Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: October 1999 Volume 37 Number 4, Pages 111–124

Berwyn Village Walk - 1999

Jack Ansley ; Herb Fry

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Despite vigorous growth surrounding it, the Main Line village of Berwyn today looks and operates much the same as it did a century ago, as it straddles the Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike (America's first toll road), today's Route 30. Skillfully restored, and lovingly maintained, Victorian houses endure as residences, antiques shops and family-owned businesses. In earlier times, farmers of the countryside found needed services in the village. Today, Berwyn serves the sprawling suburbs. On the south side of the railroad, an early twentieth century industrial site, now adapted to contemporary use, remains as a link with village origins.


(#1) Maggie Lobb House

In 1877, when the Pennsylvania Railroad changed the name of its station stop from Reeseville to Berwyn, there were other very significant changes going on in the area as well. What was once rolling farmland was beginning to develop into a thriving village, no longer as dependent on the farms to the south and in the valley, but more closely bound to the railroad that traversed its center. The land at the corner of First and Waterloo Avenues was once part of the old Carter farm. Mary Lewis bought the farm and began to develop it. She deeded a lot to Maggie Marshall Lobb in 1878, and the house, built that year, became one of the earliest in the emerging village.

Maggie had come to Reeseville, as it was then known, as a single woman in 1874 to live with her sister Etta, the wife of Frank Stauffer, a noted journalist. It was a successful move because within two years Maggie

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found and married Ethelbert Lobb, the son of a large local family. Probably because Maggie's family financed the purchase, the deed remained in her name. Tragically, while still quite young, Maggie contracted a severe cold. Pneumonia followed, and she died at the age of 44, leaving her husband and five children, the youngest only seven years old.

In the years just before and after the turn of the century, a livery stable operated off the lot at the rear of the house. The livery stable business was important to the village, renting horses, wagons and buggies to its growing population, and to those who rode the trains of the Main Line to summer homes and farms in the area.

Following Ethelbert Lobb's death in 1918, the house was sold out of the Lobb family.


(#2) Sproxton

With the development of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line, it became fashionable for Philadelphia families to seek relief from the summer heat in the country west of the city along the railroad. Resort inns in Bryn Mawr, Wayne and nearby Devon, where in 1882 the Devon !nn, with over 200 rooms, began to receive summer guests, catered to many. Other families moved farther west to buy up farms around Berwyn.

William Coates, a successful Philadelphia wool merchant and one of three brothers who kept estates along the southern edge of Berwyn, purchased the Benjamin Wetherby farm late in 1879. He immediately set about enlarging the two-story stone farmhouse to accommodate his family as a summer home. Frame additions were constructed to both the east and west ends of the old stone house. The local paper commented in 1880, "The English style adopted by Mr. Coates [i.e., stick style with exposed timbering] ... is admired by the lovers of a change in the order of the American or Yankee way of putting up dwellings."

Coates carried through his English theme by naming the house "Sproxton" after the English town in Leicestershire where his family had its roots. Following his death in 1937, his widow remodeled the house for year round use, and she became a permanent resident of the village. Mrs. Coates lived at Sproxton until her death at age 102 in 1952. The property then was sold and became part of the Berwyn Downs housing development of 80-some homes, representing a new stage of suburban growth for the village of Berwyn.

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(#3) Church Hill

The land in the village rises to a high point along Main Avenue (first named Church Avenue). By 1890, three village churches clustered on the hilltop. This area was once part of the outlying fields belonging to the Springhouse Inn. Built around 1804, the inn accommodated travelers along the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike (as did the infamous Blue Ball Tavern further up the pike in Daylesford).

The Rev. John McLeod in 1861 bought the inn, which was long closed, together with its surrounding 50 acres. He saw the potential of real estate development and laid out the first streets, named Church Avenue and Berwyn Avenue, and most of the southern section of the village. The land for Trinity Presbyterian Church was donated by McLeod, the found­ing pastor, and the first church chartered and built in Easttown Township was dedicated in January of 1863. Within thirty years the congregation had grown to the point that a new gray-stone, gothic-style church was built on the same spot. The plans were drawn by John Fraser, a promi­nent Philadelphia architect. Fraser had designed Philadelphia's Union League, and assisted in the structural design of the Treasury Buildings in Washington, D. C. The contractor was a local builder, William H. Burns.

The Presbyterian Church stood alone on the hill until 1876 when the first Berwyn Town Hall was built behind it. Over the next decade the hall saw much use on Sundays by the other organizing churches in the village. It is said that in the 1880s, the Catholics in the morning, the Methodists in the afternoon, and the Baptists in the evening used the hall for their respective Sunday services. Later the hall was purchased by the Presbyterians and, ultimately, its site became the educational wing of that church.

Saint Monica Roman Catholic Church just recently celebrated its 100th anniversary as an independent congregation. However, its history extends back 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 either at the Town Hall or at Villanova. The first church building was used for Christmas Mass in 1889, and construc­tion finally was completed in 1893. In May of 1991 the old church was destroyed in a fire. The present building was dedicated two years later, and is a successful combination of the new and the old, incorporating in its design old wood and stained glass windows salvaged from a demolished Philadelphia church. The only surviving stained glass window from the first building, that of St. Monica herself, also graces the church.

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The Methodists also began their work in Berwyn in 1884, using the Town Hall as 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 with provision, on the south side, for a square stone tower surmounted by a belfry and spire, in all about 70 feet high. Once again the builder was William H. Burns. Eventually, the Methodists moved south along Waterloo Avenue to larger quarters, built in 1958 on former Coates family land. Today the original building, minus the spire which was removed as unsafe, is the home of the Footlighters Little Theatre group, another long-time Main Line institution.


(#4) George Tobler House

The "Tobler House" dates to the days of Reeseville. Erected in 1874, it was built by the Rev. John McLeod who lived in the village and owned all of the land east of Waterloo Avenue and south of the Lancaster Turnpike. McLeod, a Presbyterian minister, served a church in the city but carried on his real estate activities here for almost twenty years.

The house was probably built on speculation. Its first owner was a Philadelphia lawyer. A succession of other Philadelphia owners used it as either a summer residence or an investment property. George Tobler acquired the house in the summer of 1879. He owned it for the next fourteen years and is said to have resided in Berwyn. A purchase of ad­joining land from McLeod, and three others, made Tobler owner of roughly half the block. In 1888, he sold 7/10 of an acre to the newly organized Catholic Church for the site of their church. Tobler later disposed of his other land and moved from Berwyn in 1893. The house was originally built as a single home but has been converted to double occupancy.


(#5) Springhouse Inn

The completion of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike led to the opening in 1804 of the Springhouse Inn, which replaced the earlier Fox Tavern on the old road. William Torbert was the first landlord and probably the builder as well. Its location near the 16th milestone from Philadelphia along the turnpike was near the east end of what is the present day village of Berwyn. Opposite the inn, on the other side of the turnpike near where the shopping center now stands, a deep and open pool of spring water refreshed passersby and gave the name to the inn.

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The Springhouse Inn joined some 61 other inns along the 62 mile route of the turnpike. Its name was included as part of a popular drinking toast of that time, the "Sorrel Horse Toast," which recalled the names of ten inns located between what is now Ithan to the east and Paoli to the west. The toast goes:

"Here's to the Sorrel Horse, Who kicked the Unicorn, And made the Eagle fly; Who frightened the Lamb, Upset the Stage, And drank the Springhouse dry; Who drove the Blue Ball into the Black Bear, And raced General Jackson to Paoli on a dare."

Torbert died in 1813 and the property was sold to John Kugler Jr. of Charlestown Township. In 1820 it was transferred to John Kugler Sr. The Kuglers attempted to rename the inn the "General Washington", but most of the patrons continued to refer to it as the "Springhouse" or the "Big" tavern. Drovers and their animals, heading to market, were accommodated in a smaller, less comfortable inn up the street, that also had animal pens.

In 1822 operation of the inn was leased to others. After John Dane's death in 1832, his widow ran it for a while and it became known as Peggy Dane's tavern. During this time she raised five beautiful daughters. The coming of the railroad soon destroyed the inn's usefulness for travelers, and it was last licensed in 1847. Traffic on the turnpike declined, and the plight of the teamsters and others was captured in verse by an unknown author in his "Lament of the Conestoga Wagoner":

"Oh, 'tis once I made money by driving my team, But now all is hauled on the railroad by steam. May the devil catch the man that invented the plan, For it ruined us poor wagoners and every other man."

The old inn was purchased as a residence by the Rev. John McLeod in 1861. Local historian Frank Burns has written, "McLeod rebuilt a portion of the old walls after it had [previously] been destroyed by fire while occupied by the White family." After starting the village church, McLeod took a pastorate in another church and commuted to Philadelphia. In 1886 he moved to England where he died in 1901. The land around the inn was sold off, but importantly, the old inn eventually came to be used

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by the "Bronze Company". The second story of the inn can still be seen projecting above the roof line of the structure built around it.


(#6) Berwyn Bronze Company

Berwyn's largest manufacturing business, the American Non-Gran Bronze Company, operated between 1907 and 1959. It produced castings of a special bronze alloy which were machined into bushings and bearings used in automobile and aviation engines.

The new company saw rapid growth. Within two years the original foundry building was enlarged, the number of furnaces and employees was increased, and more lathes were added to the production line. By 1912 the quarters were outgrown again, and a new modern foundry with a "saw-toothed" roof for maximum lighting and ventilation was erected.

In the beginning its products were used by automobile and truck manu­facturers. The Army equipped trucks sent overseas during World War I with a kit of bronze bushing material for emergency field repairs. Later, the company began to work in the aviation field, providing bushings for the first Pratt & Whitney engines produced in East Hartford, Connecticut. Bushings from Berwyn were in the Wright engine that powered Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" on its historic non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, one of the great achievements of the twentieth century.

The second World War saw the rise in defense work push employment at the Bronze Company from 140 to close to 1000 men and women working three shifts, seven days a week, at several locations. With the end of the war in 1945, the government contracts came to an end, and all locations were forced to close down for a period.

A dispute over wages in 1958 caused a devastating thirteen-week strike which lasted into the following year. Two months after its end the business was sold and its operations transferred to Chicago. For a time the buildings were rented to industrial tenants, but eventually they reverted to commercial uses seen today.

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(#7) Berwyn Ice Plant

The "Berwyn Ice Company" was incorporated in 1901 and ice manufacture began the following year. This plant played an important role in the early days of the twentieth century, a time when fresh and perishable foods from other parts of the world became available, but electric refrigeration for homes was still well in the future. Few homes in Berwyn had springhouses for cooling and storing food. The swinging shelves, usually found hanging from basement rafters, were at best unsatisfactory.

The icebox became the homeowner's trusted safe and was welcomed into the kitchen despite its many drawbacks of running out of ice or the daily inconvenience of emptying the drip pan. Ice was an important commodity and a melting twenty-five cent cake of ice might be only dime size by the time it made a few mile trip on the running board of a car.

Charles Z. Jones of Kromer Avenue was the moving force behind the ice plant venture with financing supplied by Edward and Frederick Mathews. Jones managed the business for two years, leaving about 1904. He was succeeded by George Turner, who took up residence at the south east corner of Berwyn and Woodside Avenues, a block from the plant.

Cash flow was a problem. The plant was mortgaged in 1906. When the company defaulted in 1913, the Bryn Mawr Ice Company became the owner. Shortly after this, the tall red-brick building used for ice storage was erected. It had the capacity to store two thousand tons of ice. The sign atop the building read "Ice Never Fails" and remained a Berwyn land­mark for many years. But ice manufacturing finally did fail, and opera­tions ceased around 1950. In 1971, the brick storage building and its sign came down. The long, low brick building which once housed delivery wagons and later trucks is today's Yang's Market. Another of the original buildings is occupied by an orthodontist.


(#8) J. Maurice Lewis House

J. Maurice Lewis, born in Tredyffrin township in 1836, was a seventh generation direct lineal descendant of one of the original Welsh settlers of Pennsylvania. He was a carpenter, and his skills were in great demand during the years of Berwyn's growth. His house, built on the north side of the Lancaster Pike about 1870, is one of the oldest in the village.

The lot was deeded to Lewis by his close friend, Henry Fritz, another carpenter and founder of the adjacent lumber yard. They were the same age and grew up together in the Eagle School section of Tredyffrin. Lewis named his second son Harry Fritz Lewis. Unfortunately, their friendship was cut short by Fritz's accidental death in 1870.

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Maurice Lewis deeded the house to his daughter Alice, who had married Alfred C. Quimby. For many years she ran a boarding house there, and some in the village still remember the porch which extended across the front of the house, facing Lancaster Pike.

In 1940 the house was sold by the heirs of Alice Quimby, and its use changed from a residence to a tavern. It is ironic that a property linked for so many years with the Quimby name should later be used for the sale of alcoholic beverages. The Rev. Alden W. Quimby of the local Methodist Church was a zealous proponent of temperance prior to the enactment of the Prohibition Amendment which became effective in 1920. Despite all that, the Berwyn Tavern has been a good neighbor now for 57 years.


(#9) Berwyn Bank

Malvern Federal Savings Bank today occupies the building which for over 110 years has been the "local" bank for the village of Berwyn. The original occupant, Berwyn National Bank, organized in 1888, changed names five times over the years as the result of various mergers and acquisitions until finally, as CoreStates Bank, it closed its doors a little over a year ago. Malvern Federal relocated here in September of last year.

Back in 1888, Berwyn residents and businessmen had to travel almost nine miles round trip to Malvern if they wanted to access banking services. There was an obvious need for a local bank. On June 5, 1888, village businessmen met at the home of Isaac Cleaver, who ran the Bee Hive Store, to take the first steps toward forming Berwyn National Bank. Also attending the organization meeting were William Coates, Joseph Sharp, William H. Fritz, Preston Lobb and about a dozen others.

William H. Burns, the prominent Berwyn builder already mentioned, con­structed the building which, on December 22, was reported complete, "... with the exception of the front door...", admittedly an important part of a bank. It finally opened on June 1, 1 889.

Joseph Sharp served as the first president. William Fritz, whose own business was across the street, succeeded William Haines as president in 1929. Fritz held the office until his death in 1938. He was connected with the bank in an official capacity for nearly 38 years.

The dates 1888, 1930, and 1934, engraved in the limestone facade of the building commemorate the Berwyn National Bank date of organization,

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date of building renovation, and date of reopening after the Depressionera bank holiday. Malvern Federal Savings Bank was organized in 1887, and it merged with the Berwyn Building & Loan Association in 1979. The Berwyn B & L predated all the banks, having been founded in the Old Town Hall in 1 877.


(#10) The Oldest Place of Business in Berwvn -- "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 inventory for sale. Its buildings just east of the railroad station are familiar to all who pass by.

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 died in an accident at the Eagle railroad station when he attempted to stop a runaway horse and carriage frightened by the train. He left behind a 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 helped organize the Berwyn National Bank in 1888 and served as Secretary of the Board and later as President. 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 52 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 from the Korean War where he served as an officer, assumed management of the 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 busi­nesses for yet another generation.

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(#11) The Train Station

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 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and was part of a series of railroads and canals connecting Philadelphia with Pittsburgh known as the "Main Line of Public Works." The railroad put a quick end to stagecoach traffic on the Lancaster Turnpike, and along with it the usefulness of the big Conestoga freight wagons and the many roadside inns catering to turnpike travelers.

According to a local historian, "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!" The neighbor ruined a valuable colt attempting to race the train back to Philadelphia.

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

In 1877 the Pennsylvania Railroad became the dominant force in the region and inaugurated great improvements, The roadbed was rebuilt to eliminate the number of short curves and windings. The wide, deep cut through the village lowered the grade and made space for an increase in the number of tracks. The bridge over the tracks for the Lancaster Turnpike at the west end of town was replaced by today's 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 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 be­come the main terminus of the 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

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a decade ago following the demise of the Penn Central Railroad. A new pedestrian bridge built by SEPTA at the train station now spans the tracks. It was dedicated on May 13 this year.


(#12) 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 night, Ladies of the Golden Eagle, No. 84;
Second and fourth Thursday night, Berwyn Castle, No. 142, Knights of the Golden Eagle;
Friday night, Wyomissing Lodge, No 231, Independent Order of Odd Fellows;
Saturday night, Daughters of Liberty, No. 21 ....

Meeting elsewhere -
Berwyn Division, Ancient Order of Hibernians;
Thomson Lodge, No. 340, Free and Accepted Masons.

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," concluded the writer.

Berwyn Lodge, No. 998, I. 0. 0. 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 Stauffer a lot on the east side of Waterloo Avenue between the Lancaster Pike and Berwyn Avenue as the site for its new hall. Built in 1892, the two story structure housed the lodge on the upper floor and utilized the first floor for public meetings, political rallies, benefit entertainment performances, musical recitals, concerts and, in later years, silent movies, before the introduction of "talkies".

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Berwyn Lodge consolidated with Paoli Lodge, No. 290, I. 0. O.F. in 1943 and moved out of the building. It was used as a knitting factory by John P. Richardson for several years and eventually it became a furniture showroom. Inside you can still see the remains of the stage and the ticket window, reminders of its earlier use.


(#13) First Baptist Church of Berwvn

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, the Rev. John G. Booker. Those unhappy with his decision subsequently formed the new church in Berwyn.

The newly formed congregation met for a time in the Odd Fellows Hall. In 1898 the group moved their meetings to the Presbyterian Hall until their new site was ready.

Because of a lack of parking, in 1978 the congregation purchased the McClatchy mansion further south on Waterloo Avenue. A new church building erected there was occupied in 1983. The old church building in the village has been renovated into commercial office space.


(#14) 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 the 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 - a leather bucket and a section of ladder. These were kept in his own home and carried each time he answered an alarm.

The fire company purchased a lot on the north side of Berwyn Avenue and put up a small building to house equipment. The largest piece was a drawn hook and ladder wagon, supposedly horse drawn but often man powered. Local historian Frank Burns has recorded a famous run made to the Chesterbrook Farm with the hand drawn equipment in twelve minutes.

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(Of course it was mostly down hill.) The wagon carried thirty gallons of water in six tanks, along with the leather buckets and ladder sections.

In 1906 the firemen purchased a horse drawn pumper. The first motorized equipment was not acquired until 1917. The present firehouse at 23 Bridge avenue, around the next corner, was erected in 1929 during the company presidency of Dr. Tom Aiken and was greatly expanded in 1974.



Information used in preparation of this article comes from the History Club Quarterly, the unpublished manuscript "History of Berwyn" by Franklin L. Burns, the newspaper clipping files of Chester County Historical Society and the deed and will records of Chester County Archives.


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