The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 2

On one of last week’s warm summer afternoons the writer left the swift flowing traffic of Conestoga road to turn right at the corner of Radnor-Chester road in order to reach Newtown road. On the left, in a triangle bounded by three roads, stands the quaint little building once used as a Friends School and now home of F. A. Chidsey, Jr. Across Newtown road is the entrance to the old Radnor Meeting House, the original building dating back to the latter part of the 17th century, with the present building erected only about twently-five years later.

Once inside the gateway, the noise of the busy thoroughfare seemed at once muffled and far away. Low headstones in the burying ground to the west of the Meeting House marked old graves and new. A soft breeze, cooler here than on the road, swayed the branches of the trees surrounding the Meeting House and the tall grasses and flowers in the field beyond.

The front door was ajar . . . softly I stepped across the threshold of the old building that has stood in quiet serenity just off the busy highway for so many a long year. A peace and quietness that is difficult to feel in these days of fear and of unrest seemed to flow from the beautiful pine-banelled walls and to come in with the setting seem through the old panes of glass. It was a moment for pause, for reflection and for prayer that we of a generation so far removed from that of those who first worshipped here should face our future as courageously as they did their’s.

Softly I closed the door behind me and went out again along the highway. But in spite of the constant flow of automobile traffic the past seemed closer to me for the moment than did the present. Perhaps it was because Conestoga road is rather narrow between the Old Store and Ithan Station and with its cool woods for a short distance along each side suggests the narrow pathways trodden by our forefathers and the Indians who were their neighbors. For the moment at least I could almost see that sparsely populated settlement of Radnor in the “Welsh Tract” that William Penn sold to Welsh Friends in the early 1680’s.

Houses of these early Welshmen were few and far between. At first some were built of logs, later ones were of stone. Life must have been lonely and rather terrifying at times, especially to those who had come from the well populated parts of Wales. The wilderness of the forests through which Friends passed in going to meeting, is reflected in the Minutes of Radnor Meeting of 1693: “It is ordered by the Meeting & Consent of the Inhabitants of the Townships of Haverford and Radnor . . . ye (that) ye Inhabitants . . . should pay 1s (one shilling) per hundred (one hundred acres of land) towards ye takeing of Woolves”.

But at least the Pennsylvania Colony founded by that famous Quaker, the good William Penn, was free form the religious persecution which they had suffered in their homes overseas. The Quaker movement took root in America in 1656 and twenty-six years later, in 1682, Penn founded his colony as a “holy experiment” in the application of Quaker ideals to the State. Although later settlers were hostile to their ideals, the Quakers were consistent in using their influence to keep peace with the Indians and to protect them from fraud and debauchery. They always worked for popular education, peace, temperance and democracy and championed effectively the cause of religious liberty.

The founder of the Society of Friends was George Fox, an Englishman, whose followers were first called Quakers, because he had exhorted the magistrates “to terrible at the word of the Lord”. Believing himself to be the subject of divine call, he wandered from place to place spreading his views on religious reforms. he made missionary journeys through Ireland, Scotland, the West Indies, Holland, and even North America. Generally speaking, the Society of Friends exhibits a “form of Christianity widely divergent from the prevalent types, being a religious fellowship which has no formulated creed demanding definite subscription, and no liturgy, priesthood or outward sacrament, and which gives to women an equal place with men in church organizatioon.”

The “Welsh Tract” of 40,000 acres promised by William Penn to Welsh Friends included the present townships of Haverford, Merion, Radnor and part of Goshen. Among the purchasers was a Richard Davies, who bought 5000 acres and in turn sold it to Friends of Radnorshire in Wales. These were the Friends who first settled the present township of Radnor.

According to Miss Dorothy Harris of the Historical Library of Swarthmore, who has compiled form many sources an interesting history of Radnor Meeting, “As soon as homes were built, Welsh Friends began meeting together in them for worship, and continued meeting in homes for about ten years until their Meeting Houses could be built. Gradually four distinct worship groups developed, one in Merion, one in Haverford, one in Radnor, and one on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. This last one was held in the home of Thomas Duckett, whose farm occupied the ground on which the former West Philadelphia Station, at 32nd and Market, stood. Business meetings each month of the four groups began to be held in 1684 and at first rotated irregularly among the other localities of Schuylkill, Haverford and Merion. This was the beginning of Radnor Monthly Meeting–called in the early period Haverford Monthy Meeting.

(To be continued.)

The Radnor Friends Meeting House, part 1 – preparation meetings of Haverford and Merion

In recounting the story of the old Ithan Store in last week’s column, we stated that Robert Curley, present owner of the property, has found that it was in 1681 that Richard Daves obtained 500 acres from William Penn as part of the original grant of land from the Charles II of England to Penn made one year earlier. Daves’ holdings were in what is now the Ithan section of Radnor Township and it was from him that John Jarman purchased the 100 acres on part of which the old store now stands. It was soon after 1688 that the store was built.

It was not until the middle nineties, probably somewhere between 1693 and 1695, that the original Radnor Meeting across the road was built. There is no record of the materials used for it. It may indeed, have been built of logs, as were some of the early dwellings. By 1717 Friends of Radnor were considering the erection of a meeting home to be built of stone. According to some of the old records encouragement for this undertaking was needed, for early records mention “A letter from one frd (friend) Benjamin Holm to this meeting recomending to their Consideration The Stirring up of frds (friends) In Ye Building of their Meeting house att Radnor.”

Benjamin Holm’s letter to the Meeting also states that those concerned with the building “should be concerned for ye prosperity of Truth.” David Morris, David Lewis, Edd. Rees and Robert Jones, Richard Hayes and Samuel Lewis were appointed “to assist In Ye contrivance and ye building Thereof, and they meet together abt (about) it on ye 21st of this instant, and report to ye next morning.”

The members of the Committee all belonged to the Preparation Meetings of Haverford and Merion. The next Meeting was held at Merion, and one of its minutes embraces the report of the Committee.

“Some friends of those appointed to assist Radnor friends in Ye Contrivance of a new meeting house, then having acct. yt. they have accordingly met and given their thoughts as to ye bigness and form thereof. To wch (which) Radnor frds Then there present seemed generally to agree with.”

The monthly meetings were held alternately at Haverford, Merion and radnor, and in course a meeting would be held in the early part of December, 1718. This meeting was ordered to be held at Haverford, “their meeting home at Radnor being not ready.”

The west end of the present building was constructed at that time but the east end was not completed for several years. It was in 1721 that Radnor Friends “Made a Motion . . . for some assistance to finish their Meeting House. And it is desired that the friends of the Severall parts belonging to this Meeting do contribute what they think Meet for so comendable a work.” The east end was still under construction in 1722 and was for a period used for a Friends School. Here Enoch Lewis, a well-known mathematician, and later a member of the Westtown faculty, went to school and later taught.

Today that meeting house, built in the closing years of the 17th century, with its addition made some twenty-five years later, still stands in its quiet dignity, at one of the busiest intersections of roads along the Old Conestoga Road. The building is in good repair, and in constant use, with a membership of some 125 Friends. It is a “united meeting,” that is, with membership from both Arch Street and Race Street meetings.

The old burying ground in its quiet serenity looks much as it always has throughout these many years. There is occasionally a new grave in the midst of the old ones. Although of course long outdated now, the old vault still stands as a reminder of the days when frozen ground made permanent burial impossible until spring should come. An endowment fund provides for lasting upkeep of the burial ground. There is still, too, the old block from which one dismounted from horse or carriage when coming to services.

Inside there is still the old division between the men’s side and the women’s, though that custom of seating has now fallen into disuse. the original old pine panelling is still lovely as is whatever old glass remains. Quite recently the “pot-bellied” stoves have been dispensed with, and a modern heating system has been installed.

Due to the large numbers who attend First Day School, an interesting use has been made of the old fashioned wagon sheds. Five of these now have been converted into connecting rooms for First Day School, the backs of these rooms still the thick stone walls of the sheds, and their fronts glass enclosed in a most attractive manner. Two more still remain to be converted when the demands come for more First Day School space.
Still standing after more than two hundred and fifty years, the Radnor Meeting looks much as it did originally, though some modernization has taken place. Like its close neighbors, Merion Meeting and Haverford Meeting, it is a living memorial to the faith of some of Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers, a faith still enduring in our present generation of the Society of Friends.
(The intervening years between the early days of Radnor Meeting and the present will be described in subsequent articles. For her information Mrs. Patterson is indebted to Miss Dorothy Harris, of the Historical Library of Swarthmore ; to Mrs. Ralph Unkefer, of Ithan and to the “History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania,” by George Smith, M.D.)

The Ithan Store (corner Conestoga & Radnor-Chester Rd.) – Mr. & Mrs. Robert M. Curley

Among Radnor Township’s quaint landmarks few are as well known as the old Ithan Store standing at the intersection of Conestoga and Radnor-Chester roads. The exact date of its building is not known, but it was probably in the last quarter of the 17th century. For old records show that the first male child to be born in Radnor Township was a son of John Jarman, who purchased this property in 1688 from Richard Daves (or Davis, as it is spelled in some of the records). This little Jarman baby first saw the light of day in that part of the old building in which the store is now located, the eastern section having been erected at a somewhat later date. In 1769, at the ripe old age of eighty-five, Jarman died in this same house.

Present owners of the old store are Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Curley, who had taken over its management in 1945 for the “co-operative” formed by a number of Ithan residents when the store and Post Office located in this building seemed doomed in 1937. this group was anxious to save not only the little local store itself, but their own fourth class Post Office as well. Then in 1948 Mrs. Edward Meigs, who owned the property, decided to sell and Mr. Curley was willing to buy. But because there was not a clear title to the property he could not at first obtain a mortgage. This was because the state claimed that five feet of the land was part of the Radnor-Chester road. This would mean that four feet and four inches of the roadway actually penetrated the store building’s corner at the intersection of Radnor-Chester and Old Conestoga roads.

This situation was met in an unique manner after Bob Curley had given six months of unsuccessful effort to determine the original boundaries of the property. What information he had uncovered he turned over to Congressman William H. Milliken, who was later responsible for a special act which awarded the five feet of land along the highway to Radnor Township as long as the old building stands. The Radnor Township Commissioners in turn gave the strip of land to the store property. This made it possible for Bob Curley to purchase a property which had long been the community center of the old settlement of Ithan.

Since purchasing the property, the Curleys have had the porch which extended across the front and part of the east side of the building taken down. They have made numerous inside improvements, including the installation of an air-conditioning unit to provent some of the dampness from seeping through the 24-inch thick stone and mud-mortar walls. The building still has fireplaces in every room, including one in the cellar. Rafters are hand-hewn and floor boards are of the wide old-fashioned variety. The downstairs section of the building, which is on the corner, is used for the store and post office, while the eastern downstairs portion and the entire upstairs is used for home quarters by the Curley family.

In trying to clear the title to the property when he decided to purchase it in 1948, Mr. Curley first looked for a hidden cornerstone. After a vain search he decided it might been stolen in the period when there were a number of such thefts. This was at a time when houses seemed to sell better when they had a corner stone. And a thrifty, not to say unscrupulous, real estate dealer sometimes transferred an authentic stone from one old building to another without such a stone to hasten the sale of the latter. Next he turned to old records housed in various historical societies and libraries. In the Philadelphia Public Library he found a number of histories dealing with the early days of Delaware County, among them the “Encyclopaedia of Delaware County”, by Winfield Scott Garner; “The Welsh Settlement of Pennsylvania”, by Browning; “History of Delaware County”, by Dr. George Smith, and many others.

Among the many interesting facts that Mr. Curley uncovered was that in 1681 Richard Daves had obtained from William Penn some 500 acres of the original grant of 5000 acres of the land from Charles II of England to Penn made one year earlier. To the Colony founded by Penn had come the oppressed and persecuted of many lands. The Quakers soon surpassed all others in numbers. Some of these were of Welsh origin, a large colony settling in the “Welsh Barony”, of Montgomery and Delaware Counties.

Richard Daves’ holdings were in what is now the Ithan section of Radnor Township. In 1688 John Jarman purchased 100 of John Daves’ acres on part of which the old property now known as the Ithan Store was built. The exact date of this is unknown. But it was, Mr. Curley says, the first place of worship of the Radnor Friends Meeting, their own Meeting House across the road not having been built until 1695. This was the original edifice, the present one having been erected in 1721 after the first was destroyed by fire. In 1685 the first wedding of the Radnor Friends Meeting took place when services were still held in the little building across the road.

John Jarman was made constable of Radnor Township in 1685 and served until 1721 when he died. he was a celebrated mathematician of his time and the publisher of “The American Almanac” between 1690 and 1700.

The City Council of Philadelphia planned that the Kings Highway should go through the Jarman property soon after it was purchased by the latter. In spite of strong opposition on the part of John Jarman and various of his Welsh neighbors the road was laid in 1691. But legend has it that more than once thereafter Jarman planted his crops on the site of this road. In 1697 the Radnor-Chester Road was put through by the State of Pennsylvania.

There were originally four towns in Radnor Township including Wayne, Radnor, Radnorville and Villa Nova. The first Post Office at what is now Ithan was called Radnorville. Somewhere about 1850 this name was changed to Ithan because of the similarity between Radnor and Radnorville. And so it is to this day, although it has increased to such a size that it is now a third class Post Office instead of the original fourth class one. Mrs. Curley carries on as postmistress, while her husband runs the store.

(For the material used in this article, Mrs. Patterson wishes to acknowledge her indebtedness to Mr. Curley, whose interest in his property has brought to light many fascinating historical facts in regard to it.)


Much has appeared recently in this column concerning Strafford, our neighbor to the west. More will appear in the future concerning that old settlement, including the history of the Old Eagle School and of the large three stories building now known as Spread Eagle Mansion. In this week’s column we turn to Ithan, our neighbor to the east.

Like Wayne, Ithan was once rolling farm land. Unlike Wayne it has never grown into a consolidated and thriving community – on the other hand it has always maintained much of its rural charm, with the Conestoga road running through it and with the old Ithan Store the center of community interest. Conestoga road itself dates back more than two hundred years now, having originally been an Indian trail from the Delaware River to the Susquehanna River.

In the middle and latter part of the 19th century, after the Indians had mostly disappeared from the Pennsylvania scene, but automobiles, telephones and electricity had not yet appeared, a great part of Ithan belonged to the J. Hunter Ewing estate. Radnor was then called Morgan’s Corner, where the Chew family owned most of the land. Among other landowners were the Bories, the McCreas, the Matlacks, the Parks and the Meigs. The houses on Radnor road near the railroad, which are still occupied, were then called “Cork Row”.

Ithan itself was then a group of straggline buildings and huge farms. Going west on Conestoga road, the traveller came to the old Quaker Meeting, still an historic landmark to this day. To the East of the meeting house was the Dr. Blackfan home, while beyond it was the general store, now known as the Ithan Store operated by Robert Curley. Nearby were the saddler’s, the wheelwright’s and the blacksmith’s shops. Homes in this vicinity were those of the Ericksons, the Sloans, the Joyces and the Joseph Childs. Then there were the Sorrel Horse Inn, one of the most historic road houses in the vicinity, and the Odd Fellows Hall, the latter the Isaac Fields property.

Near Five Points was the pottery plant. Swinging from there in a southwesterly direction there were few houses until the Baptist Church was reached. Near there were the homes of the Heagys, the Lawrence Rameys, the Greens, the Litzenbergs, the Charles Pughs and the Dan Abrams. The latter was later purchased by W. Hinckle Smith, while the vast McFadden property was once Joseph Worrell’s grist mill.

The home of Anderson Kirk and that of James J. Beadle were on Ithan avenue. The property that was the blacksmith shop of Samuel McElroy at one time, later belonged to the Brownings. dan Geiger and the Heuves families lived on Lowry’s lane, while the Miller place later became the Cassat estate. On the highway near Villanova College was the McKeown farm, and nearby was the home of Frank Paul. Also on the turnpike were the properties of Peter Penn-Gaskell Hall and the Browns. The corner so long occupied by Brackbills’ farm Market was the home of Mrs. Hayward, a beautiful house built on the ruins of an earlier building destroyed by fire. The Young and Streefer families had been successive inmates of the older house.

Much of this information on Ithan and its general environs in the early seventies was given in an interview with Thomas J. Harkins that was published in The Suburban some years ago. Born in Philadelphia in 1858, Mr. Harkins threw in his lot at an early age with John H. Beadle, whose family were among the first settlers of Ithan. John Beadle at that time owned a large farm at Eagle, near Wayne, later moving to Radnor road.

During a long and useful life Tom Harkins saw many changes in Ithan, the community in which he made his home. Always active in the affairs of that community, he was for many years inspector and later the judge of elections in Ithan. He also served as registry assessor and was road forman for the Township. His business as a truck farmer carried him to all corners of the district and won him a wide circle of friends.

When the Ithan postoffice came into existence he became its first mail carrier, a position which he held until he resigned three years later. For nearly fifty years he was sexton of St. Martin’s chapel, first assuming his duties when the chapel was organized in the School house in 1893. Mr. Harkins was as familiar with the early days of Wayne as he was with that of his own community of Ithan. He remembered the old Lyceum Hall when it was located on the Turnpike near the present site of the Wayne Iron Works. He remembered this Turnpike, too, when it was a straggling, shaded, country lane. What is more, he played a part in the development as it was by J. Henry Askin and carried on by the Wayne Estate.

(Information which may be used in future succeeding articles about the Ithan district will be gratefully received by Mrs. Patterson, Windermere Court, Wayne.)