The Old Eagle School, part 2

In continuing the story of Old Eagle School in Strafford as begun in last week’s column, it is interesting to read what Sidney George Fisher has to say about the early settlement of Pennsylvania in his book, “The Making of Pennsylvania”. “Most of the English Colonies in America”, he writes, “were founded by people of pure Anlgo-Saxon stock, and each colony had usually a religion of its own, with comparatively little inter-mixture of other faiths . . . But Pennsylvania was altogether different, and no other colony had such a mixture of languages, nationalities and religions. Dutch, Swedes, English, Germans, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, Quakers, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Reformed, Mennonites, Dunkers, and Moravians, all had a share in creating it”.

Of these settlers, the Germans were decidedly the most numerous. Two divisions among them stand out prominently, the Sects or Pietists, and the Church people. The first included the Amish, the Mennonites, Shakers, Mileese, Schwenkfelders and many others. The Church people were divided between the Reformed and the Lutheran, the latter of especial local interest, since it is of them that the settlement in Tredyffrin seems to have been mainly composed. It was Lutherans who founded the first small church on the site of the present Old Eagle School, and, according to Fisher, all these Lutherans had many affiliations with the Episcopalians who at that time “looked upon them as likely to become a church in communion with themselves if not their actual converts.”

The original German pioneers were immigrant peasants, the first of that class to land in America, and very different from the English Yeomanry that settled Virginia, New England and most of the other Colonies. Many of them were very rough in manner and dress, speaking “an unintelligible dialect”. Nevertheless they took up their work of settlement in a new land in a way deserving of admiration. They became farmers, taking good care of their cattle and of their property. According to the historian, Fisher, they were “good judges of land, always selecting the best and were very fond of the limestone district”. And this was evidently one of the attractions in Tredyffrin Township.

These German settlers were not only a hard-working lot, but they were thrifty and frugal as well. When land had to be cleared, they cut down each individual tree and preserved each stick of it. When other colonists built houses with huge fireplaces at each end they used stoves for heating, stoves being of distinctly German origin, as explained in last week’s column. Fisher writes that this use of stoves “is said to have given their houses an even temperature, which enabled the women to work at various useful occupations in the long winter evenings which were passed by the wives and daughters of the other settlers in idleness, with benumbed fingers, shifting places around their romantic and wasteful fires.”

According to an article published in 1888 by Julius Sachse, to whose book, “The Wayside Inns on the Lancaster Roadside”, this column was indebted for the material for the series on the Old Spread Eagle Inn, the settlement of Germans in the present Strafford section dates back to about the middle of the eighteenth century. They were part of the group who, “with a few Swiss families, established themselves between the ‘Blue Bale’ (now ‘King of Prussia’) Inn, of Upper Merion, and ‘The Unicorn’ tavern of Radnor along the road, skirting the southern slope of the Valley Hills.

The first authentic evidence of the existence of the German colony in Tredyffrin Township is found in the deed books of Chester County, which, according to Henry Pleasants’ “History of the Old Eagle School”, indicate the purchase by Jacob Sharraden . . . from Sampson Davis and wife on March 16, 1765, of 150 acres of land in Tredyffrin, lying immediately north of the present Strafford station, Pennsylvania Railroad. This tract is part of an original purchase by Richard Hunt of Brome Yard, Hereford County, Wales, Chirugeon, from William Penn, dated March 1 and 2, 34th Charles II (1683) of five hundred acres described as in the Great Valley in said County of Chester, being bounded on the S. S. E. side with the late lands of Hugh Samuel, which would seem to indicate its extension from the Valley Hills into Radnor Township.

“The deed to Jacob Sharraden for this purchase marks the transition from the Welsh to the German settlement of the neighborhood, it is followed in March 1767, by a deed from Jacob Sharraden to his son-in-law, Christian Werkister . . . of the same premise. As these two men are undoubtedly the most prominent of the German pioneers connected with the establishment of the Old Eagle School, it is desirable here briefly to record what is known of them.”

Mr. Pleasants then goes on to say that neither of these names has been found in any of the immigrant lists. Jacob Sharraden having located in Tredyffrin in 1765, moved in about 1771 to Vincent Township where he died in about 1774. His will indicates that the testator was a religious German of some education and property. Tax lists of Tredyffrin show him to have been the proprietor of a grist mill and owner of 190 acres of land.

Christian Werkiser seems to have married Jacob Sharraden’s daughter, Margaretta. From 1776 to 1785 when he died, he apparently owned a considerable amount of real estate in Tredyffrin. It seems highly probably that he was buried in Eagle School graveyard, although no record of his burial exists on its records. However, his wife’s name is on these records.

Within a few years of the time of his purchase of a large tract of land, Christian Werkiser seems to have been disposed of it in smaller lots to Michael Walts, Peter Stidler and Jacob Huzzard. Meanwhile, from Pennsylvania Archives came an important bit of information to the effect that “when Christian Werkiser passed on the tax lists of Tredyffrin, in 1768, from a humble ‘Freeman’ . . . to the dignity of ‘Owner’ he is taxed not with 150 acres, but with only 149 acres. This discrepancy is the warrant for the belief that between 1765 and 1767 there was established by Jacob Sharraden (then the owner of the land) what seems a distinctive feature of German Protestant Settlements–a place for church and school purposes; and that he was the donor, at least of the ground, on which it was located”.

This is not the sole evidence that this early German settler gave the plot of ground on which the present historical Old Eagle School stands. Statements to that effect were given by early residents of both Tredyffrin and Willistown Townships. This rather definitely affirms the date of 1767 as the year when the first small building for church and school purposes was erected on this plot of ground just north of the present Strafford Station.

(To be continued)

The Old Eagle School, part 1 – Evening Bulletin, Martha Wentworth Suffren

“Still sits the school house by the road, a ragged beggar sunning. Not ‘ragged’ any longer. The trustees see to that. They keep the grass cut, remove a tree if one falls. But – no prayer of faith wafts upward to the blue, no childish feet scamper or scuffle through the deep doorway, even as once from Sunday School. Houses have sprung up thickly around the old building, and children there are in plenty. ‘For educational and religious purposes and for the repose of the dead.’ So runs the ancient devise, as interpreted and re-established by the court.”

So Martha Wentworth Suffren, born in Strafford in 1858, and still a resident of that historic community, concluded an article written some years ago for the “Evening Bulletin” concerning the Old Eagle School. One of the most interesting historical landmarks of rural Pennsylvania, this building stands up the hill north of Strafford Station on Old Eagle School road, which runs from Lancaster Pike crossing the tracks of the Pennsylvania Station by an underpass. The school is, according to Mrs. Suffren’s delightful account, “a quaint, almost forgotten relic of early Colonial days, with tightly shuttered windows and tightly bolted door. With the adjacent graveyard, that is a part of the demesne, where the great trees spring as often from the graves themselves as from the ground between, it makes a distinct – and pathetic – appeal to the passerby.”

Among these graves are those of many Revolutionary soldiers. Another link with that period of American history was proximity of the old school to the last of the “sentinel trees” from which during the encampment at Valley Forge direct communication was maintained with the American Army. This tree, a great chestnut over six feet in diameter, and about seventy-five feet high, was taken down when Sigmund’s Drug Store was built at the intersection of Lancaster Pike and Old Eagle School road.

The original Old Eagle School was probably built in the year 1788, as indicated by a stone set in the south gable. It was undoubtedly intended not only for a school, but for a German Protestant Church, erected by some of the early settlers of Tredyffrin and Radnor Townships who followed the original settlers who were Welshmen. The second group of settlers consisted mainly of Germans with some Swiss and even a few of the unfortunate Acadians driven from Nova Scotia. Following a custom of the home land, these Germans probably built a church before they had even completed their homes.

According to Mrs. Suffren, the original structure was only half the size of the present 33’x19′ now standing. The door, now at the south end, was then in the middle of the west side and the line of the added masonry can be plainly seen. The house as enlarged “took the place of an even older log building, used as church and school, which stood a few feet to the northward. Local tradition has it that the two structures stood side by side until 1805, when the first one was pulled down and the huge logs were used in another building now standing.”

A quaint picture in Henry Pleasants’ “History of the Old Eagle School” shows the small building as it looked in 1788. This picture, the author explains, “has been carefully prepared to conform as far as possible to the most authentic traditions of its appearance.”

Built of stone and one story in height, it had the door of which Mrs. Suffren speaks set between two westward facing windows. The window to the right was a large one, while that to the left was a narrow one. These, with two windows on the northeast side and two on the southeast side, lighted the interior. The door was a double one. Inside there were benches arranged in double rows around the side of the building, making a hollow square pen by the fireplace. Here stood the school master’s desk. At evening meetings held for community purposes, no provision was made for lighting the building except by candle or perhaps an occasional lamp. These, in accordance with the custom of the times, were brought to the building by the attendants and placed in rude wooden racks hung on the sides of the room.

Heating of the building was accomplished at first by an open wood fire, later by a ten plate stove. In this connection it is interesting to note that stoves of this type were distinctly of German origin. There were five, six and ten plate stoves according to the number of cast-iron plates composing the stoves. Five plate stoves were cast at all the furnaces in Pennsylvania from 1741 to 1760. Later these were superseded by the six-plate stove, and about 1765 ten plate stoves were put into use. But even with one of the latter. Mr. Pleasants comments that “the most zealous advocate of fresh air could hardly have complained of the ventilation of the building.”

Inside walls were entirely without plaster; window sashes “slid sidewise on the inside, as is yet often done in old barns, leaving the window ledge outside of the building. There were no shutters to these windows. The front door was secured by a long wooden bolt, slipped into place by a crooked piece of iron, passed through a hole.”

This description of the original school house of 1788 was based, not on hearsay, but on the actual description of it as given by several persons who were daily attendants there not many years later. It cannot fail to be of interest and value, Mr. Pleasants feels, “to the present favored recipients of the glorious school privileges of Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties in this twentieth century.”

(To be continued)

Ashmead’s History of Delaware County, part 3 – Louella Mansion, Wendell & Smith

Although the Louella Mansion was described in much detail in some of the very early articles of this column, it is interesting to repeat what the reporter on the Germantown “Telegraph” had to say about it in the July 2, 1884 issue of that paper. It is from his article that we have obtained much of our description of Wayne in 1884, as given recently in this column.

He calls the Louella Mansion “one of the great attractions” of the growing community, with its “magnificent surrounding grounds on the north side of Lancaster avenue”. By this time it had ceased to be the home of J. Henry Askin, who, in the middle eighties, was occupying a new and smaller home on the northwest corner of Wayne avenue and Lancaster pike. George Childs had become the owner of Louella Mansion, which he leased to Miss E. R. Boughter. A very popular summer resort, it had eighty rooms for guests who enjoyed its many privileges, including the spacious porch that looked on “as finely cultivated a lawn as can be found in the surrounding country”. The front lawn alone, facing as it did on Lancaster Pike, measured one thousand feet in length with “an abundance of shrubbery, shade trees and flower beds.”

East of Louella Mansion was the old Carpenter homestead, or “Maule Farm,” as it was sometimes called. Apparently between the latter and Louella Mansion there were large livery barns, where “the stabling arrangements were under the care of Charles R. Wetherell, the competent and experienced lessee”. These stables had stall-room for one hundred horses, with a commodious wagon-house nearby, as stated in our earlier article on Louella Mansion. They were apparently part of the Louella property, as were various other small buildings nearby.

Opposite Louella Mansion, but somewhat south of Lancaster avenue, stood the waterworks, containing a large retaining pond from which the water was pumped into the reservoir near the corner of Wayne avenue and Bloomingdale avenue, as described in last week’s column.

Next on his travels, our reporter visited Aberdeen avenue, where there were “several very superior brick cottages, with elegant terraced walks in front, and graveled foot-ways.” Although he does not say so, these houses must have been to the north of the Pike, as on the south side there are none facing on Aberdeen avenue until after it intersects St. Davids road. At any rate, all of the houses to which our chronicler refers were already finished and some of them occupied at the time of his visit. They were built on large lots and contained from “nine to twelve handsomely papered rooms, side vestibules, stained glass windows, broad porches, and spacious stairways.”

Particularly specific was our writer in his descriptions of these particular “cottages” even to the kitchen which, he said, had circular boilers, ranges and hot and cold water. Parlors had “low-down” grates and all the bedrooms had inside shutters. Also there were sliding doors between the parlors and dining rooms and between the vestibules and parlors. But most interesting of all to readers in this price-conscious age were the rental and sale prices of these houses. Dependent on size, they had a yearly rental of $360, $480 and $600. Sale prices ranged from $5,250 to $7,200 each. All could be had on easy terms.

But the particular bargain of the large building development in Wayne at that time seems to have been the small houses on North Wayne avenue which rented at $20 per month and sold for $3,000 each. Many of these are still standing and occupied although the years have brought many exterior and interior changes to almost all of them.

Before closing his article, our writer tells of “a charming piece of woodland” near St. Davids Station, which was to be “utilized for pleasure parties and picnics.” This must have been to the north of the station, as was an old stone country farm house which was then being converted into “a first class cottage” with the surrounding lot “being laid out in elegant style.”

In view of the comments made by present day newcomers to Wayne and St. Davids on the general uniformity in style of the houses built for Drexel and Childs by Wendell and Smith, the closing sentence of the Germantown “Telegraph” article seems a little surprising. “It may be mentioned here that no particular style of houses is required to be built at Wayne, and parties purchasing lots can erect any kind of building they choose, or make any disposition of their purchases they deem proper.” Apparently, however, “parties purchasing lots” must have liked the architectural plans already available as there are so many in both Wayne and St. Davids that were built alike.

The Germantown “Telegraph” was not the only newspaper to run a long feature article on Wayne’s development in the eighties. Under date of May 22, 1884, the Philadelphia “Record” had a somewhat less lengthy one which, however, brought out several points not touched on by the Germantown “Telegraph”. The former article has also been preserved in Ashmead’s “History of Delaware County”. According to the “Record”, Wayne had “perfected a drainage system which is said to be unequalled by any resort in the United States, the designs having been furnished by Colonel George F. Waring, the best posted man in the country on sanitary matters.” The use of the word “resort” is interesting in that it shows that Wayne was still considered more of a summer residential section than a permanent home one at that time.

In enlarging on Colonel Waring’s drainage system the “Record” stated that miles of distribution pipe had been laid, the water supply coming from springs at the source of Ithan Creek, while it clarified itself in the large reservoir on Bloomingdale avenue that was described in last week’s column. It seems, too, that a nursery was laid out for young sprigs, which according to the “Record” were “tenderly cared for in this little patch until they had acquired enough age to be transplanted along the banks of the creek in a pretty park”. In North Wayne, plans were under way to use the waters of Gulf Creek just as those of Ithan Creek were used in South Wayne.

At that time the Lancaster Pike from Philadelphia to Paoli had recently been purchased by a corporation headed by A. J. Cassatt for what seems nowadays the very modest sum of $7,500. However, the corporation had immediately $70,000 worth of improvements on it. The “Record” pays its tribute to these improvements by stating that “Today there is not in America a driving road of equal length that compares with it.” At that time the new homes in Wayne and St. Davids stood forty feet back of the street line, showing how narrow even the improved highway was.

The closing paragraph of the “Record” article bears quoting in full. “Real estate men say that the tendency of purchasers of country homes along the Pennsylvania Railroad is beyond Bryn Mawr, and they attribute this to three facts, –the lower prices, higher elevation, and the extensive improvements at Wayne and other places near by. In six years the value of real estate fringing the Pennsylvania Railroad from the country line to a point near Paoli has appreciated nearly $30,000,000. All this started with the purchase of 600 acres near White Hall by the Pennsylvania Railroad 13 years ago (1871). Within three years the advance in price along the line has been very rapid. Properties that sold in 1880 for $500 an acre have been recently disposed of for $1200 and some pieces of ground have gone at $4200 an acre.”


(The writer of this column wishes to extend her thanks to Mr. Richard Barringer for the loan of his “History of Delaware County” over an extended period of time.)

Ashmead’s History of Delaware County, part 2 – Bellevue Mansion

In last week’s column we gave you a block-by-block description of Wayne as it appeared to the eyes of a reporter on the “Germantown Telegraph” in the summer of 1884. Henry Graham Ashmead has preserved for posterity in his “History of Delaware County”, the article as it appeared in that paper under date of July 2 of that year.

In this column’s resume of the reporter’s (or perhaps he was a special feature writer) description we had come as far as the corner of Lancaster Pike and Bellevue avenue last week. There was a well drawn word picture of the famous Bellevue Mansion of one hundred rooms located on the northeast corner of what is now Bellevue avenue and the Pike. And across the road were seven or eight new “cottages” under construction.

Evidently there was no Bellevue avenue at that time. For it was “adjoining Bellevue Mansion on the west” that Mr. Theodore Gugert of the firm of Bergner and Engel had purchased a lot one hundred feet by three hundred feet, on which he was erecting “an elegant cottage”. This cottage, which we of today consider a house of goodly proportions, still remains in excellent condition. Perhaps some of its original frontage has been sacrificed to make room for the large building which now houses Jackson Chevrolet’s show room and offices. However, that ground and that which is now taken up by Bellevue avenue itself, were probably originally part of the grounds of Bellevue Mansion.

Next to the Gugert residence was a lot on which “Dr. Egbert, a young physician of Radnor Township . . . is also building a fine stone cottage” according to our chronicler. This is the large white stucco house with the white pillars so different in type of architecture from many of its neighbors that it is difficult to associate it with that period of the middle eighties. Occupied for many years by Dr. Joseph Crawford Egbert, well known Wayne physician and a long time member of the Radnor Township School Board, it has seen many successive owners since that time. The house has now been converted into apartments.

By way of passing, our reporter states that Dr. Egbert at the time had medical charge of the young Indian girls at the Spread Eagle Inn, near his cottage. This old hostel built in the late 1700’s, had been purchased by Mr. Childs “to stop the sale of liquor near his bailiwick”, so it is said. The new owner had lent it for a country home for the young Indian wards of the Lincoln Institute. Mrs. Belanger Cox was in charge of these children who in the middle eighties were enjoying “plenty of comforts and conveniences, and every opportunity for outdoor exercise, without being interfered with by outsiders.”

After leaving the Spread Eagle Inn, our reporter went along Old Conestoga road to its intersection with Wayne avenue. Here in the vicinity of the old Baptist Church, Messrs. Childs and Drexel were ofering building lots of 150 feet frontage and “considerable depth” priced at $800 to $1500 each. They were near “the spacious and substantial reservoir” located at the corner of old Wayne road and Bloomingdale avenue. Built at a cost of $30,000, this reservoir had “a capacity for 300,000 gallons of pure spring water, of which there is an abundant supply on the estate”. It is described as standing 450 feet above tidewater, and supplied by “extensive and costly water works.” It was evidently not only of great use, but also of great ornament to the community as there was “an elegant promenade on top, provided with rustic seats”.

Along Wayne avenue from Bloomingdale to Audubon avenues, there were a number of new brick and stone cottages on either side. According to our chronicler they were “very superior and provided with all modern conveniences”, some having fronts of 85 feet by 250 feet depth. They were to be sold for $5500, “clear of all incumbrance” and our description continues, “each cottage is by itself, and there is plenty of privacy.” These houses still line both sides of West Wayne avenue. The Saturday Club, which stands in their midst, was not built until 1898.

Before commenting on what is now the “business block”, our reporter states that there were “several available building lots” as he looked up Windermere avenue to the right after crossing Audubon avenue. These are now occupied by such buildings as the Radnor Township Schools, Windermere Court Apartments and a number of private dwellings.

The site of the present Sun Ray Drug Store was occupied in 1884 by the “new and handsome” drug store of J. M. Fronefield, Jr., next door to which was the building still occupied by Lienhardt’s Bakery, as it was originally. Across the Pike and next to the Lyceum, was the “costly, well-built Presbyterian Church”, of which the Reverend William Kruse was the pastor. Across the street from the Church and to the east of Lienhardt’s Bakery were several “splendid cottages . . . built of brick with slate roofs, ten rooms, wide porches, fine lawns and luxuriously fitted up.” If the present day passerby looks across the Pike from the sidewalk in front of the Church, he may see in the second and third stories of the stores in the business block, what now remains of those “splendid cottages”. For obviously the upper stories of many of the stores like Lafferty’s, Wack’s, the Delaware Market House, and many others were originally part of homes, not business houses.

But in 1884, the Pike was a narrow, three shaded road. These houses stood well back from it on spacious, weel kept lawns, wehere the grass was green and the planting luxurious. Somehow it is hard to imagine . . . but it was all part of an era before that of the swift moving passenger automobile and the heavy lumbering trucks that go their way by day and by night along the Highway. Those were the “horse and buggy days”, still clear in the memories of a few.

And at the end of that block, where Louella avenue intersects Lancaster avenue, stood the spacious home of one of Wayne’s prominent citizens, James Pinkerton, an official of the Bank of North America, in Philadelphia. What now remains of the once handsome building may best be seen from Louella avenue as one looks up at the large brick dwelling which forms the back of the former Halligan Store and of LaFrance Cleaners, and overlooks the school field. Until recently used as an apartment house, it now stands condemned for present occupancy, many of its windows shattered and desolate in its emptiness.