Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: Winter/Spring 2007 Volume 44 Numbers 1&2, Page 41

The Rural Environment

Page 41

The township was essentially rural in the 18th century, but there was a small and growing diversification in the township's employment. In the 1790s the tax records mention the following occupations: shoemaker, physician, weaver, joiner, shopkeeper, tailor, blacksmith, tanner, carpenter, hatter, mason, wheelwright, miller, inn keeper, cooper, fuller, sawyer, chair maker, and tobacconist, although a vast majority of the townspeople were employed in farming.

In Pennsylvania the years from 1790 to 1840 were a period of agricultural awakening. Previously fields had become worked out due to insufficient attention being paid to the long-term fertility of the soil. This short-term viewpoint changed due to the increased use of lime (this soil sweetener was actually used much earlier in Tredyffrin), imported gypsum, red clover, and manure. Better prices due to the wars in Europe and the development of city markets also helped to improve the lot of the farmers.

Over the period farm sizes declined. More of the land was cleared. This may reflect the replacement of wood by coal for cooking and heating that would have reduced the need for woodlands. In 1760 the average farm size was just less than 100 acres, and less than half of the land had been cleared. By 1850 the average farm size had dropped to less than 70 acres, although the total amount of cultivated land had tripled relative to 1760. In 1850 less than a quarter of the land was unimproved.

The opening of the Chester Valley Railroad in 1853 expanded the markets available to farmers in the township, especially for perishable commodities such as milk. This ensured the continued viability of the farms into the 20th century. Farmers could be seen at the stations and flag stops loading their milk cans onto the early morning eastward-bound trains.

Illustration from page 41

McCormick reaper, 1834

The second part of the 19th century also saw the start of the mechanization of the farms with machines such as McCormick's reaper becoming popular. These machines were horse-powered. The first steam-powered tractors were developed in the 1850s but due to their weight and cumbersomeness they never became common in Pennsylvania. It was not until the gasoline powered tractor appeared in the 1910 and 20s that horses started to be replaced on the farm. By the 1940s over half of Pennsylvania's farms had a tractor.

Illustration from page 41

Nichols-Shepard tractor, 1912


Page last updated: 2014-09-29 at 17:10 EDT
Copyright © 2006-2014 Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Permission is given to make copies for personal use only.
All other uses require written permission of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society.