Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 32
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: January 1994 Volume 32 Number 1, Pages 19–24
The Maurice Lewis House
Most of the people who traverse Lancaster Avenue through the village of Berwyn today pay scant attention to the collection of old frame buildings on the north side of the thoroughfare opposite the Bank. They may remember that the railroad and the railroad station are there, and beyond that there is probably a perception of the existence of the lumber yard of William H. Fritz, with its frame office, sheds, and warehouses for the storage of merchandise. But amongst these utilitarian facades there is also one which has stood by the side of the road and watched the passing parade on the Lancaster Turnpike, later the Lincoln Highway and now Lancaster Avenue, for more than 125 years.
It is the Maurice Lewis House, one of the oldest in Berwyn, but little known and little appreciated. Today better known as the Berwyn Tavern, it occupies a lot on the north side of Lancaster Avenue, surrounded on three sides by Fritz buildings.
The lot was part of a larger parcel acquired in 1866 by Henry Fritz when he was establishing his lumber, coal and feed business in what was then Reeseville. Fritz purchased the property from John McLeod, who owned the old Spring House Inn and about one hundred surrounding acres at the eastern end of the village. (Before the railroad era, the Spring House had been a place on the old Lancaster Turnpike for wagoners and other travelers to secure food and lodging, but the advent of the railroad sharply reduced the demand for the services of the inn. By the mid-nineteenth century it was used only as a private dwelling, the residence of Pastor McLeod, who was the founding pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, the first church organized in the village.)
In 1867, about eight months after he bought his lumber-yard tract from McLeod, Henry Fritz sold off a lot 55 feet wide and 135 feet deep, on the north side of the Turnpike, to John Maurice Lewis, of Tredyffrin. It was bounded on the west and north by land owned by Fritz, on the east by land still owned by McLeod, and on the south by the Turnpike. (McLeod later sold the property on the east to George K. and Frank Krider, who operated a blacksmith and wheelwright shop there.)
J. Maurice Lewis, born in Tredyffrin in 1836, was a seventh generation direct lineal descendant of Henry Lewis, one of the original group of Welsh settlers in Pennsylvania and the founder of the illustrious Lewis family in America. It appears that J. Maurice Lewis, however, was more familiarly known throughout the village as "Morris" Lewis, and he is referred to in this manner in the writings of Franklin Burns and others. Perhaps because of the generations of sons named Henry, John, Thomas, or Robert, it was not surprising that the Lewis family, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, adopted the custom of using the middle name, with the result that John Maurice Lewis was known as "Morris", Thomas Eugene Lewis as "Gene", Robert Wesley Lewis as "Wes", and so on.
Morris Lewis grew up in the part of Tredyffrin bordering Easttown, just north of the Spring House Inn. His father was George Washington Lewis, born in 1800, who found employment as a schoolmaster in the one-room schools at Eagle and Glassley. (In fact, both George Washington Lewis and his wife were school teachers, and later conducted a private school in their home for many years. As late as 1880, when he was 80 years old, the U. S. Census records the occupation of George Lewis as "tutor".)
In 1827 George Lewis married Sarah Grover, the ceremony being performed by Rev. John S. Jenkins, pastor of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley. Like his father John before him, he married outside the Radnor Meeting and thus distanced himself from his Quaker heritage. Since his bride Sarah Grover's family attended St. Davids Church -- a Robert Grover was a vestryman there in 1804 -- the Baptist Church in the Great Valley may have represented "neutral ground" for the occasion.
In any event, in 1832 George and Sarah Lewis were baptised into the fellowship of the Great Valley Baptist congregation by the new minister there, Reverend Leonard Fletcher. (Rev. Fletcher is a well-remembered minister of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley. It is said that during the eight years of his labors there he baptised more than 400 into membership in the church. He was active in community affairs and was in large measure responsible for raising the level of social consciousness of many through his advocacy of the abolitionist movement and his role in the formation of The Wilberforce Anti-Slavery Society in the area. Since Henry Lewis1 Quaker descendants included many who labored in the cause of abolition -- Enoch Lewis, schoolmaster of Westtown, and Evan Lewis jr., his brother, both cousins of George Washington Lewis' father, were widely known in the movement -- it is little wonder that George Washington Lewis served as secretary of the The Society and that ten other Lewis men and women signed as subscribers to the organization's constitution.
When Rev. Fletcher left Great Valley Baptist in 1840 he left behind him the divisive issue of abolition. Members favoring immediate emancipation formed Radnor Baptist Church the following year. Both George and Sarah Lewis were members of the new congregation for the remainder of their lives, and George Lewis for many years held the office of church clerk. (The first meeting place for the new congregation was Radnor Hall, built in 1832 as Radnor Scientific and Music Hall, on the old Lancaster road, now Conestoga Road, in what is now Wayne.)
At or about the time of his marriage, George Lewis may have been teaching at the Eagle School. It thus would have been quite convenient for the newlyweds to live in a log house on the Grover farm, near this school.
In 1831 George Lewis purchased ten acres of woodland near the farm of his uncle, Abel Lewis, on the west side of Trout Run as it runs down the hill from the old Lancaster Road [now Conestoga Road] into the Valley. (The area was once known as "Lewis' Hollow".) On this property he erected a log house, being adept at carpentry as well as pedagogy, (it has also been reported that, although he was not a professional weaver, all of the carpets, sheeting, clothing and blankets used in his home were woven on his home-made loom.)
Likely a number of factors led the young family to move to a new home. The arrival of a second child in 1831 no doubt stimulated a desire for a change in living quarters. The construction of the new Carr School in 1832, on Old Gulph Road a mile to the northeast, was followed by a period of inactivity at the Eagle School, and it may have been at about this time that George Lewis obtained a teaching position in Easttown at the Glassley School, nearer to his new home.
It was here, in Tredyffrin near present-day Berwyn, that John Maurice Lewis was born on January 14, 1836. It is probable that he received his education at the first Glassley School, and from his father at home. He learned the carpentry trade as well as the "3-Rs".
In 1861, Morris Lewis married Almira S. Jones, believed to be a daughter of the family that owned the Jones farm adjacent to the Great Valley Baptist church property to the west. Their four children were Howard Washington Lewis, Harry Fritz Lewis, Sarah Alice Lewis, and Robert Wesley Lewis.
With his carpentry skills, Morris Lewis was apparently a close associate of Henry Fritz, who thought it desirable to have him locate his home adjacent to the new Fritz lumber yard venture in Reeseville. Henry Fritz and Morris Lewis were the same age, and doubtless grew up together as both their families had roots in the Eagle School area of Tredyffrin. (Evidence of the high degree of their mutual friendship and respect is the fact that Morris Lewis, as previously noted, named his second son, born in 1867, Harry Fritz Lewis.) But unfortunately the association was cut short by the accidental death of Henry Fritz in 1870.
It is not certain when Morris Lewis built a house on the lot he purchased from Henry Fritz in 1867, but it is likely that it was done soon after the land was transferred to him. The A. R. Witmer "Atlas of Chester County, Pa." published in 1874 shows the Lewis house to be in existence at that time.
Lewis is identified as a carpenter in the deed from Fritz, and also in the 1870-1871 Boyd's "Chester County Business Directory". He is similarly identified in a newspaper story which appeared in the West Chester Daily Local News on May 14, 1879 about the emerging village of Berwyn (the name was changed from Reeseville on November 24, 1877). His skill as a carpenter was undoubtedly in great demand and utilized during the late 1870s and 1880s when many new homes and other buildings were being erected in the village of Berwyn.
Morris Lewis' wife Almira died in 1897 at age 57. While the three boys had left Berwyn for Philadelphia to work on the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alice Lewis remained at home to look after her father and the house.
She later married Alfred C. Quimby, son of Rev. Alden W. Quimby, pastor of the Berwyn Methodist Church. Young Quimby purchased land on the north side of the railroad tracks in Berwyn, where Mack Oil Company is today, erected some storage tanks, and started in the oil and gasoline business, a forerunner of Mack Oil. The Lewis-Quimby marriage, however, did not endure; in 1912 the Quimby oil business was sold, and little was heard from Alfred Quimby thereafter.
In 1909 Morris Lewis deeded the property on the turnpike to his daughter Alice, five years before his death on August 21, 1914. Among the provisions in his will, drawn up and dated in 1912, he bequeathed "all [his] household goods and furniture, plate, china-ware, pictures, etc., to [his] daughter, Alice L. Quimby", noting further that "my old home including the land and all buildings thereon, situate on Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn, Pa., I voluntarily conveyed ... to my daughter, Alice L. Quimby, some two or more years ago in recognition of her devotion and kindness to me over a period of fifteen years, more or less". Both Morris Lewis and his wife Almira are buried in the Great Valley Baptist churchyard.
Tragedy continued to follow Alice Lewis Quimby. The ill-fated marriage with Alfred Quimby had produced two offspring, a son Maurice Lewis Quimby, born in 1900, and a younger daughter Mary A. Quimby. Tragically, Morris Lewis' namesake, Maurice Lewis Quimby, contracted infantile paralysis during the epidemic of 1916, and died at age 16.
Alice Quimby continued to live in the Lewis house until her death in late 1938. For many years she ran a boarding house there, and there are still those living in Berwyn who remember the porch which extended across the front of the house facing Lancaster Avenue. In her will, drawn up and signed in 1934, she bequeathed the property to her only surviving child, her daughter Mary A. Quimby.
In 1940 the property passed out of the hands of the Lewis family. In that year it was conveyed to Mary Capriotti, wife of Augostino Capriotti, by Earl E. Sullivan and Mary Q. Sullivan, his wife, of Comstock, New York. (Apparently Mary A. Quimby had married Sullivan at some time during the intervening six years between the date of her mother's will and the sale of the property.)
At least one other tale of the part played by the Lewis family in the life of Berwyn deserves to be told. The youngest son of Morris and Almira Lewis, Robert Wesley "Wes" Lewis, was a railroad man who lived most of his life on Old Lancaster Road in Berwyn. At the time of his death in 1942 he had been employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad for 43 years. Wes Lewis was married in 1904 in Philadelphia, where he lived at that time, to Selma F. Carlson, a young lady of Swedish descent. Their children were J. Maurice Lewis II, Carl 0. Lewis, and Harry H. Lewis.
The oldest, J. Maurice Lewis II, is best remembered for his service with the Tredyffrin Township police. After previously serving as a policeman in Easttown, he was appointed a patrolman in Tredyffrin in 1944, and was later named a captain, a position he held for many years.
But there is another intriguing part of the story: for a time in the late 1930s and early 1940s the two-man Easttown police force was composed entirely of Lewises! Harry T. Lewis, a descendant of Jonathan T. Lewis (a cousin of George Washington Lewis) and Thomas Eugene Lewis, became the township's first police officer in 1922. When J. Maurice Lewis II also joined the force around 1937, Harry Lewis took over the job of Chief of Police -- and the two Lewises kept law and order in Easttown for the next six or seven years.
The old Lewis property on Lancaster Avenue was apparently changed from a residence to a tavern in 1946. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board records indicate that the Berwyn Tavern was first licensed there on November 26, 1946, to Mary Capriola and Luigi DiMidio. (DiMidio would later open Luigi's on Paoli Pike in Paoli.)
Thirteen years later, on December 4, 1959, an announcement of a fictitious name registration of "Berwyn Tavern", at 625 Lincoln Highway, appeared in the Daily Local News on behalf of Constantino A. Capriotti, Old Lancaster Road, Berwyn, and Vincent F. Petrel la, 625 Lincoln Highway, Berwyn. Again, in an advertisement on June 5, 1964 it was announced that Berwyn Tavern, Inc. was "under new management -- [with] Jack and Helen Cooper your hosts". Still another change in management was shown in the 1975-1976 Berwyn Business Association Directory, with the listing of "Berwyn Tavern -- The Shanaughy's", who lived in Malvern. And, finally, the current licensee is John Todd, of Wayne.
Notwithstanding the various changes in management, however, it is still ironic that a property linked for many years with the Quimby name should later be used in the sale of alcoholic beverages, for Rev. Alden Quimby, Alice Lewis Quimby's father-in-law, was a zealous proponent of temperance prior to the enactment of the Prohibition Amendment that became effective in 1920.
In fact, it has been written that Rev. Quimby first visited Berwyn in 1894 to give a lecture entitled "Ten Nights in a Bar Room"!
The Maurice Lewis house still stands, looking out on Lancaster Avenue, after 125.years. What a passing parade of history it has viewed in the village of Berwyn. As has been suggested so many times, "If its walls could talk --", imagine what stories of Berwyn's past they would reveal to us!Top
Chester County Archives: Deed, marriage, and will records
Chester County Historical Society: Newspaper Clipping File [Lewis family; Quimby family; Easttown township]
Lewis, Eleanor: Interview, October 10, 1993. [Mrs. Lewis is the widow of Carl O. Lewis]
Lewis, Walter W.; Genealogy of the Family of Henry Lewis. Schenectady, New York : self-published 1970
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board: License records
Radnor Historical Society: Scrapbook history of Radnor township
Tredyffrin Easttown History Club: Quarterly [various issues]
Page last updated: 2009-05-12 at 10:09 EST