Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 13
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1965 Volume 13 Number 3, Pages 50–53
"Tory Hollow" is the old mansion located on the south side of the Swedesford Road (Rt. 202) and the east side of Cassatt Road, within the "railroad corridor" between the Chester Valley Railroad (Reading) and the Trenton Cut-off of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Now owned and occupied by Mrs. William J. Baird, "Tory Hollow" is a very early house, probably built by one of the Welsh settlers of Tredyffrin Township. John David purchased 300 acres at this location in 1709 and sold 100 acres of his land to Griffith John in 1713. The house is on this latter tract and may have been built by John David or Griffith John, The date 1735 is said to be carved on a stone in the west wall of the house.
In the second half of the 18th century and down through the entire 19th century this farm was the homestead seat of the Reese family for which Reeseville, now Berwyn, was named. Although the history of this Reese family is not known before 1763, and the family has since passed from the local scene without trace, the Reese family held a position of prominence in Tredyffrin and especially in Reeseville, or Berwyn, for almost a century and a half. When they first appeared, they lived at this farm, now called "Tory Hollow" but perhaps better known as the Reese Homestead.
Abel Rees (without the final e) was a farmer,"an extensive landholder in the neighborhood of Berwyn, being a very wealthy man," according to an account of the Kennedy family of Port Kennedy in Elwood Robert's Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Vol. I, pp. 119-121. He was born in 1730, and on September 3rd, 1763, he married Violetta Wilson, daughter of John and Judith (Scott) Wilson of Tredyffrin Township, by whom he had seven children: Judith, Elizabeth, John, Violetta, Abel Jr., Mary, and David. According to his gravestone at the Great Valley Presbyterian Churchyard, Abel Ress died Dec. 3rd, 1799, aged 69 years. His wife Violetta Wilson Reese, born 1744, died Oct. 4, 1820, in the 77th year of her age. In his will dated Jan. 8, 1797, Abel left considerable real estate along the "Old Lancaster Road" (now the Conestoga Road) to his wife Violetta, and to his son John, including a "Plantation lately purchased containing 63 acres". To his four daughters he left his plantation in Rye Township, Cumberland County, and to his sons Abel and David the plantation (in the Valley) "whereon I now dwell." (Chester County Will Book, #10, pp. 155 ff).
It was during the occupancy of the senior Abel Rees, in the year 1777, that the British Army camped for three days along the south side of the Swedesford Road from Howellville to New Centerville. This was from September 19th to 21st, 1777, following the Battle of Brandywine and the washed-out Battle of the Clouds in East Whiteland. The British were on their way to capture Philadelphia and had come around through Tredyffrin in order to cross the Schuylkill at the fords. Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis, Earl Cornwallis, made his headquarters with the Rees family at his house, which probably accounted for its later name "Tory Hollow." The 5th child, Abel Jr., was less than a year old at this time and Mrs. Rees was expecting another child early in 1778. In captain John Andre's Journal, damages are noted to the sum of 303 pounds, 3 shillings, for the destruction of the barn's end walls and the orchard, "Although the British commandeered the Rees's farm for a short time, Mr. and Mrs. Reese wore American sympathizers and are credited with having fed and cared for soldiers," according to an article on "Tory Hollow" in the Picket Post of the Valley Forge Historical Society, April, 1954, page 18.
Abel Reese Jr. inherited the farm from his father in 1799. He was born Oct. 3rd, 1776, and died September 2nd. 1820, aged 43. His wife was Mary Moore, daughter of Moses and Mary (Van Leer) Moore of Tredyffrin, and granddaughter of the well known Dr. Bernhardus Van Leer. Mary Moore was born May 6, 1792, and died February 8th, 1875, after a long widowhood of 54 years. She was known locally as "Widow Reese" and as somewhat eccentric, though not as peculiar as her sister Prissy Robinson of the Blue Ball Inn, who still is remembered in local legends as the ghost of Daylesford. In later life Mrs. Reese lived in a smaller house on the same property, but on the Swedesford Read, close to the bridge that crosses the Chester Valley Railroad near the farm entrance to Chesterbrook Farm. This house has since disappeared, but the bridge is still called the "Widow's Bridge" by local inhabitants of the Valley. Both she and her husband are buried in the Great Valley Presbyterian churchyard along
with earlier and later generations of Reeses. Abel Reese, Jr. was Colonel in command of the Forty-fourth Regiment, Pennsylvania Militia, in the War of 1812. In his will (Chester County Will Book #13, pp.#258 ff.) he left all his estate, both real and personal, to his wife and two daughters Violetta and Mary Ann, each to receive one-third, share and share alike. The older daughter Violetta Reese married David Robinson Kennedy of Port Kennedy. She was born June 22, 1817, and died October 23, 1903, aged 86. The younger daughter Mary Ann, born September 5, 1819, married Squire James Sloan of Philadelphia, later of Port Kennedy, and died October 19, 1877, aged 58.
A. R. Witmer's Atlas of Chester County, Pa., in 1873, shows the farm property in the name of the widow Mary Reese, with residence by the bridge on the Swedesford Road. At that time three houses stood on the property the one by the bridge just mentioned, the homestead, or "Tory Hollow" as it is now called, and a third old house which stood until a few years ago on the south side of the Trenton Cut-off of the Pennsylvania Railroad, All three were owned by Mary Reese in 1873.
Breou's "Farm Maps of Chester County", 1883, shows the bridge house gone, the Trenton Cut-off house sold to another person, and only the original Reese homestead or "Tory Hollow" still in the family, now owned by Mrs. Violetta M. (Reese) Kennedy, the mother (Widow Mary) and the sister (Mrs. Sloan) having both died by that date.
The ownership remained in the name of Mrs. Kennedy until 1905 when it was sold to Mrs. Susanna H. Bodine, who owned extensive property in this area. The property was later in the name of Susanna H. Bodine's husband S. Laurence Bodine. In 1912, according to A. H. Mueller's Property Atlas of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Devon to Downingtown, Plate 7, the then 77.31 acre farm was owned by S. Laurence Bodine, who also owned several other properties in that area of Tredyffrin. Bodine sold the property, January 1, 1917, to Davis J. Deuber, who held it until March 11, 1927, when it was sold to the Philadelphia Electric Power Company. This Company sold it, April 17, 1945, to George Blair and his wife Mary Page Blair. In 1949 the Blairs sold the property to the present owners Mr. and Mrs. William J. Baird.
Value: Historical and Architectural.
The historical value of this old house is greatly enhanced by its association with Lord Cornwallis, for he was the commanding general of the British forces after the resignation and return to England of General Sir William Howe in 1778. It was Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, that brought to a close our long struggle against England for the independence of the United States of America. As an historian, and one who knows the old houses of Tredyffrin Township, I would say that this house is one of the most important historic houses of our Township. Washington's Headquarters is in Montgomery County. Howe's Headquarters was burned and has been rebuilt, so is not original. In this house lived for a few days the man whose surrender gave our country its independence.
"Tory Hollow" is architecturally interesting for its unusually thick walls and low ceilings. The original beams are to be seen in the hall. Huge fireplaces dominate the living room and the hall, and one of these has a small window in it, a unique feature. All of these point to a very early date, and Welsh construction. I believe that the house is one of the earliest in Tredyffrin, as well as one of the most historic.
*Mrs. Nassau says the bridge house was standing up till about 1920.
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