Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 34
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: July 1996 Volume 34 Number 3, Pages 115–122
Berwyn's 75th Anniversary
For four days in June of 1952, the village, and most of adjoining Easttown and Tredyffrin with it, took time off to celebrate Berwyn's 75th anniversary. World War II had scattered close to 400 of its sons and daughters to the ends of the earth. With peace achieved, they returned with renewed pride in their home town to pick up the loose ends and seek a career. Many opted first for college and after four years, at graduation, found themselves faced with renewed armed conflict in Korea only weeks after receiving their degree. The feeling of patriotism, pride in nation and its accomplishments was at a high level, and everyone loved a parade.
Actually, the origins of the village date back many years before the name Berwyn came into use: to an early crossroads settlement called Cockletown made up of small log cabin homes. The homes sprang up along the old Provincial (now Conestoga) Road to Lancaster and the west sometime before the Revolutionary War. Later, with the coming in the 1790s of the new Lancaster Turnpike constructed a few hundred yards to the south, development shifted in that direction. The community, if indeed it was a community, was known simply as the "Sixteenth Mile Stone" on the turnpike.
The Reese family owned land and was active in the affairs of the emerging community, having operated a tavern and at times a store and a school. The coming of the railroad was demonstrated conclusively in 1834 when the first locomotive (horses had been used for motive power two years before) ran in eight and one-half hours from Philadelphia to Lancaster. It is said by local historian Frank Burns that "about 1835 a sign appeared on the little (Reese) schoolhouse announcing 'Reeseville' to all who passed." The success of the railroad ultimately led to a decline in traffic of horse-drawn vehicles on the turnpike, but it was the railroad that brought real prosperity to the village. Ultimately many of its residents would work for the railroad or in railroad-related jobs.
The village received its name "Berwyn" in June of 1877, courtesy of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which at the time was in the midst of "sprucing up" its Main Line, acquired some 20 years earlier from the Philadelphia and Columbia. The West Philadelphia passenger station was rebuilt and reopened early in the Centennial year of 1876. In addition, a large new station opposite the exhibition grounds in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park was added to provide better access to the huge World's Fair.
There followed a period of upgrading and improving the old meandering railroad roadbed to the west and, in a bid to promote suburban living along its tracks, the railroad officials showed partiality to giving Welsh names to several of the station stops on its Main Line. Berwyn was the name selected for the shiny new image of Reeseville.
"At length it was proposed," Frank Burns has reported, "to name the village after the Berwyn Hills overlooking the beautiful valley watered by the river Dee, Merionethshire, Wales, because the village overlooked from a commanding height the beautiful valley of Chester, and its position was popularly thought to be the highest point topographically along the Pennsylvania Railroad between Philadelphia and Columbia." Another citizen stated in 1878, "the name gives universal satisfaction because it is short, significant and euphonious, and because it is the only name of its kind in the Western Hemisphere."
The government officials did not tarry long and, on October 24, 1877, the name of the post office at Reeseville became officially "Berwyn." However, the name has since been adopted also by towns in New York, Maryland, Illinois, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
The railroad improvements included realignment of tracks, construction of the wide, deep cut through the village to lower the grade and eventually in 1881, a new railroad station for Berwyn. (Coincidentally, that year A. J. Cassatt, who was later to become President of the railroad, assumed ownership of Chesterbrook Farm, and the new Broad Street Station in Philadelphia was opened.)
The railroad development fueled a renaissance in the village. From a locality of about 40 dwellings and a population near 200 persons, in the space of a few years, it grew into a thriving community of more than twice that size. So it came to pass that Berwyn, a town without a government (Easttown Township being the municipal unit), owes not only much of its prosperity to the railroad, but its name as well.
In May of 1951 the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club addressed a letter to the Berwyn businessmen's group calling attention to the fact that June, 1952 would mark the 75th anniversary of the naming of Berwyn. The businessmen felt the date was an important one, and the idea for a diamond jubilee celebration was born. Paul L. Good was chosen general chairman, and veteran residents belonging to the community's several organizations took up duties as committee chairmen and working members.
The Daily Local News ran a thumbnail biography of Paul Good in its June 25, 1952 edition:
"He is representative of the many small independent merchants that comprise the bulk of the town's community. His little store on the southeast corner of the intersection of Bridge Avenue and the Lincoln Highway is one of the most frequented establishments in Berwyn. Be it grocries, meats or just an ice cream cone or soda they're after, Berwyn people seem to be crowding the store every minute it's open.
"Good has been on the corner for four years. A native of West Chester, he and his father at one time operated a successful string of grocery stores in the borough. During his comparatively short span in Berwyn, he's developed a strong pride in his town. The town reciprocated by naming him president of the businessman's association, a post he held last year.
"Good's brow was understandably wrinkled when a large supermarket opened for business (Acme Markets on May 21, 1952) directly across the street from his store...On the big store's opening day, the little store was unusually quiet. But the corner grocer took the larger view. The new supermarket's a 100 per cent asset to the town,' he commented the other day. 'It's attracted a lot of other business to Berwyn.' It was perhaps with this quality in mind that Berwyn's citizens chose Paul Good to head their 75th anniversary celebration."
Officers of the general committee, in addition to Paul Good, were Mildred E. Lewis (Mrs. Maurice), secretary, and Charles Gibb, treasurer. Those representing the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club on the general committee were W. C. Latch, Mildred Fisher (Mrs. Leroy), Howard Okie and Fannie Wandless (Mrs. Franklin). A souvenir booklet containing the histories of the participating Berwyn organizations was sold during the celebration.
At noon on Thursday, June 26, 1952 the fire whistle sounded the official opening of the 75th anniversary celebration. All of the buildings in town were decorated with flags and red, white and blue bunting. Residents dressed up in old time costumes and special black derbies and top hats decorated with red bands. There was a hobby show open daily in the former Acme Markets building at the southwest corner of Lancaster Avenue and Main Street. Antique displays in 35 store windows all along the highway drew much interest. There had even been preliminaries the evening before in the form of a Kangaroo Court on the high school athletic field, where violators of the costume dress code were dunked in a tub of chilly water. A softball game added to the hilarity. When there was an out made, someone got dunked -monkey ball.
At 2 p.m. memorial services were held remembering deceased members of the community at the monument on Lancaster Avenue.In the evening at 6:30 p.m. there was a Little League baseball game between Berwyn and Devon-Strafford on the high school turf. The team uniforms were freshly washed and ironed for the occasion. A community church service and choir sing was held at the field following the game.
The next day, Friday, June 27, the Berwyn businessmen's gala parade stepped off at 7 p.m. There were also ceremonies at the fire house following the parade to house the new 1000 gallon a minute Autocar pumper, and burn the note on the new Cadillac ambulance.
Ted Lamborn, Jr. captured on movie film many of the events of the week. Some things, it appears, never change. The bridge at the Berwyn station was closed for repairs; there's no change today. But the big open field behind the movie theater has changed. Today it is te three-unit Main Line-Berwyn Apartments complex. Over the years the theater itself has sheltered many uses - movies, plays and light opera, roller skating, a farmer's market, and now an office for Barclay White, Inc.
A number of former Berwyn landmarks can be seen lurking in the background of filmed action: the Spring House Inn, the Berwyn Ice Plant, the Berwyn Diner, the Market Basket operated by Chester Thomas (one of Farley's brothers), the Kromer Hotel, the Frank Mattson house, the Dr. Tom Aiken house -all fronting on Lancaster Avenue, but now long gone from the scene.
The parade was led by the Berwyn Fire Company jeep, followed by cars bearing Berwyn's honored oldest residents. Arthur "Ott" Lamborn, celebrating his 77th birthday, who for many years worked for Garber*s store, and Jim Sibley, a town character enjoyed by all, appeared in one vehicle. David Preston, age 86, and his wife Alice, rode in the second car, Preston was a shoemaker who worked in the small building by the bridge, next to the Lamborn building where Dr. Stanley J. Miller had his office upstairs for many years. Walking, not riding, was Casper Tollinger who ran the Berwyn Hardware east of the bank. With him were Joe Townsend, with quite a beard for the celebration, and John Paxson, who had a store near the post office which, by the way, was located just where it is today.
Most of Berwyn's businesses were represented by vehicles or floats which followed the Tredyffrin Easttown High School band. The line of march proceeded west from the area of the American Non-Gran Bronze Corp. building where, short years before, engine parts were made for World War II aircraft. William H. Doyle, Inc. had a mule hitched to a wagon with Tony driving, and Bob Doyle and Francis McDonnell seated beside. Chick and Terry McDonnell, Ted and John Lamborn, and Frank Leventhal were also along for the ride.
Harold's Department store, operated by Lou Lieberman and located west of the post office, paraded a huge Buick convertible decorated with roses and transporting local beauty Peggy Bowman in it. Maude Steel Brown and her husband followed in a fancy horse-drawn rig.
A scan of the Berwyn streetscape showed Alfred Pusey shining a windshield at his Tydol gas station at the east end of town. He was married to Dottie Burns, who recently joined the History Club. Moving west, the automobile showroom of Sorenson Motors came into view. On the west side of the bank, Dr. A. E. Day's Drug Store was located in the east half of the building where Connor's Drug Store is now. The Jack Patterson Radio and Television Repair shop was on Waterloo Avenue, just off ] Lancaster.
Ed Kelley was on duty in his Easttown police uniform. Jack Bunce was chief of police; Easttown did not need a lot of them in those days. Mr. and Mrs. Richard Porte and their daughter were on the porch of what used to be Garber's store. Later Mr. and Mrs. Coombs ran it.
"Father" Joe Brown appeared in overalls. Also seen was William Supplee, who lived on Waterloo Avenue. His daughter is Kathryn Llewellyn, widow of Gordon Llewellyn, former principal of the Berwyn School. She now lives at the White Horse Village. Berwyn's newest improvement, the new Acme Markets store at the west end of town with its large parking lot, provided viewing space for the activities at the fire house.
Walking in the parade were Clarence Leighton, who ran the Berwyn Plumbing and Heating Co., and Mr. DiMazio, who lived in Dr. Yerkes' house opposite Trinity Presbyterian Church. The Yerkes property is a parking lot for the church today.
As the parade wound down, the Oscar Mayer weiner truck came into view followed by Bill Pyott in one of his yellow school buses. Near the rear of the march was the new fire truck. It was christened at the fire house, and the celebrating went on until it was too dark to see.
Saturday, June 28 was set aside as Fireman's Day. At 10:30 a.m. the annual meeting of the Chester County Firemen's Association convened in the fire house auditorium. After lunch, at 2 p.m. the firemen's parade got under way featuring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, with bands from far and near competing for prizes. (A newspaper account reported units from 34 fire companies accepted invitations to parade.) Riding in the honorary division which led the marchers were David Preston and Phoebe Booth. Ms. Booth ran the Booth School in Devon where Merle and Chuck Lee and Margie Lewis Dempsey worked. The Westville (N.J.) Fire Company took home $375 in prizes for its marching club, band and ladies auxiliary. Fame (West Chester) was awarded a $200 prize for the best appearing fire company.
It was a long parade on a hot day. It moved from west to east down Lancaster Avenue while traffic moved on the other half of the highway. Ted Lamborn Jr., sporting a handsome moustache for the occasion, took movies all afternoon from the top of a step ladder in front of the Berwyn bank and Berwyn hardware.
The celebration closed on Sunday, June 29 with special worship services in the individual churches of Berwyn. On Sunday afternoon the results of judging the clothes worn during the week which would have been appropriate for days 75 years ago were announced. Charles Gibb took winning honors in the men's division, Mrs. William Rambo won in the women's division, and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brown were chosen the best dressed old-fashioned couple.
It was, in short, a celebration not soon forgotten!Top
(all information from the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club archives)
Burns, Franklin L, "A History of Berwyn." (Unpublished manuscript, no date.)
Newspaper clippings reporting Berwyn's 75th anniversary.
Video of movie film made by Ted Lamborn Jr. in Berwyn on June 26-29, 1952.
Page last updated: 2009-05-12 at 10:09 EST