Agricultural past

Last spring when I was describing in this column Wayne as it was in the seventies and early eighties, I quoted from notes of Joseph M. Fronefield, Jr., who came here in 1881 to start a small drug store on the eastern end of Lyceum Hall. The latter was the nucleus of the large old building now standing on the northeast corner of Wayne avenue and Lancaster Pike. Mr. Fronefield had written “The surrounding country was farm land. I could look out the drug store door (it had no window on the pike) and see cattle grazing in the meadow where the business block fire house and school houses now stand.” This was part of what was known as the Siter Farm. This was but one of many farms in this vicinity, among them the Izzacki Fritz place, the Mifflin’s, the Wilds’ the George’s, the the Jones’, the Ramsey’s, the Cleaver’s, (later the Hugh’s) and others of which the writer has no written record.

Evidently the entire Main Line looked much as Wayne did, according to the quaintly worded description of it as given in the “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad”, printed in 1855, from which I quoted last week. In describing the route of the railroad from Philadelphia to Paoli, it says “The country through which we have passed is thickly dotted with neat farmhouses and barns, and all sorts of comfortable out-houses 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, thorough the luxuriant grass, are spring-houses. 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 pans, and those are placed in the clear cool water of those 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 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, how rich soever it may be, can ever produce butter equal to that made in the rolling counties around the city of Philadelphia.” (In this connection I recall almost the first request made by my husband’s grandmother, a woman then already in her eighties, when she visited us in Wayne many years ago. She would like to see the Chester Valley, she said, because she had 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 as given almost a hundred years ago I feel it should be quoted just as it was written. Few, if any, of my readers have failed to feel the breathtaking, yet homely beauty of the valley extending as it does “easterly and westerly some 20 miles in length and averages 2 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 house and barn. This valley is noted for its fertility and beautiful farms. As the cars descend the hill, on an easy grade, the passenger may take in at one view many miles of this magnificent panorama, interspersed with comfortable and neat farm-houses, 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 there 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.”

Thus was the beautiful and fertile countryside of our Main Line section a century or more ago.