and, most unusual of all, not a single accident!

Next above the Foxdale property is the Oxford and Lower Dublin Poor House, established about one hundred years ago. The farm has a frontage of nearly one-third of a mile on the creek, which here takes almost an east and west course. The Sandy Run, from the south, empties into the larger stream at the western end of this reach. The Run forms the boundary of the Poor House farm, and its course is approximately the western line of "Well Spring." A brook on the adjoining Saul farm once furnished power to a small factory where James Saul made gas burners.

On the north bank, occupying the whole of the peninsula formed by the "U"-shaped course of the creek, and extending to the Welsh Road, is "Bellevue." When the Holme estate was divided this property was held by the Crispins for several generations, and here, in 1792, was born Benjamin Crispin who became one of Lower Dublin's most prominent citizens. He was a member of the Legislature in 1837-'38 and '39, was elected to the State Senate in 1840 and was speaker in 1843. After consolidation he was sent as the first member to Common Council from the Twenty-third Ward. The present house, facing on the Welsh Road, was built in 1828 by Joseph Gillingham, who sold [PAGE 258] it, in 1840, to George Clark, mentioned above as the contractor for grading the Bustleton Railroad. Mr. Clark was connected with the construction of many important public works, among them being the Weiland Canal in Canada, and the Chestnut street bridge in this city. He died at Bellevue in January, 1875, in his seventy-eighth year. During his occupancy the barn was burned three times. His grandson, Hon. George Stephenson Clark, was owner until 1884, when he sold to George T. Mills. The present owner is David Martin.

Above "Bellevue" is "Echo Hill," once the farm of George W. Spangler. In 1851 the property was bought by Alexander E. Outerbridge and his partner, George Cockburn Harvey, both natives of Bermuda in business in Philadelphia. They built the houses, still standing, and of similar architecture, calling the upper one "Echo Villa"--in which Mr. Outer bridge lived--and the lower one "Lochside." Later (1877) they were owned by Barton and Shellenberger.

About half-a-mile west of "Echo Hill" the road which has been following the left bank suddenly crosses the creek and is lost in the woods. This is the Axe Factory Road and connects the Welsh Road with the Bustleton turnpike at Bell's Corner. The axe factory, which gave name to the road, stood west of the bridge in the first half of the last century. About the time of the Rebellion it was converted into a carpet-yarn mill by Fleetwood Lodge, and after his death came into the possession of George Rogers. The bridge has several times been washed away by freshets.

Another third of a mile and on the hill to the north is an old mansion lately owned by John B. Willian. The older part of the house was at one time an academy, which, about 1808 and 1810 was conducted by Rev. Robert Andrews. During the middle of the century Isaac P. Wendall owned it. The main part of the mansion was built by Mr. Willian. In 1884 Charles H. Strout, who had been a teacher for Mrs. Crawford at Ury House, near Foxchase, bought the school here, naming it St. Luke's. It has since been removed to Wayne. Opposite St. Luke's School, on the south side of the creek, was, early in the nineteenth century, an edge tool works owned by one of the three Gordon brothers. This had entirely disappeared before 1850. Just above this is La Grange. For quite a century there has been a factory here, but it has served varied purposes. It was first a woolen mill, [PAGE 259] kept by another of the Gordon brothers. Its next use was as a blacklead factory, operated by a Mr. Rodman. In 1830 Isaac P. Wendall and Company converted it into a calico printing works, which continued as Wendall and Perkins until about 1850, when it was sold out to Brown, Lewis, Chase and Company. Their successors were Christopher and Sheldon H. Smith, from Paterson, New Jersey, followed by James Smith, and then Burke. It next became Barlow's shoddy-mill, and finally was destroyed by fire. After remaining in ruins for several years it was rebuilt by John B. Willian, who had separated (1864) from Hartel and Ripka of the Pennepack Works, and formed the firm of Pretty, Grimes and Company, who continued the mill for many years. It is now idle. During the Fall of 1840, when the campaign of William Henry Harrison for the presidency was at its height, Wendall and Company printed large numbers of Harrison handkerchiefs, showing Harrison on horseback, and, through David S. Brown and Company, their agents in the city, sold them for distribution to the parading clubs.

The Bustleton turnpike crosses the Pennepack here. The stone bridge was built in 1805, replacing one which fell, and for many years it was claimed that this arch was the largest of any in the state. Before the days of the turnpike the road ran through what was afterwards the factory property, and crossed the creek by a wooden bridge, the foundations of which, and the space in front of the houses, still show its location; and the continuation of the road yet remains in the section known as the Newtown Road. On the hill above the creek, looking towards Bustleton, is the public school, named the Fayette. Seventy-five years ago it was called the "Bustleton Academy," and was a two-story, stone building built about 1790. For many years it was in charge of Joshua B. Smith, a New England man, whose sister became the wife of James Perkins, mentioned above as a partner of Isaac P. Wendall. The present school was built about 1850 by Robert Grimshaw, after it had become part of the public school system, Charles Hoag succeeding Smith as teacher. Immediately before and after consolidation it was in charge of George W. Fetter, afterwards so well known in connection with the Girls' High and Normal Schools, and whose death at the age of eighty-two, occurred only four months ago (6-5-09). In the list of teachers of forty and fifty years ago will be found such names as [PAGE 260] Dr. Martindale, the historian; Charles A. Singer (1864), James C. Sickel (1865-66), J. Emory Byram (1867), and James W. Bunting (1868-69). The older building was often used as a church--the Methodists as early as 1831 were accustomed to hold their services here, and at the time that Rev. George Sheets, the rector of the Oxford Church, resided in Bustleton. he conducted a church here for the Episcopalians. It is related, on the authority of an old inhabitant, that the steeple was once carried away by a hurricane, but its bell kept tolling as it flew through the air and did not cease until it reached the ground half-a-mile off. On the west side of the turnpike, just north of the creek, is the Bustleton Roman Catholic Church. built upon land given by John B. Willian. The corner-stone was laid October 2nd, 1870, and the church opened for service on December 11th, of that year.

Following the creek westward, the bridge of old Meeting House Lane is next seen, and near it the ruins of a mill--a grist-mill of fifty years ago known as "Walnut Mill." The pool at the bridge is noted, for here on November 21st, 1687, the first baptism in Pennsylvania took place, and the four people here received into the church--Joseph and Jane Ashton, William Fisher, and John Watts, were the precursors of thousands who have been immersed in this same place. The stone which projects into the creek over the pool bears the name "baptismal rock." On the Krewstown road, just north of this rock, is the ancient Pennepack Baptist Meeting House, founded in January, 1688, and organized with twelve members. among them the four just mentioned. The Rev. Elias Keach had preached here early in 1687, and gradually the little church grew until in 1700 they had forty-nine members, holding their meetings in each others' houses. In 1707, when the membership was eighty-eight, they constructed their first meeting-house, on ground belonging to the Rev. Samuel Jones, their pastor--about on the site of the present church. In 1770 the old building was tom down and another built, with "pews, gallery, and a stove"--the only stove in any meeting-house at the time. The present building. incorporating part of the old one, was erected in 1805. Back of the church, in the graveyard, lie several of its former ministers, among them the Rev. John Watts, who died in 1702, at the age of 92. and the Rev. Ebenezer Kinnersley, who was connected with the University of Pennsylvania, and who worked with Benjamin [261] Franklin in his various electrical experiments, and is said to have designed some of the machines. Here, too, is the grave of Griffith Miles, from whom Milestown took its name, who was born in Wales in 1630, was baptized in 1697, and died in 1719. Near the church one of its pastors, the Rev. Samuel Jones, who was minister here from 1763 until 1814, kept a school which became quite famous. Among his students was John Comly, author of the spelling-book. The Misses Henderson, who lately lived in the house near the bridge, below the church, were great-granddaughters of this Dr. Jones.

A short distance above Walnut Mill the Reading Railroad's new short line to New York crosses the creek, and above this, on the south bank, where the creek makes a sharp curve, is another grist mill, owned and operated throughout the middle years of the last century by John Sedden. A few hundred feet north of Sedden's was Slater's saw-mill, situated on what was always known as Susquehanna road, although it is not on the line of Holme's proposed street. Both of these mills, together with the Walnut mill which was in fire ruins before 1875, have long ceased to render any service to the community. Above them, nearly half-a-mile, is Verreeville. Here was the oldest mill in this part

Veree's Mill, built during the Revolution
F rom a photograph by Lincoln Cartledge
(Page 261)

[PAGE 262] of Philadelphia--possibly ten years older than the one built at Holmesburg, for it is supposed to antedate the Townsend-Roberts mill at Germantown. Until the Revolution it was known as Gwin's mill, but had fallen into ruins some years before. During the Revolution Robert Verree removed these ruins and built a solid stone mill which is still standing. His son, James P. Verree, continued the business. He married a daughter of James Paul, remembered as the host of William Cobbett, when the latter, writing under the name of Peter Porcupine, resided in Bustleton. After James Verree the works were heired by his son John P. Verree. In 1850 the grist mill was operated, and also a spade factory, by Verree, Irvine and Company. Later John P. Verree alone conducted the works, and also a saw mill on the north side of the creek near the mouth of Paul's run. Mr. Verree was at one time a member of Congress. He died in the house in which he was born, on the road, just north of the mills.

It is about three-quarters of a mile from Verreeville to the township and county line. Verreeville itself is on land granted by Penn to John Mason, but beyond it, and extending to the county line, was the plantation of Silas Crispin, where he and his wife Esther Holme lived, and where the children were born who were afterwards to inherit "Well Spring." As many of these landmarks are fast passing away, it is the hope of the writer that this paper may serve to arouse an interest that will eventually lead to their preservation, or, at least, following the example set by Germantown's Site and Relic Society, place a marking tablet upon each historic spot.

[PAGE 263]

Sketch of the Life of Samuel Cawley Willits
Written for the City History Society by GEORGE S. CLARK

Samuel Cawley Willits was born in the Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, in February, 1 819, and died at his estate of Longford, near Holmesburg, Philadelphia, in 1885. His parents were natives of New Jersey and members of the Society of Friends. He was educated at the Friends' Boarding School, Westtown, Chester Co., Pa., and the Friends' Academy, Fourth Street, below Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. He subsequently studied the art of painting, under the artist, Robert Street, and then began business in a studio of his own, his work being portrait painting. He devoted himself so diligently to his profession that his health became impaired, and his physician ordered him to live in the country and engage in more active out-of-door business.

He and his brother Joseph established a mill for the manufacture of linseed oil, on the Pennypack Creek, near where Rowland's station is now located in the Thirty-fifth Ward on the Bustleton Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, in 1846. In 1852 they sold the property to Jonathan Rowland. [PAGE 264] In 1849 they purchased the Longford estate, a part of Thomas Holme's grant, in the same locality.

Mr. Joseph Willits and Mr. Alfred Willits lived to an advanced age, and died on their fine estates near that of their brother Samuel. "Longford," is now owned by Mr. Murrell Dobbins, City Treasurer, who resides there in the summer.

In 1855 Samuel C. Willits was elected a member of Common Council, from the Twenty-third Ward, which then included the present Twenty-third, Thirty-fifth and Forty-first Wards, and served one term. In 1863 he was elected a school director and in 1864 he was again elected to the Common Council of the City, where he served on many committees and was recognized as one of the most active, influential and useful members. He remained in City Councils until 1871, when he was elected by Common Council as a member of the Board of Managers of the House of Correction, and continued in that Board until the time of his death.

He, while a young man took an active interest in many local societies, among them being 1he Sons of Temperance, and several debating clubs and libraries. He was elected a member of the Board of Trustees of the Lower Dublin Academy in 1854 and served for thirty years until his death, being treasurer from 1867. In whatever matters he took an interest he was a diligent and successful worker. Notwithstanding Mr. Willits' activity and prominence in public and semipublic life, and his energy and usefulness as a citizen in various directions, he will undoubtedly be longest remembered for his valuable book entitled "A History of the Lower Dublin Academy," etc.

This work contains a vast store of historical matter, collected with great labor by Mr. Willits, and carefully recorded. It was completed during the last year of his life, and presented by him to the Trustees of the Lower Dublin Academy, of which Mr. Andreas Hartel, of Holmesburg, is now president.

This work is a worthy monument to Mr. Willits's literary ability, earnest interest in local historic research and persistent industry.

It is frequently quoted as an authority by other writers. It still remains in manuscript form, but it is hoped that it may some day be printed as a book. Many persons interested in such matters would undoubtedly be glad to have a copy in their library. It would make a book of about 800 printed pages.


Back to

Website by Panacea Design and Adam Levine
Page last modified April 30, 2005