Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 14
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April, 1966 Volume 14 Number 1, Pages 12–15
The General Woodford House on the Brookdale Farm
Last year and this year we have had an over-all program on the Swedesford Road. The major construction now in progress on part of this road was one of the reasons for choosing this subject for our two year program. This paper on a house on Swedesford Road is the sixth in our series. The house is located on Contention Lane and is part of the farm which extended along Route 202 which was Swedesford Road. The house has recently been known as the McCollum house but former owners include the Dewees family and Rowland Richard; who bought it 1708 from David Powell, who had the grant from Wm. Penn. The main residence sets back almost hidden from the road. As you open the iron gates and drive down the lane past the old stone barn and storage sheds to the drive in front of the house you see the attractive white plaster over thick stone walls, partly very old and partly only a few years old. There is an attractive, colorful flagstone patio across the front, and striking black shutters, a covered entrance, a wide center hall, original reception room, a sunken living room with original fireplace with oven and crane. Original open beam ceiling, Colonial bow window, and original "Jelley Cupboard" next to the fireplace. I do not think the history of this house has been written before, because the McCollums thought that if historical interest was drawn to their house their taxes would be raised.
One of the former residents of the house, Mrs. Seeley (Mary Fetters) Dewees, now living at the corner of Keller Avenue and Conestoga Road, gave me this interesting information: "I came there as a happy bride, to live with my husband Seeley Dewees and his parents, James and Emma Jane George Dewees in June, 1905. We loved it there. The kitchen had a wide open fireplace, but we had a coal range for cooking. However we often imagined how it would be if we had to cook in the cavernous fireplace. There was a nice living room heated by a wood-burning stove. Here we kept our blooming plants in winter. An addition to the west side of the old house included a wide hall and two nice rooms which we used for parlors. A lively stream of water runs along the east side of the lawn. The stream was used by the Great Valley Baptist Church, for their baptisms, in the colonial days. Altogether it was a charming rural home and this was what my husband and I liked.
The older part of the house was built before the Revolutionary War and was occupied by both the British and American soldiers. It is believed that Baron Knyphausen, the German General who commanded the mercenary troops hired by the British Government, occupied this house for a short time before the American
encampment at Valley Forge. Samuel Richard the owner, later welcomed the American General William Woodford, who took up his quarters here, on what came to be known as Contention Lane. It was because of a heated controversy concerning the right of the Commissary to use the lane that it received its quaint name.
The eastern wing of the house was built about 1708 by Rowland Richard and its thick walls provided maximum protection from the hostile Indians. The house has retained much of its original simplicity, the oaken floor, the hardware, and features mentioned above, the rafters and the huge beams and the fireplaces. The large fireplace in the second section of the house, built somewhat later, furnished heat for the adjoining oven. Legend has it that when the stone baking slab broke, the family hastily borrowed a tombstone from the cemetery of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley and from then on the bread came out inscribed (in reverse) "Here lies".
Woodford, a Virginian, distinguished himself in the French and Indian War. He had considerable military ability, gaining a decided victory at the Battle of Great Bridge on the Elizabeth River, in December 1775. Congress promoted him to Brigadier General and placed him in command of the First Virginia Brigade. He was at Brandywine and saw action at Monmouth. Woodford was taken prisoner at Charleston, South Carolina, during the siege in 1780. He was taken by the British to New York, where he died November 13th, 1780.
Joseph Dewees bought the property in the early 1800's and his son James and his son Seeley inherited the property in line of descent. James bought a part interest in the property from one of his brothers. The Dewees family came to New York in 1689 from Holland and to Philadelphia in l690. The family lived in this house for three generations. Joseph Dewees was a great nephew of Colonel William Dewees who was probably the best-known member of this family in this vicinity. The Colonel was associated with the valley forge for which our famous shrine was named. This forge was built in 1742 by Walker and Co. and sold in 1757 to John Potts. It was owned later by Isaac Potts and was used by Washington during the encampment of 1777. Colonel William Dewees, a famous ironmaster, with his cousin, David Potts, in 1773 bought an interest in this business which flourished until it was destroyed by the British, as a war measure in September, 1777. Efforts have been made to restore this forge. According to family records thirty-five years ago fifty thousand dollars were spent for this purpose.
The Colonel also owned a large flour mill in the vicinity of Valley Forge. Born in Germantown, as early as 1771 he appears to have resided at the mansion house belonging to the iron works. This house was not burned by the British, although they destroyed all they could. Many years after the war the descendants of Col. Dewees, through his son William, a lawyer in Washington, D. C, presented a claim in Congress for indemnity. Col. Dewees died in 1782. This claim for indemnity is rather interesting and we wonder if other similar claims were made. There was a question at that time whether such claims should be made against State or Federal Government, and lawyer Wm. Dewees seems to have pursued both possibilities, as records show that the State awarded him £ 329 in 1820.
While the British Army lay in Tredyffrin Township a detachment was sent to Valley Forge, and destroyed property belonging to Col. William Dewees valued at £ 4171, Pennsylvania currency, equal to over $11,000.00. Among the property destroyed and taken from him were a forge, sawmill, two large stone dwelling houses, two coal houses, 400 loads of coal, and 2,200 bushels of wheat and rye in the sheaf.
When the American Army took possession of the ground for the encampment at Valley Forge, the valley forge building was in ruins. It had been burned by the British, who also burned Col. Dewees' house. The Valley grist mill was not destroyed. A portion of the army under Howe, had reached this place during the military movements which ended with the British army crossing the Schuylkill at Fatlands and Gordon's Ford, and marching towards Philadelphia. When the American army took possession of its encampment, the mansion of Col. Dewees was repaired and fitted up for a bake house for the use of the army. This building still stands and is one of the points of interest in the park.
The claim against the Federal Government was first presented in the third Congress, Feb. 11, 1794. Here a committee was appointed to bring in a bill for the relief of the heirs of Col. William Dewees. In the Fourteenth Congress, Feb. 5, 1817, this committee reported that they believed the destruction of Col. Dewees' buildings was clearly sanctioned by the usage of civilized warfare and that the obligation on the government to make compensation for the loss of property thus taken for public use was unequivocal. "In the lapse of time for which indemnity has been withheld, the committee see nothing to weaken this obligation. They therefore respectfully recommend the payment of the claim of Sarah Dewees" (the Colonel's widow).
It seems that this payment was not made, as the claim comes up again three years later, Dec. 14, 1820, in the Sixteenth Congress, whose records state: "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that there be paid to Sarah Dewees, relict of Col. William Dewees, etc., the sum of $8,000.00 in full of all claims the estate of the said deceased may have against the United States for the loss of property owing to its being taken for public use and that the said sum be paid out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated." This time the claim was paid.
The present owners of the house are Mr. and Mrs. James N. Rice who are now living there.Top
Valley Forge Historical Society
History of the Dewees Family, written by Mrs. Philip E. La & Munyan, 1902, descendant of Lewis Dewees.
Sale notice of Louis Traemeen.
Page last updated: 2011-08-01 at 12:23 EST