Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: Spring 2006 Volume 43 Number 2, Pages 71–72


Joyce A. Post and C. Herbert Fry

Page 71


On May 23, 1894 Robert F. Matthews, born in Kentucky in 1841, purchased a lot in Paoli on the southwest corner of what is now Spring Street and Lancaster Pike, where the Wawa is now. Here he opened a business called R. F. Matthews, Dealer in Groceries, Meats & Provisions.

Robert had 7 sons. One son was Robert F. Matthews, Jr., whose son, Walter T. Matthews, was the founder of Matthews Ford. Two other sons, Joseph Thomas Matthews and James Garfield Matthews, later ran the grocery business under the name of Robert F. Matthews & Sons until 1916. Walter T. Matthews also ran this business for a while before he became interested in cars. James Garfield's son and Walter's cousin, James G. Matthews—he called Walter his “uncle”—ran Matthews Ford after Walter died. Robert was an active businessman. By 1910 a coal, feed, and lumber business called Robert F. Matthews' Sons had opened on Plank Avenue, in the area of the present day Depot Shoppes in Paoli. It was run by Robert's sons Joseph Thomas Matthews and Norris A. Matthews.

Earlier, in 1872, Robert had purchased a 34-acre farm in Willistown near South Valley Road and Grubb Road. He had a large dairy operation and a butter churn operated by horses on a treadmill. He butchered hogs, made sausage and scrapple, and grew produce. He took these—as much as 75 pounds a week—to the Philadelphia market in a heavy farm wagon. One of his sons would drive the horse and wagon back home to the farm on Thursday, the first day of the market, while Robert stayed in town and returned to Paoli by train late Saturday.

Robert's family was growing. He sold the farm in 1897, three years after starting his store. He moved into Paoli, started purchasing real estate on both sides of State Road, now Paoli Pike, in the area near his store just west of where it branches off from Route 30, and built several houses there. Robert became an active member of the community, serving as a treasurer of the Willistown Township Board of Supervisors and a leader of the Paoli Fire Company and the Paoli Presbyterian Church.


Walter T. Matthews had begun selling automobiles in 1916 for J. W. Fell, a Berwyn Chevrolet dealer. In 1917 he opened a one-car one-story garage in the Spring Street area in Paoli where he sold Maxwells and repaired automobiles. This building was later torn down. In 1918 he moved to a larger facility, a one-story garage a little farther west, formerly a blacksmith shop and also known as Dalton's Garage. He sold the Willys-Overland and the Maxwell from here.

Illustration from page 71

This third location in 1920 is adjacent to the ramp at the west end of today's building. From Matthews Sales Company. 50th anniversary booklet. 1971.

In 1920 Walter moved again. He built the building that became the western part of the present showroom where the rental office is and where the ramp went up to the original service department on the second floor. He stayed there until 1924. In this interval Allen C. Hale, a Berwyn Ford dealer, needed help servicing “the country” and Walter was made a sub-dealer to sell Model T Fords in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships. He gave up selling the Maxwell and the Willys-Overland. His company became a full-fledged Ford dealership on February 11, 1921.

Page 72

In 1924 the company expanded to the current showroom and office facility at the present site; the point in Paoli where Paoli Pike joins Lancaster Pike. It had 25 employees. The Model T was the number one car in the country. It didn't have any levers or gears. You drove it by pushing foot pedals and Henry Ford said you could have it in any color you wanted as long as it was black. In 1928 the Model A, a gear shift car you could have in whatever color you wanted, came out. Matthews received the first Model A sold to any dealer in the United States. This was because in 1927 they had sold more Fordson tractors than any other dealer in the United States; selling them to farmers in Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties. Model As were only sold from 1928 to 1933. The next model was the V-8, introduced in 1932, and it cost $565.

During World War II no cars were manufactured. Walter Matthews died suddenly in October 1944 of a heart attack and his wife ran the business until after the war.


Illustration from page 71

Jim Matthews, left, and Roy H. Jones, Paoli printing contractor, in the Matthews Ford showroom reminiscing about Mr. Jones' purchase of a Ford Model T Run-About truck from Walter T. Matthews in 1917. From Matthews Sales Company. 50th anniversary booklet. 1971.

“Jim” was one of 6 children of James Garfield Matthews. His mother and father lived upstairs over his grandfather's store and he was born there in 1912. At the age of 5 his parents moved to a farm in Anselma. After attending West Chester High School and business school in Philadelphia, Jim came back to Paoli in 1933 and took a summer job with his uncle Walter selling Ford cars. In 1944 Jim ended up in Europe with the 258th Engineer Combat Battalion. Walter died while he was overseas.

On January 1, 1946 Jim returned from the war and purchased the Ford business from Walter's widow. That was the beginning of over 50 years of serving in Paoli. Jim changed the name of the company to Matthews Sales Company. Jim died on February 8, 2006 at the age of 93. He supported many community enterprises: the Paoli Fire Company; Paoli Presbyterian Church; and the Paoli, Malvern, and Berwyn Lions Club. He served on the Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board and worked with the Royer-Greaves School for the Blind.


With no cars for sale during World War II Matthews had developed a large back order. It took a while to get automobile production back up after the war and the cars of 1946 to 1948 were a lot like pre-war models. By 1949 Ford was able produce enough cars and also began the tradition of frequent changes in style and engineering.

Matthews needed more space. In 1950 they added a Gulf service station on the north side of Lancaster and Greenwood Avenues that is now the used car office. Eventually they expanded to include all the property between the present day Paoli Post Office and the Burger King. Next they purchased the land in the triangle between Route 30 and Paoli Pike, tearing down the Huggler office building and some of the houses just to the west This area is their leasing operation, a large part of which is 15-passenger vans rented for weekends by local organizations.

In 1948 the Ford Company started what became their “Distinguished Achievement Award” and between 1948 and 1993 Matthews won it every year except 1989. They were one of only 3 other Ford dealers—one in Ohio and Rice and Holman in Merchantville, NJ—in the United States able to make this claim. In 1993 they had 60 employees and sold 1,000 new and used vehicles. They celebrated 75 years of business in 1996.

In April 2002 George Steinmetz bought the car dealership and changed the name to Matthews Paoli Ford.


Hardester, Ida Matthews. “Robert Finley Matthews.” Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1 (January 1997), pp. 4-7.

Matthews, James G. “Reminiscing About the Matthews Ford Agency.” Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 2 (April 1993), pp. 65-76.

Matthews Sales Company: Celebrating 75 Years of Customer Service 1921-1996. Paoli, Pa. 20 p.

Matthews Sales Company, Paoli, PA, 1921-1971. 50th Anniversary. 14 page booklet.

“New Owner for Ford Dealership in Paoli.” Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 4 October 2002), p. 144.


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