A charming sketch of “Old St. David’s at Radnor”, where Amy Oakley’s grandmother came so faithfully with “her little brood” each Sunday, illustrates the chapter on “The Main Line and Valley Forge” in the Oakley’s book of “Our Pennsylvania”.
Few, if any, among the readers of this column have failed to visit this historic spot. To many it is a pilgrimage frequently made. Most famous of the many graves in the churchyard that surrounds the little stone edifice on three sides, is that of Mad Anthony Wayne, for whom our community is named. His “madness”, comments Mrs. Oakley, “consisted of fearlessness”. Standing but a few miles from St. David’s Church is “Waynesborough”, where Anthony Wayne was born in 1745. Begun by his grandfather in 1724, and added to in 1765, the original house is still occupied by a descendant of the Wayne famly.
Another old church in our immediate vicinity of which Mrs. Oakley writes and of which her husband has made a delightful sketch, is Radnor Friends’ Meeting House, “dominant above Ithan Creek” on Conestoga road at Ithan. Dating form 1718, this house of worship was used as quarters for officers during the Revolutionary War as well as for a soldiers’ hospital with food and fuel supplied by Radnor Friends. Since 1939 the structure has housed the Radnor United Monthly Meeting.
As the Oakleys traverse this general vicinity they recall the old grist mills once so abundant in the neighborhood. One still in operation is the Great Valley Mill established in 1710 on North Valley road in Paoli. On the estate connected with it are the famous rock gardens known to many of us as the property of Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Colley. Other rapidly vanishing landmarks of the Main Line are the taverns which “once punctuated every mile of the coach road to Lancaster.” The Old Buch at Haverford, while still in good repair, is no longer an inn, nor is the General Warren at Malvern. The “hoary Sorrel Horse”, at Ithan, built in 1768, Mrs. Oakley recalls to our memories as an historic hostelry which often sheltered Washington and Lafayette. It is now a private house. The General Wayne Inn, which adjoins Merion Friends’ Meeting, still fulfills its original purpose.
Several pages of “Our Pennsylvania” are devoted to Valley Forge Park, site of the winter encampment of General George Washington and the Continental Army in 1777-1778. Even more familiar to most of our readers than the winter scene at Valley Forge is that of the blooming of dogwood there, which, according to tradition should begin on the tenth of May. It was from Valley Forge stock that the first pink dogwood was developed, according to Mrs. Oakley, “the white being a wide-spread native of the hills of Pennsylvania”. As all of us who have ever attempted a pilgrimage by automobile to Valley Forge in May recall, it is then that “cars from every state converge to see the glory of the hills bathed in clouds of pink and white”.
From the chapter on “The Main Line and Valley Forge”, the Oakleys pass on to one entitled “Vignettes of Chester County”. An exquisite full length sketch of the Mill at Chadds Ford with Howard Pyle in the foreground prefaces this chapter which is headed by a smaller sketch of the oldest house in Downingtown. This is a log cabin, said to date from about 1710, though many believe, Mrs. Oakley tells us, that “from its expert construction . . . it may have been erected still earlier by the Swedes, who introduced the log house with mortised corners into this continent”. Downingtown takes its name from an old grist mill, dating from 1739, owned by one Thomas Downing, a Quaker.
West Chester, linked with East Downington “by a road through rural pasture where contented Holsteins chew their cud in meadows beside the Brandywine”, is next on the Oakley itinerary. Originally a little village known as Turks Head, its well known tavern, West Chester “has been the seat of Chester County since 1786. It was two years later that it changed its original name to its later one, adopting the name of West Chester, since it was “west of Chester”. Among its present points of interest, Mrs. Oakley enumerates State Teachers College, Westtown School and Cheyney State Teachers College, founded by Quakers as an institution for colored youth.
On the east bank of the Brandywine is the Village of Chadds Ford, named for John Chad (original spelling), who established a ferry there in 1737. The original Chad homestead is the subject of a well known painting by a Chadds Ford native, Andrew Wyeth, son of N. C. Wyeth, the late distinguished illustrator and mural painter.
Among the illustrations for this chapter on Chester County is one of the quaint old octagonal school house at Birmingham Meeting, near Chadds Ford. This school building dates back to 1753. Like Kennett Meeting House, Birmingham Meeting was in the historic battle area. Nearby Kennett Square is a flourishing present day community known as the largest mushroom-growing area in the United States.
A description of Longwood concludes this Chester County chapter. According to Mrs. Oakley “it rivals Verailles as to gardens and fountains, while the conservatory in its vast extent and the glory of its floral contents seems unbelievable–the ultimate creation of a conjurer’s wand”. An interesting historical note in connection with Longwood is that the original land was conveyed by William Penn to George Pierce whose son built the house occupied by the present owner, though now doubled in size by the addition of a twin mansion. According to our historian, the “long wood”, from which the early Quakers took the name, has largely disappeared, but many of the rare trees date back to plantings made in 1800 by the Pierces.
Our own historic Delaware County comes next on the Oakley itinerary before they leave this general vicinity for more distant parts of “Our Pennsylvania”.
(To be Continued)