Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 37
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: July 1999 Volume 37 Number 3, Pages 75–86
The History of Old Forge Crossing
The Oid Forge Crossing development of 500 or so garden-style apartments was built by Richard Fox of Jenkintown on what had been a 40-acre piece of farmland on the east side of Valley Forge Road in Tredyffrin township. He acquired the property in December of 1966 at a time when development was just beginning to take off in the area. It was a training ground of sorts for Fox who also had his eye on a much bigger piece of Tredyffrin's Great Valley – Chesterbrook farm – which he succeeded in buying some three years later. Fox sold the completed Old Forge Crossing to Prudential Insurance Company in 1975 and put his equity to work building Chesterbrook. An early memory of Oid Forge Crossing at this time is the mini-bus provided by Fox delivering commuters to the Devon station in time to board the 7:41 a.m. train to Philadelphia.
A real estate advertisement published in 1918 described the property located on Valley Forge Road in Devon which is presently known as Old Forge Crossing. It read:
Country Estate of 92 Acres in the Beautiful Chester Valley Dates Back to Revolutionary Days
Situated on Devon Road between Devon and historic Valley Forge, the approach to the Stone Colonial Mansion, originally built over 150 years ago, is on a private drive lined with rambling roses and a beautiful oid orchard. The entire house, with the loving care of Colonial days, has been completely remodeled, and no expense spared to make it a thoroughly modern and comfortable home. There is a center hall leading from broad porches to a vine-covered pergola, large living rooms which run the full depth of the house, and old fireplaces dating back to the Revolutionary period.
A panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, [which] includes the Vailey Forge Park, is had from every one of the six master chambers. There is a large billiard room, three modern baths, and servants' rooms with baths on the second floor. The large stone garage following the Colonial lines of the house will accommodate eight cars, four riding horses, and provide ample chauffeur's quarters above. The outbuildings consist of a tenant's cottage, large cattle barn and spring house. Arrangements can be made to purchase this complete farm, equipment and full-blooded stock that includes saddle and work horses, Ayrshire cattle, Jersey hogs, ducks, turkeys, geese, etc. Several streams wind through the property with an active duck pond and a natural swimming pool which is bordered by a well-made tennis court.
E. A. HAVENS CO.
The stable, or the barn as we know it, had living quarters for farm hands, four stalls for riding and carriage horses and space for six carriages. The property sold for $65,000 with a $20,000 mortgage.
At that time it extended east to West Valley Road, including what is now the Post Office Distribution Center.
The stream had been dammed to create a pond between the stable and barn near the existing pond. Canada geese, mallard ducks, Peking ducks, Guinea hens, Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red chickens were added.
The present pool [billiard] room was the dining room. The mantle over the fireplace in this room has what is said to be a Revolutionary war bullet embedded in the right side woodwork. It can be felt but not seen. Touch it for luck!
No military action was fought here and George Washington never slept here, but British troops on their march through Chester county in 1777 did camp in the immediate area west of Valley Forge Road.
The porch was added during the early nineteenth century. The areas that are used for the bar and the ping pong rooms were added later. The porch foundation is the step up to the front door of the house.
The property had two entrances, one from Valley Forge Road, the other from Swedesford Road. At one time the drive circled in front of the house. This circle was removed and both drives were extended to the present barn. The existing fire exit was the driveway to Swedesford Road.
The area was identified in an early deed as Valleyton. When the township was organized in 1707, the name Tredyffrin, taken from the Welsh "Tre," town or township, and "Duffrin," wide, cultivated valley, was selected. There were many variations in the spelling.
The stream on the east side of the property that flows into the pond was named "Nant yr Ewig" which, it will be noted, translates from the Welsh as "brook or ravine of doe." it originated from springs at the top of the hill, it was used for baptisms by the Welsh Baptist congregation which erected a log meeting house to the south along Valley Forge Road (at the time called Baptist Road). The quarry at the top of the hill is the present source of water for the stream.
The stream bed was moved to form the existing pond when the property was converted to apartments in 1969.
The property, a William Penn land grant, was originally deeded to Catherine [or Katherine] Morgan, a widow, of Philadelphia in right of her deceased husband, Maurice Morgan, in 1701. It reached from what is now the extension of Swedesford Road at Gateway Shopping Center south to an undefined location near the Trenton Cutoff branch of the railroad and from Valley Forge Road to West Valley Road. It covered 212 acres. A year later, on February 3, 1702, Morgan sold it to Griffith John, a Welsh settler. Subsequent generations changed the spelling of the name from John to Jones.
The Treyediffryn(!) tax rate for this property in 1715 was one shilling, eight pence. This was paid by Griffith John.
In 1722 the assessment listed both Griffith Jones (John) and a second Griffith Jones (John) Jr. as property owners. (The names of no less than four men known as Griffith John appear in Chester county records in the early eighteenth century ~ two in Tredyffrin, one in Uwchland and one in Willistown. The second Griffith John in Tredyffrin is mentioned in Whitehead's history of the Baptist Church as having been ordained a deacon in Wales and arrived here in February 1712. He purchased the Richards farm across the Baptist Road from the church in 1727.)
Both men served as constable in Tredyffrin township at one time or another between 1707 and 1753. This was the duty of all property owners. They also served as supervisor of roads, another civic duty, between 1725 and 1753.
Griffith John made his will on the 6th day of February 1722 and died less than a year later. He named wife Elizabeth, daughters Mary, Martha, and Prichet, wife of Lewellin David, grand-daughter Christina David, and son David to whom he devised all his goods, chattels and lands, including the 212 acres of land. (There is no mention of a son named Griffith.)
The Baptist Church in the Great Valley on the adjoining property to the south was organized in 1 711. in 1722 "a meeting of logs was constructed, 28 feet square with seats, galleries and a stove" on land that is now the north west section of the cemetery. The half acre of land on which the log church was built was deeded by David Jones and Joan, his wife, on November 1 6, 1726 to Alexander Owen, Griffith John, William Rees and John Davies, acting as church trustees, for a consideration of ten shillings. (The present stone church was built around 1805.)
The house at Old Forge Crossing is first mentioned in 1751. It consisted of the present rooms on both sides of the center hall. A wing with the present pool [billiard] room, kitchen and rooms over these areas was added later. The walls are made of stone, two feet thick. It is typical of the Welsh farmhouses built at the time.
David, John and Thomas Jones and David and Samuel John were listed as "taxables", their names appearing on tax rolls in Tredyffrin in 1753.
David Jones, son of first settler Griffith John, by his will dated September 25, 1759 (he died shortly thereafter), directed his wife Joanna be provided care for life. He divided the farm between sons William (the westerly end of the land, taking in all the buildings) and Levi (the eastern end with the new house). Son Griffith received one shilling and one fourth of the books, and son Amos got 100 pounds and also one fourth of the books. Daughters Hanna Gwyn, a widow with one child, and Elizabeth Livering received small monetary bequests. The remainder went to William and Levi equally. If either William or Levi died without issue, their share was to go to Amos. William and Amos sold their share of the farm in 1771 to brother Griffith Jones, a resident of Charlestown township.
In 1775, the Rev. David Jones, a native of New Castle county, Delaware (not family with Griffith John), became pastor of the Baptist Church. He was a patriot, and militantly supported the popular cause. A year later he became an army chaplain under Generals Gates and St. Clair. He also participated in the Battles at Brandywine and Germantown. His pay was $20 a month, until he was promoted to Captain and paid $33.33 a month. He became Regimental Chaplain to Anthony Wayne at Valley Forge.
General Wayne once wrote, "He has a knowledge of medicine and surgery, doubly valuable in camp. He can dress a wound, amputate a limb and afterwards, if required, preach the funeral sermon of the victim of war's dreadful horrors."
At Ticonderoga on July 29, 1776, Wayne dispatched a secret letter to Ben Franklin in which he said, "Through the medium of my chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Jones, I hope this will reach you as he has promised to blow out any man's brains who will attempt to take it from him."
When Wayne went on his southern campaign, he sent Jones home to inquire about the well being of his wife. Jones reported, "Mrs. Wayne spent Wednesday evening at my home. She is hearty." Jones was on the British "Most Wanted" list.
On the morning of September 16, 1777, when the British invasion of Chester county reached this area, George Washington prepared to attack the advancing British led by Sir William Howe in East Whiteland. but an "equinoctial storm of unusual violence and duration" ended the battle.
Two days later, Lord Cornwallis marched down (Old) Lancaster Road to the "Black Bear," in present day Paoli. He turned left and continued down what is now Bear Hill Road to Howell's Tavern, the intersection of Howellville Road and Route 252. He set up his headquarters near Cassatt and Swedesford Roads at the Rees homestead known today as "Tory Hollow."
Howe's vanguard under Knyphausen proceeded as far as the crossing of the Baptist Road. The advance party of General Edward Mathews, who led two brigades of infantry, the First and Second, filed into the field on the plantation of Samuel Jones, known today as "Valley Brook Farm," across the Baptist Road from what is now the Old Forge Crossing clubhouse. Howe himself occupied the house of Samuel Jones. The troops formed a continuous three-mile encampment between the Baptist Road and Howell's tavern, along the south side of Swedesford Road, the present Route 252, for three days from the late afternoon of the 18th to the early morning of the 21st of September, 1777.
No battle or skirmish was fought here in the valley, but the British under Genera! Charles Grey ambushed Wayne's troops nearby at the Battle of Paoli ("Paoli Massacre") on the night of September 20. A British map shows the engagement was fought a short distance south of Frazer. (Actually, the fighting occurred in what is today's Malvern.) Grey's troops defeated Wayne in the battle.
The British waited here for the ground to dry after the torrential rain of September 16. General Howe issued a proclamation promising the local residents they would not be disturbed if they stayed home and remained quiet. The British army was far from its base of supply and the soldiers lived off the land and damaged or destroyed what they could not take. Reports state they lived very well while waiting for the Schuylkill river to subside after the rain.
A British raiding party robbed the Easttown township home of the "Doctor" and Brigade Chaplain David Jones of his "riding chair, 14 sheep, one hog, 17 gease, 105 bushels of wheat, &c."
Samuel Jones, who owned the farm across the road to the west of the Baptist meeting house, where British General Lord Howe was housed, suffered a loss of 171 pounds, two shillings, six pence for damage inflicted on his property. Howe's paymaster reimbursed him £51 before leaving.
The Baptist Church in the Great Valley was also looted by the British. They stole "sacrament dishes valued at 81 shillings, destroyed and burned the parsonage farm fence of 195 pannel(!) equal to 810 rails at 4 shillings a hundred - one pound, 12 shillings, four pence in value."
The total damage done in our neighborhood (Tredyffrin and Easttown) by the British was nearly £10,000 ($26,400). Considering none of the Quaker families and few of the Mennonites made returns of losses and others neglected to do so, the cost could have approached $50,000, a large sum for those days.
After leaving here, the British crossed the Schuylkill River at a ford behind what is now Valley Forge Park, Fatland Ford, and made a diversionary crossing at Gordon's Ford, now Phoenixville.
Washington's troops crossed the river upstream above Phoenixville at Parker's Ford. They followed the British to Germantown where a major battle was fought on October 1. Except for brief skirmishes during the next two months Washington kept the British at bay in Philadelphia. He eventually led his troops along the present Montgomery Avenue, under the Hanging Rock at Gulph Mills, to Valley Forge for the winter encampment of 1777-1778.
During the encampment, the story goes, Devault Beaver shot an American soldier milking his cow. The Beavers then owned the property which we know as Brookmead Farm. Later generations of the family also owned property to the south around the Baptist Church.
There were 25 slaves in Tredyffrin township prior to 1800 but none on the Old Forge Crossing property. They were registered in accordance with the law.
When Griffith Jones of Charlestown died without a will in 1804, the court awarded his 113-acre Tredyffrin farm to Catherine and William Brown. It was appraised at $60 an acre. Catherine Jones Brown was a great, great granddaughter of the first Griffith John, a granddaughter of Griffith Jones the decedent, and the last of the Jones family to own the western farm. (Levi Jones lived on the eastern farm until his death in 1817.)
The property was soon divided. George Beaver (brother of Devault) bought a portion in 1812 from the Browns. He was granted water rights for the stream to "watter horses, cattel &c, and [for] pastering." Thomas Walker bought the remainder (80 acres) in 1818. He was fortunate the cholera epidemic of 1836 avoided residents of this property.
The community of Centerville grew up at the intersection of present Routes 202 and 252. At one time it was known as "Walkerville" because the Walker family owned property nearby. The village consisted of a hotel, general store, post office, and a few houses. The name was changed to New Centerville by the railroad. The hotel, operated by Evans Kendall, who married into the Walker family, was located where the Route 202 overpass across Valley Forge Road is now located. Today's restaurant was then a general store. It was later changed to an inn or tavern.
The Chester Valley Railroad was built during the early 1850s. It was incorporated April 22, 1850, and was granted a right-of-way on June 10, 1851 from Isaac Walker who then owned this property. The line was 21 miles long, and extended from Bridgeport to Downingtown. The New Centerville station was located on the north west side of the tracks on land where the fire exit crosses the right-of-way. It was originaliy part of the Old Forge Crossing property, transferred to the railroad as part of their right-of-way grant. The railroad was completed and the first passenger train operated on September 12, 1853.
During a financial reorganization, the Reading Company gained ownership and the line became known as the Chester Valley branch of the Reading Company. The stations were Bridgeport, Shainline, Henderson, King of Prussia, Maples, Centreville (changed to New Centerville), Rennyson's (later known as Chesterbrook), Howellville, Paoli Road. Cedar Hollow, Lees, Valley Store, Malin's, Mill Road, White Horse, Glen Loch, Summit, Exton, Oaklands (became Whitford), Ackworth, and Downingtown.
On May 21,1859, men who were burning off a field lost control of the fire in a high wind. It spread behind today's Old Forge Crossing, and "considerable exertion of quite a crowd of people extinguished it before it burned houses in the area," was reported in a local newspaper.
The same newspaper reported that on June 4, 1877 a fire destroyed four houses in New Centerville near the present location of the shopping center. Another house was damaged. The general store and post office was destroyed. All but one house was insured. Total damage was $10,000.
In 1860 Isaac Walker, who owned the property from 1839 (when he received it from his father's estate) to 1887, was a member of the "Tredyffrin Association for the Recovery of Stolen Livestock and Detection of Burglars and Thieves." The annual fee was $1, raised later to $10. Quarterly dues were 25 cents, raised to 50 cents every six months. Meetings were held at "7-1/2 o'clock at the Centreville Hotel the first Saturday evenings of January, April, July, and October."
The Association apparently had a high rate of recovery.
Isaac Walker sold a small portion of the property to George H. Beaver, grandson of the original George Beaver, in 1881.
A plot plan dated 1883 shows three streams flowing through the farm -one near the present property line of the Post Office, one flowing near what is now Valley Forge Road that divided with a branch flowing between the present club house and barn. The small building in the swimming pool area was a spring house where food was stored. It was adjacent to this stream. The stone walls along the road from the club house to the barn were originally parts of a bridge across this stream. This plan also shows a pond near Valley Forge Road where Schooner Mews is now located.
When Isaac Walker died in 1887, William H. Kemble bought the farm from the administrators of his estate. Kemble's wife Mary was Isaac Walker's daughter. The property passed to Mary F. Kemble in 1891.
In 1902 this property was acquired by Elizabeth K. Yarrow. In addition, 12+ acres held by the Beaver family since 1812 was reunited with the larger tract in a separate purchase. Mrs. Yarrow's husband, George R. Yarrow, was in the cattle feed business. They had the contract to feed the horses that pulled the Philadelphia horse cars. They lost their money when the horse cars were converted to electric trolleys.
Eleven of the acres were in lawn. It took one man and a horse-drawn mower a day to cut the grass. The Yarrows purchased sheep to stock the pastures, and perhaps the sheep saved labor by helping to keep the grass short. Incidentally, the last owner of the farm, Warren H. Wells, also kept sheep. A 1951 newspaper story gives details of an attack upon his flock of 42 sheep by vicious dogs.
When Valley Forge Park was developed, it was possible to stand at the front door and see the new Anthony Wayne equestrian statue in the park 2-1/2 miles away. It was dedicated on June 10, 1908. Today the clubhouse can be seen from this statue.
A large orchard extended from the house to Valley Forge Road, and the property became known as Old Orchard Farm. (It is interesting to note that the will of David Jones in 1759 mentions an orchard in that place on the property, "... I except & reserve out of this devise one half of all ye orchard for ye use of my son Levi ... for twelve years after my demise.)
It was sold to George C, Shane in 1918 for $65,000 with a $20,000 mortgage. The stream was dammed in 1919 to create a duck pond between the stable and barn. The stable stood on what is now the Post Office property. The owner bought Canada geese, mallard ducks, Guinea hens, and Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red chickens.
In 1918 the house had no electricity. A "big device" in the basement made gas for cooking and lighting from gasoiine. It was a miracle it never exploded. When the cost of gasoline rose to 33 cents a gallon it became too expensive to operate. Gas lights were replaced with oil lamps.
Shane hired a management consultant to reorganize his business. He gave it to the consultant because he could not sell it. The consultant went to Detroit and never returned. A Delaware corporation was formed to manage it, using the name "The Old Orchard Farm Association". There was a $20,000 mortgage on the property. In addition, a lien was filed against it for $8,496 by an Allen Smith. The corporation sold it to the Jeanes family who lost their money, and sold it to Samuel and Jean Morris McDowell in 1924.
The front porch was removed about 1922 and the side extensions were enclosed to include what is now the ping pong room and bar. One writer has said the McDowells "put a lot of money into [the farm]." A right of way for the electric company transmission line was executed in 1927.
The McDowells lost the property in the 1929 crash. Following a sheriff's sale, Susannah Vaillant, wife of Dr. George C. Vaillant, Director of the University [of Pennsylvania] Museum, bought the house. They moved in with their children Joanna, George and Henry. Tragically, Dr. Vaillant lost his life on May 13, 1945 in the swimming pool.
Warren M. Wells, the last owner of the farm bought it from Mrs. Vaillant and others in 1945 and 1946, and sold it on December 14, 1966 to a Richard Fox Corporation which, in turn, sold it after completion of the construction to Old Forge Crossing Associates on May 1, 1969,
When Old Forge Crossing was built, the property owned by Fox extended to West Valley Road. There were two houses and a wooden barn on the 50 acres that is now the Post Office property. These buildings were later demolished. Work horses and ten to twelve cows had been kept in the barn with two large horse-drawn hay mowers and other farm equipment.
In the north east corner of the Post Office property are the remains of an unidentified structure. At one time it was part of this property. When the Post Office was built in 1977, this area was untouched because of possible historical significance.
The plan of the interior of the house has not changed. The only changes have been the usage of the rooms. Before it was sold for apartments, the room to the right of the center hall was a library. Built-in book shelves remain. The room to the left was the living room. The pool [billiard] room was the dining room. Each of these rooms has a working fireplace. The stair well was open to the third floor.
The computer room was the master bedroom with dressing room and fireplace. The third floor was a guest bedroom, playroom and sewing room. The property was a "gentleman's farm" with an emphasis on raising sheep. The present barn was a working structure with a hayloft.
Horseback riding was a major pastime, especially at neighboring Chesterbrook Farm. One horse stall was removed when the garage was added. The original doors to these stalls are still used.
The swimming pool was located near what is now Old Glory Mews, across the railroad right-of-way near the New Centerville train station. It was kept full by diverting water from the overhead tank used to fill the steam locomotives on the railroad.
The chauffeur lived in the cottage.
Shopping was done in Berwyn, Paoli, and downtown Philadelphia, via the Paoli Local.
Old Forge Crossing Associates sold the property to Prudential Insurance Company who maintained it as an apartment complex. The declaration of Old Forge Crossing Condominium Association is dated May 26, 1981.
The entrance from Valley Forge Road, also known as Devon State Road, is the main access to the property. A secondary emergency entrance exists from Swedesford Road but is not used.
The property now consists of 508 condominiums, a cottage, the old farm house now converted into management, meeting and recreation facilities, the stone barn, also used for meeting and recreational activities, a stream and pond, a swimming pool, and three tennis courts.Top
Chester County Historical Society
"Inventory of Historic Sites," published by Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
Page last updated: 2011-12-10 at 19:35 EST