Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: April 1999 Volume 37 Number 2, Pages 44–48

Waterloo Mills Preserve

Carter R. Leidy III

Page 44

The Easttown township village of Waterloo Mills was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service on July 21, 1995 as an example of an intact, agriculture-based, 19th century hamlet. The village will become part of a newly created Waterloo Mills Nature Preserve along Darby creek to be managed by the Brandywine Conservancy's Environmental Management Center.

How the Brandywine Conservancy came to own the large tract of land which constitutes this property is a story of generosity on the part of the donor, and hard work and imagination on the part of the donee. In December of 1997 the Conservancy acquired 53+ acres in Newtown township, Delaware county, adjacent to the Waterloo Mills site. The land, referred to as the Harrison Estate open space tract, came as part of a land swap for a 20+ acre parcel the Conservancy already owned in Easttown township. The land given up was located on the western fringe of Waterloo Mills where the Castlehill development is currently being built.

In February of 1998, the Conservancy acquired 114+ additional acres and five buildings located in the village of Waterloo Mills, all of which were donated by John C. and Chara Cooper Haas. This gave the Conservancy a total of 167+ acres which now comprise what is known as the Waterloo Mills Preserve. Open space, consisting of fields, forests, and marshlands surround the district's historic core and will be protected from development forever as a nature preserve.

Page 45

To help better manage growth and preserve natural resources, the Environmental Management Center has created the position of Eastern Area Manager to be staffed with a person who will oversee the new Preserve, seek additional conservation easements, monitor easement properties, and develop community relations on behalf of the Center. Managing the Preserve will be a special challenge for the Conservancy. Management will be in accordance with three guiding principles as determined by the Conservancy's board of directors:

I. Preservation and protection of the existing natural and historic resources on the property with particular emphasis on the Darby Creek;

II. Provision for environmental education and interpretation, furthering the Conservancy's goal to foster wise use of the water, land, and cultural resources; and

III. Provision for scientific research carried out by institutions of higher learning.

To successfully complete these objectives, the Conservancy has hired a full time preserve manager who lives on the site in the renovated Mill House located in the village of Waterloo Mills on South Waterloo road in Devon.

The village of Waterloo Mills was historically significant during the years of 1798 - 1909, because of the operation of the mill located there, the only grist mill in Easttown township, and the crop/dairy farming which occurred on the land surrounding the village. The mill also served as Easttown's earliest post office, and the traffic it generated once sup­ported a thriving wheelwright and blacksmith shop.

Waterloo Mills traces its history to the Morris family. John Morris, whose father came over from Merionethshire, Wales in 1708, operated a sawmill near the present mill site between 1768 and 1774.

It is believed the grist mill was in place by 1798. Federal tax records indicate Richard Thomas, a millwright, owned a stone grist and sawmill in the location. Thomas also constructed the house to the east of the mill property. Beginning around 1830 the grist mill was operated by tenant miller Jonathan T. Morris. In 1850 it was acquired by members and heirs of the Mordecai Davis family, owners of the adjacent farm.

Page 46

The mill at Waterloo Mills

In 1877, the mill was purchased by Allison Alexander, who refitted it as a rolling mill in an effort to compete with western flour mills. Alexander operated the mill into the 20th century and, after rebuilding the mill pond, used it for an ice operation. He also constructed a small barn adjacent to the mill about 1890 which still survives.

The mill and the entire area north of Waterloo road was purchased around 1909 by the Wilbur family (owners of Wilbur Chocolate Company) who owned the adjacent "Idlewood Farm" north west of the mill. With the increased holding, they owned a hundred acres, with the boundaries at Newtown road on the west and Church road on the east.

Mordecai Davis, who first purchased the farm of 150 acres south of the mill in 1796, continued to acquire land so that by 1805 he owned over 200 acres. (It is believed, however, that the land first began to be farmed soon after 1709.) The 98 acre central core of his land consisted of the farmstead, wheelwright shop, blacksmith shop and tenant houses on the south side of Waterloo road. The farm eventually became a large dairy farm in the late 1800s, after being purchased by Edward Gallagher. Gallagher's land also included farmland on the north side of Waterloo road. The complex water cooling system that Gallagher constructed in the large spring house west of the farmhouse, is still intact. The land ceased to be farmed in 1909, and eventually much of it reverted to forest or meadow.

Page 47

A time line of additional dates of importance in the history of Waterloo Mills would include the following:

1803 The road (today's Waterloo road) was open to the Lancaster turnpike.

1815 The mill, which began operation earlier, was obviously named to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon by the British at Waterloo.

1830 While its official name was Waterloo Mills, the village was also popularly known as "Cabbagetown." This name originated in the 1830s from the practice of a miller who, when he ground grain on shares for the neighbor­ing farmers, had a tendency to take his share and a little more: to cabbage, in old English, was to steal or to purloin, and hence Cabbagetown! His tenure as the miller, it is said, was short-lived.

1853 Easttown's first post office, Waterloo Mills, was located in the mill. It was established on the first day of 1853, with tenant miller, William Steel, the first postmaster. It operated there until 1867.

The Alexander Barn at Waterloo Mills

Page 48

The blacksmith and wheelwright shops were located on the Davis farm for approximately 70 years. The buildings were mentioned in an 1843 deed. In 1850 the shops were operated by Charles Stout. His son, Civil War veteran David B. Stout, operated the shops between 1868 and 1910. Two tenant houses are located near the shops, and are also believed to be cited in the 1843 deed. Maps indicate that the original blacksmith shop was demolished, possibly when the wheelwright shop was expanded to its present configuration in 1894. Its tenant house, possibly the earli­est building in the village, survives.

In 1926, the late Otto Haas (of the Philadelphia chemical giant, Rohm & Haas Company) began purchasing parcels of land at Waterloo Mills. By 1968, the entire hamlet of Waterloo Mills had been purchased by the Haas family. With the exception of the Davis/Gallagher barn, all of the buildings in the village are restored and in use. No new buildings have been constructed, and few significantly altered. There are no plans for development, only preservation.

The late 18th and early 19th century structures are typical stone and masonry architecture. The village includes four residences, the grist mill (converted into a residence) and mill pond, two barns (one now a ruin), a blacksmith and wheelwright shop, a spring house (also converted into a residence), a cold cellar, and various walls and ruins. The Conservancy now owns five of the buildings in the village - the mill house, the black­smith/wheelwright shop, the Alexander barn, and two tenant houses. The Conservancy plans to convert a portion of the barn or blacksmith/wheel­wright shop to an environmental education center or classroom.

The history and appearance of Waterloo Mills is a prime example of a settlement type known as a village or hamlet. All of the buildings retain their early appearance, including their massing, scale, and set-back proportions. The rural 18th and 19th century appearance of the village has been preserved, retaining its rural characteristic, and surviving as an authentic community which once thrived there.


Page last updated: 2009-03-11 at 12:30 EST
Copyright © 2006-2009 Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Permission is given to make copies for personal use only.
All other uses require written permission of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society.