Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: October 1997 Volume 35 Number 4, Pages 123–142

Berwyn Village Walk

C. Herbert Fry

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Berwyn occupies a high, rocky ridge of land along the crest of the South Valley hill, which lies partly in Easttown and partly in Tredyffrin townships. Berwyn is the third name given to the village founded in this place.

In the eighteenth century, just before the American Revolution, a tiny crossroads settlement known as Cockletown established itself on the northernmost portion of the ridge. It was so named, it is said, for the blue cockle, or cornflower, which flourished there. The earliest road leading from Philadelphia to Lancaster passed through Cockletown.

Soon after independence was won, the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike (opened in 1794), and the Philadelphia and Columbia Rail Road (constructed in 1832), traversed the settlement and gradual residential development followed. The incipient village came to be known as Reeseville, borrowing the name of local landowners and innkeepers, the Reese family.

In 1877 the village, then populated by some 200 persons, became Berwyn, a name given to it by Pennsylvania Railroad people who were promoting development along the "Main Line" of their railroad west from Philadelphia.

The village is situated in the historic Welsh Tract granted by William Penn to Welsh Quakers. Earliest settlers located in the rich Chester Valley north of the ridge or to the south on Easttown's plateau. The farmers traveled here to the ridge for services found in the village - blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, shoemakers, village stores -- and for the road and railroad to transport their goods to market. Today's village provides services for the great suburban population that grew up here in the last half century.

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Map by Elizabeth Ansley

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Maggie Lobb House

In 1877, when the railroad took down the sign "Reeseville" and put up the name "Berwyn," more than a name was changing. The rolling farmlands that were Reeseville were about to become the thriving village of Berwyn. The lot on the corner of Waterloo and First Avenues, now 72 Waterloo Avenue, was once a part of the old Carter farm. Mary A. Lewis bought the farm from the Carter heirs in 1877 and started to develop it. A piece was deeded to Maggie M(arshall) Lobb on May 6, 1878, and it is believed that the house, one of the earliest in the emerging village, was built that year.

Maggie Marshall had come to Reeseville as a single woman in 1874 to live in the household of Frank H. Stauffer, a noted journalist, whose wife Etta was her sister. Two years later she married Ethelbert Lobb, the son of a large local family. Likely, Maggie Lobb's name was on the deed because the Marshall family financed the purchase. Tragically, while still young, she contracted a severe cold which developed into pneumonia. Maggie Lobb died on September 19, 1892, at age 44, leaving behind her husband and five children, the youngest age seven.

In the years just before and after the turn of the century, other parties operated a livery stable off the lot at the rear of the house, and the house next door. Following Ethelbert Lobb's death in 1918, the house, built 40 years earlier, was sold out of the Lobb family. It is today the home of John McClintick, his wife and their infant child.

Maggie Lobb House, built ca. 1878

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William M. Coates, a successful Philadelphia wool merchant, and one of three Coates brothers who kept estates on the southern borders of Berwyn, purchased the old Benjamin Wetherby farm late in 1879. He immediately set about enlarging the two-story stone farmhouse, of very early origin, as a summer home. Frame additions were constructed to both the east and west ends of the old stone house. The Daily Local News commented, on August 5, 1880, "The English style adopted by Mr. Coates ... is admired by the lovers of a change in the order of the American or Yankee way of putting up dwellings."

At that time it was becoming fashionable for Philadelphia families to seek relief from the summer heat in the country, to the west of the city along the line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Only two summers later, in 1882, the newly constructed Devon Inn, with over 200 rooms, opened nearby to receive summer guests, most of whom came from the city.

Coates named his house "Sproxton" after the English town in Leicestershire where his family had its roots. Following Coates' death in 1937, it was remodeled for year round use, and his widow moved from Philadelphia to Berwyn where it was more convenient for her daughter, Esther, who had married into the local Sharp family, to look after her. Mrs. Coates lived at Sproxton until her death in 1952 at age 102. The property was then sold, and became part of the 1950s Berwyn Downs housing development of 80 or more homes. The old house at 97 Waterloo Avenue today is the residence of the Martin A. Cunningham family and is for sale.


Church Hill

The land in the village rises to a high point along Church Avenue (now renamed Main Avenue). It is part of the outlying fields of the former Spring House Inn, built around 1804 to provide accommodations for travelers on the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike. John McLeod, the founding pastor of the first village church, bought the old inn (then closed) for his home, along with 50 acres of inn property, when he came to Berwyn. McLeod laid out most of the southern part of the village and gave the first streets their names.

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Soon after his arrival in 1861, he and his wife gave the land for Trinity Presbyterian Church. The church was completed the next year and dedicated on January 4, 1863. It was the first church chartered and built as a church in Easttown Township. In thirty years, the congregation grew to the point where larger quarters were needed, and a new, larger church was built on the same spot in 1892. This is the gray-stone, gothic-style church still standing. The plans were drawn by John Fraser, a prominent Philadelphia architect, then nearing the end of a long career. Earlier he had designed Philadelphia's Union League, and served as structual architect for the U. S. Treasury buildings under construction in Washington, D. C. The contractor was local builder of note, William H. Burns.

The Presbyterian church stood alone on the hill until 1878, when the first Berwyn Town Hall was built behind it. In the next decade the hall saw much use on Sundays by other organizing churches. It is said that in the 1880s, the Catholics in the morning, the Methodists in the afternoon, and the Baptists in the evening, met on Sundays in the hall back of the church. Later the hall was purchased by the Presbyterian church. Ultimately it became the site of the church's new educational wing.

Saint Monica Roman Catholic Church is this year celebrating its 100th anniver­sary as an independent congregation. However, its history extends back even further to 1879 when the Town Hall was rented as a missionary station of the Augustinian Fathers of Villanova. For ten years services were held on alternate Sundays in the Town Hall and at Villanova. The first church building, erected on the east side of Church Avenue, was first used for services at Christmas of 1889, but it was not completed until 1893. On May 22, 1991, this wood and stucco church was destroyed by fire when a spark from a roofer's torch ignited the old roof shingles. The new church, dedicated in 1993, is a successful combination of the old and the new. Incorporated in the design are old wood and old stained glass salvaged from a Philadelphia church that had been demolished.

The Methodists began their work in Berwyn in 1884, also renting space in the Town Hall for a Sunday School. In 1887 they broke ground for their church building on the west side of Church Avenue, south of the Town Hall. It was dedi­cated in December of 1888 as the Berwyn Methodist Episcopal Church. The architect was B. D. Price, Esq. who designed a stone building 38 feet wide, 62 feet long and 30 feet high at the roof peak. On its south side there was provision for an 11 foot square stone tower, surmounted by a belfrey and neat spire, in all about 70 feet high. The builder was contractor William H. Burns. The Methodists moved down Waterloo Avenue to larger quarters in 1958. The last official church service in the old building was the wedding of Paul Vanderslice and Lois Ann Downs at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, 1958. Today, the original building, minus the spire which has been removed as unsafe, is the home of the Footlighters Little Theatre group, which produces plays during the winter season.

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George Tobler House

The "Tobler House" was erected in 1874 when the village was known as "Reeseville". It was built by Rev. John McLeod, the Presbyterian minister who made his home in the village, and owned all of the land east of Waterloo Avenue and south of the Lancaster Turnpike. McLeod worked in the city and carried out his real estate activities here for almost twenty years.

He apparently built the house on speculation, and its first owner was a Philadelphia attorney. In the years following, it was owned by a succession of other Philadelphians who either used it as a summer residence or as an investment rental property.

George Tobler acquired the house in the summer of 1879. He owned it for the next fourteen years, and during the latter years of this period was said to be a resident of Berwyn. Tobler also acquired an adjoining 1-4/10 acres to the south from McLeod in 1882, making him owner of roughly half the block (there were three other property owners). In 1888, he sold off a 7/10-acre piece to the newly organized Catholic Church as the site for their sanctuary. George Tobler sold his remaining Berwyn property and left the village in 1893. The house, originally built as a single home, today has been converted to double occupancy, and is known as 614 and 622 Berwyn Avenue.

George Tobler House, built 1874


Morton Thompson House

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The double house at the northwest corner of Main and Berwyn Avenues, an imposing mansion of Italianate facade, is said to have been built by William Clark, a lumber merchant of Philadelphia, as a summer residence around 1866. In any event, Clark later sold the property, in 1867, to Charles Thompson of Reeseville, a former Tredyffrin resident, once the landlord from 1836 to 1840 of the Farmers and Mechanics Inn at Centerville in the Valley. There were a number of innkeepers in Thompson's immediate family. His brother, William C. Thompson, owned the former Fox Tavern on the old Lancaster (now Conestoga) Road around 1830, at what is today Francis Avenue. Charles Thompson married Margaret Dane, one of five daughters of John and Peggy Dane, innkeepers at the Spring House Inn on the Lancaster Turnpike from about 1825 to 1844.

As early as 1852, Charles Thompson owned the large house (he had a large family of children) which stood alone on the Lancaster Turnpike opposite the railroad, before the village had yet been formed. (In later years, when it was demolished in 1972, it was known locally as the Mattson House.) Thompson found success as superintendent of one of the early street car lines in Philadelphia. He probably was one of the earliest commuters to the city.

Thompson died in 1875, but his widow Margaret lived on in Berwyn until her death in 1897. Son John Morton Thompson, who lived with her, was an accountant and unmarried. He was deeded the real property owned by his mother, which covered much of the block bounded by the Lancaster Turnpike, Main, Berwyn and Waterloo Avenues. Shortly after his mother's death, he returned to Philadelphia and sold off the properties in Berwyn.


First Baptist Church of Berwyn

The First Baptist Church of Berwyn dedicated its new building just before Thanksgiving of 1904. The church had been organized eight years earlier in the fall of 1896 by 52 members who withdrew from The Baptist Church in the Great Valley. A difference of opinion had arisen in the Valley Church which culminated in the resignation of its pastor, Rev. John G. Booker, and the subsequent departure of the disaffected to form a new church in Berwyn.

The newly formed congregation met for a time in the Odd Fellows Hall in Berwyn. In 1898 the group moved their meetings to the Presbyterian Hall, where they met until 1903 when their new building was nearing completion.

Because of a lack of space for parking, in 1978 the congregation purchased the McClatchy mansion and surrounding acreage on Waterloo Avenue about three­quarters of a mile south of the church and began meeting there in the mansion house. A new church building erected on the lawn in front of the old mansion was occupied in 1983. The purchaser of the old church building in the village has renovated it into commercial office space.

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Odd Fellows Hall

Before the phonograph, motion pictures, radio and television, there was the "lodge". A 1911 report in The Suburban and Wayne Times newspaper observed, "There are about a dozen lodges in Berwyn, all with good membership, and in looking over the meeting nights one wonders whether the men of this pretty village ever stay home o'night." A lengthy list of lodges and meeting nights followed: In Odd Fellows Hall, Monday night, Order of Independent Americans, No. 362; Tuesday night, Berwyn Lodge, No. 998, Independent Order of Odd Fellows; Wednesday night, Carpenters' and Joiners' Union; first and third Thursday nights, Ladies of the Golden Eagle, No. 84; second and fourth Thursday nights, Berwyn Castle, No. 142, Knights of the Golden Eagle; Friday night, Wyomissing Lodge, No 231, I. O. O. R; Saturday night, Daughters of Liberty, No. 21.... Meeting elsewhere were the Berwyn Division, A. O. H., and Thompson Lodge, F. and A. M. In addition to all these were the meetings of the Fire Company, the Building and Loan Association, and the Berwyn Social Club, and "yet the women of Berwyn seem to be a happy and contented lot."

Berwyn Lodge, No. 998, I. O. O. F., was instituted on May 28, 1884. It first met in Old Hall behind the Presbyterian Church, but then moved to Steen's Hall (now a part of the Fritz Lumber Yard buildings). In 1890 the lodge bought from Frank H. Stauffer a lot on the east side of Waterloo Avenue between the Lancaster Pike and Berwyn Avenue as the site for its own hall. Built in 1892, it is two stories high, 30 feet wide and 70 feet long. The lodge room was on the upper floor, with the first floor used as a public hall for meetings, political rallies, benefit entertain­ment performances, musical recitals, concerts, and in later years, silent motion pictures, before the introduction of "talkies". Berwyn Lodge consolidated with Paoli Lodge, No. 290, I. O. O. F. in December of 1943, and moved out of the Berwyn Hall. It is today an Eldred Wheeler furniture showroom.

Odd Fellows Hall, built 1892

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The Roads

Transportation routes - roads and the railroad -- have always been important to Berwyn. Lancaster Avenue, today's U. S. Route 30 (once known as the Lincoln Highway), was the last built of the three roads to Lancaster which run through the village. It has occupied some of its present road bed since 1877, when the earlier Lancaster Turnpike was moved slightly to the south and a deep railroad cut made where the road had previously existed.

In the center of the village the railroad now follows approximately the path of the original Lancaster Turnpike road. To the east and to the west, portions of the old turnpike are still in use but are now called "Old Lancaster".

Just north of the railroad is Conestoga Road. This was the first road from Philadelphia to Lancaster. In its day it too was known as the Lancaster, or Provincial, road. It runs in the path carved out years ago by animals traveling along the ridge, where soil was thin and vegetation sparce. The Lenape Indians followed these trampled paths in their migrations. When early settlers drove their fattened cattle to market in Philadelphia, they used the same trodden paths.

In 1733 the Provincial government of Pennsylvania determined this to be the official King's Highway, or Great Road, between Lancaster and Philadelphia. Gradually it was improved and widened to accommodate Conestoga wagons. Often the wagons sank deep in the spring mud, and traffic was at a standstill. With the advent of the Lancaster Turnpike in 1794 (the first macadam road in the country), the old Provincial road became just another country back road. Horse races were said to be held there for amusement in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

Today the three roads to Lancaster are no longer major arteries moving traffic and services east and west. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Schuylkill Expressway and U. S. Route 202 in the Valley are the main thoroughfares.


The Railroad

The Philadelphia and Columbia Rail Road that came through the village in 1832 followed the roads along the ridge of the South Valley hill. It was constructed "at the expense of the state," and was part of a series of railroads and canals connecting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh known as the "Main Line of Public Works". The railroad put a quick end to the stage coach era along the Lancaster Turnpike, and with it the usefulness of the Conestoga wagon and many roadside inns catering to turnpike travelers.

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A local historian has written, "The [rail]road was as crooked as a meadow brook and was at first operated by horse power, but on April 1, 1834, the first locomotive, the 'Black Hawk', ran in eight and one-half hours from Philadelphia to Lancaster." By 1836 steam had displaced the horses. A local farmer viewed the first steam drawn cars with tears streaming down his face and exclaimed to his neighbor, "Our farms are ruined!" and the latter, in a vain attempt to test the supremacy of the horse, ruined a valuable colt racing the returning engine into Philadelphia.

Shortly after Reeseville took the name Berwyn, an effort was made to have the old flag stop along the railroad replaced with a new passenger and freight station. The farmers at Berwyn shipped meats, eggs, poultry, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, in season, to market in Philadelphia twice weekly. A market car was parked at the station for the farmers to load. Milk was, of course, shipped daily.

In 1877 the Pennsylvania Railroad, successor to the old Philadelphia and Columbia, inaugurated great improvements. The roadbed was rebuilt to eliminate the numerous short curves originally built into the line. The wide, deep cut through the village lowered the grade and made space for an increase in the number of tracks. The high bridge was thrown over the tracks at the station, Cassatt Avenue was opened, and access was provided to the station from the north. The bridge over the tracks for the Lancaster Turnpike was replaced by the upper bridge with the S-turn. Some buildings were slid a considerable distance south, to allow for the new width of the railroad cut, and expertly set on new foundations.

Finally, in 1881 a new brick station building was completed. Four tracks came into Berwyn, and only three went on to Paoli. Paoli would not be the main terminal on the Upper Main Line until after 1913.

Today SEPTA and AMTRAK carry commuters and long distance travelers through the center of the village, but railroad freight service ceased over a decade ago following the demise of the merged Penn Central Railroad.


The Oldest Place of Business in Berwyn -- "Fritz's"

For over 130 years the Fritz Lumber Yard has served the needs of the residents of the village for quality building supplies. At one time, too, anthracite coal for residential heating was in great demand, and made up an important part of the products offered for sale. Its buildings just east of the railroad station are familiar to all who pass by.

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Henry Fritz, a carpenter of German parentage from nearby Spread Eagle, married Mary Lobb, a local girl, in 1863. About that time he started a hardware and lumber business near the station in what was then Reeseville. The Fritz home (no longer standing) was located on the north side of the railroad tracks, just east of the upper bridge.

In 1870, Fritz was killed in an accident at the Eagle railroad station, leaving behind his widow and two infant sons. The lumber yard was operated then by Mary Lobb Fritz's brother, Preston Lobb, until 1886 when William H. Fritz, the eldest son, became of age and took over the business.

William Henry Fritz was one of Berwyn's outstanding citizens. He was one of the organizers of the Berwyn National Bank in 1888, and served as Secretary of the Board for 38 years. He was also a leader in Trinity Presbyterian Church, which he presented in 1916 with a pipe organ and an endowment for its maintenance. Fritz operated the lumber yard for over 50 years. He passed away in 1938.

The business was left to his son, William H. Fritz Jr., who died only three years later in 1941, leaving a widow and two young children. It was an amazing repeat of history. His widow, Marion Parke Fritz, ran the business until 1956. At that time her son, William H. Fritz III, who had recently returned as an officer from the Korean War, assumed management of the lumber business. His tenure has continued up to today, and his sons William H. IV, and Andrew, have entered the business with him. Prospects are bright that the Fritz name will endure among Berwyn's businesses for yet another generation.


Berwyn Theatre

The Berwyn Theatre was built and opened in 1913 by George Zimmerman, who lived near the station on Cassatt Avenue. Zimmerman worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Philadelphia for many years as an auditor. He was a relative of Fred Zimmerman, formerly of the theatrical firm of Nixon and Zimmerman. Frederick Nixon-Nirdlinger, also of the firm, used theatres in Camden to build sets and try out shows before taking them on the road. George Zimmerman thought it would be just as easy to get to Berwyn on the train to do this, so he bought the piece of property next door to his home and built the Berwyn Theatre.

A program found in the local History Club files records that the theatre was used in 1921 to stage "The Berwyn Follies" utilizing local talent to benefit the Berwyn Free Library. But over the years, movies likely came to be the usual bill, sometimes promoted with "dish night" when patrons got free dishes.

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There were attempts in 1933 and again in 1947 to promote professional repetory theatre or light opera. In the summer of 1947, an eighteen year old Beverly Sills, just beginning her illustrious career, appeared on the stage of the Berwyn Theatre as "The Merry Widow" to great acclaim.

The theatre closed at the end of 1951, a victim of the rise in popularity of television at home. Martin Spinelli bought the theatre property in 1955 and leased it for operation as the Berwyn Roller Rink. In 1978 it became a Farmer's Market for a couple of years, and in 1980 Barclay White Constructors turned it into an office building.


Bishop's New Cottage

Advertised for sale in 1892 as "Bishop's New Cottage," the house at the northeast corner of Cassatt and Kromer Avenues was likely built by William B. Bishop shortly after he bought the half-acre lot in 1890. The Daily Local News had this to say, " .... The handsome structure contains ten rooms, of which six are bedrooms and are well lighted. The building has ... open fire places, heated by heaters, gas, electric bells, bath room, laundry room, with elegant soft water, engine to force water in tank, stationary wash tubs, hot and cold water, etc."

The house was known as "La Carne" when it was owned more recently by the Robbs. A distinctive feature is a porte-cochere [porch under which a carriage may be driven] and it would be interesting to know whether the design was influenced by the similar amenity at the big house, Hillcrest, down the street.

William Beaumont Bishop (his mother was a Beaumont), builder of the house, lived there for over 30 years. He was born in Philadelphia in 1864, and was brought to Easttown Township by his parents when he was a small boy. He was a well-known resident of the local area where he lived for over 90 years. In 1905 he started a concrete block business in Paoli known as Keystone Cement Company. He was also an architect and builder who erected many buildings now standing in the area.


Baptist Chapel

The Baptist Chapel dates to 1886. It was built by the congregation of The Baptist Church in the Great Valley in response to a perceived need for a place of worship closer to the railroad where the population was beginning to cluster.

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The chapel erected by H. Morgan Ruth of Duffryn Mawr (Malvern) on a half-acre of ground was first occupied by the Sunday School on November 28, 1886. Its size was 52 feet by 52 feet, and it was carpeted. The basement was purposely designed with a ceiling ten feet high. The tower, with its 325-pound bell, rose nearly 80 feet. Folding arm chairs seated 350 people. There were beautiful exposed beams in the ceiling, and stained glass windows. It was the first church in Berwyn to have electricity.

As time went on the Chapel was used more and more, and the Valley church was used only in the summer. On the first of October, the congregation would go to the Chapel and have church services there all winter when the weather and roads were bad.

The Chapel was severely damaged by a fire in 1895, and was saved only by the heroics of many local people, along with the newly-formed fire company. The trustees immediately set about restoration. The congregation met temporarily in the Odd Fellows Hall, and in time the Chapel was reconstructed.

Sixty years later, after World War II, it was decided to bring the center of the church back into the Valley meeting house. Roads were no longer impassable in the winter. The automobile made travel easy, and the population of the Valley was poised to increase. A new church school building and parsonage were built there, and the Chapel sold in 1953 to the congregation of Christian Scientists, then meeting in Wayne, who have occupied it since.



"Hillcrest," a fifteen-acre estate perched on the ridge overlooking the Great Valley at the end of Cassatt Avenue, is most often associated with its period of ownership by Oliver Bair, from 1905 until his death in 1923, and then by his daughter, Mary, on into the 1950s.

It had been part of the farm of Peter Burns Sr., and upon his death in 1877, it was divided among his children. The eastern fifteen-acre tract eventually went to investors Allen Evans and Edward F. Beale, who in turn sold it to William Drennen a few years later. Drennen constructed a house on the crest of the hill from which there was a magnificant view of the valley. In 1892 Drennen sold to Edmund A. W. Hunter, of Philadelphia. Hunter died three years later, and it was from his estate that Bair acquired Hillcrest in 1905 for $50,000 -- a princely sum.

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A postcard view of the house from around 1907 shows a magnificant house with a wide curving driveway leading to a porte-cochere off of porches extending across the full width of the front, with more porches on the second and third floors. Four tall chimneys rose above the roof and a large dome with finial covered the third floor porch. The sender of the card wrote, "Here we are still enjoying country life. Is this not a pretty picture of Breezie Hill?"

Oliver Bair was the founder and owner of the largest undertaking establishment in Philadelphia, at 1820 Chestnut Street. He was born in Chester County, received his education in the Coatesville Public Schools, and went to Philadelphia as a young man where he gained fame and fortune as a funeral director. There is no evidence that he was a year round resident of Berwyn. It is likely that he used Hillcrest as a summer home, although his daughter Mary later lived there year round.


George Hutton House

The development of the Peter Burns Sr. farm began in 1884 when a forty-foot avenue running north from the old Provincial Road west of Hillcrest had been put on the map. A one acre lot on the northwest corner of the new avenue (now named Bair Road) was purchased by J. Frank Beale in late 1889 as the site for his new home.

Beale sold to George S. Hutton in 1903, and the property stayed in the Hutton family for around forty years. George Hutton took an active interest in the betterment of Berwyn, serving as president of the Berwyn Citizens' Association from its inception in 1905 until at least 1914. He also served as president of the Easttown School Board, and as chairman of the Tredyffrin-Easttown Joint High School Board.

George Hutton died in 1923. The house at 746 Conestoga Road was later occupied by the family of his daughter, Mrs. Alice Newbold. Today it is owned by Mrs. Carolyn Brunschwyler.


Abraham Latch House

Abraham S. Latch sold his farm in the Valley to Lawrence Bodine around 1900, and built a handsome gray-stone house in North Berwyn on the one-acre lot on the north side of the old Provincial Road, just west of J. Frank Beale. As a young man he had learned the carpenter's trade in Philadelphia, and before settling on the farm had been an active builder. He served as assessor and tax collector in Tredyffrin Township. He also took the school census. A. S. Latch died in 1914, and his widow, Emma, in 1923.

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Their son, William C. Latch, and his family occupied the house through the 1960s. W. C. Latch was a painting contractor and also served his community on the school boards. He was a member of the Tredyffrin School Board for over twenty years, twelve as vice-president, and he was president of the Tredyffrin-Easttown Joint School Board for twelve years. Latch died in 1955, survived by his daughter, Josephine. The house at 764 Conestoga Road is today occupied by George Kauffman.


Tredyffrin Observatory

Harry Barlow Rumrill was a special accountant for the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he spent his entire 49-year working career. By avocation he was an amateur astronomer. He was approaching middle age when he came to Berwyn in 1911 with his wife and two children to make his home in an old stone house at 775 Conestoga Road. The house, it is said, had as early as 1847 served briefly as a meeting place when Paoli Lodge, No. 290, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was instituted there.

Rumrill met Rev. Alden Walker Quimby, pastor of the Berwyn Methodist Church, at a lecture on astronomy in 1905. Quimby was a man of wide interests, among them astronomy, and he became noted for his regularly published series of daily observations of the sun, covering 32 years. Rumrill and Quimby formed a close friendship which, no doubt, influenced Rumrill in his decision to purchase a home in Berwyn, close to Quimby's home.

When Rev. Quimby died in 1922, Harry Rumrill carried on his sun spot work, adopting the practice of observing the sun early each morning before departing for work. Following his retirement in 1932, he planned and, acting as his own mechanic, constructed in his back yard a 16-foot square astronomical observatory in which he mounted his telescope with four-inch lens. He continued his observations until the day of his death on the 22nd of January in 1951. Ms. Josie Aingeldinger is the current owner of the property.

Tredyffrin Observatory, built ca. 1934

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The Schools

The first school in the village of Berwyn was built in 1888 by Easttown Township. The Tredyffrin School Board erected the North Berwyn School across the railroad on the south east corner of Conestoga and Howellville Roads in 1892. The school was built as a one-room schoolhouse, but later additions enlarged it to contain four class rooms. The school operated until 1932, when it closed. Subsequently, it was extensively refurbished and used by the Tredyffrin-Easttown High School for its vocational and art classes. Today, it houses the Maintenance Department of the T-E Schools.

In 1907, the General Assembly of the state of Pennsylvania passed legislation which gave two or more adjoining townships the right to erect and keep joint high schools. At a joint meeting of the school boards of Easttown and Tredyffrin, it was decided to merge the two local high schools then existing into one joint high school, to be known as Tredyffrin-Easttown Joint High School. Land was secured on the south west corner of Conestoga and Howellville Roads, across the street from the North Berwyn School, and a school building built. When the new school was occupied in 1908, it was the first joint high school in the state of Pennsyl­vania. It served the community until 1955, when Conestoga High School was opened and T-E High School closed.

An addition was made to the building in 1928 which doubled its size and capacity. Athletic fields were laid out around the school, and the vocational department moved into the vacated North Berwyn School in 1936. Another addition was made to the school in 1939 to house the junior high school which separated itself academically from the high school, thereafter having its own administration a nd faculty. Around 1970, the junior high facilities were expanded, and the adjacent old high school building was demolished. Today the junior high been renamed the the middle school.


Charles Bradley House

The house standing at the north west corner of what is today Old Lancaster and Howellville Roads (known as 828 Old Lancaster Road) has been converted into offices for Peter Zimmerman, Architects, and is one of the oldest houses in Berwyn. When the road was widened from 33 feet to 50 feet in 1956, the highway project left the east wall of the house extending into Howellville Road.

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A previous owner, Mrs. Mildred Bradley (later Mrs. Fisher), now deceased, documented the chain of title for the property back to a grant from William Penn. It was owned for almost 70 years in the eighteenth century by the Iddings family, and it was inherited by Elizabeth Iddings Wayne, wife of Isaac Wayne and mother of Genera! Anthony Wayne. There is no evidence that the Waynes lived on the property, which was 100 acres at the time.

The present stone house probably replaced a log house about 200 years ago. In 1958, "Bradlotte" (as named by the Bradleys) was described as follows: "2-1/2 story, stone, detached residence with shingle roof, plaster over stone and lath with concrete covered porch. The first floor," the narrative continued, "contains a reception hall, living room with marble fireplace, dining room, breakfast room, kitchen with wood cabinets, pine floors and plaster walls. The second floor contains four bedrooms, one bath and kitchen. There are four fireplaces on the second floor. The third floor contains one finished bedroom and a store room."

The house, and roughly 8/10-acre lot, was sold to Charles and Mildred Bradley in 1921 by Emma Beadle, widow of the previous owner, John Beadle.


Berwyn Drug Store

The original Berwyn Drug Store was built by Dr. James Aiken around 1870. It stood on the Lancaster Pike, where in later years an intersecting street running south, named Knox Avenue, would be opened. It is not altogether surprising that the street laid out by Dr. Aiken's father, Thomas Aiken, to open the Aiken farm to development would be named Knox, after the Protestant reformer John Knox, because he was a strict Presbyterian.

Dr. Aiken was a pharmacist/physician, having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania medical school in 1868 when he was only 20 years of age. He married Clara Alexander of North Coventry Township in 1881. She had been teaching at the Presbyterian School in the Valley, and in the years that followed her marriage, she also became a pharmacist. The original drug store, and the house behind it, were moved intact to a location further south in the same block. The handsome, three-story, brick building was then erected in 1889 on the corner to house the doctor's family and the new drug store.

Later, Dr. Aiken built a new residence for himself and his family on the Lancaster Pike west of the store, and about 1910 sold the store and business to Frank Walker and his wife Agnes, both of whom were also pharmacists, who operated there until 1930.

The building was later used as the village library until 1958. Recently it has housed an antiques business.

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Berwyn Fire Company

The Berwyn Fire Company traces its origins to the last decade of the nineteenth century. A destructive fire in 1891, which consumed the shop of blacksmith, George Krider, and carriage builder and wheelwright Frank Krider, prompted the residents of Berwyn to organize a fire company. It was chartered on November 20, 1894.

Each volunteer fireman provided his own equipment consisting of a leather bucket and a section of ladder kept in his own home and brought with him each time he answered an alarm. The ladder sections were joined to provide a greater reach at the scene of the fire.

A lot was purchased on the north side of Berwyn Avenue and a small building put up to house equipment. The largest piece of equipment was a drawn hook and ladder wagon, supposedly horse drawn but very often hand drawn. Local historian Frank Burns has recorded a famous run made to Chesterbrook Farm with the hand drawn equipment in twelve minutes. (Of course, it was mostly downhill.) The wagon carried six five-gallon tanks, leather buckets and several ladder sections.

In 1906 the firemen purchased a horse drawn pumper. In 1917 the first motorized equipment was acquired. The present firehouse, at 23 Bridge Avenue, was erected in 1929 during the presidency of Dr. Tom Aiken, and was greatly expanded in 1974.


William Burns House

The house at 72 Bridge Avenue (north west corner of Bridge and First Avenues) was built by 24-year old William H. "Harry" Burns as his personal residence in 1881, the year of his marriage, and shortly after he embarked on a career as a builder of single-family, Victorian-style residences. He was the third generation of a family of carpenters, masons and builders, and as his ability and reputation grew, he successfully entered into contracts for large public buildings. He was the builder of several Easttown schools, the Berwyn bank, the 1892 Presbyterian church and the 1888 Methodist church in Berwyn, numerous mansions on new estates, and the Paoli and other railroad stations. One of the most eye appealing of his projects was the 1908 Tredyffrin-Easttown High School constructed in North Berwyn at Howellville and Conestoga Roads.

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An important part of the William H. Burns business was the Berwyn Planing Mill, which he started in the back yard of his home. As work increased, he moved the mill to a location north of the Berwyn railroad station, and he built a new home near it at the corner of Kromer and Price Avenues. The mill prepared the lumber he used for his business -- all kinds of millwork and builders' materials, including window frames and sash, blinds, stairs and moldings. Much of the decorative trim ("gingerbread") found on porch supports in Berwyn today, a century later, was no doubt fashioned in the Burns mill. Between the contract work and the mill, Burns was said to employ 45 men with a weekly payroll of $600 in 1891.

William H. Burns died in 1910 just two weeks before his 54th birthday, leaving behind a grieving village of Berwyn.

William Burns House, built 1881



Reference to specific sources of information used in the preparation of this article have been omitted here but are available in a fully annotated copy of the Berwyn Village Walk "guide script" filed in the archives of the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club. Most frequently referenced as a source is the TEHC Quarterly publication found on the history shelf in our local libraries. Also referenced are the unpublished manuscript History of Berwyn by Franklin L. Burns; the newspaper clipping files of the Chester County Historical Society library; and deed and will documents found in the Chester County Archives.

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End Note

On Thursday evening, August 7, 1997, the Berwyn-Devon Business and Profes­sional Association and the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club sponsored a walking tour of the Village of Berwyn. The walk was part of the 3rd Annual series of twelve "Town Tours & Village Walks," developed by the Chester County Tourist Bureau and the County Historic Preservation Office for summer evening enjoy­ment, described in their brochure as "suitable for history buffs and admirers of domestic architecture and fun for the entire family."

Jack Ansley coordinated the affair for the businessmen, who provided refreshments from Aquilante's Executive Dining Car [Trolley] parked at the railroad station, and recruited twenty-five guides to interpret the history and highlights of the village using a script written by Herb Fry for the History Club. More than 300 persons enjoyed the evening, which was judged a large success based on the pleasant memories shared by all the villagers for many weeks thereafter.

Visitors at Berwyn Village Walk enjoy refreshments at the railroad station


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