Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1993 Volume 31 Number 4, Pages 164–166

Notes and Comments

Page 164


Club Visits Pottsgrove Mansion

For its June meeting the History Club visited "Pottsgrove Manor", the mansion of John Potts, a wealthy colonial ironmaster and the founder of Pottstown. (One of his thirteen children was Isaac Potts, who owned the Valley Forge and whose home was used as Washington's headquarters during the 1777-78 winter encampment. Ironically, another son, John Jr., served in the British army during the Revolution.)

The mansion was built in 1752, in the Georgian style, with an exterior of native sandstone and an interior that featured elegant woodworking and moulding. John Potts and his wife Ruth lived there until his death in 1768, at which time it was inherited by their eldest son, Thomas, a colonel in the American army during the Revolution and a charter member of the American Philosophical Society. In 1783 Thomas Potts sold the plantation to Col. Francis Nichols, Chief Marshal of Pennsylvania.

After the Civil War the mansion house and grist mill, together with 275 acres of land, were purchased by the Gabel brothers, who transformed it into a tavern and boarding house known as the Mill Park Hotel. But by the end of the 19th century the historic property stood vacant, run down and dilapidated.

In 1939 the property again came into the possession of a member of the Potts family when it was bought by Marjorie Potts Wendell, a direct descendant of John Potts, the original builder. Under her direction its restoration and reconstruction were begun by the Pottstown Historical Society, under the supervision of the noted restoration architect G. Edwin Brumbaugh, and in 1952 it was opened to the public.

Page 165

When it appeared that the project would be too expensive for the local Society, however, the property was transferred to the state Historical and Museum Commission, which, in turn, later leased it in 1988 back to Montgomery County. (It is now maintained by the County Commissioners and the County Department of History and Cultural Arts.)

The research work started 54 years ago is being continued by the County, including the determination of the original colors and painting patterns within the house and the reconstruction of the slave quarters that were a separate part of the house, accessible only by an enclosed staircase from the ground floor. The restoration also includes appropriate period furnishings, based on the probate inventory of the mansion on the death of John Potts in 1768, on loan from various institutions.


Last Direct Descendant of Lewis Walker in Area Dies

Lewis Walker is generally regarded as having been the first settler in Tredyffrin. Early this year Zillah Frances Walker, believed to have been his last direct descendant in this area, passed away at the age of 85.

Here is an excerpt from the remarks "respectfully presented" by the Rev. Dr. James E. Bolin, pastor of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley, at a memorial service held at the church for her.

When Frances Walker was born, you could buy chicken for seven cents a pound; beef for ten cents a pound. Theodore Roosevelt is in the last year of his presidency. The area is rural farmland, dotted with beautiful estate-like farms. Of course, all the roads are dirt roads. And there are still more horses around than horseless carriages.

The minister of this church, Dr. Joseph Sagebeer, stood perhaps on this very spot and announced to the congregation that Frank Jones Walker and Zillah Kendall Walker were the proud parents of a baby girl, Zillah Frances Walker.

The family lives in the local village, New Centerville, in a home where Frances' mother grew up. It had been a hotel and a tavern before the turn of the century. It had also been a general store when Frances' mother was growing up. Now it was their home -- the Walker home.

Across the way is the railroad station. Farmers bring their milk and leave it on the platform for the train to pick up on its way to the city. And for a while, there is a post office in the railroad station. The locals would hang out there in hopes of overhearing some of the latest gossip.

A short way down the road is the blacksmith's shop. Frances loved horses, you know! There are about twenty houses scattered about the village. It is an integrated community with black families living along side the white families.

Page 166

The one room school house is down the road. It's still there, in fact; now, a local residence. Kids like Bill Wilson [who was at the service] and Frances Walker played together, even played in the road because you might go all day and see only one of those horseless carriages go by. Now one goes by, on average, every seven seconds.

Up and down the roads are farms tended by other folks named Walker, descendants of Lewis Walker ... It was he who received the land grant for this part of the Great Valley from William Penn.

And Frances was a direct descendant of Lewis Walker on both her mother's and father's side of the family. She is considered to be the last such direct descendant to remain living in the area once encompassed by Lewis Walker's 1,000-acre tract which he called "Rehobeth" after the biblical place where Jacob dug an undisputed well. It means "enough room for all".

So it should be no surprise that Frances was extremely proud of her family. She and her mother kept scrapbooks of clippings from newspapers which referred to the Walkers, Wilsons, Kendalls, and others related by marriage. They kept up with all the family. In fact, Frances had a huge knowledge of the whole valley.

[We thank Dr. Bolin for his permission to include these excerpts in this issue, and also Marian Aument for calling his memorial meditation to our attention.]


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