Please view our online Projects for display photographs.
The information presented below outlines the roles of Delaware and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania during the colonial era. A few forgotten sites of interest are specifically noted (above right) for their significance during this time.
America's Pioneering Settlements
Anyone who knows American history knows that what is now Pennsylvania was initially settled by Swedish pioneers in what is now Chester (1641) and Tinicum (1643) at the same time as the pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Two of America's oldest homesteads are still standing along Route 420 in Prospect Park in the form of the Morton Mortenson House (1654) and the Swedish Cabin (1654) in Drexel Hill, both along the Darby Creek. Darby (then "Derby") was settled by Quakers in 1654.
William Penn would later arrive at the shores of what is now Philadelphia in 1682. The land on which Whitemarsh Township in Montgomery County now sits was purchased from William Penn in 1683. Springfield Township, Delaware County, was established by Quakers in 1686.
American Revolutionary War
Pennsylvania was a hotbed for war activity both in the American Revolution and the Civil War. During the Revolution, local sites that supported the war are prevalent but largely forgotten or unmarked. Things were far more spread out in those days in areas now covered in suburbs, with farms dotting the landscapes instead of villages and townships, so troop encampments had much more space to use than they would now. Local supporters may have also quartered troops; the British required troop quartering of their colonies, and so the possibility exists that any period home may have served as a barracks for the Redcoats.
Despite its fame as the oldest unchanged church in America, the Augustus Lutheran Church in Trappe, PA is less known for serving as a barracks for local militia at the onset of the war. You may read more about the church and its history in the Research section of the website.
In west Hatfield Township, Montgomery County, the Johnson Farmstead (above) served as a field hospital for General Washington's Colonists after their defeat at the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. This partial lead ingot below (left) matches the type of supply issued & made by Colonist troops as a way to field-mold their own musket balls and was found nearby in Hatfield. The Johnson home and barn still exist but the farm itself has been developed into a housing community.
As General Howe's troops advanced and subsequently captured Philadelphia following the Battle of Brandywine in Chadds Ford, Delaware County, General Cornwallis marched his regiment through what is now Collingdale on his way into the city. This musket ball (above right) was found a stone's throw from their asserted path through Collingdale's park and adjacent present-day cemeteries, lending credence to this claim.
Prior to the British arrival in Philadelphia, Colonists smuggled the Liberty Bell out of the city to Allentown, stopping for an overnight rest in Quakertown at McCoole's Tavern (now McCoole's Red Lion Inn) while the bell languished near the home of Evan Foulke, which has been preserved and is now known as Liberty Hall.
At the intersection of Woodland & Island Avenues in Colwyn, Delaware County along the Cobbs Creek sits a lonely building haphazardly identified as the Blue Bell Inn (above). Few are aware that this inn, built in 1766, was the site of an American Revolution skirmish. In November of 1777, as General Cornwallis and his 2500-troop regiment approached the city from Brandywine, a group of 28 Colonists stationed as a picket guard ambushed the Redcoats from the inn. Accounts vary but one says that as the British passed by, a shot was fired from an upstairs window. 5 Americans were bayonetted on the stairs during the rush; the remaining 23 were taken prisoner. An addition that was built in 1801 was removed in the 20th century to make room for the Cobbs Creek Parkway.
Another Delaware County site with much unknown history is the former White Horse Tavern on Chester Pike in Prospect Park, seen above. Built in the 1720s as a home and business for his family by John Archer, it was the site of at least 2 skirmishes during the War, according to letters written to General Washington by subordinates General James Potter and Lt. John Clark, in which each officer describes light losses to small British units nearby. It has also been alleged that Caesar Rodney stopped here on his legendary ride into Philadelphia. There are other reported accounts of random histories but none have sufficient proof of fact.
A personal accounting of a legend with basis in fact was given by an Anna Wilson of 26 North Oak Ave, Clifton Heights, Delaware County. According to Mrs. Wilson, when she bought her house, the area was locally nicknamed "Tin Kettle Hill." The name was purported to originate from pre-Colonial days when settlers shared space with the native Lenni-Lenape; a large tin kettle was maintained at the hilltop and rang during Indian encroachments on the settlement. Mrs. Wilson's house also had a spectacular view of the Delaware River some miles away, and according to local legend, patriots would raise a tin kettle on a long pole from the roof and signal British troop movements to Colonist ships on the river.
In Swarthmore, on Rose Valley Road at Crum Creek sits a small house on a property known to have featured a mill owned by Dr. Robert Harris, who produced ammunition for the Colonists during the Revolution. Mill foundation ruins are still evident despite overgrowth and the presence of a Sunoco pipeline easement that bisects the property, though it's doubtful that the iron fixtures (water flow valves, sluices, and such) are actually as old as the mill itself. There are no known pictures of the standing mill. Colonial coins are known to have been recovered in the area.
Civil War Between the States
Despite being home to the bloodiest battle and raising the second-most military manpower of any state in the Union after New York, there was very little direct Civil War action in Pennsylvania outside of Gettysburg and its immediate surrounding areas. However, Pennsylvania was the source of nearly all Union Army supplies and munitions, and home to a number of noted Civil War military heroes.
Delaware County's Clifton Heights can trace its roots back to the days of Swedish settlers, who established their homesteads along the Delaware River and Darby Creek. One such homestead, built c. 1645, still exists in Upper Darby's Drexel Hill section, along Creek Road.
After the war for independence, Clifton Heights miller Thomas Kent built a yarn mill along the Darby Creek in Clifton Heights. Known on maps as the Rockbourne Mills or the Union Mills, during the Civil War Kent directed his mills to manufacture uniforms for the Union Army. The mill building(s) are still standing, having been converted into a business center, but most of the water-powered infrastructure has been left to the elements and deteriorated. Kent's estate has been transformed into a park that borders Clifton Heights and Drexel Hill.
Further downstream, one of Kent's neighbors in nearby Kellyville also ran some textile mills during the Civil War that also produced Union Army uniforms. However, the mills were destroyed by fire; the foundation rubble remains overgrown behind the car wash that is now situated at the corner of Darby Creek and Baltimore Pike. It is rumored that a cache of rifles was buried under the concrete foundations of the car wash and its parking lot, but this information has never been substantiated.
In Lansdowne at the corner of Nyack and Wycombe is a large single home converted to apartment owned by Pickett Properties. This house and its mansard-style architecture was built between 1800 - 1850, and allegedly used as a field hospital & muster station for Union troops. Below is the earliest known photograph (from the Images of America book on the borough) taken in 1904 and a photo captured from Google Maps' Street View.
Montgomery County's most notable claim to Civil War history is as the home of Winfield Scott Hancock, a Union major general who distinguished himself during the Battle of Gettysburg. He served 40 years with distinction in the Army, participating also in the Mexican-American War and the frontier battles with Plains Indian tribes. Following the war, Hancock was the Democratic presidential nominee against James Garfield in 1880.
(photo courtesy of nps.gov)