The forming of Delaware County, part 2 Conestoga Road

In the early days of the colonization of Pennsylvania, Delaware County had the unique experience of a crown appointed proprietor in the person of William Penn. His advanced ideals and social theories gave the people of this section their first experience in real democratic government.

Very early in its political existence Delaware County gave its support to the Republican Party. Indirectly, this was due in a great measure to the large Quaker residency in the county. Always interested in matters of justice and humanitarianism, Quaker sympathy was with the freedom of the slaves from the time their freedom became an issue. Even as early as the American Revolution citizens of Delaware COunty went on record as opposing slavery.

So although political opinion was generally Federalistic before the Civil War, the majority of voters of Delaware and Chester Counties naturally agreed with teh political philosophy of the Republican Party when it was organized-and to this day Delaware County has, generally speaking, remained a bulwark of Republicanism.

It was in October 1682 that Penn first set foot upon his property in Upland, which in about 1700 was to be re-named Chester. A memorial shaft at the corner of Front and Penn Streets marks the place of his landing as he came up the Delaware River. A little more than a year earlier Deputy Governor William Markham, representing his cousin, Penn, had established Upland as the seat of the Colonial Government of Pennsylvania. Penn chartered it as a borough on October 13, 1701. The courthouse, built in 1724 near what is now Fifth and Market Streets, is said to be the oldest consecutively used public building in the entire country.

Chester is the only city in Delaware County, having been incorporated by an Act of Assembly on February 13, 1866. It belongs in the third class group. In addition to this one city, there are 25 boroughs and 21 townships, Radnor and Concord, each with an area of 13.80 square miles are the largest in the county.

Townships are divided into two groups, first class and second class, according to their “needs, development, and density of population” rather than population itself. Those having a population of 300 or more persons per square mile are first class and all others are second class.  Radnor will this month celebrate its 50th anniversary as a first class township.

Strictly speaking, Pennsylvania’s settlers were not pioneers. Some others had preceded them along the Delaware River. When they arrived they found other white men as well as an Indian population. In the most part, the latter were friendly and already accustomed to trading food and materials for warm clothing. However, to the newcomers was to fall the work of clearing, since the greater part of what is now Delaware County was then virgin forest.

Most of these settlers arrived in the late summer or early fall since summer is the least hazardous season in which to cross the Atlantic in a small craft. Their first task was to build a shelter against the elements. Since timber was plentiful and lime was available these shelters usually took the form of crude log houses. When the snows of winter melted, the work of clearing was resumed. For the most stumps were left in the ground, and these with the field stones which also remained, meant that the lot which the farmer ploughed was a very rough one.

However, the soil was not really rocky, and the crops were mostly good from the wheat, corn, rye, oats, flax and tobacco which were sown. Prior to the Revolutionary was livestock belonging to the settlers of Delaware COunty roamed at large. According tot he laws of the Duke of York all cattle, sheep, goats, hogs and horses were to be branded by their owners as a means of identification. For all parts of the county domestic fowls such as we have today were common. These included chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys.

Of some of the earliest roads there is no exact record. Conestoga Road, which was originally an Indian trail from the Delaware to the Susquehanna River, divides Radnor Township almost diagonally. It was opened as a series of links in the chain of communication between Philadelphia and the West. The section extending from Merion Meetinghouse to Radnor was first laid out. This was later extended from Radnor to Moore’s Mill, as Downingtown was then called. The entire route was resurveyed in 1741. From these records we learn that among the stations were Radnor Meeting House and Jerman’s Run. Another early road, the old Lancaster Turnpike, has been frequently described in this column.

All of these early roads, as petitions show, were intended to provide ways “to mill, to market and to meeting”. The mills played an important part in the lives of Pennsylvania’s early settlers. Grist mills and sawmills were often established together for seasonal reasons, just as the ice and coal business were combined at a later time. Even before Penn’s settlers had arrived, Swedes had established a gristmill on the early bank of Cobbs Creek. The earliest mill known to have been in Delaware County was established in 1683 on Chester Creek near Upland, by a partnership of ten men, of whom one was William Penn himself. It was “brought ready-framed from London, and served for grinding corn and sawing boards”. From this beginning many other mills sprang up all over Delaware County, among them a gristmill operated in Radnor in 1710 by one William Davis.

(To be continued)