Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: Winter 2004 Volume 41 Number 1, Pages 3–12


C. Herbert Fry

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Easttown Township, where the Devon development took place in the nineteenth century, is celebrating its tercentenary year in 2004. The first known reference to Easttown appeared in records of the Chester County court when William Thomas was appointed its constable on December 27, 1704. The History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, by J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, published in 1881, states:

"[Easttown] was doubtless so named on account of its position [relative to the county seat in Chester]. Its territory was included in the original survey made for the Welsh, and it was settled by them."

However, the Easttown Welsh were Church of England, not Quakers. Their church, Old St. David's constructed in 1715, lies just outside the borders of Easttown in Newtown Township.

The "First Purchasers" of Easttown land were three English speculators, William Sharlow, William Wood, and James Claypoole, who owned the entire township in the 1680s; about 5000 acres ripe for settlement. The strip of 1000 acres along the eastern border next to Radnor and Tredyffrin, stretching from the early road to Philadelphia on the north to the Newtown line on the south, was owned by Sharlow, a prosperous Quaker merchant, who died in 1704 near London without ever visiting Pennsylvania. Since this land was not actively marketed, it lay dormant and was the last part of Easttown to be developed.

Finally, the 1000 acres was disposed of as one lot, and on June 8, 1740, John Wightman sold it to Richard Harrison. He devised it by will to his son Samuel in 1746, and Samuel himself passed on 780 acres in 1774 to his sister, Hannah, who had married Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, and to his nieces Amelia and Mary Harrison.

According to local historian Franklin Burns writing in the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly:

The Harrisons of Herring Creek, Maryland, were people of substance. Richard Harrison, an English Quaker, married in Philadelphia, 1717, Hannah, daughter of Judge Isaac Norris and grand-daughter of Deputy Governor, Thomas Lloyd. Shortly after their marriage the bridal party were robbed by river pirates of goods and chattels they were bringing north. Isaac Norris gave them the use of his town house for a time.

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In 1719 Richard Harrison purchased the manor house erected about 1704 by Rowland Ellis and called "Bryn Mawr" after his home in Wales. Harrison renamed it "Harriton" and there he lived and died in the mansion which has since become one of the most historic and attractive show places along the Main Line. The Harrisons were said to be related to General William Henry Harrison, ninth President of the United States. Charles Thomson later made Harriton his home.

Following the War for Independence, a new Pennsylvania constitution was enacted. The area we know as Devon was largely uninhabited and traversed only by the Conestoga Road connecting Philadelphia with Lancaster. As it went west, the road ascended the hill to the spine of the ridge running roughly along the northern border of Easttown where it meets Tredyffrin. It was, however, a road in need of repair and improvement.

An Act of the Assembly passed in 1792 incorporated a private enterprise, the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike Company, and gave it authority to construct a toll road connecting the nation's new capital with the rich farming area at Lancaster. The new turnpike passed less than a hundred yards to the south of the old road, and also traversed the Harrison lands. We know the turnpike then constructed as Old Lancaster Road today. Two old houses which date to the days before the Revolution can still be seen in this corner of Devon.

Illustration from page 140

The small log structure now known as the Devon Tea House along Old Lancaster Road is reputed to date to 1734. According to Franklin Burns, there is the tradition that it once sheltered the blacksmith or wheelwright who had his shop on the opposite side of the turn-pike, and that it was the home of Patrick McGuigan.

Also, a newspaper report tells of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) historic marker survey in 1934. The tea room had closed a year before. The WPA traced a log cabin on the property back to at least 1850, when Eliza Ann and Patrick Williams were married and moved into it. A researcher for the Chester County Historical Society in the 1950s learned that the cabin may have been completely reconstructed in 1914, a project presided over by local architect Brognard Okie. An automobile repair garage has stood next to the cabin since then. Wallace Nutting's 1924 book, Pennsylvania Beautiful, shows the cabin on page 129.

Two blocks further east, facing west on Valley Forge (Baptist) Road at the turnpike, was a small stone Welsh farmhouse, the first unit of today's larger house. It was likely built several years prior to 1763, which is the date chiseled into the date block in the chimney of the adjoining west wing. Jenkin Lewis, a weaver, paid taxes there about 1750.

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Robert McClenachan, late of Ireland, styled a Philadelphia merchant, married Amelia Harrison who had inherited the Harrison land in what we today call north Devon. About 1800, shortly after completion of the turnpike through this property, McClenachan laid out on paper the new town of Glassley with wide streets, squares, and lots on the tract reaching from about today's Warren Avenue in Berwyn to Devon State Road in Devon.

One of the first dwellings in the town was erected of logs by Abel Lewis about 1801 and in later years became known as the Gamble house. Further west, another house of logs was occupied by three generations of Taylors. According to Franklin Burns, it was reached by a lane opening into the turnpike and had five gates. The Pennsylvania Railroad eventually purchased the house to do away with a dangerous private grade crossing. But beautiful Glassley never really became a town. It had no industry to attract prospective residents.

Illustration from page 140

There were, moreover, two inns along the Lancaster Turnpike here. Of the new hostelries, The Lamb (now Roughwood, a private residence listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984), at the corner of the turnpike and Baptist Road, was built about 1805 by George Rees who was later sheriff of Philadelphia. A country store was kept there by Jonathan Jones between 1805 and 1812. John Lewis was the first tavern landlord in 1813, followed by Jacob Clinger from 1815 to 1830, and then Henry Clinger for a short time, after which it ceased as an inn.

The second inn, the Stage Coach (later part of the lawn of George D. Woodside's mansion in Devon) was owned by Dr. John Havard Davis in 1810. The first landlord was John Pugh. Then followed John Lewis until he secured a similar position at The Lamb. Alexander E. Finley took over at the Stage between 1826 and 1833. He was a Scotch-Irishman of some political influence. Finley subsequently owned the property and leased it to the last landlord, a German named Sheneman. It dropped lower and lower on the scale, with rough and tumble fights and brawls being a nightly occurrence. The coming of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, in the 1830s, an undertaking of the state "Main Line of Public Works," diverted traffic from the turnpike road and doomed the inns.

The tavern signs of both The Lamb and The Stage were said to be the work of a self-taught genius, James McGuigan, of Glassley.

Finley, a bachelor, died without a will on August 8, 1850. His considerable property, including the Inn, was advertised for sale at public vendue on October 26, 1850 by his sister, appointed by the court as administrator to settle his estate. The Inn itself was not sold that day for lack of a sufficient bid, but later, in December, at a second auction described in the advertisement below, the old Stage Coach Inn was sold:

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PURSUANT to an order of the Orphans' Court of Chester County, will be sold at public sale, on the premises, on THURSDAY, the 14th day of December 1850, all that valuable REAL ESTATE, known as the STAGE TAVERN PROPERTY, late of Alexander E. Findley, deceased, situate in Easttown township, in said county, containing 11 ACRES of arable land, in a good state of cultivation. The improvements are a two-story stone Dwelling House, 36 by 54 feet; a two-story Frame Dwelling; a Stone Livery Stable, 27 by 50 feet; an extensive range of Stone Sheds, Wheelwright Shop, and Blacksmith Shop, calculated to do an extensive business in a Popular and respectable neighborhood. There are two wells of excellent soft water, near the doors of the dwellings. The Lancaster turnpike passes through the property, which is within view of the Columbia Railroad, and is equally desirable to the man of leisure or the industrious mechanic. Sale at 1 o'clock, P. M., when terms will be made known by

DAVID WILSONAttorney in fact for
HENRY T. EVANSMary E. Findley
November 19, 1850

Eber Beaumont was the winning bidder. At or about the same time he also bought over 100 adjacent acres lying to the north of the Inn stretching down the north face of the South Valley hills toward the valley. He was a farmer and a long time Easttown resident having previously lived near Old St. David's Church. After his death in 1878, the family sold the property to Coffin and Altemus.

The defining event in the history of what we today know as Devon was reported by an unidentified writer in the July 5, 1881 edition of West Chester's Daily Local News. "Coffin & Altemus," the writer said,

"who recently purchased 400 acres of land near the proposed new Eagle station on the Pennsylvania Railroad, are making arrangements to build a large town at that point."

The partners in the land venture, Lemuel Coffin and Joseph B. Altemus, were dry goods commission merchants on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

Land acquisition continued through the summer of that year, and in August the news reporter stated further that a large hotel was planned for the site "similar in its appointments to the one at Bryn Mawr." In addition, the writer disclosed,

"The new town is to be called Devon and indications are that in a few years it will not be surpassed in beauty by any similar place along the Pennsylvania Railroad."

Still later that year mention was made that John Kauffman, Esq., surveyor of Berwyn, had just completed laying out the grounds in lots from 2 1/2 to 5-acres – there were initially 104 of them – with avenues 50 feet wide and 500 feet apart running through them. From north to south the project extended from the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike above the railroad to Devon (Sugartown) Avenue and from Valley Forge (County Line) Avenue on the east to beyond Fairfield Avenue on the west. In addition, it was said that Mr. Charles Paiste had been appointed superintendent of the operations being carried on by Messrs. Coffin & Altemus.

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Illustration from page 7

Map of the Beaumont property. Sketch made by Elbert W. Lapp, c. 1893. The Stage Tavern was in the area of Old Lancaster Road and the Beaumont loop road, possibly where the X is on this map. North is at the bottom.

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Early the next year, on February 11, 1882, ground was broken for the famous Devon Inn. It was primarily of the Queen Anne style, with a super-structure of stone and the rest of wood. Most rooms were double the size of those in other hotels, some with 16-foot ceilings. It opened for the first season six months later on August 16. As the guests departed that first season, on October 21 the Pennsylvania Railroad announced it would build a new and elegant passenger station on a site opposite the Inn, approximately 100 yards west of the one then in service.

A post office opened in Devon on May 25, 1883 in a building along the south side of the railroad just east of Valley Forge Road with William Reed Lewis serving as first postmaster. When the new station was finished, the post office moved there and Lewis lived with his family in the upper floor of the building. He left the position in January of 1887 to accept an appointment by President Grover Cleveland as U. S. Consul to Tangiers, Morocco.

Illustration from page 130

Devon Inn

Illustration from page 130

Porch Cafe at the Devon Inn, c. 1908.

Illustration from page 130

View looking north from the Devon Inn down wide Devon Boulevard to the Devon Railroad Station, c. 1909.

Illustration from page 130


The year 1883 was not without its problems for the developers. In August, the Inn was totally destroyed by fire with no loss of life. Rising out of the ashes, it became even grander, this time built of stone and brick.

Larger than the original, it now had four stories and was longer than a football field. All this took place in time to open the next year's season about a week after Memorial day. Local historian Julius Sachse said,

"Devon had 250 guests. Among them was one lady who brought with her nine horses and nine vehicles, consisting of carriages of various kinds, and quite a retinue of servants."

People were also buying lots and constructing summer homes nearby, and the development gained strong headway. So much so, in fact, that in 1885 a small establishment called the Wynburne Inn rose in what had once been Glassley on the foundations of Joseph C. Smith's barn.

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George H. Earle Jr. and his family lived in Devon when their son George H. Earle III was born in 1890. He became governor of Pennsylvania in 1935; a native son of Easttown.

Coffin & Altemus donated a site on Berkley Road for a Sunday School, and in 1893 a group headed by J. Lewis Twadell erected a small frame building called Devon Chapel. It grew to become the full-fledged St. John's Presbyterian Church in 1903. The women of the church were especially active, helping with the developing Italian community in the Devon area. The immigrants worked as gardeners on estates and in local quarries. They were invited to use St. John's for worship on Saturday evenings until they acquired their own church in Strafford where Our Lady of the Assumption parish was established in 1908.

By 1895 Devon was a village of over thirty houses, in addition to the Inn. That year Lemuel Coffin died, and it took 3 1/2 years to sort out his partnership interest with Joseph B. Altemus and find a buyer for the unsold lands. Edward T. Stotesbury and James W. Paul Jr. of the Drexel investment bank were the buyers in 1898 of the Devon estate, which then stretched all the way west to the Ivester tract on the Darby Creek tributary south of Berwyn.

At the time the Inn was built, Joseph Altemus had a polo field laid out nearby. His son, Lemuel Coffin Altemus, would be one of the players. The story is told of the day George Gould, son of financier Jay Gould, arrived at Devon with his team which trounced the local opposition.

Newcomers to Devon were locating further from the railroad and needed a good horse and rig to get them back and forth to the station. Horses were a great preoccupation, much as automobiles are today. This led to the formation of the Devon Horse Show Association where the horses could be shown and judged. The first show was held for two days in July of 1896. Since there was no grandstand, it was "standing room only." The horse show has been held every year since, except 1901 to 1909 and for short periods during World Wars I and II. Today it is a premiere world-class sporting event.

Devon has been blessed with a number of men with a combination of sporting blood and altruism. William T. Hunter, who lived on “Plan of Devon, Lot 27” on Waterloo Road near Arlington (now Lancaster) Avenue, was one of the town's most outstanding citizens. In fact, he was known as "Honorary Mayor" of Devon. Although a banker by vocation, he gave almost equal time to the affairs of the nascent village. In 1910 when the Devon Horse Show resumed at the polo field, it was said that "much of the credit for its revival was due to the untiring efforts of William T. Hunter," who was treasurer of the organization and later its chairman. He was also the moving force behind the operation of the Devon Drainage Association until his death in 1933. Hunter's generosity, for children especially, came with the swimming pool he built on the western edge of his property, simply called "Hunters." Unadorned and free, children from Wayne to Paoli, often accompanied by parents, learned to swim there.

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By the second decade of the twentieth century, transportation opportunities had improved greatly. Long distance travel by train became more comfortable. The automobile had established itself as an economic force to be reckoned with. Automobile production in the United States surpassed an aggregate of one million cars – statistics show 450,000 registered automobiles in 1912. Guests who had spent their summers at Devon began to find new destinations, such as the nearby New Jersey seashore, the Poconos, or even Maine.

Illustration from page 140

The automobile brought an end to the glorious days of the Devon Inn. In April 1914 owners John W. and Ellen Simmons Patten sold the Inn and about 14 acres of ground. For a while the building was occupied by the Devon Manor School for Girls. In 1926 it reopened as the Devon Park Hotel for two years, and, after remodeling, it became the Valley Forge Military Academy with Captain Milton Baker as the superintendent.

It had a staff of 13 and 117 cadets. A few months later, on January 18, 1929, a disastrous fire swept through the old building and totally destroyed it. The famous and well-known landmark, the old Devon Inn, was no more.

Devon had seen its share of grief over the years, and more was to come. A frightful train wreck took place on the Pennsylvania Railroad main line in the early morning of August 23, 1888, between Devon and Strafford. A heavily loaded east-bound freight on the grade west of Devon and running at a high rate of speed, was divided by a coupling break. At the end of the grade, the engineer slowed his speed, but the detached cars came thundering down the grade and plunged into the forward section, completely demolishing 15 cars and strewing debris over the 4 tracks, blocking the way completely. Two oil tanks filled with petroleum took fire. For 4 hours the piled up cars and their freight burned fiercely. There were only two casualties, fortunately – two tramps who were stealing a ride in one of the cars with the oil tanks.

Benjamin C. Betner, a former partner of Thomas M. Royal in a paper converting business, opened a plant of his own at the southwest corner of the Turnpike and Grove Avenue in 1927. It had been the old Clayton A. Lobb Planing Mill. At that time only a path existed on the south side of the railroad between Grove Avenue and Valley Forge Road further west, as the new Lancaster Avenue highway was not put through until later in the year. Many of the recent immigrants from Italy who took up residence in Devon worked at the Betner factory.

Another industry had grown up in Devon at this time. Located in Tredyffrin on the north side of the Turnpike, north of the railroad, just east of the Easttown line, it manufactured fire-works. Alexander Vardaro started the business on a small scale in 1918 and by 1930 the plant, known as the Pennsylvania Fireworks Display Company, Inc., had expanded to include a total of 14 metal and frame buildings used for manufacturing and the storage of ingredients and finished products. Three devastating explosions, in quick succession, took place at the plant a few minutes past ten o'clock on the morning of Thursday, April 3, 1930. Ten people were killed and scores of others were injured. Noise from the blast was reported to have been heard for fifty miles – in places as far away as Trenton, where the windows in the State House were rattled, and Wilmington.

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Much physical damage occurred in the neighborhood of the wrecked plant. The overhead wires of the Pennsylvania Railroad were knocked down across the tracks interrupting service. At the Betner Company nearby, over 1700 panes of glass were reported shattered and the steel window sashes recently added to the building were all blown out. Residences along Old Lancaster Road, across from the fireworks company or adjacent to it, suffered significant damage, including the homes of Stephen Fuguett, once The Lamb Tavern, and John Cornelius, the Peter Latch house or Sprucemont. Many other homes in Devon sustained damage.

The response of the community to the needs of the victims of the disaster was both immediate and outstanding. The Disaster Committee of the Wayne Branch of the American Red Cross took an important part in alleviating the suffering. It was a true community effort in the face of what was one of the worst disasters ever experienced in our local area.

The Pennsylvania Railroad is irretrievably linked to the emergence of Devon and the development of that part of Easttown Township. It became the successor to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad which it purchased in 1857, and its subsequent efforts to promote traffic through encouragement of suburban living led in no small way to the emergence of the Coffin & Altemus planned community here.

By the early 1900s, the growth of the suburban population around Philadelphia and the increase of suburban commuters and commuter trains, caused the railroad to develop plans to relieve congestion at its Philadelphia passenger terminal, Broad Street Station. This resulted in the electrification of the Paoli Local in 1915, complete with an overhead catenary of wires and tubular steel poles.

But, alas, just as the railroad superseded the Conestoga wagon and the Lancaster Turnpike, the automobile superseded commuting by rail. After World War II, the Pennsylvania Railroad was struggling and looked for regeneration in a merger with the New York Central Railroad. The combination took place on February 1, 1968. The merged Penn Central filed for bankruptcy on June 21, 1970, leading to the takeover of long distance passenger trains by AMTRAK in 1971 and the Philadelphia commuter lines by SEPTA in 1972.

The lovely Victorian homes erected in Devon a hundred years ago have aged well. Some of the larger ones have been featured recently by the Philadelphia Vassar Club on their annual Scholarship Fund "Show House and Gardens" tour event. The five Devon homes selected are a cross section of our best local streetscapes:

Grey Craig, built for James W. Patterson in 1902,
Rosedon, built as "Oxmoor" for William C. Bullitt in 1903,
D'Orsay, built for Baron Rodolphe de Schauensee in 1926,
Hilltop, built as "Idlewood Farm" for W. N. Wilbur about 1900, and
Pennview, built for Edmund B. MaCarthy in 1906.

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A Devon landmark home on Waterloo Road known as "Oaklands" built in 1905 for Philadelphia financier, C. Hartman Kuhn, was demolished in 2002 to make way for a 10-lot subdivision and new homes. The loss was keenly felt as the house was designed by famed Philadelphia Art Museum architect Horace Trumbauer. Since 1955 it had been occupied by a religious order and was known locally as the Regina Mundi Priory.

Life in the suburban community of Devon today is complicated by traffic on Lancaster Avenue – no longer named Arlington, as envisioned by Coffin & Altemus. Banking offices occupy three of the four corners at its principal intersection. But only one block removed the old houses remain, as always, and one can yet perceive the good life as it once was lived here.


Buehler, Marian S. "Sprucemont : A Colonial Era House on Old Lancaster Road in Devon." Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly (hereafter referred to as Quarterly), Vol. 39, No. 2 (April 2001), p. 54.

Burns, Franklin L. "The Story of the Glassley Commons." Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 3 (1943), pp. 50-59.

Creutzburg, Carol. "A History of Devon." The Suburban and Wayne Times, November 2, 2000.

Fry, C. Herbert. Easttown: Old in History, Young in Spirit, 1704-2004. (Devon: ANRO Printing, 2004).

Fry, Herb. "The Benjamin C. Betner Company." Quarterly, vol 31, No. 3 (July 1993), pp. 87-102.

Futhey, J. Smith and Gilbert Cope. History of Chester County, Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881).

Goshorn, Bob. "The Devon Horse Show." Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July 1994), pp. 101-114.

________. "Devon Inn." Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 4 (October 1984), pp.125-138.

________. "When the Fireworks Factory in Devon Blew Up." Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Fall 1978), pp. 57-63.

Goshorn, Robert M. and Robert E. Geasey. "The Electrification of the Paoli Local." Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 4 (October 1996), pp. 127-140.

McCarthy, Kelly. "The Devon Garage Tea Room." Main Line Times, September 17, 1998.

Raftery, Kay. "There are Chinks in Cabin's History." The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 1991.

Herb Fry has written numerous articles for the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly and is a past President of the Club. He is a long-time resident of Easttown Township.

Presented at the October 2003 meeting of the Tredyffrin Easttown History Club.


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