”Cherry Garth”, part 1 – Miss Emily Exley


(Because Miss Emily Exley, the well known landscape architect is opening her beautiful gardens and log cabin home, “Cherry Garth”, built about 1648, to the public on Saturday, May 13, we are interrupting this column’s series of articles on the Old Spread Eagle Inn to tell our readers of one of the oldest houses, perhaps the very oldest, in this vicinity. A garden Fete and Country Fair will be held on the above date (or on May 20 in case of rain) for the benefit of the Woman’s Medical College, under the auspices of the Soroptimist Club of the Main Line. The story of the Spread Eagle Inn will be resumed shortly.)–

Few among us who are driving from Wayne toward Chester Valley along Radnor State Road (route 252) fail to notice the lovely white cottage known as “Cherry Garth”, set as it is against a woodland background, with a small stream cascading its way between house and road. But perhaps not many outside Miss Emily Exley’s wide circle of friends know that the two-room log cabin, which forms the nucleus of her home, dates back some thirty years before William Penn received the grant of land, from Charles II of England, which was later to become the great state of Pennsylvania.

Built about 1648 by an early Welsh settler, the original log cabin consisted of two rooms, with a large open fireplace in the Northern room. Through the years that ensued, ownership of the log cabin changed many times. But it was never without its occupants, none of whom altered greatly either its exterior or its interior.

In 1922, when the house with some of the surrounding acreage was purchased by Miss Exley, she kept the original structure almost intact, gaining larger living quarters only by the addition of two wings, each constructed in harmony with the simplicity of the little home built almost three hundred years earlier. Though there are no pictures of this first little log cabin, it must have looked very much as it is shown in the sketch made by Jean Stineman, of St. Davids, which is reproduced with this article.

Four years after her original purchase, Miss Exley bought additional acreage which had at one time been the woodland which the Lincoln Institute had used for their Summer Camp for Indian boys. Additions to the house were all built from wood from trees on the place, while stones came from the tumbled-down ruins of the old grist mill which was built in the early years of the eighteenth century and operated with the stream as a source of power. The lovely gardens now surrounding the house are planted almost entirely with flowers and shrubbery native to this section of the country.

The man who first cleared the land and built the small cabin which was to endure for so many years was a Welshman named Lavis, in whose family possession it remained until 1702, when one of his descendants, David Lavis, sold the property to John Davis, of Philadelphia. The original Lavis must have made his way by Indian trails to the spot where he built the home for his family from materials near at hand. Very quaint and interesting to the eyes of the present day observers are the unevenly spaced windows, the floors at different levels, with some of the ceilings higher at one end of the room than at the other. All beams are hand hewn.

Five years before Lavis built his small home, white men made their first permanent settlement in what is now Pennsylvania when Swedes and Finns came to Tinicum Island on the Delaware River. This was in 1643, and so rapidly did the colony grow that by 1645 there were not only houses, but a church in Tinicum.

Pennsylvania differed from all other early American colonies in that many settlements were made within her borders and many races contributed to her people. Its written history begins with the chronicles of Captain John Smith, of Virginia, who in 1608 sailed up Chesapeake Bay to its head and then two miles further up the Susquehanna River until his small craft was stopped by rocks.

< In 1609 Henry Hudson sailed from Holland on the “Half Moon” and entered what is now known as Delaware Bay when he cast anchor. After he had reported back to his native country on a land rich in furs, the Dutch immediately claimed the section which Hudson had visited. The Dutch West India Company was chartered by the Dutch Government.

Later the Swedes disrupted their rights, naming a large tract of land on both sides of the Delaware River “New Sweden.” In 1644 two Swedish vessels reached New Sweden. A third came in 1646 and a fourth in 1648, the year in which the Welshman Lavis was building his log cabin. In 1664 Dutch and Swedish dominion was ended forever by the advent of the English.

In 1680 William Penn petitioned King Charles II for a grant of land for houses for Quakers who were undergoing persecution in England. His petition was granted with the gift of a large tract of land which its owner named “Penn’s Woods” or Pennsylvania. This, in brief, is the history of this great state in the time when Lavis and his immediate descendants were cultivating the land around the small log cabin on the outskirts of what is now Chester Valley.

If Lavis had any of his own countrymen as close neighbors, there is no record of it. It is much more lively that those with whom he came in contact most frequently were the Indians who occupied the fertile lands of Pennsylvania before encroaching white settlers drove them farther West.

Only two tribes lived in this part of the country at that time – the Algonquin tribe along the Delaware River and the Iroquois tribes along the Susquehanna and the Ohio rivers. These were the hunters and the fishermen, the wonderful woodsmen whom the English and French first met. On the whole they were a peaceful lot, among whom war was not frequent before the advent of the White Men. Strange as it may seem, North America has never been as thoroughly a country of farmers as it was before the coming of the white men to its shores. Though agricultural implements were of the crudest character, sometimes merely a stone or a shell, or even a bone attached to a piece of wood, their crops were varied and plentiful. Corn, tobacco, beans, squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, peanuts, gourds, sunflowers and cotton were raised by many of the tribes, with the work done mostly by the women. Some of these same crops may have been among those that the Welshman Lavis raised.

(To Be Continued)