During the past weeks the historic part of our present neighboring suburb of Strafford has been recreated in many of its picturesque aspects for our readers, through descriptions of the old Spread Eagle Inn and the settlement of Siterville, which grew up around it. Much of the historic interest and importance of our locality centers around this old settlement, the name of which came from early owners of the Inn, the Siter family, whose descendants later became large landowners in Radnor township.
As the Pennsylvania Railroad increased in importance, travel along the old highway gradually decreased and the importance of even the finest of the old wayside inns, such as the Spread Eagle, diminished until many of them fell into disuse.
The first station of the Railroad to be located in the general vicinity of old Siterville was known as Eagle Station, which in its original form is remembered by only a few of the oldest residents of Strafford. Among them is Martha Wentworth Suffren, to whom the writer is indebted for her information on Eagle station which, as explained in last week’s column, took its present name of Strafford from the family estate of Mrs. Suffren’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Langdon Wentworth.
The old station stood near a grade crossing about one-third of a mile west of the site of the present Strafford station, at a point where the old Lancaster road crossed the two-track line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The building Mrs. Suffren describes as a substantial one, built of brick and two stories in height, the lower floor divided into two rooms. The one on the West side served as the passenger waiting room and was heated by a coal stove. The Eastern room housed the express office, the telegraph office and the “Spread Eagle” Post Office, all presided over most efficiently by Miss Annie Bloomer.
A few feet to the west stood a large stone house built in 1762, where for many years Mrs. Miflin Lewis, her daughter, Louise, and another daughter, Mrs. Rush, ran a very successful boarding house. At present this is the home of the Rosato family. At one time an uncovered bridge extended from the second floor of the boarding house to the second floor of the station building, showing that the upper floor of the station was used as an extension to the boarding house.
A few may still remember the Lewis boarding house, where many prominent Philadelphia families summered in the days, now long past, when it was noted for its abundant and delicious food. Before the introduction of the Springfield water system, all the water for use throughout the large house came from a pump that stood in the yard between the station and the boarding house. This water was pumped and carried by a squat and elderly colored man known as “Old Charlie”. Near the pump stood a Paulownia tree which cast its blue flowers over the ground in the late Summer. The Spread Eagle Post office took its name form the Old Inn which was about a third of a mile east of Eagle Station.
In the late 1860’s and early 1870’s the Pennsylvania Railroad had many plans for local improvements in the system, most of which were carried out. In 1871 they straightened the line of the road and at about the same period elevated the road bed for several miles, so as to lessen “the tug of the upgrade that the engines had to make to reach a height of 540 feet at Paoli.”
The four-tracked road replacing the two-tracked one as far as Devon was finished in 1886. This meant doing away with all grade crossings, including the one at Old Eagle Station. Since it was impossible to tunnel under the railroad there, due to the steep upgrade, ground to the East was bought from Mr. Wentworth. This allowed for the necessary tunnelling. After World War I, the grade of the Old Lancaster road, west of the former grade crossing, was lowered three feet as part of a WPA project.
Strafford Station in its present form is a relic of the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition held in 1876, where it was originally known as the Japanese Building. Built by Japanese workmen, it was put together with wooden pegs instead of iron nails. When the Pennsylvania Railroad first bought it at the close of the Centennial, they placed it at Wayne. However, in 1887 it was moved westward to Eagle, after the Drexel and Childs real estate development made a larger station at Wayne imperative. Soon thereafter the name of Eagle was changed to Strafford.
Mrs. Suffren also tells an interesting tale of the naming of Daylesford Staiton, which centers around one Warren Hastings, an Englishman born in 1732, who 18 years later went to India, where he took employment in the famous East India Company. In recognition of his efficiency he was appointed Governor General of British India in 1774. His rule, while severe, was a just one, which however, brought impeachment proceedings against him by Edmund Burke.
He returned to England, where his trial dragged out until 1795, when he was cleared of all accusations. however, he had spent all his fortune in his defense and in consequence was penniless. With an annuity for life from the East India Company, in addition to a large load, he bought an English estate which he named “Daylesford”. One of his interested friends in the United States was Richard Graham, who had bought a large tract of ground near the present station of Daylesford. When the railrad sought a name for its new station Mr. Graham suggested Daylesford, in honor of his friend. And by that name it is known today.