The small house built by a Welshman named Lavis in about 1648 with the acreage around it, which is now the home of Miss Emily Exley, on Radnor State road, remained in the Lavis family until 1702. In that year it was sold to John Davis, a silversmith residing in Philadelphia, where he had owned his own small shop. From that life to one of a hard-working farmer on the edge of Chester Valley must indeed have been a change to the new owner of this property.
The town from which he came was then but twenty years old, having been laid out in 1682 by Captain Markham and a small company who had been sent there the year previous by William Penn. In 1683 it was reinforced by a company of Germans, who upon Penn’s suggestion, settled a few miles up the Schuylkill River at what was later known as Germantown. By 1685 the Philadelphia settlement was in a thriving condition with about 200 buildings and some 2400 inhabitants, largely Quakers, with Germans second in numerical strength. Such faith did Penn have in his “City of Brotherly Love” that he delegated to the inhabitants more privileges and powers than the colonists possessed in any other colony.
Absolute religious freedom was the most important and, for those times, the most remarkable concession. All Christians holding certain amounts of property were to be eligible voters and officeholders. Soon after Penn’s arrival in the Colony in 1682 an assembly held at Upland formally adopted Penn’s plan of government. In 1683 Penn made his “Great Treaty” with the Indians, an agreement that preserved Pennsylvania from Indian hostilities during Penn’s lifetime.
To the Colony thus founded came the oppressed and persecuted of many countries. Quakers soon surpassed all others in members. Some of them were of Welsh stock, a large colony settling in the “Welsh Barony” in Montgomery and Delaware Counties which was later to become part of our present Main Line section. By 1699 Philadelphia had grown to be a town of 4500 people and of over 700 residences. In 1701 Penn chartered his “City of Brotherly Love.” It was in 1702 that
John Davis, silversmith, left this rapidly growing community on the Schuylkill to become a farmer on the land formerly owned by the Welsh family of Lavis.
John Davis and his family owned the land for thirty-four years. In 1736, Thomas Davis, John’s son, sold the family holdings to Isaac Walker. The latter not only farmed the land, but built a grist mill for which he had found there was great demand. As a source of power he used the stream that now runs between the house and the road. In the first century after the settlement of Pennsylvania the comparatively simple needs of its people were supplied by individual artisans among them. Along the stream mills driven by the weight and mountain of falling water sawed the logs, ground the flour and fueled the woven cloth.
After a few years of farming and of running his mill Isaac Walker sold his holdings to Philip Eillers, who greatly developed and improved the original small grist mill. It is more than likely that Eillers himself ground corn for the soldiers of the American Army during the Revolutionary War. For certain it is that many of their members were encamped almost in sight of the Eillers place during the dreadful winter of 1777-78, when Washington held his cold and hungry troops together at Valley Forge, preparatory to his march on Philadelphia.
Originally the Lavis homestead had consisted of one hundred and seventeen acres. This was kept intact until 1784, when one Benjamin Jones “lawfully seized” fifty-seven acres from Phillip Eillers. It is not known what claim he laid to the land, as it is not recorded in the deeds. It is possible, however, that he was some relation to Isaac Walker, Philip Eillers’ predecessor. The log cabin and the grist mill were included in the fifty-seven acres.
When Benjamin Jones died in 1815, he left provisions in his will for thirty-six acres to be sold by his executors. In carrying out his instructions they sold two acres to a Richard Sands. When they were about to sell the rest a Charles Jones lawfully claimed the remaining thirty-four acres by proving that he was a son of Benjamin Jones. Perhaps the latter had good reason not to include Charles in his will, for it was only five years before Charles was in debt to such an extent that he forfeited the whole property to John Mitchell. The latter took the case to the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County.
Strangely enough, however, John Mitchell and his wife, Mary, had no use for the land after it had been awarded them. For a year later, in 1821, they sold it to James Bard Patterson. In 1823 Richard Sands also sold his acreage to Patterson, who had now bought most of the land around the grist mill, including the miller’s house and the grist mill itself. This mill was immediately converted into a small woolen factory, making use of the same mill race that had been utilized to run the mill. With his wife Matilda, James Patterson ran the woolen mill for twenty years.
When the latter retired in 1841, he sold the whole property to Richard Martin and his wife Hannah, who operated the mill very successfully until some time between 1860 and 1870. In 1871 Martin died, leaving his wife a widow for ten years. When she died in 1881 the seven Martin children inherited the land. Upon Mr. Martin’s death the old woolen factory had fallen into disuse. Eight acres were sold in 1882 by the heirs to the second oldest brother, William Martin. After that the rest of the land was divided into two lots, the one containing the log cabin being sold in 1883 to William B. Morris and Jacob Morris. The latter had bought the land as a lumber speculation. When in 1898 Jacob Morris died, his portion was sold to Phoebe Morris. When the lumber was exhausted the land was divided into three farms. When William Morris died in 1914 a number of close relatives inherited his property.
The other lot of land to be sold by Richard Martin’s children went ot the Lincoln Institution in 1885. This indian school used the woodland as a camp for their boys in summer. In 1922, heirs of William Morris divided their holdings into three portions, two of which were bought by Miss Emily Exley and the other by Hy Gage, of Philadelphia. He in turn sold to Miss Peacock.
The additions Miss Exley made to the humble little cottage of 1648 were described in last week’s column. Suffice to say that they have been built in such a way as to harmonize with the original small home which Miss Exley has kept almost intact and which she calls “Cherry Garth” (Garth meaning an enclosure). The illustration used with this article shows the charm of the whole structure. Seldom open to the public, Saturday afternoon (May 13) affords an opportunity to everyone who is interested to see the house and the gardens which will be open to the public at a Garden Fete and Country Fair to be held for the benefit of the anniversary fund of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, under the auspices of the Soroptimist Club of the Main Line. In case of rain this affair will be postponed to May 20.
(For her information the writer is indebted to notes given her by Miss Exley and to a number of reference book sent her by the Wayne Memorial Library.)