Views traveling on the Pennsylvania Railroad

The last two issues of “Your Town and My Town” contained descriptions of the original route of the Main Line section of the Pennsylvania Railroad, with a listing of its stations between the “old depot on the Delaware River at the foot of Market Street” to “the Paoli, 20 miles on our journey” when “the train frequently stops for refreshments.”

The “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad,” printed in 1855, not only lists all these stations, but also describes in charming fashion the countryside through which their trains passed. Little more than 100 years have gone by in the interim, yet the changes have been so great that the earlier description seems that of some far off country rather than our Main Line section of a century ago.

Written in an informal, almost conversational style, the article states that “the country through which we have passed is thickly settled, dotted with neat farmhouses and barns, and all sorts of comfortable outhouses for pigs and poultry, sheep, cattle and horses. The large fields of grain and grass which greet one’s eyes in the summer season, the herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep everywhere to be seen, indicate great agricultural thrift in the inhabitants of Delaware, Montgomery and Chester counties, through which we have been passing.

“The small white-washed stone houses which we may observe at a short distance from the dwelling, are generally situated under outspreading branches of some ancient oak or willow, with a crystal brook stealing away through the luxuriant grass. We may observe the patient cows standing around with their white udders swollen with milk, waiting to yield it to the milkmaid’s pail, from which it is poured into earthen or tin pails, and those are placed in the clear cool water of the spring-houses where the rich cream is formed for the butter.

“From these houses is taken the far-famed Philadelphia butter, superior to that, it is said, of any other city in the world. The secret of its superiority lies in the green grass peculiar to this rolling country and the cool springs that rise from its hills. No prairie land can ever produce butter equal to that made in the rolling counties around the city of Philadelphia.” (In this connection, it is interesting to this columnist to recall the first request made by her husband’s grandmother, a woman then already in her 80’s, when she first visited in Wayne many years ago. She would like to see the Chester Valley, she said, because she had always heard “what good butter they made there.”)

Those of us who travel west along the Lancaster pike in our automobiles nowadays are familiar with the beauty of the scene that stretches for miles before our eyes, soon after we pass Paoli, “the celebrated Chester county limestone valley” as it is called in our booklet. Because of the quaint wording of that description given, the writer feels that it should be quoted just as it was written.

Few, if any of our readers have failed to feel the breathtaking, yet homey beauty of the valley extending as it does “easterly and westerly some 20 miles in length and averaging two miles in width. It is skirted on both sides with high hills covered with timber, from which issue innumerable springs of pure water, converted into perpetual fountains in the valley, and affording a never-failing supply for man and beast at the home and barn. As the railroad cars descend the hill, on an easy grade, the passengers may take in at one view many miles of this magnificent panorama, interspersed with comfortable and neat farmhouses, spacious barns, and other necessary buildings. Hundreds of fields of waving grain, the deep green corn and luxuriant timothy and clover, pass in review before him.

“Here the farmers may be seen driving their teams a-field, and their cattle, horses and sheep feeding in the pasture or reclining under the trees. This valley supplies the finest beef for the Philadelphia and New York markets. The cattle are brought when poor, from the regions of the north and the west, and fattened here in the rich pastures of Pennsylvania. The beef of Philadelphia, like the butter, is nowhere else to be found.”

This was the beautiful and fertile country-side of our Main Line a century and more ago.

Cleaver’s Gate (Landing), Wayne Railroad Station in 1860s, Libertyville

Wayne Railroad Station, with surrounding cornfield, in the 1860’s.
Wayne Railroad Station, with surrounding cornfield, in the 1860’s.

Two weeks ago, in “Your Town and My Town” we quoted from a quaint little book, published in 1855, concerning the early days of the Pennsylvania Railroad. We had taken our readers from the old depot, located on the Delaware River at the foot of Market street, past Hestonville, Libertyville and Athensville, to White Hall, ten miles from the city.

Mr. Herbert S. Casey, who lent this writer this old “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad,” explains that Hestonville was a little village near what is now 52d street, in Philadelphia. His grandfather, Francis Cope Yarnall, was much interested in the well-known little Episcopalian Church in this section.

Libertyville is our present suburb of Narberth, while Athensville later became Ardmore. Athens avenue still commemorates the old name. White Hall, later became Bryn Mawr, although the location of the railroad station was considerably changed from its original site near the present Bryn Mawr College.

The description of the old route of the Main Line trains continues, “We may observe to the left a large building with an extensive lawn, and a handsome wood between it and the railroad. This is the Haverford College, belonging to an association of Friends, where a classical education may be obtained… we next pass on to the station of Villa Nova (a Roman Catholic College), Morgan’s Corner and the Eagle, and arrive at the Paoli, 20 miles on our journey. The train frequently stops here for refreshments. Near this place 150 Americans, under General Wayne, were killed and wounded on the night of the 20th of December, 1777, by a detachment of English under General Gray. This action is frequently called the Paoli ‘Massacre’.”

In order to clarify this description, written more than 100 years ago, the present writer adds the following facts: First of all, Villanova retains its original name, while Morgan’s Corner has now become Radnor. In regard to the name of “The Eagle,” now Strafford, the writer obtained much authentic information from the late Mrs. Charles Carroll Suffren, one of the oldest residents of the section, who died this month just before her 99th birthday.

In reference to old taverns along the Main Line, Mrs. Suffren wrote that “the Eagle was known as ‘The Spread Eagle’ and the post office at Eagle Station, midway between Strafford and Devon was also so called, taking its name from the old tavern.”

Wayne is not on the 1855 map. It may have been a little later that trains began to stop to take on milk at the Cleaver Farm, later known as the William Wood property and now a nursing home located on East Lancaster avenue. The milk stop was called “Cleaver’s Gate” or “Cleaver’s Landing.” Later this became Louella and then Wayne.

The first station was a large, square wooden pillar laid on its side, where passengers sat while they waited to flag the train. An old wagon bed, which took the place of this pillar, was burned one Fourth of July. Then a small box-like station was built with a house attached, in which the ticket agent lived. J. Henry Askin, one of Wayne’s pioneers, of whom much has been written in this column, is said to have had a private waiting room in this station for his family. Until a short time ago, this old frame station, which had been enlarged from time to time, stood to the rear of the Wayne Hotel, now the church house of the Wayne Presbyterian Church.

(To be continued)