Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: July 1999 Volume 37 Number 3, Pages 87–96

Devon Drainage Association: An Early Solution to Sewage Disposal

Herb Fry

Page 87

The story of the little-known, oft-maligned Devon Drainage Association began as the emerging village of Devon entered its second decade of existence.

The 1880s brought rapid growth along the railroad corridor west of Philadelphia in Easttown and Tredyffrin townships. City residents looked for accommodations in the country in which to spend a season away from the workaday world. They built elegant summer homes near the train stations where they could live a gentlemanly country life of farming and sport, as well as escape the heat of the city.

Two Philadelphia merchants (investors), Lemuel Coffin and Joseph B. Altemus, purchased land, and with the assistance of John Kauffman, Esq., surveyor of Berwyn, laid out lots along the railroad in Easttown. They named their mode! community Devon. In 1882 they erected a large hotel similar in its appointments to the ones built earlier at Bryn Mawr and Wayne. The hotel attracted adjacent residential development which shortly could be classed as a fair-sized village.

Some of the civic concerns of the early residents can be inferred from the types of organizations which sprouted up in the village. A record of them appears in the index of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.

The Devon Golf Club, chartered on November 26, 1894, "for the maintenance of facilities for playing the game of golf and for promoting athletic sports, including a club for such purpose," was the first civic organization

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noted. Where they played the game, if they did play, is not clear. This same group may have introduced polo at Devon and played a role as organizers of the horse show.

A little over four years later, in 1899, after a thieving ring was discovered, the Devon Citizens' Association came into being. Its stated purpose was "to protect person and property, to promote peace and good order of the community, to recover stolen property and to detect thieves, robbers and other violators of the law ...." A charter granted to The Devon Hose Company on May 6, 1908, satisfied the need for "prevention, control and extinguishment of fire in the neighborhood of Devon ...."

Another concern of the citizens was sanitation. Edward T. Stotesbury and James W. Paul,Jr, partners at the Drexel investment firm, had purchased the unsold lands at Devon in the aftermath of the death in 1895 of Lemuel Coffin, one of the original promoters. Apparently as early as 1899 they recognized the need for a sewage system and began to make provision for one. In that year they transferred 6+ acres of land to Charles R. Kennedy, which became the site for collecting sewage waste, a half mile west of the inn.

The land in Devon falls away quickly west of Waterloo road toward low ground along the Devon run, a little stream, and other tributaries of Darby Creek. The Devon Inn and the first houses were constructed on a level area east of, or along, Waterloo Road. A gravity disposal system worked well but channeled wastes to the west along the stream.

Early operations, although not incorporated, were known as Devon Sewage Company, later formalized as Devon Drainage Association. The first subscriber to sign the incorporation papers in 1909 was William T. Hunter, a Philadelphia banker. He had taken up residence at Devon sometime around the turn of the century in a stone house earlier owned by his wife's mother, located on the west side of Waterloo Avenue (Devon's roads were then avenues), one door south of the corner of Arlington Avenue. It was Lot no. 27 on the Plan of Devon.

Hunter, a public-spirited and highly respected citizen, served on the Board and as treasurer of the Horse Show (1910-1912) and as chairman in 1913. He was the moving force behind the operation of the Drainage Association from its incorporation until his death in 1933. His concern for sewage disposal was apparently a thankless job, considering the litigation which ensued over the years.

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A 1911 equity case heard in Chester County court considered a request for injunction by the Commonwealth against the Devon Sewage Company. There were complaints that effluent from the disposal plant polluted the small streams of the neighborhood.

No. 547

In the COURT OF COMMON PLEAS For the County of Chester. Sitting in Equity.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Complainant,
Charles R. Kennedy, individually and as Manager of the Devon Sewage Company, Edward T. Stotesbury, individually, and Lawrence T. Paul, Edward T. Stotesbury and Herman Dercum, Trustees, and Frank W. Paul, Edward T. Stotesbury and A. J. Drexel Paul, Executors of the Estate of James W. Paul jr., deceased, Herman Wendell, Frederick H. Treat and William T. Hunter, individually and as President of the Devon Drainage Association, a corporation, and the Devon Drainage Association,

To the Honorable the Judges of said Court:

Your orator complains and says:

First: That the defendant, Charles R. Kennedy, and the defen­dants, Edward T. Stotesbury, individually, and Lawrence T. Paul, Edward T. Stotesbury and Herman Dercum, Trustees, under the will of James W. Paul Jr., deceased [on September 25, 1908], are the owners in fee of two adjoining tracts of land situate in Easttown township [and] upon ... the lower of ... said tracts ... there was constructed by Edward T. Stotesbury and James W. Paul Jr. a plant for the disposal of sewage from a large number of dwellings and other buildings, including a hotel known as the Devon Inn, situate in the immediate neighborhood [of] Devon ..,

Second: That one of the said tracts, upon which the irrigation trenches of the disposal plant were originally constructed and operated and maintained until the year 1908, was conveyed by Edward T. Stotesbury and James W. Paul Jr. to Charles R. Kennedy, clerk in the employ of the defendants, Herman Wendell and Frederick H. Treat, for the sum of

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one dollar by deed date[d] June 5, 1899, and recorded December 28, 1905, in Chester County Deed Book Y12, Volume 296, page 48, &c.

Third: That about the year 1908, subsequent to proceedings instituted against Charles R. Kennedy, sur charge of polluting a natural water course contrary to the provisions of the Act of April 22, 1905, P. L, 260, certain changes and alterations were made in the location and operation of the plant, and a new system of settling tanks, pumping station and irrigation trenches were constructed on the other of said tracts of land owned by Edward T. Stotesbury and James W. Paul Jr., now deceased, with an overflow and provision for the disposal of surplus sewage on the first tract belonging to Charles R. Kennedy.

Fourth: That both prior to the proceedings and subsequent to the alterations above referred to, Charles R. Kennedy has been managing the plant under the name of the Devon Sewage Company, and holding himself out as the representative of the Company. Your orator is informed and believes that Charles R. Kennedy has no interest in the Sewage Company or in the plant save as hereinbefore set forth, and that he is acting ... for the benefit of Edward T. Stotesbury and the estate of James W. Paul Jr. who are the real owners of the sewage plant.

Fifth: Your orator also believes that Herman Wendell and Frederick H. Treat have been and are the representatives of Edward T. Stotesbury and James W. Paul Jr., or their legal representatives, and as such had, prior to the proceedings above referred to, and have now management and control, in conjunction with Charles R. Kennedy, of the sewage plant.

Sixth: That the defendant, William T. Hunter, is the President of the Devon Drainage Association, a Pennsylvania corporation existing by virtue of a decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, made February 2, 1910, and recorded in Chester County Corporation Book No. 6, page 290. That said corporation is a corporation of the first class, as specified in Section 2 of the Act of April 29, 1874, and that the corporation was formed for the purpose of obtaining benefit and protection for its members from funds collected therein at stated periods, the said funds to be applied solely to meet the expense of maintenance and operation of a drainage system connected only with the dwellings and other buildings of its members; and your orator is informed and believes that the corporation was formed for the purpose of purchasing, taking over and operating the disposal plant and sewage system of the Devon Sewage Company.

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Seventh: That Wiliiam T. Hunter individually or as the president of the Devon Drainage Association has been actively engaged in the operation of the plant and in direct supervision of the management of its system since the time of the incorporation of Devon Drainage Association.

Eighth: That the disposal plant is of the type or style known as an irrigation plant, namely: a plant operated without filter beds or appliances for chemical or other sterilization for the proper and sanitary disposition of sewage, and is dependent solely on the absorption of said sewage by the soil constituting said tracts of land by means of furrows or irrigating trenches constructed thereon.

Ninth: That the tracts of land on which the plant is operated con­sist of eighteen acres, more or less, and the surface of the tracts is low and drains naturally to two water courses or spring runs, one to the east and the other to the west of the tracts, which streams converge to the south of the plant and by their juncture make a tributary of Darby Creek; neither of which streams is at any point further distant than 500 feet from the irrigating trenches, and at certain points come within fifty feet of the same.

Tenth: That in consequence of the large and constant flow of sewage from the buildings aforesaid, the character of the disposal plant, the location of the tracts of land and the nature of the soil, the ground between the streams has become permeated with sewage, and by reason of rain fall, and by means of subterranean percolations, the sewage has in the past and will continue to flow into the streams, whereby the streams are polluted, contaminated and defiled and their waters are thereby rendered unwholesome and unfit for domestic uses, and the defendants have therein created a nuisance detrimental to public health.

Eleventh: That an order given under the hand and seal of the Commissioner of Health of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, notifying the defendant, Charles R. Kennedy, that he was discharging sewage into certain waters of the State, and that the discharge was injurious to the public health, and ordering him to discontinue the discharge forthwith, which order was personally served on Charles R. Kennedy on February 6, 1908 at Wayne, and the defendant, notwithstanding notice, has neglected and refused to abate the nuisance complained of.

Twelfth: That the right and privilege to the use of pure water in the Darby Creek and its tributaries is of great value, and the unlawful

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pollution thereof as complained of in paragraph ten above is, and will in the future be, not only a serious and irreparable damage to all those citizens of the Commonwealth through whose property the water may flow, but also it has been, is, and, unless abated and prevented, will continue to be a public nuisance and a menace to the public health and the cause of disease and mortality to the citizens of this Commonwealth.

Wherefore your orator, averring that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has no adequate and complete remedy at law, and that it is in need of equitable relief, prays as follows:

1. That an injunction be granted restraining the defendants and each of them from operating the plant in the place and location where it is now operated and maintained, and in such a manner as to contaminate the stream known as Darby Creek, or its tributaries.

2. That such other relief as the nature of the case may require be granted them by your Honorable Court.

(Signed) Jno. C. Bell,
Attorney-General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

State of Pennsylvania, )
County of Dauphin, )

C. A. Emerson Jr. being duly sworn according to law, doth depose and say that the facts set forth in the above entitled case are true to the best of his knowledge and belief.

Sworn and subscribed to before )
me this 29th day of April, A. D. 1911) (Signed) C. A. Emerson jr.

Court papers detailing the settlement of the case have not been seen, but subsequent actions strongly suggest that the findings required the contamination be abated.

Judicial proceedings in 1927 again defined how the neighborhood disposal plant would operate. In a complaint brought by Devon Park Hotel, the former Devon Inn, before the state Public Service Corporation (forerunner of today's Public Utility Commission), the hotel argued (1) that the Devon Sewer Plant was a public utility and as such subject to the jurisdic-

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tion of the PSC and (2) that the hotel was entitled to service upon such terms as ordered. Again, although a copy of the order has not been seen, subsequent events lead to the conclusion that Devon Sewer Plant was, in fact, held to be a public utility,

Of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

In re Complaint of Devon Park Hotel Corporation,
William T. Hunter, individually and Trading as Devon Sewer Plant, Devon Drainage Association, and Fideiity-Phiiadeiphia Trust Company.
Complaint Docket No. 7362 1927.

Brief on Behalf of the Complainant.

I. Statement of the Case

This is a case wherein the complainant alleges the failure of the respondents (William T. Hunter, trading as the Devon Sewer Plant, in particular) to permit connection by the complainant to public sewer in Devon, County of Chester, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The respondent, William T. Hunter, has for many years assumed control of the underground sewers and sewage plant at Devon. These sewers are laid under the public highways, permission having been obtained from the township authorities of Easttown township. It is a gravity system, and the residents of about thirty homes and properties are served by this system. These are practically all the properties south of the line of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Devon that can be served by the gravity system. As new homes have been built, they have made sewer connections with the sewer pipes. A charge has been made by William T. Hunter, trading as the Devon Sewer Plant.

On November 2, 1910, Judge Hemphill of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County signed a charter of the first class to the Devon Drainage Association, of which corporation, William T. Hunter was elected president. This charter gave power to operate a drainage system at Devon, but the corporation never operated [was not activated].

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On January 26, 1921, Governor Sproul signed a charter of the second class for the Devon Drainage Association of Devon, Pennsylvania, the object of which was for the corporation to take over the sewer system at Devon. William T. Hunter was one of the incorporators, but the organization was never effected and it has not operated, owing to a dispute as to the title to the land upon which the sewage plant is located.

The Devon Park Hotel Corporation, the complainant, was incorporated as a corporation of the second class by charter April 21,1926, to own and carry on a hotel at Devon. By deed dated April 30, 1926 [recorded May 6, 1926; Deed Book E 17, page 124] the corporation became owner of the Devon Park Hotel building and about fourteen acres of land adjacent to Devon Station and close to the Lincoln Highway, which hotel the complainant has since operated. It is a large hotel of one hundred and twenty-four rooms, and large accommodations for transient service, as receptions and dinners. During the summer of 1927 the State Department of Health gave notice to the complainant of nuisance resulting from an overflow from the large cesspools on the complainant's property.

An attempt was made by complainant to remedy this, but it was impracticable; after the complaint in this matter had been filed with the Public Service Commission, the complainant knocked out the obstruction to the connection with the sewer system, which William T. Hunter had made before the complainant bought its property. Since the connection was established, there has been no trouble as to the disposal of sewage from the hotel. The complainant had made application to William T. Hunter, trading as the Devon Sewer Plant, to make connection, but he refused, saying that there was an unpaid bill for $2,785 and that he would not have anything further to do with that property until the bill was paid. For that reason the complaint in this matter was filed with the Commission.

Edgar C. Van Dyke,
D. P. Hibberd,
For the Complainant.

More controversy erupted in 1957 in the form of an equity suit which came before Chester County court brought by Dr. Joseph Seifter and his wife Mathille, who owned a residence on Lindsey Drive on the opposite side of Darby Creek from the sewer plant. They complained that offensive odors eminated from the plant, and fluids draining from the plant led to formation of a large area of stagnant marsh in the area. R. L. Weidenbacher of Chester Road, treasurer and later president of Devon Drainage

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Association, gave a statement to the Upper Main Line News which was published in the December 13 issue that year:

"In its early years the Devon Drainage Company controlled one line to service a few residents and the Devon Inn. On January 18, 1921, the company was incorporated under the laws of Pennsylvania and with the approval of the P[ublic] S[ervice] Commission]. Its owners were residents, and all charges were based on cost. From 1930 to 1949 the service fee was $20 [a year]. In 1949 the rate was raised to $25. Between 1949 and 1956, the influx of new residences created a problem, making it necessary for the company to try to accumulate reserves to improve plant facilities.

"Preliminary studies were made by the company's engineers and confer­ences held with the Department of Health. On their advice, the system was offered to the Easttown ... Supervisors, that they might create a Sewer Authority. Bases for the recommendation [were] as follows:

1. Private sewer systems in modern political economies are rare. Most political subdivisions operate these services under their own government, as Authorities under the Pennsylvania Authorities Act, or as Joint Authorities (with adjacent subdivisions).

2. An Authority or Municipality may obtain long-term loans amortizing the costs over a 30 to 50 year period, where such loans are not readily available to private companies. The interest on such loans, being tax free, is to be had at a lower rate.

3. The Authority or Municipality would be eligible to receive from the federal government one third of the cost of the new construction. A recent example of this reimbursement occurred in Radnor Township which received [...] a substantial sum toward their new sewer project.

"The proposed Authority for Easttown Township was to include the ser­vice to the new Devon grade school then under construction, but the service was to be limited to the area now served. No additional taxes were involved, the project being supported by those who used the ser­vice. After many months the Easttown Township Board rejected the plan.

"The Easttown Township School Board then negotiated with the company for construction of a pipe line from the new grade school to the plant. The Drainage Company liked the school offer, but could not see its way clear to commit itself to build an $80,000 plant on an income of $3800 [a] year. The School Board offer was liberal, but the increased plant capacity could not be amortized.

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"The company to date has paid no dividends on its stock, no Directors' fees, no salaries, except a nominal sum for accounting and plant foreman.

"The Board of Directors have given 24 years of free service to the community; they had no choice but to qualify and run the plant as a utility. Offers to sell the plant [were] withdrawn and [a] new Tariff Schedule and new rules and regulations [were] filed with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The Tariff became effective December 1. On November 25 outside engineers made a land survey for location of the new plant .... looking to construction in January."

A June 19, 1958 newspaper reported the litigation had been suspended pending action by the parties on a stipulation under which Devon Drainage Association would take corrective action.

The cost of the corrective action was not long in appearing in subscribers' bills. On April 9, 1960 the Drainage Association announced a proposed 50 percent increase effective June 1 in sanitary service bills of 158 customers in the Devon area, to produce $4635 more annually. The Association also said it was completing an extended sewage treatment plant. It would be mechanically and chemically operated, thus greatly increasing the operation expense.

By this time, development had begun to overwhelm Easttown. Some new developments, such as Devon Downs built in 1962-1964 in the area served by Devon Drainage Association, were connected to the system.

Ultimately, an Easttown Municipal Authority came into being which took over the existing Devon Drainage system in 1969 and financed the esca­lating sewer construction costs by borrowing. By the end of 1976, $5.54 million of debt had been incurred, soon to be increased by $3+ million. A regional sewer authority began accepting Easttown waste in 1977 and the old Devon Drainage Association plant at the end of the Heatherwood Road cul-de-sac was phased out and in time demolished.

Devon Drainage Association served the Devon area for well over 60 years and played a huge role in providing for the health and welfare of the community. Today it is virtually forgotten save by old residents of Devon who lived along its service line.



[Sources: TE History Club Archives (R. Goshorn files); Chester County Archives (Deed and Corporation records); Chester County Historical Society Library (Newspaper clipping files); Radnor Township Memorial Library (Newspaper microfilm).]


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