Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: January 1993 Volume 31 Number 1, Pages 27–36

Discovered -- The Deep Country

Frances H. Ligget

(* This article was written by Frances Ligget in 1965. It was one of a series of "neighborhood reminiscences, both fact and folklore", which she compiled in the 1960s. Under the titles "Great Valley Days" and "Distant Drums", typewritten transcripts of the various recollections were placed in the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, the Paoli Library, and with the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club.)

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The transition of the eastern tip of Chester County's Great Valley from the era of plow horses to jet planes in the past few years has been very striking. Even the top half of the hill, formerly known as Mount Misery, has been renamed Valley Forge Mountain by an enthusiastic developer. Across the Great Valley new houses have sprung up by the hundreds, giving the impression from a distance of dominoes scattered at random across the ridge. With the new look being crowded even now [1965] by tomorrow's coming events, a few of the neighborhood's old and colorful facts and folklore have been placed together so that, regardless of which way the future winds of progress may blow, they will be recorded in the following informal notes.

A brief historic backdrop of the early scene of this section of the Great Valley would show a trackless country possibly visited occasionally by Dutch and Swedish trappers with Indian guides. Turning the dial of time to 1682 would bring into focus a vast land sale by William Penn to a group of Welshmen desiring to create a "Welsh Barony", a number of whose members settled here and blueprinted the Great Valley with their way of life: Welsh names were given to certain areas which this generation is still struggling to pronounce and spell.

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The hills of the Great Valley witnessed the passing of time, man, and events, from the Indians to 1925, when my husband Robert and I, on a sunny afternoon's drive near historic Valley Forge Park took an unfamiliar road just beyond the Knox Covered Bridge and promptly became lost in deep country with old farms and quaint houses, on a road then called Cedar Hollow but since returned to its original name of Yellow Springs Road, which leads some miles beyond to the colonial village of Chester Springs. The area captured our imagination, and in a short time we found ourselves the owners of two adjoining farms equalling 246 acres of land with three good-sized dwellings and barns, once owned by the Walker, Potts, and Currie families, plus the Walker School House. The property we appropriately renamed Echo Valley Farms. Its white-washed fences bordered either side of Yellow Springs Road. The upper fields boast woods, a rolling hillside, and streams -- plus echoes, ours for the asking. The lower fields level off into the valley and join our neighbor's good sturdy fences.

On one of our newly acquired farms the Reverend William Currie's quaint house, we discovered, had been the quarters of William Alexander, Major General Lord Stirling, during the encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-78. It was to this house that we came to live, after necessary renovations. Deep in an atmosphere of the eighteenth century, it had been quite innocent of plumbing, electricity, and other such new-fangled nonsense. An architect with an appreciative feeling for the colonial, Boyle Irwin of Philadelphia and Phoenixville, added unobtrusively a wing over the spring house and bake house.

A few surprises cropped up when shrubs were planted; a silver coin, a hand-forged stirrup, part of a spoon mold, a cannon ball, fragments of pottery, and, in the house, a little shoe, on the earth foundation under one of the earliest parts of the house. Merriest of all was a skeleton, found in a shallow grave under the 1769 section when workmen were digging a pit for the oil burner. Who knows what still might be discovered?

Parson Currie built the 1769 section of the house. The date mark is still legible. He was the host to Major General Lord Stirling during the encampment at Valley Forge and was the last missionary from England to Old St. David's Church, Radnor. On his circuit he preached at St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley too, as well as at St. James Church, Perkiomen.

An old road, now obsolete, ran past the former Walker School House in the lower fields of Echo Valley Farms up through the Kirk-Dewees-Rotan Farm, now [1965] Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Vidinghoff's place, and again onto Echo Valley Farms, only to become lost in the upper fields. This was known as the Parson Currie Road.

When we first moved to the Great Valley in 1926 a number of neighbors lived on farms inherited from their ancestors, which they mostly farmed with horse-geared equipment. It may not have been the speediest thing on wheels, but it was picturesque. Newcomers that we were, and green as grass, our new friends opened their hearts and doors to us and bade us welcome.

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Lord Stirling's Quarters

Ever growing interest throughout the years in the Valley Forge section of the Great Valley and its neighborhood prompted this informal account of what we saw when, with our two young daughters, Frances and Audrey, we invaded the territory and settled down to the serious business of putting roots into the good earth of Valley Forge.

Lawyer Robert C. Ligget, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania 1913-1917, and his wife, Frances H., a 1920 alumnus of the Agnes Irwin School, Philadelphia, had plenty to learn of rural life -- with only 24 hours a day in which to do it. Until we discovered the deep country, we had been placidly content to live in the midst of friends and relatives on Philadelphia's "Main Line" and shuttle back and forth to our own particular station, Rosemont. We attended the Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, where RCL was an Elder, and thoroughly enjoyed the membership privilieges of the Merion Cricket Club. The Great Valley was indeed a new experience.

Our neighbors to the east were the James R. Tindle family of Valley Forge Farm. Their two sons, with their families, still [1965] live on this beautiful property, which during the Valley Forge encampment quartered General Henry Knox as well as General William Maxwell. Rebekah Knox Tindle's father, Philander Knox, had owned the farm years before his death and enjoyed relaxing here from his strenuous duties in Washington, which had included the offices of United States Senator from Pennsylvania, Attorney General, and Secretary of State. Valley Forge Farm, as far as tourists to the park are concerned, makes an artistic setting for the Knox Covered Bridge, which spans the Valley Creek as it goes bubbling on its way through their land to the Schuylkill River. Several years ago this bridge was steel-undergirded by the State, and dedicated later by the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Association.

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It is a magnet for artists of the brush and camera, and in the summer a menace to nearby resident who fear for their lives and cars as easels and folding chairs are left at rakish angles on Yellow Springs Road as it leads to the narrow bridge. (As of July 1965 Valley Forge Farm was acquired by the State of Pennsylvania, to be included in Valley Forge Park under Project #70.)

The lower fields of Echo Valley Farms not only adjoin the Knox-Tindle property, but also the land of the late Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Wilson, whose family for generations lived on the farm once the quarters of the Marquis de Lafayette during the winter of 1777-78. From its knoll, the house overlooks the clear waters of Valley Creek, as well as on many devotees of Isaac Walton who, with their fishing poles and licenses, arrive with the opening day of the season. The property is now [1965] owned by the University of Pennsylvania, and today the Pennsylvania Turnpike all but grazes the back lawn of the Lafayette Quarters. Deep was the concern of all the neighbors when this giant road seared through the Great Valley in the name of progress.

Chesterbrook, the home of the late Colonel and Mrs. Edward B. Cassatt, with its vast acreage joins Lafayette's Quarters and our lower fields, and follows the length of Echo Valley Farms to the old Walker School House (which we later sold to Mr. and Mrs. Harry O'Neill when the turnpike cut it off from our main farms). There are a number of old houses on Chesterbrook. In one General Thomas Bradford and General Charles Lee were quartered during the encampment; and another, it was rumored, had been the scene of a spy hanging during the Revolution, but such tales are not uncommon and grow with the each telling.

It was at Chesterbrook, in about 1929 or 1930, that the Radnor Hunt held races before transferring them to their newly-acquired property at Malvern. A colorful and gay event, which has all but disappeared from the Philadelphia scene, is a Hunt Ball. One long to be remembered was given by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Custis Harrison Jr., members of Radnor, for their debutante daughter Spottswood (now Mrs. John H. Hunter) at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, highlighted with a quadrille of members resplendent in their scarlet coats which accented the lovely ball gowns of their partners.

Our neighbors to the west were Mr. and Mrs. Seeley Dewees and their children. This family has long been established in the Great Valley. A collateral ancestor, Colonel William Dewees, was the well known ironmaster of the Valley Forge. His house is now [1965] the Executive Office of the Valley Forge Park Commission. Later the Dewees' sold their property to Elwood J. and Isabel Gest Rotan and moved to nearby Wayne.

Farther along Yellow Springs Road, with a jog to the left at Cedar Hollow, stands the ancient church of St. Peter's, built in 1744. High on a knoll, it overlooks the Great Valley. In 1925 it was a ghost of the past which through the valiant efforts of Richard Haughton of Great Valley Mill held an annual open house day. Many neighbors attended with reverence, and wondered about its future. Mr. and Mrs. George P. Orr made renovations possible in 1944, through the capable services of architect Brognard Okie. Again St. Peter's is administrating to a devoted parish.

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Another old church, the Great Valley Presbyterian Church, dating back to colonial times, on Swedesford Road, has also seen many structural changes. It was here that our children attended Sunday School and church.

To add to the picturesque valley scene on many a frosty morning over the hills and through the woods with their old Indian and Horse-Shoe trails, members of the Pickering Hunt would ride on holidays, the men in their colorful "pinks", and most of the distaff side riding side-saddle.

The dirt roads were still a boon to those who enjoyed equestrian pursuits. Often on weekends Mr. John R. K. Scott of Strafford, and his daughter Jean Browne Scott (Mrs. Scott Darby), would drive along Yellow Springs Road in their road coach, the guard blowing his coaching horn at intervals, hauntingly nostalgic as the sound drifted out on the air.

Quilting parties were held in local churches, and antiques were still in active use by descendants of their original owners. A lower section of a Chester County chest, still boasting its original brasses and 1714 date, is in use at Stirling's Quarters. To make the story complete, the neighbor from whom it was purchased in 1927 had chopped the upper section for use as kindling wood the winter before!

Peddlers trudged up and down the country roads, bearing on their backs an assortment of tin ware to tempt the householder. A quota of old-fashioned, bleary-eyed, bewhiskered tramps still made their rounds. Occasionally, too, an attendant would ring the doorbell, and in an ominous tone ask if an escapee from a nearby institution had been seen. After those calls the children, cats, and dogs were kept indoors -- as well as mama and papa.

A neighbor, Mr. Wilmer S. Kirk, whose property Kirksylvania was adjacent to Mr. Henry N. Woolman's Borticu Farm (now [1965] Mr and Mrs. A. B. Zink's property), would arrive on weekends from Philadelphia at the Valley Forge station on the Reading and walk along Yellow Springs Road under a large black umbrella, followed at just so many paces by his "man Friday", whose name has forever been a mystery. Nor did the two ever walk abreast. Mr. Kirk wrote several books, among them Robert the King, about his father, and My Road.

Those were the days when automobiles held just so much gasoline and an afternoon in the country meant, to the prudent driver, an extra five gallon can to tote along. It would seem that Stirling's Quarters was headquarters for all the imprudent drivers, by the number of sad faces which appeared at our door.

In the winter after a heavy snowstorm the big Percherons would be hitched to a straw-filled bobsled, and a few friends with offsprings telephoned with hopes that they could join the merrymakers for a sleigh road. The children squealed with excitement and breathed out frosty halos on the clear air. A delight reserved for these snowy nights when the roads were "just right" was to snuggle down in grandmother Ligget's heavy "bear" carriage robe in a roomy sleigh and, with harness bells ringing, jingle our way through Valley Forge Park, a fantastic wonderland of ice and snow in the moonlight.

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Far Fields

School for our children started with kindergarten, held in the home of Mr. and Mrs. John O. Platt in Paoli, followed by the early grades at the Leopard under the auspices of the Cameron MacLeods, and then on to Shipley School in Bryn Mawr.

During the summer months, when all the world was gay, there were swimming parties at Far Fields, a larger house than Stirling's Quarters, where we had moved, as it was more suited to the needs of our growing children. It was situated at the west end of our property. Stirling's Quarters at that time had been rented to the Ralph B. Howlands, who remained there 26 years until our return.

Square dances were held on the green lawns and sometimes in the barns of our neighbors. Occasionally they were given for community projects. The master of ceremonies, Chester County's beloved Chris Sanderson, historian and square dance caller extraordinaire, presided over these moments of relaxation.

We have always loved the Great Valley, with its history and charm, and endeavored to put our collective shoulders to the wheel to prove it and not be among those who, according to an old Indian chief, make "high wind, big thunder -- no rain". The man of the house, besides being a lawyer, chalked up on his local Scoreboard the offices of school director, president of the Joint Tredyffrin Easttown School Board, and secretary of the Tredyffrin School Board. He was chairman of the American Red Cross Disaster Committee for Chester County during World War II, and headed the Ration Board for the Tredyffrin, Easttown, and Willistown areas; was chairman of the Chester County Economy League; and served on the Chester County Council of Defense.

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He also was one of the founders of the Guernsey Cattle Breeders Association for Pennsylvania; treasurer of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (founded in 1785, it is the oldest in the United States and George Washington was once a member); and solicitor for the Valley Forge Historical Society. He also served on the Board of Governors of the Radnor Hunt and was a member of Pickering Hunt; was president of the Tredyffrin Civic Association; and served on the Chester County Board of Prison Inspectors.

The Guernsey herd was kept at Waynesborough Farm in Paoli until World War II. This fine old 300-acre farm was the birthplace of General Anthony Wayne, and had been in the family for generations until sold to Robert Ligget in 1926. The beautiful house is still [1965] lived in by one of General Wayne's collateral descendants, Mr. William Wayne. In 1963, 200 acres of this ground was leased to Waynesborough Country Club for use as a country club and golf course.

On the distaff side of the ledger, in 1934 I became interested in the hopes and despairs of the little quarry village of Howellville in the Great Valley, the earliest Welsh settlement in the area. Its old stone houses with walk-in fireplaces could doubtless tell some hair raising stories. Recently a letter came to light from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction in Harrisburg, dated 1935, commending the local Keystone Farm and Garden Association, made up of neighbors, for its clean-up project there, out of which emerged the Berwyn Nursery School.

With the first booming of the guns of World War II, the Paoli Branch of the American Red Cross, Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter, began courses preparing men and women for what might be ahead. The Branch, under the capable chairmanship of Mrs. G. Brinton Lucas, and an active committee, did just that. Prior to this, a bandage-rolling, gauze-cutting class was held at Kelso, the Berwyn home of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Binney Hare (Ellen Mary Cassatt). Somber tones of war now shadowed this lively place where, in happier moments, our children and their little friends had attended dancing class, and we had enjoyed the Radnor Hunt breakfasts and other festive occasions. Kelso had been built by Mr. and Mrs. Gardner Cassatt; in the past few years the property was bought by the Norbertine Fathers, who, in turn, sold it in 1964 to the Y M C A.

The long established Emergency Aid of Pennsylvania, a volunteer Philadelphia organization, was headed at this time by Mrs. William J. Clothier of Valley Forge. Gearing itself for the second of its World War services, a Radio Committee had been formed under the chairmanship of Mrs. J. Holcombe Genung of Bryn Mawr. As vice chairman, I interviewed many high officials of the armed services, as well as representatives of wartime industries, on Philadelphia radio stations on a regular schedule. It was an interesting experience: one that stands out crystal clear was when my life was threatened by a phone call in connection with a proposed interview, which went on as planned. This committee work was curtailed only when my official American Red Cross responsibiliities at a later date took every bit of time.

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For the sake of the record, during the Second World War various ships of the French fleet came to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for reconditioning. While they were in port, homes in the Great Valley, as elsewhere, were opened to our French allies. A number of officers have kept in touch with us throughout the years.

The first canteen class was given in 1941 at Chapter headquarters in Philadelphia by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross under the chairmanship of Mrs. O. H. Perry Pepper of Ithan. Upon graduating I chaired the canteen for the Paoli Branch. Our 'Pegasus' horse trailer was converted into a mobile canteen and, primitive as it was, it was very effective and the very first in this area.

In 1942 square dances, hayrides and barbecues were held at the Playhouse, a renovated barn at Waynesborough Farm in Paoli,to help raise money for the Emergency War Equipment and Scrap Campaign -- $.75 for dinner, $.25 for hayrides, and $.25 for square dancing!

The Camp and Hospital Council Service of the American Red Cross had just been organized at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter and was headed by Miss Margaret Logan (now Mrs. Thomas Klein). Its purpose was to channel requests of the military to the civilians, and vice versa, a workable hour-glass function. At that time Camp and Hospital Council Service was directed from the National American Red Cross headquarters in Washington; local representatives received a thorough briefing in their transition from civilian to near military personnel. Hospitals in this area receiving Camp and Hospital Council services were the Philadelphia Naval Hospital annex at Swarthmore, the Veterans facility at Coatesville, and the still-in-the-process-of-being-built Valley Forge General (Army) Hospital at Phoenixville. Military units were also included in this. Mr. Angela Menna, Field Director of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter, acted as liaison officer. The branches of the Southeastern Chapter of the Red Cross entered into this work and proved themselves invaluable, among them the Paoli Branch, which worked long and hard. Through the ingenuity of one of its members, Mrs. Lester Higgins, a brand new "Gifts to Give" service was created and put into action in the military hospitals and has continued to be of value to this day.

Having served, in turn, as chairman of the Camp and Hospital Council Service canteen and then as vice chairman of the Southeastern Pennsylvania group, I was appointed chairman while Miss Logan took on even greater responsibilities. The work involved was exacting but rewarding -- desk work, military projects, consulting with volunteers, hospital inspection tours, including checking German and Italian prisoners of war at the Valley Forge General Hospital. It was an experience tremendous in depth and scope. In 1945 I retired to private life, and six months later was asked by the National Committee in Washington to become a National Vice Chairman of Camp and Hospital Council Service, with a field covering the state of Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, taking over from my former superior, Mrs. Quincy Bent of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, recently retired. It was amazing, the speed with which the man of our house dictated the answer: "NO!"

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At last the smoke of war faded and a semblance of peace descended once more upon a weary world. The Great Valley again bent a sympathetic ear to the life, love and problems of its neighbors.

In 1950 an urge to start a long overdue renovation of the Museum of the Valley Forge Historical Society was brought to the attention of the directors and approved, so with members of the Farm and Garden Association, as well as other interested friends, the new job was tackled, under the supervision of the newly appointed curator, Lloyd Eastwood-Seibold. The next eighteen months were enveloped in a cloud of museum dust which had, in many cases, buried treasures collected for years by the late Dr. Herbert Burk, the founder of The Washington Memorial Chapel which symbolizes the spirit of Valley Forge and is visited by countless numbers of tourists each year. Retrieved from oblivion were Revolutionary War documents, guns, colonial silver, articles of Mrs. Washington's trousseau, and many other items of great interest and importance. A diary report was kept which included bills; a copy of it was given to Mrs. Dudley Kneass for the present Women's Auxiliary of the Museum. "Before and After" pictures were taken of the three rooms on the main floor which finally emerged transformed. It was then that the Committee gave a tea, complete with hostesses in colonial costume. A number of local garden clubs, on a year round schedule, had been invited to supply the museum with flower arrangements, and for this we were given "The White Ribbon Award of Merit" certificate by the Pennsylvania Federation of Garden Clubs (Eastern Section) in 1952. Mrs. Boyle Irwin and Mrs. Ralph B. Howland should take a bow for their work on this project.

Old Father Time has a way of catching up with all of us. In 1953 Robert and I returned to Stirling's Quarters alone. In 1938 our elder daughter Frances had been killed in an automobile accident; and Audrey, after graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans, became a voluntary missionary in Hawaii, and is now the wife of Frederick R. Snyder of Tampa, Florida. The Argyle House was sold to Dr. and Mrs. Froelich G. Rainey in 1950. Dr. Rainey, a noted anthropologist, was Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. In 1955, Far Fields became the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ted Kesting. But although three houses were sold, we still retain some 200 acres.

Stirling's Quarters has grown in grace with the years. A number of books refer to it, including David Taylor's historical novel Farewell to Valley Forge, Edward Pinkowski's Washington's Officers Slept Here, and Valley Forge Landmarks and Chester County Landmarks by Henry T. and Aimee J. MacNeill. It is also listed on the Valley Forge Park map and in some local pamphlets. Tourists arrive with cameras, adjust their lenses, and lean against the fence. "Stirling's Quarters" is plainly marked on the mail box; however, we do retire behind "Private Residence" signs which are not altogether impregnable!

In spite of this seemingly stony stare, we enjoy having small prearranged groups come from historical societies and patriotic organizations and look forward each December to entertaining at tea the wives of the State Supreme Court justices and heads of national patriotic organizations,who accompany their husbands to Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge when they serve on the Awards Jury at that time.

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This organization is dedicated to keeping alive and forwarding our great American heritage. A powder house of the Revolutionary era is situated on its property, and General Stirling's Artificers were quartered in the grounds.

In 1965 the Great Valley is still a mixture of the past and the present. Houses in this area have not outgrown their ghost stories (aided and abetted by squirrels who own the attic). Tradition depicts the ghost of Lord Stirling returning occasionally to his quarters; maybe at long last we know why at times the latch won't stay shut on the staircase door! (Or could it be that in more recent years he returns on the chance of calling on our sometime house guests, Robert's cousin William Lygon, the 8th Earl Beauchamp, and his beautiful Countess?)

No longer do the rafters ring with the laughter of children -- time is aflitting -- nor do we picnic at the vanished "sentinel box" on our hill overlooking the Valley, nor hear on Christmas Eve the voices of the young carolers from the Great Valley Presbyterian Church as they paused outside our windows. It is part of a happy frolicking past.

The roads now are well paved; small foreign cars jet past the farms with lightning speed; no longer does the cautious driver tote an extra five gallon can of gasoline to the country. Houses crop up where corn stalks grew, and yet, in spite of it all, a goodly number of deer and fox still call the woods home. The Pennsylvania Turnpike has cut its gash into the Great Valley in the name of progress -- but who is to stop, or even try to stop, the echo of memories?

Once upon a yesteryear we happily discovered the deep country, and ever after lived our joys, sorrows and daily grind in the great Great Valley.

The Garden, Lord Stirling's Quarters

Drawings by H. T. MacNeill
Courtesy of Aubrey Ligget Snyder


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