Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: April 1964 Volume 13 Number 1, Pages 17–24


History of New Centerville

Chris Gent


Page 17

In Tredyffrin Township where U.S. Route 202 intersects Route 363 [Note 1] is the small community of New Centerville. Presently New Centerville is nothing more than a collection of gasoline stations, a few old houses, a motel, and a cocktail lounge. It was at one time a rather prosperous village, and it is soon to be reborn. The building of a large shopping center has been proposed.

Sometime in the future someone may ask "I wonder what was here before this shopping center?" I am going to try to partially provide that answer.

The Swedesford Road [Note 2] at the intersection with Rt. 363 followed a different roadbed from the one it rests on now. Its oldest recorded path may be traced by the dotted line on the New Centerville map. (Fig.l) Going west at New Centerville it curved south of its present course [Note 3] and intersected Rt. 363. Following Rt. 363 north for about 800 feet, it then continued west, merging with the present Rt. 202

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Map of New Centerville

KEY TO MAP (FIG. l)
1. Stone Chimney Picket
2. Walter Brown's First gas station
3. Walker Home
4. Kendall's Hotel
5. Gulf gas station
6. Valley Forge Motel
7. Walter Brown's second gas station
8. Miller's store
9. Blacksmith shop
10. Post office and railroad station
11. Home of Alfred Jacobs
12. Home of Morris Ray
13. Loeser home
14. Franklin home
15. Yoder home
16. Isinger home
17. Old Orchard Farm Home of Dr. George Vaillant

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just west of the Valley Forge Motel (#6 on map). The oldest dwelling known to have stood at this crossroads was probably the home of a tenant farmer to the John Havard family (#1). It was there long before 1770. Written records tell only of a stone chimney standing in Havard's field [Note 4]. It is said that the two-story farmhouse was destroyed by fire during the encampment of Colonel Von Wurmb, commander of part of General Howe's Hessian Army, on September 18-21, 1777.

During that same winter (1777-1778), Washington used the charred remains of the house as picket post to "keep intruders out and keep deserters in." This was only one of many pickets which formed the defensive circle around Valley Forge An improvised inverted-V-shaped hut of fence posts and rails was thrown up against the hearth of the chimney. It offered a little protection from the cold to the soldiers on duty.

(Fig. 2)

This post was known as the "Stone Chimney Picquet."

Early in February, 1778, a farmers' produce market was set up for the sale of food and clothing twice a week at the chimney. A short time later the chimney fell. All that remaining today is a marker whose inscription reads as follows:

SITE OF STONE CHIMNEY PICKET
100 FEET WEST
THIS MARKER ERECTED BY THE
TREDYFFRIN-EASTTOWN HISTORY CLUB
AUGUST 2, 1939
[Note 5]

Page 20

New Centerville wasn't recognized as a village until a post office was established in the mid-19th century. In the early days if was known as Walkerville because the town was developed by Richard C. Walker of the "Many Springs Farm." His great-great-grandfather, Lewis Walker, was one of the first settlers in the Great Chester Valley.

The first post office at New Centerville was in Kendall's Hotel [Note 4] where Evans Kendall was the postmaster. In the 1840's it was moved to Kendall's Saloon (Crossroads Tavern) [Note 3] where the post office was run by George Salders. Later Ben Walker took Salders' position. In 1920 the post office was moved to the railroad station [Note 10] where, during the 1920's and 1930's, Mrs. Toner was the postmistress. In the early 1930's the post office was removed to Miller's general store on the southwest corner of Swedesford Road and Rt. 363 [Note 8]. This was just a temporary location and shortly it was moved back to the Saloon. Vernon Stott was the postmaster there. When rural free delivery began, the post office was discontinued.

The railroad station at New Centerville [Note 10], owned by the Chester Valley Railroad [Note 6], was built around 1852. The station is still standing and it is now a private home. There once was a water tower, a cattle loading pen, and a loading platform for farm goods going to Philadelphia. They are gone now.

The train was both a freight and commuter train, and it had no schedule. If the conductor saw someone signal from the road, he would hold the train until everyone was safely aboard. One might wonder just how long it took to get to Philadelphia since there were stops almost every half mile.

The first house west of the railroad station used to be an old barn. It is now occupied by the Downing Family.

On the southeast corner of Swedesford Road and Rt. 363 was Miller's general store [Note 8]. Mrs. Miller [Note 7] came to America from Alsace-Loraine in 1896. She and her sister ran the King of Prussia Inn [Note 8]. When the stabbing of a customer occurred in a bar-room brawl, she moved to Valley Forge [Note 9]. In 1916 the Millers moved to New Centerville and they occupied the store built for them by Thomas Cutler. In 1927 they moved out and the property was sold to Sylvan Bender. Sylvan converted the store into an antique shop. Gallagher later sold the property to John Conti. When the building burned down in 1959, John sold the land to the Bethmar Realty Company.

On the southwest corner of Old Swedesford Road [Note 10] and Rt. 363, there was an Esso gasoline station [Note 2]. In the early 1940's it was operated by Walter Brown of Bridge Avenue, Berwyn. About

Page 21

James Miller's store (Fig. 3)

nine years later, when Rt. 202 was put in, he moved his gasoline station to the southwest corner of Rt. 202 and Rt. 363 [Note 7]. This station is still standing and is still in operation.

Number four on the map Kendall's Hotel. Mrs. Frank Jones Walker [Note 11] lived in this house until 1956; it was torn down to make way for the Gulf gas station [Note 5].

The house is known to have stood before 1732. It was then owned by Dan Richards [Note 12]. In 1843 Evans Kendall, Mrs. Walker's grandfather, bought the house and used it as a hotel.

Attached behind the house was an old stone house which the Kendalls used as an extra wing. It was a kitchen with a bedroom above it [Note 13]. There are no records to confirm this, but it is my belief that the stone wing was used as an independent dwelling some time before the main house or hotel was built. This hotel was the first polling place in Tredyffrin Township [Note 14].

About 50 feet north of Kendall's Hotel was a building owned by, but not lived in by, Mrs. F. J. Walker. The structure was built by Evans Kendall in 1845. It served as a general store and saloon, and is now the Crossroads Tavern [Note 3]. In May of 1962 the kitchen of the Tavern was gutted by fire. Fortunately, the kitchen was the only part of the building that was damaged.

Along the eastern side of Rt. 363, a hundred feet south of Miller's store, stood a small blacksmith shop [Note 9]. Chris Dunn started the business shortly after World liar 2: he rented the property from the Millers, Attached behind the blacksmith shop was a little two-story dwelling where Chris Dunn's hired hand lived. Further behind the shop was a stable for eight horses and a carriage house.

Page 22

Chris died in 1939. The business was abandoned, and the buildings were torn down.

South of Dunn's shop was Jesse Smith's wheelwright shop. This was abandoned long before 1939.

On the west side of Rt. 363, just north of the underpass, stood the home of a tenant farmer. The house was owned by the Kendalls and the Walkers [Note 16]. Bill Isinger, who worked for the Chester Valley Railroad, and his family rented the house in the 1800's. When the Isingers left, the Godfrey family moved into the red frame building, Around 1939 the house burned to the ground, but the original foundation was used when a man named Mitchell rebuilt the house. Sometime after 1948 it was sold to the Valley Forge Music Fair.

Just south of the railroad tracks on the east side of Rt. 363 was a two-story frame building belonging to a colored Family. Alfred Jacobs, his wife Debbie, and their daughter Rebecca ("Reba") lived in this house. [Note 11]. Mrs Jacobs and her daughter were a bit odd. Debbie lost her mind as old age came on, and would wander for miles to visit a sister who had been dead for thirty years. In her last years she wore all her clothing at one time, once she got too close to the stove; her dresses caught on fire, and she burned up.

Reba didn't want anyone to think she didn't have a car, so she bought one. Although she never took it out of the driveway, every time a friend would pass, she ran out to her car and blew the horn.

During the Second World War, Reba would not cooperate with the air-raid warden. Every time there was a drill, she refused to close her shades or turnoff her lights. She said, "I won't turn out my lights. I don't hold with war. If they want to have this war they can just have it somewhere else!"[Note 15] She was committed to Embreeville State Hospital and finally died after suffering a hip injury. In January 1962 the house was demolished.

The Morris Ray family lived across the road from the Jacobs on the northwest corner of Old State Road and Rt. 363.[Note 12]

Going south from Old State Road on the west side of Rt. 363, the next three houses in order are: Loeser [Note 13], Franklin [Note 14], and Yoder [Note 15]. These houses were all built in the mid-20th century.

Page 23

The farm bordered on the north by the railroad and on the west by Rt. 363 is the "Yarrow Farm." The land originally belonged to Isaac Walker. George H. Yarrow received the property through marriage to Elizabeth Kemble, a descendant of Isaac Walker.

Mc Dowell bought the farm before 1929, and put a lot of money into it. In the early 1940's Dr. George Vaillant, the Director of the University Museum, bought the land. He, his wife Suzannah, and his three children, Joanna, George, and Henry, lived in a large home set back from the road [Note 17]. On May 13, 1945, Dr. Vaillant committed suicide in his swimming pool. [Note 17]. After his death, the property was sold to Mr. Wells.

New Centerville has materialized from the dust of the past, and is headed for the light of the future. When someone asks, "I wonder what was here before", I hope this will help satisfy his question.

FOOTNOTES

1. Route 363 was formerly known as: Rt. 83, Devon State Road, State Road, Valley Forge Road, Baptist Road, Old Welsh Line Road, and Fatlandford Road. (Smith J. Furthy and Gilbert Cope. History of Chester County Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881. p.273)

2. The Swedesford Road, which runs from Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, to Malin Hall (the intersection of Rt. 401, south of Rt. 100), is but a small part of the entire U.S. Rt. 202. (Personal interview Conrad Wilson.)

3. The original section of the Swedesford Road can be seen today as a little dirt lane south of the present roadbed. (Personal interview, David Wilson.)

4. John Havard bought the 800-acre tract from David Powell, one of William Penn's surveyors, Since Havard, the Roberts family owned the land in the 1800's. From the 1900's to the 1930's Jesse Walker owned the land. In 1930 it was sold to Ralph Hunt who, in the early 1940's, sold the property to John Yohn, the present owner.
(Franklin L. Burns, "Stone Chimney Piquet". The Picket Post. April, 1944, p.l)

5. Copied from original marker, April 25, 1962.

6. The Chester Valley Line is now owned by the Reading Railroad System. The original tracks were laid in 1852.
(Personal interview, Mrs. Frank J. Walker)

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7. Mrs. Miller now lives at 506 Glenview Road, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, (as of June, 1962). (James Miller Personal Interview)

8. Building is still standing. It was first called "Place de Alsace".
(Personal Interview, James Miller).

9. The Millers lived in the house that was used as Washington's head quarters, 1777-1778.
(Personal Interview, James Miller.)

10. This small section of Swedesford Road is now known as Anthony Wayne Drive.
(Personal observation, April 25, 1962).

11. Mrs. Frank Jones Walker now lives at 769 Laurel Lane, Strafford, Pennsylvania, as of June, 1962).

12. Earliest record of house and owners:
Dan. Richards sold to
Thomas J. Walker 1782
to John Workhizer 1824
to James Mitchall 1828
to Jesse Moore 1830
to W. C. Thompson 1832
to John Henry 1842
to Evans Kendall 1843
(Taken from original document owned by Mrs. Walker, as of June 1962).

13. The fireplace from the bedroom was installed in Mrs. Walker's present home on Laurel Lane.
(Personal Interview, Mrs. Frank Jones Walker).

14. Main Line Times. January 19, 1956.

15. Conrad Wilson, Personal Interview.

16. The Evening Inquirer, Monday, May 14, 1945.

 
 

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