EARLY NORTH WALES: ITS HISTORY AND ITS PEOPLE, Part 1

No history of North Wales would be complete without reference to Gwynedd township, for the reason that the Borough of North Wales was carved from practically the center of the township and is, at the present time, surrounded entirely by Upper and Lower Gwynedd townships.

Gwynedd township (including what is now Upper and Lower Gwynedd and the Boroughs of North Wales and part of Ambler and Lansdale) were first settled by Welsh families. In 1692 Hugh Roberts, a leading Quaker in the Welsh settlement at Lower Merion, went on a visit to Wales. There he convinced another group of Friends, living in Northern Wales, to seek a home in Pennsylvania. These people sent out William John and Thomas Evans in advance to arrange for their coming. When the two men reached Philadelphia at the end of 1697, they bought 7,820 acres in what is now the Gwynedd district.

Gwynedd, the name they gave to the area, is Welsh for North Wales.

Records fail to show just when Gwynedd township was organized. But one record of 1704 mentions North Wales township. The Upper and Lower townships were not divided until 1891.

As North Wales approaches its ninetieth birthday as a borough (1869-1959) it is only fitting that the present residents become acquainted with its history as a town, and also have some knowledge of the people who made it possible for the village to become a borough.

In the past it has been said that previous to 1788 the history of the original land of North Wales was involved in considerable mystery and various conjectures were indulged in, all of which have been found to have been incorrect by the light of later research.

It was Robert John, or Jones, who was the first bona fide settler upon the lands comprising the present area of North Wales, and he remained here for thirty years. His son, John Jones, succeeded him for nearly thirty more, or down to the year 1760.

This is ascertained by a deed which, by its complete recitals, covers the whole period of time back to the first settlement of the vicinity by Europeans. This document is dated May 27, 1760, and by which 186 acres and 140 perches were conveyed by John Jones and his wife, Gainor, to George Weidner of Upper Salford.

This large tract then conveyed was on the northwest side of the turnpike. Here are the boundaries: “Beginning at a post, thence southeast by lands of Jeptha Lewis and Reese Harry, 177 perches to a heap of stone; thence northeast by the lands of Thomas Evans and Samuel Evans, 185 and one-half perches to a stone in the middle of The Great Road (Main street) leading from Philadelphia to Maxatawny (Berks county); thence northwest by several courses along the said Great Road 183 perches, thence southwest by Mathias Lukens land, 142 ‘perches to the place of beginning.’

It appears that down to 1760 this had been the home of the Jones family, father and son, for nearly sixty years, and at that time it first came into the possession of a German by the name of Weidner, who then came from Upper Salford. Mathias Lukens, mentioned on the northwest, owned the farm now known as the Gordon Tract [Parkside Place]. Jeptha Lewis and Reese Harry held the land bordering the Wissahickon Creek.

All of the lands on the southeast had, from the first, been held by the Evans family, and Samuel Evans had purchased 226 acres of Owen Evans in 1750. Some of this became the property of a German named Martin Schwenk, between 1760 and 1766.

The present Main street was even then distinguished from other highways as “The Great Road,” showing that it was much traveled by teams or those on horseback going to Philadelphia. This road was first opened to the Perkiomen region in 1735. Following the opening of the road from Philadelphia to the Lehigh vally, known first as North Wales road then as Bethlehem pike, settlers of the Upper Perkiomen asked for a road to connect them with the North Wales road. The original North Wales road went north from Spring House to Towamencin township as early as 1704, and the Sumneytown road, our Main street, was merely an extension of it. Beyond Gwynedd through Sumneytown the highway was called Maxatawny road, for over it passed travelers to northern Berks county.

This farm John Jones owned and cultivated for 28 years previous or since 1732, at which time he received it from his father, Robert Jones, in pursuance of the last will of the latter. In fact, his father gave him a much larger tract, comprising 300 acres, or 113 acres additional, lying on the northeast side of the Turnpike, comprising the whole of the borough limits, and enough additional to make up that amount of land. But the grant to Robert John, his father, was more than twice as large, comprising 720 acres, and was obtained from Thomas Storey and Griffith Owen, William Penn’s Commissioners of Property, and was patented to him November 8, 1702.

Nearly the entire township of Gwynedd had been patented in a general sort of way to Thomas Evans and William Jones a few years previous, but this grant to Robert Jones and others seems to have been made more definitely at this time.

This tract of 720 acres was equal to considerably more than a square mile, but was oblong in shape, a little over half a mile in width, and more than two miles in length. Upon this Robert Jones lived for thirty years – just where, the writer has no means of definitely ascertaining. Of course, it was near a spring of living water, and may have been within the present borough, but more probably at the homestead to the eastward, which belonged to the heirs of the late John Jones.

Doubtless John Jones, son of Robert and owner of the 300 acres, lived within the area of North Wales, as there were springs of water on the northeast side of the Great Road.

This deed does not relate what became of the remaining 400 acres of the original grant: but wherever Robert Jones had at first lived, it is certain that in the latter part of his life he lived upon the 300 acres devised to John in 1732, as his will expressly says, and therefore, it must also have been in the North Wales Borough.

Next month we will resume our story.

This post is sourced from a column penned by longtime North Wales resident historian Leon T. Lewis, and appeared in the March 10, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.