Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 7
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: December 1948 Volume 7 Number 1, Pages 9–14
Charles Joseph Roberts, M.D. : July 14, 1857-September 3, 1937
Early in the history of this country, before the War of 1776, John and Sarah Havard left the hills of their native Wales, made the arduous trip by sailboat across the ocean and arrived in America probably in Philadelphia. By accident or intention they came to Tredyffrin Township and purchased from an agent of William Penn a tract of 1000 acres of land. This tract fronted upon the present Swedesford Road for over one and one-half miles, beginning, at the Valley Forge Road (route 83) and extending west to Mill Road leading toward the site of the mill formerly operated by Mr. Seeley Dewees of Berwyn. Chesterbrook Farm lies within this area and the old stone buildings there are parts of the Havard Homestead. Here a son, David, was born and here, later in 1781 a son, Benjamin was born to David. In the course of time Benjamin married and one of his children was a beautiful girl, Susanna, also born at the old homestead.
About the time tho Havards left Wales, a young Welshman named John Roberts, also started out to seek his fortune in the New World. He arrived in America and settled near Quakertown in Bucks County. Here in 1769 his son, William, was born, and reared. William came to Schuylkill Township in Chester County and settled along the Pickering Creek where he operated a fulling or cloth treating mill and tilled his farm until his death in 1844. He was a Whig in politics and a Friend in his religious life.
William married Rebecca Pennington and there were six children: Sarah, Maria, Rebecca, Martha, Joseph, and John.
William's son, Joseph, who was born in 1786, continued to live in Schuylkill Township where he raised his family of eight children and cared for his farm until his death in 1857.
Joseph married Mary Walker and their eight children were: Sarah, William, Lewis, Stephen, Isaac, Rebecca, Anna, and Mary. He was also a Whig in politics and a Friend in religious belief.
His eldest son, William, who probably was named for his grandfather, was born in 1812. He received his education at Professor Faulk's boarding school near Ambler in Montgomery County and learned civil engineering. In politics he was a Republican and served as a supervisor besides being a school director in his township. In the course of human events, William began to heed the Biblical injunction - "It is not good that the man should be alone". He therefore looked around for a "help mate" who had youth, energy and a pioneer spirit combined, with the ability to manage his future household. He did not have far to look, for there, on the neighboring farm was Susanna Havard who had all the necessary attributes as well as grace and beauty.
They were married in 1841 and received as a wedding present a farm of 112 acres bounded by the Valley Forge, Wilson, and Swedesford Roads, at New Centerville.
This farm at present is known as Green Valley Farm and was owned until recently by Ralph M. Hunt. It was deeded to him by Jesse Walker who purchased it from the heirs of William Roberts. Mr. and Mrs. John A. Yohn now occupy the farm. The pond which is located on the property is the result of an old iron mine. A low grade ore was obtained here and smelted but during the mining the workers struck a spring which filled the excavation with water, making further operations uneconomical.
The smelter with a tall brick chimney fell into disuse and was torn down about 1860.
In his boyhood, the writer used "The Mine" for fishing, swimming and skating but his Uncle Clarence made use of it for watering cattle in summer, and in winter for cutting blocks of ice, which were stored, covered with sawdust, until the summertime in a large walled pit. Then, too, at the southeast, corner, of the farm stands the site of the stone picket post which the Tredyffrin-Easttown History Club has appropriately designated with a marker.
William and Susanna Roberts had ten children all born at the old farm, of these only one remains. The names of the ten children were: Benjamin, who was in Company K, 4th Penn. Reserves during the Civil War, Isaac W., Mary E. wife of Isaac Walker, David R., William M., Anna N., George W., born 1855 and died in 1919, Charles J., Clarence B. born 1860 and died in 1940, and Sue R., who is the widow of Elliott Thomas, and who now resides at Fairview-Village, near Norristown.
Seven of these children together with their father (died 1900) and mother (died 1904) are buried in the Valley Friends Meeting Cemetery where some members of the Havard family also lie.
Charles was born in 1857 and was reared on the farm. He received his education at the Baptist School (then opposite the Great Valley Baptist Church), this public school was discontinued about 1871 when the Fairview School on Swedesford Road east of New Centerville was built, and at Friends' Central School in Philadelphia. After being engaged for a short time in farming and contracting he decided to make medicine his vocation. He "read medicine" with Dr. Charles N. Fredrick, a neighbor who lived near the border of Valley Forge Park on what is now part of the Brookmead Farm, and then entered the Medical department of the University of Pennsylvania from which he graduated in 1882.
Through an odd circumstance (see Vol. VI, No. 1, 1944 Quarterly) he entered into a partnership with Dr. Jacob Rickabaugh whose residence adjoined the Valley Presbyterian Church and they practiced together four years.
In 1886, Dr. Roberts was united in marriage with Mary a daughter of Dr. Rickabaugh. The ceremony was performed by Rev. Robert M. Patterson in the old building of the Valley Church and this was the first wedding in the old church as home weddings were the custom in those days.
The couple purchased a property next to the Valley Store (Warren Tavern Post Office) where the Doctor had his office and where were born three sons: Jacob Alan born in 1887 and died in 1890 from an injury, Charles W. in 1891, and Harold A. in 1893. The family then moved to a farm near West's Mill, north of the Valley Store, where Dr. Roberts continued his practice. However, in 1897 he gave up his private practice and became a Medical Examiner in the Relief Department of the Pennsylvania Railroad. He was stationed at Derry, Pa. and so his family moved to Malvern to be near railroad transportation. After being transferred to Columbia, Pa., he purchased a property on Darby Road, Paoli and here the youngest son, George B. was born in 1901. From here the family of Dr. Roberts followed him in his work to Williamsport, Pa.: Smyrna, Delaware: and then Clayton, Delaware. Finally he decided to settle his family in one place and thereafter to make any further moves himself. He chose a site in Berwyn, near his old homestead and that of his wife, building in 1909 the bungalow home on Kromer Ave., now occupied by Mr. Charles Harwood and family. While the family lived here, he was located at Sunbury, Pa., from which place he returned over the week-ends until his retirement in 1923.
Dr. Roberts was a staunch Republican but also favored Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party. He took a great interest in local politics and at one time served on the school board of East Whiteland Township.
He was member of Washington Camp #548 Patriotic Order Sons of America, Devault Lodge #486 Order of Tonti, and Thomson Masonic Lodge #340 of which he was a postmaster.
Although, he came from Quaker stock he never became a member of the Society of Friends but late in life (1924) he did become a member of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Berwyn during the pastorate of Rev. J. Charles Levengood.
While Dr. Roberts was concerned with the human machine he also became interested in a mechanical machine called an automobile which was being developed about 1900. The tires at that time were not very enduring and the brakes were not effective so Dr. Roberts invented an emergency jack device which lifted the tires off the ground when the car was not in use and which also served as a means of stopping the car abruptly in an emergency. This device was patented and actually applied to an experimental one-cylinder auto which looked like a buggy without shafts. Several manufacturers offered to buy the device but none of the offers were accepted and with the improvement of tires and brakes the device lost its effectiveness. It was a pretty good idea, however, to come from an M.D. who was not mechanically minded.
Since Dr. Roberts had some of the pioneer spirit of his ancestors and since his work involved him in unusual circumstances, numerous incidents occurred which may be of some interest to the reader. Then, too, they may give an insight into the character of the man who went about easing the pain of his fellowmen.
He often told about the time during his boyhood when he received a three cent piece each week for spending money. This he considered a small fortune and was careful to use it wisely. From this small beginning he learned the value of money and in later life was a firm believer in "saving something for a rainy day".
Another story which may have been slightly embellished was that he and a brother wished to go some distance to a party. Their father agreed to let them use a horse and buggy but the wheels were in a bad state of repair. Nothing daunted, the boys borrowed an iron wheel from a hay rake, a heavy wooden wheel from a farm wagon and went rattling up the lane in high spirits.
Another time, as a young doctor, he was driving at night along a very dark wooded road. When he thought he was near a turn in the road he would pull sharply on the reins and the horse would pull off the road into the gutter. After this had happened several times he finally threw the reins onto the horse's back and the horse took him straight home without any further ado.
Once when on the way to visit a patient he heard the screams of a woman coming from a nearby house. He jumped from his carriage, rushed in and found the woman's husband choking her. The doctor, who was of stalwart build, separated the combatants and pushed the man up against the fireplace, whereupon the wife pulled at the doctor's coat and cried, "You let my husband alone". The doctor replied, "If that's the way you feel about it, your husband can start in where he left off - good day"!
Charles Highley of the Malvern Bank and Dr. Roberts were similar in appearance, which fact often gave rise to humorous cases of mistaken identity. Once a lady patient stopped a man she thought was Dr. Roberts and gave him an intimate description of her ailments. The "Doctor" listened politely and "prescribed" baking soda in water which satisfied the patient. However, when talking to the doctor's wife later, she learned to her chagrin the doctor had been out of town for several days.
Again a patient reported to Mrs. Roberts that the doctor had been seen playing some undignified trick on a fellow townsman. An investigation revealed that the trickster was wearing a brown suit while the doctor had on a gray suit that day. Suspicion again pointed toward Mr. Highley.
While Dr. Roberts was interested in the development of the automobile he never cared to operate one. However, one of his sons inveigled him into driving an auto one day and the doctor put on a good act until he came into the garage. In trying to stop the car he failed to shift to neutral and when the clutch was released the car kept on going toward the rear of the garage, knocking over some baskets in its progress. The doctor used the only command which came to his mind after long association with horses and pulling hard on the steering wheel yelled "Whoa!", while his son stopped the car.
Dr. Roberts enjoyed the years of his retirement to the full. He kept active in the Masonic Lodge and in town affairs. Preston's Shoemaker Shop was the "Senate" and to this meeting place the town fathers would come to discuss the affairs of the world while the proprietor mended shoes. But slowly the old timers moved on, leaving only Dr. Roberts and a few others to carry on the discussions with the shoemaker. Then Dr. Roberts' visits became less, frequent and finally stopped altogether. Word came that he was not well but that he would be back to his old haunts in a short time. This prophecy never was fulfilled for on September 3rd, 1937, Dr. Roberts passed quietly away, having lived an active life for ten years beyond the allotted three score years and ten, survived by his wife and his sons Charles, Harold, and George.
His death brought to an end the work of this tall, vigorous man, whose life and antecedents were so strongly linked to the neighborhood in which he lived, and whose early vigorous training had so well prepared him for the course he chose to follow. Among his innumerable acquaintances there were many who on the news of his death felt that an old friend was lost and another link with the Tredyffrin of early days was severed.
He is buried at the Great Valley Presbyterian Church Cemetery in the Roberts-Rickabaugh lot overlooking the Chester Valley which he loved.
Page last updated: 2012-03-30 at 14:24 EST