Township Treasurer Tryon L. Steele memoirs: 1890’s, the Old Store, “New” school on Robert L. Montgomery place in Ithan, Continental Army

Your columnist spent an interesting evening last week with Mr. Tryon L. Steele of the Township Treasurer’s office, in his pleasant home on Brookside avenue, discussing Radnor as it was in the very early 90’s. It was at this period that Mr. Steele worked six days a week at the Old Store in Radnor, returning only on Saturday nights to his own home at the Tryon Lewis place, on Darby Creek, in Ithan.

The rest of the week he boarded at the Old Store. Ten o’clock was the closing hour on Saturday nights and he still recalls how dark and difficult the ride was between Radnor and Ithan, along an unlighted road, on a bicycle without a light. The first modern type of bicycle was just coming into use at that time, with the disappearance of the less practical and more dangerous “ordinary”, as the early type with the big front wheel was called.

Young Steele’s school days, spent first in the school in the Ithan store and later in the “new” school on the present Robert L. Montgomery place in Ithan, were over by then. Although he did not attend one of Radnor township’s earliest schools, that on King of Prussia road, (now Ryan’s service station) he still recalls vividly the small stone building as it looked in the early 90’s with Miss Buzby as one of the teachers.

As Mr. Steele and your columnist examined together the original of the picture of the Old Store, reproduced in the June 25 issue of “The Suburban”, he studied the group of men and boys shown standing in front of it. Although the picture antedates Mr. Steele’s time at the Old Store, he identified positively the man at the extreme right as Peter Pechin, father of the late Nathan P. Pechin, one-time sheriff of Delaware county. The man on the extreme left he thinks was Tryon Lewis, standing near his horse and buggy. These two were well-known to the young boy, who helped Oscar Dillin sell everything from groceries to shoes in the latter’s “general store.”

Like many another country stores of its time, this one at Radnor was a friendly gathering place for everyone in the neighborhood. Early in the mornings the farmers drove their wagons to Radnor Station to ship their milk into the city. Afterwards, they congregated in the Old Store for a bit of gossip and a discussion of the news of the day. Mr. Steele remembers particularly Joe Dillin, uncle of Oscar Dillin; John Neary, one or the nearby farmers on what is the Main Line Golf Course; Jim Donaldson and Peter Pechin.

Among the customers were Miss Martha Brown, who “was always around”; W.W. Montgomery, Theodore Rand, George Abbott Hunt, the Episcopalian minister; James W. Paul, who then lived in Hare’s lane in the large house that recently burned down. Others were “the Hare boys” from Hare’s lane, sons of Judge Hare; Howard Wolfe, who lived with his parents on Belrose lane, and often came in with his sisters, Katie and Dorothy, and Mr. Jamison, of Reading Market farm.

Except for an occasional bicycle, horse drawn vehicles were the only means of local transportation in the 80’s and 90’s. These vehicles varied, from heavy farm wagons to handsome carriages, with a horse and buggy like that shown in the picture the most generally useful and popular. They stopped at the Store, not only for food, feed and merchandise, but for mail as well, for during one Democratic administration, Oscar Dillon was handed what was supposed to be a real “political plum” in the way of the postmastership. Later, however, he was all too happy to relinquish the job and to let the postoffice return to quarters in Radnor Station.

By 1800 the original part of the Radnor Inn, which at one time had been the railroad station, was a summer hotel much like the Louella Mansion and the Bellevue Hotel.

There were two mills in the neighborhood. A somewhat late industry was an ice cream plant and to the south of the tracks, in the days when Radnor was still Morgan’s Corner, was an ice house where the Old Store always kept provisions behind unlocked doors.

John Morgan, son of James Morgan, has been mentioned earlier in this series as being one of the first Welsh Quakers to come to Radnor township. His wife was Mary Davis, daughter of Isaac Davis, of Tredyffrin township. They were among the forebears of many of the prominent families who were later to live ln Radnor township.

The name Morgan is found on lists of all the earliest literary and cultural organizations in this vicinity. “Morgan’s Corner”, as Radnor was called after the name “Brookfield” was dropped, was named for Billy Morgan, an old sea captain and descendant of John Morgan, who lived in the first farm house on the north side of Matson Ford road leading from Radnor station.

Your columnist once heard the late Nate Pechin tell, at a meeting of the Radnor Historical Society, an amusing story of this Captain Morgan and a prize Arabian horse which he owned. He was very anxious to show this animal to his mother, and, undaunted by the fact that this elderly lady was bed-ridden, he led the horse up the steps to the second floor. Apparently this was not too difficult a matter. But to return the animal to the ground floor was something else agaln. At this same meeting he told of his father, Peter Pechin, who as a boy knew a Joseph Smiley, of Radnor, who, “when he had been a young lad had accompanied his father to Valley Forge with corn for the Continental Army. An Indian trail to Valley Forge ran behind Ann Pechin’s spring house off King of Prussia road (the old Dorrance Estate). This trail was used by local farmers who went in secrecy up into the valley to take provisions to Washington’s army.

Still another bit of interesting information given his audience that night by Mr. Pechin concerned an iron ore hole worked in the early 19th century. This was in a hollow on Eagle road opposite the Dorrance place. After the ore was removed it was carried to Benjamin Brooke’s place ln Gulph Mills to be made into tools. This same Brooke was a retired Revolutionary War captain who lived at “Elderbrook”, the Henderson Supplee house on Matson Ford road.

(To be continued)

(Since pictures always add to the interest and to the attractive appearance of “Your Town and My Town”, Mrs. Patterson is very desirous of obtaining more to illustrate the story of Radnor. Perhaps if no really old ones are available, owners of old houses might be willing to submit pictures of these houses as they look today, with something of their dates, their various ownerships and their histories. Wayne 4569 is Mrs. Patterson’s telephone number.)