Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 43
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: Summer 2006 Volume 43 Number 3, Pages 89–98
An Old Road and a Dig
In 1954, when Bill and Sue Andrews had been married about a year, Bill purchased, for an attractive price, the Detwiler farm south of Yellow Springs Road, east of the village of Cedar Hollow, and west of the historic village of Salem. Access to the property is from Indian Run Road. Indian Run is a small stream behind the barn on the property which now flows only occasionally and empties into Valley Creek. Their property is one of today's most beautiful, restful settings in the Great Valley and approaching it from Indian Run Road one knows instantly that the buildings nestled at the bottom are very historic.
Around 1970 Sue began researching the history of their house at the Chester County Historical Society and found there were records of deeds to the property going back to 1700. When they moved in neighbors had told her it was “the oldest house in the valley.” In 1991 Sue started her dig.
The house consists of two major parts: an older part to the east and a later part to the west. Sue engaged the services of several experts to try to determine how old the older part was and has concluded that it was built in 1732 by Thomas David.
Dendrochronological analysis - a method of dating wood samples by examining tree rings and the amount of space between each ring - of several cores of wood taken from the summer beams in the older part of the house had determined that it was built in 1756.
There were several reasons to think this date was incorrect: the older part of the house had 3 corner fireplaces and these were not usually a feature in houses built after 1750; a 1741 deed of Thomas David showed a house; Mary Ellen Lundelius, owner of the house in the 1940s, remembered a datestone dated 1732; a 1750 notice of sale of the house described a stone house; and dendrochronological analysis was sometimes known to be wrong.
Between 1700 and 1770 there are deeds for 5 successive owners of the land:
The Davids were part of the original Welsh settlement of Tredyffrin.
In 1750 Methusela Davis placed a notice in The Pennsylvania Gazette of a sale of his property:
To be sold by publick vendue, on the 3d of September next ... a plantation, situate in the township of Tryduffryn, in the Great Valley, Chester county, 22 miles from the city of Philadelphia, and convenient to several merchant-mills, containing about 300 acres of very good land, 120 acres thereof clear'd, about 40 of which is good meadow, a great part thereof upland, well water'd, and good conveniency of making more, the whole plantation having several streams and live springs of water in it, the corn-land fresh, the wood-land well timber'd, and good conveniency of burning lime. There is a good stone-house on the place, new stone barn, stable, cow-house, and spring-house, and a large thriving orchard. Likewise to be sold at the same time and place, a large stock of horses, mares and colts, cows, steers, young cattle and sheep, implements of husbandry, and sundry sorts of household goods.
James Davis sold the property to Lewis Gronow in 1770.
Lewis Gronow was also a Welshman and a relative of the Davises. According to Futhey and Cope (p. 574), he was an “early and staunch Chester County patriot. . . . He was one of the county committee which assumed the local government in December, 1774, under the auspices of the Continental Congress.” He was a member of the committee that met on March 20, 1775 at the home of Richard Cheyney in East Caln to draft “a petition to present to the General Assembly of this province, with regard to the manumission of slaves, especially relating to the freedom of infants hereafter born of black women, within this colony.” He was a member of the committee from Chester County at the June 18-25, 1776 provincial conference convened at Carpernters' Hall in Philadelphia and he was a judge of the election at the White Horse Tavern to elect delegates to the July 15, 1776 convention where the first Pennsylvania constitution was adopted.
In 1777 Gronow “was elected a member of the General Assembly for Chester County. He was also a sub-lieutenant of the county,—one of the officers having charge of the military organization of the same. On June 17, 1777, an order was drawn in favor of Lewis Gronow, Esq. . . . for $4000, for the purpose of procuring substitutes, blankets, etc.” On March 30, 1780 he was re-appointed as a sub-lieutenant for Chester County. Futhey and Cope state that Gronow “it is believed, died soon after this, and his personal history, like that of many other good patriots of those days, seems to be nearly lost.” Gronow was apparently poor when he died in 1786 as his estate was sold at a sheriff's sale to Thomas Bull. It is speculated that he lost his money during the Revolutionary War.
Thomas Bull owned the property until 1791 when he sold it to Jacob Kurtz.
The 1798 Federal Direct Tax Assessment (Glass Tax) describes the buildings on the property at the time Jacob Kurtz owned it:
The house and kitchen stood on one acre and were assessed at $800. The barn, wagon house, and the rest of the property stood on 169 acres and was assessed at $5,044. The barn was built in 1791 by Kurtz and stood north and west of the house. It burned in 1962. The Andrews were able to save a section of the eastern end of the original barn and have restored it as today's smaller barn. The remaining wall retains the original datestone showing the 1791 date and the letters JBK—standing for Jacob and his wife, Barbara, Kurtz. The 1798 Tax Assessment lists John Gronow Bull and others as adjacent proprietors.
The next two owners were John Bowen, Jr. who purchased it from Jacob Kurtz in 1808 and Samuel Davis who purchased it at a sheriff's sale in 1817. Samuel didn't own it very long. In the Village Record of February 4, 1818 he listed it for sale on February 26, 1818. This notice describes it as a plantation of 104½ acres of limestone land of the best quality, about 18 acres of which is “well set with timber ... adjoining lands of James Sloan, Jacob Longnacre [sic], John Miller and others ... and 2 miles north of the Philadelphia and Lancaster turnpike.” The notice continues:
There are on the premises three stone dwelling houses, two of them two story; the other one and a half. The farm house is large and commodious—a large and convenient stone barn, and all other buildings necessary for a good farm—two apple orchards of the best selected fruit, with a variety of other fruit trees. The situation is pleasant and convenient to mills and places of worship. ... enquiries may be made of the subscriber, near the Warren tavern, Philadelphia and Lan- caster turnpike, or of Seneca Radcliff, tenant on the premises.
A notice of a November 25, 1819 sale of the property by John Gronow Bull and Joshua Evans for the estate of Samuel Davis, deceased, appeared in the October 28, 1819 American Republican. Many of the details are the same as in the 1818 sale notice but there is some additional information:
There is a good proportion of woodland, and sufficiency of meadow watered by the Valley Creek, the arable land is divided into convenient fields.—The land is [illegible] well adapted to the raising of every kind of grain, the whole of it having a gentle southern aspect. The buildings are two, two story stone house—the mansion is large and commodious,—a large barn, milk-house, granary, waggon-house and hog-house, all substantially built of stone,—cyder-works, frame smith-shop.
Seneca Radcliff is still the person to see to view the property, but the last name of one of the adjoining landowners is now given as Longacre.
Sue Andrews reports in 1993 that the location of the walls of the various outbuildings described in these sale notices can still be seen “but we don't know to which buildings they belong. During severe droughts we can see the outlines of two small structures between the house and the stream [Valley Creek]; the grass is brown where their stone foundations are close to the surface” (Andrews, pp. 155-156).
Benjamin Jones took title to the property in 1819 and on December 9, 1829 offered it at a public sale. The notice in the November 10, 1929 American Republican is very similar to the 1819 notice of sale but with the following changed or additional information: it adjoins the land of Peter Acker, Conrad Acker, and others; it is watered by Indian Run; there is a lime kiln on the property and an inexhaustible quarry of lime stone; and persons wishing to view the property should apply to Benjamin Jones who lives thereon.
In 1830 Henry Detwiler took title to the land from Benjamin Jones and in 1830 built the newer, west side of the present house. In 1855 Henry Detwiler also took title to the adjoining property to the south—a house and 2 tracts—owned by Conrad Acker. Henry Detwiler (1793-1874) married Catharine Latshaw. One of their 12 children was David Detwiler (1846-1913) who married Anna Wersler. Sue's album has an unidentified photograph showing David Detwiler and Anna Wersler at the doorway of the Diamond Rock School with “went to school” written in the margin. Detwiler family members owned and lived on the property—operating it as a dairy farm in its best years—for about 100 years. It was sold by Elizabeth Detwiler Rogers, David's daughter, to John and Mary Ellen Lundelius around 1940, to Philip and Mary DeHuff on October 3, 1949, and to William and Sue Andrews on August 16, 1954.
A series of 7 successive versions of the same map of the northwest corner of Tredyffrin Township shows property lines and information in pencil starting in 1708 when Thomas David owned the property and ending in 1836 when Henry Detwiler owned it. Each of these maps also shows the same small road running south from Yellow Springs Road, through the property, across Valley Creek, up the other side, then taking a westward turn, and finally intersecting with Church Road at the point where that road makes a curve to the west before reaching the road to St. Peter's Church.
It was a dirt road and since it connected to Church Road was thought to have been used to transport hay, grain, and other farm products to mills and markets. Valley Creek had to be forded. Bill Andrews tells how local farmers who owned steam combines would stop them in the middle of Valley Creek and take on water to make steam to power the equipment. Around 1930 vehicles ceased to ford the creek and road was no longer used as a through road.
The farm on the south side of Valley Creek and north of Swedesford Road also had many owners. The series of 7 maps described above shows many of them. Thomas David appears to have been the only owner to hold the properties on both sides of Valley Creek. Other owners of the property on the south side of the creek have been Samuel King (1808); Jacob Longacre (1820); Conrad Acker (1829); Geo. Jacobs (shown on the 1873 Witmer atlas); the family of Clarence T. Staats, Jr., a wealthy local businessman and owner of Staats Oil Heating Co. (1920s and 1930s); Joseph K. Shoemaker (owner since the 1930s and also shown on the 1950 Franklin Survey atlas); Dorothy Hart Shoemaker (shown on the 1963 Franklin Survey atlas); and Kay and Ed Slevin (owners since 1971).
Although the middle part of the road is now missing, there are definite present-day signs of its track as you look south across the property between the opening in the two stone walls just to the west of the Andrews' house. These walls are quite close to that side of the house and are an example of when old roads and houses were built very near each other. Many of the early photographs of the Detwiler farm show a farm lane where the former road was. Today the northern end of the road south from Yellow Springs Road to the Andrew's house is Indian Run Road and the southern end intersecting with Church Road is Pheasant Hill Lane.
The 1873 Witmer atlas is a valuable source of information because it lists the major landholders and businesses on each individual plate in the atlas. It is interesting to note that the Tredyffrin Township plate in this 1873 atlas continues to show the old road described above as a through road. The plate also shows a Cedar Hollow Lime Company rail spur going down to the Chester Valley Railroad on a bridge over the road about half way down to the property from Yellow Springs Road. The rail line was abandoned in 1984 but the bridge remained. Bill and Sue Andrews and Sheila Kellogg remember very well the lime company trains that ran on the tracks over the bridge and through the adjoining properties. The road was very narrow where the bridge crossed over it and delivery trucks could not get under it to reach the Detwiler and other properties south of the bridge. The bridge was not taken down until the late 1990s. The area of the bridge and the embankment for the rail spur can be seen from Indian Run Road today.
The Detwilers owned land on both sides of Yellow Springs Road. In 1863 Henry Detwiler built a large 3-story Victorian house with a Mansard roof on higher ground just north of the old house for his son David. Today this house is owned by Tom and Sheila Kellogg. Henry had 12 children and David had 8 children and both houses were used to raise the families.
The business listing on the Tredyffrin Township plate of the 1873 Witmer atlas lists David Detwiler as a farmer, dairyman, and grazier.
David Detwiler died in 1913. Between 1912 and 1914, the half of the original house built in 1830 was occupied by tenant farmer, Bill Cheever, his wife, Lotta, and their family. Chickens were kept in the oldest, eastern part of the house. The house deteriorated steadily and was inhabited by squatters who made moonshine in the dining room during Prohibition and held illegal gambling parties in the barn. By 1940, when it was sold to John and Mary Lundelius, it stood vacant.
Today the two main entrances—one into the original 1732 part and the other into the newer part built in 1830—to the Andrews' house are on the north side. Originally the main entrances were on the south side facing Valley Creek. It is thought this orientation was changed around 1920. Pictures from 1940 no longer show the older roof over the doorways on the south side.
The DeHuffs, owners between 1949 and 1954, added interior beams and septic and heating systems. In 1950 a terrace was added across the northern side of the house.
When Bill and Sue Andrews moved into the house it had 4 doors to the outside. Surprisingly it had a telephone which the Andrews soon had changed to a 5-party line. They were the 5th party had to wait for 5 rings to know the call was for them. The earlier smaller porch roof on the north side had been removed. There was an unfinished powder room.
Upon moving in, the 2nd floor was tackled almost immediately. A bedroom was painted for a new baby, the bathroom was remodeled, and small rooms and spaces were opened up.
When the very large barn burned in 1962 Bill had a group of Amish barn-raisers named Stolzfus visit and give an estimate for a whole new barn. Instead, Bill took the insurance money and restored the eastern end of the old barn into space for 2 cars and equipment for maintaining the property.
When Bill purchased the property in 1954 it was 40 acres. In 1956 he added 30 more acres up to Yellow Springs Road for a total of 70 acres. Today the property is 6½ acres.
Active restoration of and additions to other parts of the house and property continued. A tennis court was added in 1962. The large stone fireplace presently at the east end of the screened-in porch at the back of the house could have been part of a kitchen. In 1963 the Andrews connected this fireplace to the oldest part of the house and also to a new 2-story addition to the house on the east that was a children's playroom on the first floor and a bedroom and artist's studio on the 2nd floor. The house now had 7 doors to the outside. A greenhouse at the western end of the back of the house was added in 1978. The kitchen has been remodeled twice and a powder room was relocated. In August 2003 the trees in the circle north of the house between the “barn” and the tennis court were cut down. Two walls of the old wagon house across from the barn are still standing and a pre-Revolutionary root cellar remains as it was built.
For the past 10 years the Andrews farm has been the location of the annual picnic of the Treddyffrin Easttown Historical Society, earlier called the Treddyffrin Easttown History Club. The first picnic was on August 18, 1996; the day after the Detwiler family held their 100th reunion on the tennis courts there. Many of the Detwilers came great distances, one was almost 100 years old, and one brought a family picture album from which reproductions of many of the old photographs in this article were taken.
After living in and restoring their house for almost 40 years, by 1991 Sue knew a good bit about its history and original layout. She knew that early kitchen and privy areas were particularly good places to find artifacts. She also knew there was one spot near the northeastern corner of the present house - where the kitchen always was - where grass never grew, so she started digging there. Sue describes her activity:
About an inch down my shovel struck a boulder with squared edges and a flat top. Digging around this rock I found the remains of an old stone wall, running east and west, parallel to the front of the house. I excavated the wall in both directions, but after running for 24 feet it ended, with no apparent sidewalls (Andrews, p. 149). (Section A on the diagram on the next page.)
Next Sue dug at another spot in the area closer to the house where she found a wall running north and south that connected with two other walls running east and west. This might have been part of a 2nd building that pre-dated the house. (Section A on the diagram.)
In May 1993 Sue started digging again:
I started digging at the gable end of the house, and found a small square foundation. Its walls are 20 inches thick and its center is about four feet square. I knew that our house had once had a kitchen as an outbuilding, and at first I thought that this square might be the foundation for it, but none of the walls had the right measurement [The kitchen is listed as being 15 feet square in the 1798 Federal Direct Tax Assessment for the so-called “Glass Tax.”] (Andrews, p. 149.)
All the excavated areas on the diagram are thought to have been part of the 15 x 15 foot kitchen and outbuildings that were torn down when the 1830s addition was added.
During all this digging, Sue found many artifacts listed below:
Some are still not specifically identified. Most intriguing of all is the pair of corroded iron hands thought to be from an old fire insurance plaque. This would have originally come from some other location.
Sue has found hundreds of Indian artifacts around the property and in the plowed fields. One of them, a fluted spear point, is a very rare find and was made by Paleo-Indians who probably came to this area about 12,000 years ago.
The fluted point “suggests that the Andrews site originally was a regular encampment area for Paleo-Indian hunters.” (Report to Sue Andrews from Marshall Joseph Becker, Department of Anthropology, West Chester University, and Juliette Gerhardt, archaeologist, dated September 21, 1993.)
Andrews, Sue. “Found in Our Front Yard.” Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 4 (October 1993). pp. 149-156.
Atlas of Chester Co., Pennsylvania From Actual Surveys by H. G. Bridgens, A. R. Witmer and others. Safe Harbor, Pa.: A. R. Witmer, 1873. “Tredyffrin Township,” plate 13.
Futhey, J. Smith and Gilbert Cope. History of Chester County, Pennsylvania with Genealogical and Biographical Sketches. Philadelphia: Louis M. Everts, 1881. Information about Lewis Gronow is on pp. 224, 433, 574.
1798 Federal Direct Tax Assessment. Returns for the Townships of Tredyffrin and East Whiteland of the 4th District (Chester County) in the 2nd Division of the State of Pennsylvania. Schedule A: A Particular List of Dwelling Houses and Outhouses and their Lots worth over $100 on 1st October, 1798. Schedule B: A Particular List of all Lands, Lots, Buildings and Wharves Except Dwelling Houses worth over $100 on 1st October, 1798. Transcribed by Robert L. Ward from the microfilm copy of the original in the National Archives, 1981.
Property Atlas of the Main Line, Penna. Volume Two, Chester County Including the Boroughs of Malvern and Phoenixville, the Townships of Charlestown, Easttown, East Goshen, East Whiteland, Schuylkill, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, West Whiteland, Willis town, also Newtown Township in Delaware County. From Official Records, Private Plans and Actual Surveys. Compiled Under the Direction of and Published, Sold and Revised Exclusively by Franklin Survey Company. ... Philadelphia: Franklin Survey Company, 1950. “Parts of Tredyffrin and East Whiteland Twps,” plate 4.
Property Atlas of the Main Line, Penna. Volume Two Embracing the following unicipalities in Chester County: Townships of Tredyffrin, Easttown, Willistown, East & West Whiteland, East & West Goshen and the Borough of Malvern. From Official Records, Private Plans and Actual Surveys. Compiled Under the Direction of and Published, Sold And Revised Exclusively by Franklin Survey Company. ... Philadelphia: Franklin Survey Company, 1963. “Parts of Tredyffrin and East Whiteland Townships,” plate 12.
Ward, Robert L. “The Early Settling of Tredyffrin.” Tredyffrin Easttown History Club Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2 (April 1982). pp. 39-48. The map “Early Grants and Patents in Tredyffrin Twp. 1681-1760” by Benj. H. Smith, 1820 and redrawn by R. L. Ward is on p. 42.
Author's note - The idea for this article grew out of the July 16, 2006 annual summer picnic of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society when Sue and Bill Andrews presented information about their house and gave a tour. Except where indicated, all the information and images in this article are from a binder in the Andrews' possession documenting their research into the history of their house. Most of the old photographs in this binder and in this article are copies of selected photographs from a Detwiler photograph album brought to the 100th reunion of the Detwiler family at the Andrews' house on August 17, 1996. The author wishes to thank Sue Andrews, Bill Andrews, and Sheila Kellogg for their many conversations to clarify information for this article. Except where indicated, all images courtesy of Sue Andrews.
Page last updated: 2014-08-13 at 18:37 EDT