Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: April 1999 Volume 37 Number 2, Pages 63–70

Facts Found in an Almanac

Herb Fry

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Collecting almanacs is fun! And, most importantly, the information they contain makes them a worthwhile addition to any library. Webster's dictionary tells us that an almanac is "a book or table containing a calendar of days, weeks and months, to which astronomical [and navigational] data and various statistics are often added, such as the times of sunset and sunrise, changes of the moon, etc., [and all manner of interesting facts]."

Early almanacs contained astrological and other forecasts (weather predictions were popular), but the science of astronomy had not yet been perfected. About the beginning of the nineteenth century, the fashion for prediction declined and two new kinds of almanacs appeared: the scientific almanac, devoted entirely to astronomical and navigational tables, and the informational almanac, or yearbook, containing statistics, data and other informative material.

The most famous of early American almanacs (at least in Philadelphia) was Poor Richard's Almanac published by Benjamin Franklin under the pen name of Richard Saunders from 1732 to 1757. It was an adjunct to Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper.

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The longest lived American almanac is The Old Farmer's Almanac first published in 1792 by Robert Bailey Thomas. It has retained its original format despite changes in ownership. The 1980 almanac (188th Anniversary Edition) put out by Yankee Magazine, Dublin, New Hampshire, which I have on my library shelf, continued the old tradition of providing American farmers with information about agriculture, as well as with long-range weather forecasts, old jokes, homespun verses, and moral tales.

Almost as long-lived is the Farmers' Almanac (now called an Agricultural Almanac) first published in 1825 by David Young. The 1999 edition, published locally by John Baer's Sons, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this year carries the legend "Our 174th Year... founded 1817, almanac makers since 1825" on its cover.

In the late 19th century, many almanacs were published by newspapers. I have a copy of The Philadelphia Record Almanac of 1899 which, among many other things, contains a comprehensive sketch of the background and events of "Our War with Spain" (the Spanish-American War fought and won by the United States between April and August of 1898, following the explosion and sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor on the night of February 15, 1898). This was the war which produced such heroes as Admiral Dewey, commander of the Pacific fleet, and Theodore Roosevelt, who led the charge in Cuba up San Juan hill.

Later, an Almanac and Year Book, as it was called, was put out in Philadel­phia each year by the Bulletin Company, commencing with the issue for 1924. The 53rd annual edition, and last, was published for 1976, the year of the Bicentennial celebration. It was packed with many, many facts which made it a veritable encyclopedia in one volume. It was not an encyclopedia, of course, but the knowledge it imparted made it a good substitute for one.

In the "foreword" to the 1930 issue, the editor described what it was all about. "There are so many activities ... in this wide, wide world, and they are all moving at such a rate of speed, that people busy in their own sphere of particular interest simply cannot keep in touch with them all. So the Almanac and Year Book, with its summary of government and civic growth, of finance, of sport and myriad other interests, its directory

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of public administration and the essential almanac, becomes a book of reference which is a necessary part of office and home equipment.

"[It] is a volume of a thousand facts, plus, and multiplied. It is not an encyclopedia, but it is crowded from cover to cover with information which any of its readers may want to get and verify any day of the year. Like the Philadelphia Bulletin, it aims to serve its community collectively and individually and spares no pains to achieve its object."

The void left by the demise of the Bulletin Almanac was filled in 1994 by Kenneth Finkel who edited on behalf of The Library Company of Philadelphia, with foundation financial support, a 223 Philadelphia page successor named the Philadelphia Almanac m imnaaeipniaand Citizens' Manual. As with its predecessors, it is filled with interesting and useful information. Most interesting are its side-bar page fillers with tidbits of Philadelphia history. For instance, on page 17 is found a list of "the ten oldest surviving Philadelphia-area businesses." What makes the list doubly, or triply, interesting is the fact that three of the ten businesses named are assoc­iated directly with Tredyffrin township. They date from 1710, 1717 and 1785. They've merged, acquired and been acquired. They've changed addresses and names. We have profiled the three local businesses in the paragraphs below. You will probably recognize some of them.


Great Valley Mill

A mail order catalog available today carries on its cover the legend "The Great Valley Mills, 1774 County Line Road, Barto, PA, Established 1710, Family Farm Grown & Produced Foods." Products for sale include fresh premium flours (wheat, rye and others), corn meal, cereals, pancake and muffin mixes, old-fashioned fruit batters, and many other goodies. The name has been transplanted from our local area only in the last decade.

The history of the mill on Valley creek at North Valley road in Tredyffrin township, which gave its name to the catalog, spans almost 300 years. It was established in 1710, or earlier, by Thomas Jerman (descendants used the form Jarman), a Welsh settler who purchased land there in 1701.

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Thomas Jerman died in 1740, leaving the property to his daughter Mary, who had married Enoch Walker, a son of the Walker family, earliest settlers in the east end of Tredyffrin's valley. Walker is said to have built a stone dwelling at the mill in 1726, but it is not certain that he remained there after his father left him a farm further down the valley. It seems probable that he and his son Jarman Walker, who later inherited the mill property, leased out the mill during this time.

Jarman Walker leased the mill to John Rowland in 1756 (Rowland is identi­fied as "miller" in the township tax records for 1753), and then, in 1762 sold to him for £200, the mill property consisting of 73 acres of land, together with the water rights, millstones, dams, race, floodgates and the profits from tolls on the log bridge over the creek.

During the Valley Forge encampment of 1777-1778, the mill undoubtedly supplied flour to Washington's troops. It is known that one of Washington's aides, Thomas Bones, later married Rowland's daughter, Susannah. In 1789, John Rowland bequeathed the mill to his son Thomas who oper­ated it until about 1823 when he met his death inside the waterwheel. The mill remained in the Rowland family until it was sold in 1856 after the death of Thomas' widow.

The mill property then came into the control of Joseph Jeanes, a Philadelphia businessman engaged in the importation and sale of tropical fruits. Impaired health forced him to move from the city and take up residence late in life in Chester Valley. Jeanes set about improving the mill using the designs included in a book published in Philadelphia in 1795 by Oliver Evans. He demolished the old building and erected a new one. The present four and a half-story, 45-1/2 by 42 foot mill contains a datestone inscribed "Joseph Jeanes 1859". It is believed to be the third mill on the site, the first having been of log or frame construction which was replaced sometime before the Revolution by a 30 by 14 foot stone building.

When the National Bank of Malvern was organized in 1884, Joseph Jeanes became its first president. Prior to opening of the banking office there, Jeanes drove to Philadelphia with his cash for deposit in a city bank. He resigned the position as bank president in 1886 and relocated to Claymont, Delaware. He sold the mill in 1887.

In the 20th century the mill property has been owned by a succession of Philadelphia businessmen, among them insurance executives Richard Haughton (1913-1947) and W. Thomas Kelly (1972-1995), and operated

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by millers named David Whitworth (1889-1913), Howard Gemmerell (1914-1922), and William Lowndes (1922-1939). John Williamson and Horace Whitworth ran the mill in 1950. It last operated in 1952 when it ground whole wheat flour for a Bond bread loaf known as Jane Standish.

The mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The trade name "Great Valley Mills" was sold by Kelley to Steve and Sue Kantoor, of Bally, in the early 1990s.


Covenant Life Insurance Company

Covenant Life Insurance Company which located in Tredyffrin township at 1050 Westlakes Drive, Berwyn, in 1993 traces its origins to a need recognized very early in the history of the Presbyterian Church in America and the settlement of Pennsylvania. To meet appeals for assistance, the newly constituted Synod of Philadelphia in 1717 called on its members to contribute to "a fund for pious uses."

As collections were received, the fund grew over the years. In 1719 the report of the treasurer estimated the returns as "a little more than fifty­two pounds" since the fund was established. By 1739 the fund totaled £599 14s 10-1/4d.

In 1754 a new proposal, in part an enhancement of one phase of assis­tance given under the fund for pious uses, for a fund to support ministers' widows, was made by the Reverend Francis Alison to the Synod of Philadelphia. In the event of the death of a minister contributing to the fund, his widow would receive an annual benefit. The plan was adopted and formally incorporated with the granting of a charter by the proprietors of Pennsylvania in 1759. This company, for the relief of poor and distressed Presbyterian ministers, their widows and children, is recognized as the first incorporated insurance company in America.

[The Reverend Francis Alison, by the way, earlier founded New London Academy in 1743 in southern Chester county. He was also the second pastor at New London Presbyterian Church, preaching there for fifteen years. He came to Philadelphia in 1752 to serve as rector of the Philadelphia Latin Academy. (The head of the school was called a rector.) Later he was named vice-provost and professor of moral philosophy of the Academy and College of Philadelphia, which in the year of his death, 1779, became known as the University of Pennsylvania.]

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Alison was the founder of the "Presbyterian Society for the Relief of Ministers and their Widows" and the first named of its trustees. It came to be known as the Presbyterian Ministers' Fund and for many years was headquartered in the 1800 block of Walnut Street in Philadelphia over­looking Rittenhouse Square.

A name change to Covenant Life Insurance Company took place around 1990, and in October of 1992 the offices moved to Westlakes Office Park in the Chesterbrook section of Tredyffrin township. Recently Covenant took part in a merger with Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company of Philadelphia. The surviving company is known as Provident Mutual and is now headquartered at the Westlakes address.


Lea & Febiger

The history of Lea & Febiger, the oldest publishing company in the United States at the time it was sold in 1990, can be traced back to 1785 when Irish immigrant Mathew Carey commenced printing Carey's Pennsylvania Evening Herald in Philadelphia. Carey prospered and was, in time, joined in the business by his eldest son, Henry C. Carey, and by his son-in-law, Isaac Lea.

When his father retired from the business on January 1, 1822, Henry C. Carey, age 28, took full control of the firm and then accepted a partner, Isaac Lea, age 29, who had married his sister, Frances Anne Carey. During its early decades, the firm was a foremost general American trade book house, publishing books of authors such as Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Fanny Kemble, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley.

Henry C. Carey retired in 1838 and the name Carey disappeared from the firm name. Isaac Lea continued until 1851 when he, too, retired in favor of his son, Henry Charles Lea, who at age 18 in 1843, had entered his father's publishing house. The name of the firm then became Blanchard & Lea (William A. Blanchard had earlier become a partner in 1833). The firm grew throughout the middle years of the nineteenth century as it evolved into a house publishing outstanding medical books authored by prominent physician-teachers of the day.

Henry C. Lea, apart from business, was a life-long historian. He collected historical material from the archives and libraries of Europe and published many books on history subjects. His friend, the historian James Bryce,

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called him "one of the three greatest scholars in the world". Lea died in 1909. The impressive Lea Library at the University of Pennsylvania was donated in 1926 by Lea's children in accordance with his will.

Henry C. Lea's son, Charles Matthew Lea, joined the partnership in 1880. The elder Lea retired on January 1, 1885. At that time Arthur H. Lea, younger brother of Charles, was also admitted to the firm and its name changed to Lea Brothers & Co. (The last name change at the firm occurred in 1 908 when it became known as Lea & Febiger with the addition of Christian Carson Febiger as a partner.) The firm was then an interna­tionally recognized publisher of medical books.

Charles M. Lea chose to become a resident of Tredyffrin township around 1900. Boyd's Chester County Directory for 1902 reports his residence at Cassatt and Conestoga roads (perhaps "Hillcrest") in Berwyn. Later, he rented the Devon estate of Clarke Merchant known as "The Terraces". In 1913, Lea purchased "Westthorpe Farm" and its 20 acres of land lo­cated on the east side of Valley Forge road just south of the Cathcart Home. It is today's site of Devon Preparatory School. (He bought an adjacent 83 acres to the south and east along Upper Gulph road in 1920.) Lea became known as a connoisseur and collector of fine art.

Charles M. Lea, Christian Carson Febiger, and Arthur H. Lea all retired in 1915. The business was carried on by Van Antwerp Lea, great-great­grandson of Mathew Carey, and Christian Febiger, son of Christian Carson Febiger. In 1923 the firm occupied a new building in the Philadelphia publishing district at 600 Washington Square. It was designed by archi­tect-teacher Paul Cret and was to serve as firm headquarters until the end of 1989.

Charles M. Lea died in 1927 at Westthorpe Farm in Devon. He had up­graded the 25-room stone mansion into a showplace. The main entrance to the estate was off Conestoga road, where large stone pillars still stand. The driveway off Valley Forge road, which now serves as the main entrance to Devon Prep, was the servants' entrance. His widow, Charlotte Augusta Lea, remained at the farm until her death in 1945. She was interested in Republican politics, was active in the woman suffrage campaign, and was one of the early presidents of the League of Women Vot­ers in Chester county.

The property was then sold to Alexander Shand, a developer, who built one of the first post-World War II developments of homes known as the

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Shand Tract, on Steeplechase road and Hunters lane. Shand sold the mansion to Dr. Joseph Lerner, who had hoped to make it a psychiatric hospital. Because of neighborhood opposition to his project, Lerner sold the property to Devon Prep in 1955.

Following the war, a new generation of Leas and Febigers conducted the business. (Christian Febiger had died in 1945 and Van Antwerp Lea reired in 1957.) The partnerships that followed proceeded to relax some of the nineteenth century approaches to business and office routine.

Shortly after the firm celebrated its anniversary marking 200 years of publishing in 1985, it made a decision to move from the Washington Square headquarters in Philadelphia. A site was selected at 200 Chesterfield Parkway in the Great Valley Corporate Center (the Rouse develop­ment) only a few hundred yards from the west border of Tredyffrin town­ship. The new offices were occupied on January 29, 1990.

The move to Great Valley did not, as hoped, prove to be a beneficial one. The firm almost immediately encountered financial difficulties, exacerbated by the fact that the sale of the Washington Square property did not pay for the building at Great Valley.

A headline in the Great Valley Business News of December 1990 read, "Lea & Febiger Publishers to be Sold to Md. Firm." The article continued, "[The firm], publishers of books on medical and related subjects, has agreed to be sold to Waverly, Inc., a Baltimore, Md. publisher of medical and professional journals. Lea & Febiger, with offices in the Great Valley Corporate Center, is the oldest publishing company in the United States, founded in 1785. The firm will continue as an independent operation under the new corporate owner."

Unfortunately, the hope expressed in the news release was not realized. A consolidation was taking place in the publishing industry. The offices soon moved to Rose Tree Corporate Center near Media, and within a short time the Lea & Febiger imprint was integrated into the Williams & Wilkins program of new owner, Waverly, Inc. Today Williams & Wilkins carries on in Philadelphia, but all external vestiges of historic and once independent Lea & Febiger have disappeared.



(Sources: Great Valley Mill, Franklin L. Burns, Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1944; Covenant Life, Guy Soulliard Klett, "Presbyterians in Colonial America", U. of P. Press 1937; Lea & Febiger, Kenneth L. Bussy, "Two Hundred Years of Publishing", Lea & Febiger 1985.)


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