Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 13
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1965 Volume 13 Number 3, Pages 63–68
Reminiscences of Berwyn
Transcribed by Mrs. Annabella Motley
We first arrived in Berwyn on April 1, 1887; I was twelve years old at the time. To show the difference in manner of moving, at that time we arrived in a one- horse wooden wagon; we had come from north Montgomery County. A railway car carrying our goods had departed a day or two before we left our former home. We saw the car on the north siding here in Berwyn, and that evening father carried enough of our furnishings out of the car to enable us to spend the night in our home. There were practically no houses to rent at that time; Berwyn was very small compared to what it is now. The only place we found to live was in one of those little boxes then known as "Bee Hives" almost opposite the Berwyn Hardware. We had one of the middle places and lived there for one and a half years. Next we lived in the former home of Dr. Aiken, where the Atlantic gas station is now located.
Then father bought the place across from our first house. This house was built for a little over $4000. It was built in two sections; the back was built first for $2000 and the front portion a year or two later. I left Berwyn in 1904, when I went to China. Father sold that place to Mr. Gallagher in 1910 when he went to Conestoga Road, across the road from the Dewees' home. In 1918 he bought my present home, which had been built by Morton about 1890. That takes care of our family movings.
The first thing one would see in Berwyn was the Pennsylvania Railroad. There were four tracks from Berwyn to Philadelphia, but only three west of Berwyn. There was a tower at the west end of Berwyn, in back of the Severance place. Freight trains going west would have to wait on the siding for the passenger trains to go through; sometimes freights would be backed up for several miles. The engines used then had high stacks, and the greatest number of cars that could be carried was six. All the passenger trains were limited to six cars. For more than six cars they needed a "double-header."
The freight trains had similar engines, but changed about 1900 to what we called "hogs" which were big steam engines. Those engines could haul forty cars, or one quarter as many as the 160 car freights we now see. At that time the coal and supplies came in on 10-ton cars. These small, wooden cars sometimes caused accidents. A train would jump the track, several cars might be derailed, and some would upset and spill coal over the tracks and put them out of service until they could be cleared.
There is a downgrade from here in to Philadelphia, and trains coming through Berwyn hauling 40 cars of coal would toot for brakes which were tightened by men with sticks. There were high-top box cars and the men would sometimes have to be on top. The warning that they were approaching a bridge would be a line across the tracks which had ropes strung across it. When the men felt the ropes they knew they would have to drop down to go under the bridge. The passenger cars were not heated by steam. Once, during a snow storm, a passenger train got stalled near Green Tree. The man stationed at Paoli walked up to see how they were coming along and found the crew all shot through with fear. They were out of coal, and had no food for the passengers. He got them quieted down and carried coal from Green Tree for the engine. He went to the butcher shop and to the bakery and made sandwiches for the passengers until the crew was able to get the train going.
During the blizzard of '88 they tried to keep the tracks open by having three engines running along together without any cars attached. These buried themselves in a big drift and workers had to dig in to them and put out the fires to keep from burning the engines up. We thought it very amusing. They were buried from Monday until Thursday. There was one track kept open from Paoli to Philadelphia but it took three hours to make the trip. The other tracks were opened by bringing 100 or 200 men from the Philadelphia office. They were each given a shovel and were dropped off in small batches; each crew would dig out the tracks until coming to the place where another crew had cleared the tracks. By Thursday the trains were back on schedule. We four boys dug a tunnel in the snow that we could walk through. It was not that there was so much snow that fell, but the wind drifted it so. We had 36 inches of snow in March, 1958 but that was a wet show; this 1888 snow was dry and the wind made deep drifts of it. We had gone to church on Sunday night and it was raining then. Monday morning we had to dig out.
At that time Berwyn had the head station master; he was also in charge of Paoli, Devon, and Strafford stations. There was a baggage master, for the railroad carried a great deal of baggage then. People traveled by train, and would take trunks with them on trips. The department stores in Philadelphia also sent deliveries by railroad baggage. The charges would be five, ten, or fifteen cents a package. Every passenger train had a baggage car, either at the front or the end. There were almost as many trains running then as there are now. The first one in the morning went from Paoli to Philadelphia, the next one started at Downingtown, then one started from West Chester, and one from Parkesburg. It took forty-seven minutes to go to Philadelphia from Berwyn, it now takes forty-one. Coming out used to take fifty minutes, but now it takes thirty nine or forty minutes. A shuttle ran from Paoli to West Chester until buses came into use. In 1911 the line was electrified from Philadelphia to Paoli. It was then that Paoli first became important; all the trains stopped there and the passengers going west had to transfer from the electric trains to steam trains.
The only roads that were not dirt were the Lancaster Pike, and the road to A. J. Cassatt's home, which had stone. The Pike was two-way, but not nearly as wide as it is now. It went under the railroad at Daylesford and at Strafford. In 1928 the Pike was widened,- but I'd better stick to the years from 1887 to 1900.
I was introduced to A. J. Cassatt when my father, who was a harness-maker, did work for him. In April or May he ran a Tally-ho from his home to his farm and took guests. One day in 1888 when father was in Philadelphia on business, and had left me, a boy of thirteen, in charge of the shop. A. J. Cassatt was driving along the Pike when a thunderstorm came up. When he came to the shop he turned the reins over to his coachmen and came into the shop until the storm was over, for fifteen or twenty minutes I had the responsibility of acting as host to him.
In 1887 there were three schools in the Easttown School District: the Leopard School, Glassley, and one at Cabbagetown. Each of these had only one room and one teacher. In 1888 a new school was opened in Berwyn where the Acme Supermarket now is located. I went to Glassley that first year; Miss Hannah Epright was the teacher. She taught everything from "A" to "Z" to the first through the eighth grades. I believe her salary was $45 a month. She kept to the rule that if a pin were dropped anywhere in the room it should be heard hitting the floor. In 1895 Berwyn opened a high school with Professor Clark as the teacher, but there was no high school before that time. Professor Dorn had a school in the building at 11 Main Avenue where Miss Nuzum now lives; I went there in 1889. He moved to Malvern in 1890, so I went to Malvern too. Then I got work in Philadelphia and commuted.
When I was ready to "prep up" for college, in 1896-7, I went to the Berwyn High School to Professor Clark. He had started out to be a preacher, but because of the weakness of his voice he couldn't preach and turned to teaching instead. I hadn't been in school for three or four years and Professor Clark was questioning me so he would know where to begin. He asked me about math, and I had always been good at math and liked it. He said I should just work at math all day at first, and then pick up other studies one by one. I had had three years with Professor Dorn, and he was a real teacher. He didn't use text books; he taught English from the daily newspaper. He would read a paragraph, and we would have to pick out the errors. In math he would give questions out of his head and we would work them out. Professor Clark asked where I had learned math; he had never seen anyone so well prepared.
Berwyn was the town for shopping then. Paoli was hardly on the map until 1911, when the through trains began stopping there. The two main stores were Cleaver's and Swing's. Cleaver's was first built where Bob Thomas's place is now. That store burned, and he built the stone building where the Berwyn Furniture is now. He sold groceries and meat on the left side of the store, and dry goods on the right. Upstairs was the furniture department. Miss Hattie used to clerk in the store; she later became Mrs. Morton. Berwyn also had a bakery, the only one on the Main Line, it was located where Connor's Drug Store is now. Before locating there, it was in Lobb's old place.
The Post Office later occupied the corner where the bakery was. The Postmaster also worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and during the day while he was at work Miss Hattie ran the office; at night he took over. The Post Office was graded according to the number of pieces of mail stamped there, and he guaranteed that any letter mailed by 7:58 in the evening addressed to Washington or Boston would be delivered the next morning. If he stamped the letter, he got credit for it, so he had all his friends mail letters there. By this means he was able to get the Post Office raised a notch - from fourth to third, or whatever. Next the Post Office was graded on how many stamps were sold, so he persuaded people to buy from him, and got the Post Office up another notch.
Berwyn also had the first livery stable; the Eachus livery in Paoli was started later. Mr. Cork built a store a little later, right across the street. It was one of the little "boxes" Fritz Lumber now uses. It was not built as yet when I went to China in 1904. Ewing sold stoves, and tinware, and other hardware. Aluminum hadn't come in yet, and tin was used a great deal.
The Presbyterian Church was the leading one at that time. The Valley Baptist Church ran a Sunday School in summer, and in winter they had church services in Berwyn, but used the church in the Valley during warm weather. In 1888 the Methodists built their church. Eighty-seven members had been worshiping in the old hall before going into their new church. The Roman Catholics were the next ones to use the hall; they had twenty or twenty-five people meeting then. They now have eight masses on Sunday mornings; the 6:30 mass certainly fills the streets with cars. The First Baptist Church was started about 1900. They met in another hall, one which is no longer standing, on Waterloo Avenue. The Patriotic Sons of America, and the Red Men, the Odd Fellows, and the Daughters of Liberty also used to meet there. The Lutherans formed their church in the Red Cross building. Mr. Burns built the Presbyterian Church for $15,000. People used to say he got rich on that, but the chances are that he lost money.
I was the first boy to deliver newspapers in Berwyn. The Union News had a place at the railroad station, operated by Will Coffman who used to live at First & Bridge Avenues. He called me in one day and asked if I would deliver papers. The train bringing them came through at two minutes of five in the morning. It didn't stop here and the bundle of papers was kicked out of a door as it went past at a mile a minute. Sometimes they wore kicked out too soon. If I saw the man just standing at the door I would know he had already put the papers off and I would have to walk along the track until I found the bundle. When Mr. Coffman went off for recreation he would call me to tend the stand. He taught me the telegraph call for Berwyn, and if that call came in I would run for a railroad man to take the message. I never learned the Morse code, but I did know when they were calling Berwyn.
The Station Master was Sam Kroner. Will Kroner, who lives in Wayne and is a member of the First Baptist Church, is his grandson. The Kromers had five boys, and I used to visit there with them. They lived over the station, and every time a train would come past the house would quiver. Mr. Kroner started to sell tickets in the morning for the 6:28 train and kept the office open until the 9:00 train at night. That was the last train that came through and it went to Harrisburg.
There was an undertaking establishment in Berwyn; Bartram and Hickman.
When stone was put on the Lancaster Pike, it was not rolled with rollers, but by the four-inch wheels of hay wagons. Those hay wagons never had to pay toll; they earned the right of way. I often rode a bicycle to Philadelphia on the Pike. The toll was eleven cents, and it was a pretty rough ride too. Once I rode to Washington, but that was the longest trip I ever took.
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