Agricultural past

Last spring when I was describing in this column Wayne as it was in the seventies and early eighties, I quoted from notes of Joseph M. Fronefield, Jr., who came here in 1881 to start a small drug store on the eastern end of Lyceum Hall. The latter was the nucleus of the large old building now standing on the northeast corner of Wayne avenue and Lancaster Pike. Mr. Fronefield had written “The surrounding country was farm land. I could look out the drug store door (it had no window on the pike) and see cattle grazing in the meadow where the business block fire house and school houses now stand.” This was part of what was known as the Siter Farm. This was but one of many farms in this vicinity, among them the Izzacki Fritz place, the Mifflin’s, the Wilds’ the George’s, the the Jones’, the Ramsey’s, the Cleaver’s, (later the Hugh’s) and others of which the writer has no written record.

Evidently the entire Main Line looked much as Wayne did, according to the quaintly worded description of it as given in the “Guide for the Pennsylvania Railroad”, printed in 1855, from which I quoted last week. In describing the route of the railroad from Philadelphia to Paoli, it says “The country through which we have passed is thickly dotted with neat farmhouses and barns, and all sorts of comfortable out-houses for pigs, and poultry, sheep, cattle and horses. The large fields of grain and grass which greet one’s eyes in the summer season, the herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep, everywhere to be seen, indicate great agricultural thrift in the inhabitants of Delaware, Montgomery and Chester Counties, thorough the luxuriant grass, are spring-houses. We may observe the patient cows standing around, with their white udders swollen with milk, waiting to yield it to the milkmaid’s pail, from which it is poured into earthen or tin pans, and those are placed in the clear cool water of those houses where the rich cream is formed for the butter.

“From these houses is taken the far-famed Philadelphia butter, superior to that, it is said, of any city in the world. The secret of its superiority lies in the green grass peculiar to this rolling country, and the cool springs that rise from its hills. No prairie land, how rich soever it may be, can ever produce butter equal to that made in the rolling counties around the city of Philadelphia.” (In this connection I recall almost the first request made by my husband’s grandmother, a woman then already in her eighties, when she visited us in Wayne many years ago. She would like to see the Chester Valley, she said, because she had heard what good butter they made there!)

Those of us who travel west along the Lancaster Pike in our automobiles nowadays are familiar with the beauty of the scene that stretches for miles before our eyes soon after we pass Paoli, “the celebrated Chester County limestone valley” as it is called in our booklet. Because of the quaint wording of that description as given almost a hundred years ago I feel it should be quoted just as it was written. Few, if any, of my readers have failed to feel the breathtaking, yet homely beauty of the valley extending as it does “easterly and westerly some 20 miles in length and averages 2 miles in width. It is skirted on both sides with high hills covered with timber, from which issue innumerable springs of pure water, converted into perpetual fountains in the valley, and affording a never-failing supply for man and beast, at the house and barn. This valley is noted for its fertility and beautiful farms. As the cars descend the hill, on an easy grade, the passenger may take in at one view many miles of this magnificent panorama, interspersed with comfortable and neat farm-houses, spacious barns, and other necessary buildings. Hundreds of fields of waving grain, the deep green corn, and luxuriant timothy and clover, pass in review before him.

“Here, the farmers may be seen driving their teams a-field, and there cattle, horses and sheep, feeding in the pasture, or reclining under the trees. This valley supplies the finest beef for the Philadelphia and New York markets. The cattle are brought, when poor, from the regions of the north and the west, and fattened here in the rich pastures of Pennsylvania. The beef of Philadelphia, like the butter, is nowhere else to be found.”

Thus was the beautiful and fertile countryside of our Main Line section a century or more ago.

Cleaver Farm, W.D. Hughs estate – hobos

In addition to the farms already described in this column as making up Wayne as Joseph Fronefield knew it when he came here in the early 80’s, there was the Cleaver place.

Of it Mr. Fronefield writes: “The old Cleaver farm house, a fine old stone house on a well-kept lawn, owned and occupied by William D. Hughs, situated on the north side of Lancaster Pike, was scrapped some years later to make room for the home of William Wood.”

Since the Wood place, with its handsome stone house surrounded by spacious lawns and trees is soon to be converted to commercial purposes, it seems a matter of general interest at this time to go more fully into the story of what was originally the Cleaver farm.

In the course of a pleasant evening’s conversation with Mrs. Malcolm G. Sausser in her apartment on Walnut avenue, she gave me much first-hand information about where she and her two sisters and her brother spent their childhood. The brother, Owen Hughs, is now dead, but the three sisters, Mrs. Frederick H. Jiggens, Mrs. William A. Scott and Mrs. Sausser, all have apartments in what for many years was the home of Doctor and Mrs. George Miles Wells on Walnut avenue, now known as the Humphries Apartments. Mrs. Sausser has been largely responsible for the organization and rapid growth of the recently formed Radnor Historical Society.

The original Cleaver house was built in 1775, Mrs. Sausser tells me. In looking up old records in the office of the Recorder of Deeds in Media, she has raced its ownership as far back as 1854, when it was sold to Hiram Cleaver and his wife, Sarena D., by Morceau Delaus and his wife, Sarah.

The next owners were J. Henry Askin and his wife, Louise, who purchased the house and 199 acres from the Cleavers. On April 6, 1878, Mr. Askin sold the property to William D. Hughes, Mrs. Sausser’s father.

Old pictures in the possession of Mrs. Sausser and her sisters show the home as a large stone one of two stories in height, long and rather narrow, with very thick walls.
It graced Lancaster Pike on a site slightly north of the present William Wood house. On the west side were two doors, side by side, a very puzzling matter to itinerant peddlers, who knocked first on one door and then on the other, convinced that the house must be a two-family affair! The big kitchen contained an old-fashioned bake oven. Three sets of staircases throughout the house connected the spacious first and second floors.

The old pictures show, too, the tall windmill on the west side of the house which brought water up from the springhouse. Except for the wind-driven wheel at the top, the entire frame unit was covered with wisteria, with its lovely hanging lavender flowers.

The springhouse was located to the south of the house and near the Pike, with several paths leading to it, not only from the house, but from the road. Many people from far and near came to use the punt as the water from the spring was supposed to be exceptionally pure – even tramps trudging along the Pike stopped to drink there.

The springhouse, as shown in an exceptionally clear picture, was a picturesque one with its shingled roof covered with moss. All around it were tall sycamore trees of great girth. Mrs. Sausser recalls vividly the pump and the trough into which the clear water gushed, and the inner part of the springhouse which was kept locked, since all the milk from the farm was set there to cool. It was also a wonderful place in which to chill watermelons. The remains of the old springhouse are still on the front lawn of the Wood place, the site being marked by a large clump of rhododendrons.

On the place was also a cider press, since there were so many apples from the orchard from which to make cider. At the back of the house itself stood the ice-house, the front door of which was tightly closed after enough ice had been packed into it so that it was more convenient to take it from the back door.

The site of the Wood house is just about the former site of the old Hughs ice-house. Then there was the big barn which housed the farm animals and the pets of the Hughs family, including two donkeys, two goats and a pony. One picture shows clearly the donkey cart, drawn by two of the faithful small animals.

Mrs. Sausser recalls the endless pleasures their pets gave, not only to the Hughs children, but to their young friends as well. Tramps passing along both the railroad and the Pike often asked Mrs. Hughs’ permission to sleep in the barn. This permission was usually given, provided the overnight guests gave all their matches into Mrs. Hugh’s possession until morning!

(These reminiscences and descriptions of the old Cleaver farm, after it had passed into the possession of the Hughs and Wood families, will be continued in next week’s column.)