EARLY NORTH WALES: ITS HISTORY AND ITS PEOPLE, Part 3

Before getting into the history of the village of North Wales after its incorporation as a borough, let us review some more of the history of the territory upon which the town now stands.

The Swartley farm, on which is situated a large portion of the dwellings in the southwest side of the borough, dates back to colonial times, the first mention of it being made in 1702, when, as we have said, Robert John was given a grant of 720 acres. Various subdivisions were made of this tract until 1786, when it was sold by the sheriff. In 1888, after the death of Jacob Swartley, it was cut up into building lots and sold. The borough was enlarged at that time and the greater portion of the farm was included in the borough.

The Swartley farm was a part of what had been known as the Hurst farm, all of which is now covered with dwelling houses. It extended from Main street southwest to a forest. At one time it comprised 134 acres, which was later reduced to 102 and then to 73 acres. The terrain was nearly level, gently sloping westward to the valley of the Wissahickon. The old stone farmhouse and barn was toward the northeast end where is now the corner of Pennsylvania avenue and Shearer street. The old farmhouse is still standing, but greatly altered and enlarged.  It is now an apartment house.

The farmhouse, now surrounded by houses and divided into apartments, is located at Shearer Street and Pennsylvania Avenue

The history of this farm goes back to 1786. The tract had belonged to Jacob Weyant before that time, when it was seized and sold at sheriff’s sale by Sheriff Potts who sold 102 acres to Philip Hurst. There was a house on the tract at that time. Later Hurst added twenty acres, bought from Adam Fleck. Philip Hurst lived here for fifty-five years.  In 1839 the administrators of Philip Hurst sold the 134 acres to Jacob Swartley and Jacob Shearer $5207. The land then extended for 137 perches (half a mile) along Main street.

Thirty years passed, and Jacob W. Shearer died in July 1869. He was the grandfather of our present [1959] businessman, Abel K. Shearer.

In 1879 the widow of Jacob W. Shearer gave a deed for the tract to Jacob Swartley, and he was the owner until his death in December of 1885. By this time property had greatly advanced in value. At different times portions of the old farm were sold. The old farmhouse, and nine lots adjoining, were sold in 1888 by Mahlon R. Swartley, son of Jacob, to Herman Hamburger, a manufacturer, who had come here in 1879 and opened a factory. The property was owned by the Hamburgers for thirteen years. In 1901 Madge E. Hamburger sold the place to Thomas K. Smith. The next year it was sold to Walter G. Smith, who sold it in 1910 to William R. McDowell for $5300. It then passed through various ownerships until October 1939, when it was purchased by H. LeRoy Jones.

Concerning the earlier colonial history of the entire tract, it may be said that the first owner of the land in the upper portion of Gwynedd township, was Robert Jones, mentioned before, and who lived in a house, built in 1712, a little southwest of the Kneedler Tollgate, which stood at Sumneytown pike and West Point road.  At his death in 1732 Jones’s will conveyed much of his land to his son, John, including the site of most of North Wales, with the exception of 300 acres.

A change in the Jones ownership did not come until 1760, when John Jones and his wife sold 186 acres to George Weidner. This land was on the southwest side of the Great Road, or the present Main street. At that time the land on the southwest was owned by Jeptha Lewis and Reese Harry. To the southeast were the lands of Thomas Evans and Samuel Evans. It was bounded on the northeast for 183 perches by the “Great Road to Maxatawny”, and on the upper side by the lands of Mathias Lukens. As we said before, we do not know how long George Weidner owned this farm, but he doubtless lived on the site of the later Swartley farmhouse.

By the time of the close of the Revolutionary War, the property had passed from Weidner’s hands to that of Jacob Weyant, as indicated by the deed dated 1784, when Weyant sold off twenty-nine acres from the southwest part of the farm to William Rex of Gwynedd. As mentioned before, his estate was seized by the sheriff and sold to Philip Hurst.

The Gordon tract, while not within the limits of the borough of North Wales, played an important part in the history of the town. Located at the present-day Parkside Place in Upper Gwynedd Township, we will continue with the Gordon farm history in the next installment [part 4].

This post is sourced from a column penned by longtime North Wales resident historian Leon T. Lewis, and appeared in the March 24, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.

North Wales Amusement Hall

In 1887 North Wales was home to one of the most commodious, convenient and comfortable public halls enjoyed by any town of its size anywhere in the United States.

Located on the south side of School Street, directly opposite today’s Borough Hall, Amusement Hall’s auditorium was capable of seating about 1,000 persons. A finely constructed stage and a drop curtain were notable features, while the building was well illuminated, heated by steam, with provisions made for egress in case of fire – even in the event of a panic. The hall was owned by Rhine Russell Freed and Franklin Kriebel.

North Wales Amusement Hall stood on School Street
between 1887 and 1937

For half a century, Amusement Hall hosted high school graduations, basketball games, political meetings, and town gatherings.

Well patronized both by citizens of North Wales Borough and the surrounding countryside, the variety of pleasing entertainments, instructive exhibitions and learned lectures witnessed and listened to by our people bespoke for them a generosity of spirit, as well as a high order of culture and appreciation of the efforts of our best traveling artists and public lecturers, and also an earnest disposition to be well informed on all public questions of the day. The acoustic qualities of the building were excellent, and it contributed much to the amusement and pleasure of our people.

Amusement Hall occupies the center of this excerpt of a 1909 Sanborn insurance map. The yellow tint indicates that the building was of wood construction (brick buildings are shown red). The front portion of the building, facing School Street, was remodeled as a twin house in 1937 (309 and 311 School St.)

In its later years, popular films were screened in the hall. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, proceeds no longer covered expenses. In 1937 most of the hall was torn down, with the front portion remodeled into a twin house which still stands at 309 and 311 School Street.

1920 Election Returns at North Wales Amusement Hall

“Next Tuesday evening as the [1920 presidential] election returns are received over Western Union Service, they will be flashed on the screen at Amusement Hall, where a private wire will have been erected and a trained operator will be on hand to receive the news.

“To defray the expenses of having the wire run into the hall, a moving picture show has also been arranged for, the pictures to commence at eight o’clock, and a small admission fee will be charged.  A committee consisting of two Republicans and two Democrats will prepare the returns for screen as they are received to assure an impartial presentation of the trend of the election throughout the country.”


Republican Warren G. Harding would win the 1920 presidential election in a landslide.

EARLY NORTH WALES: ITS HISTORY AND ITS PEOPLE, Part 2

In 1734, five persons by the name of Jones are mentioned as among the taxables of Gwynedd, including John Jones, son of Robert, so given to distinguish him from John Jones, the penman, and John Jones, the weaver. The others were Cadwalader Jones and Hugh Jones. Possibly the two latter were the other sons of Robert, and inherited the remaining land. A deed of 1760 to George Weidner is witnessed by Roland Evans, Joseph Lukens and H. Vanderslice, before Justice Archibald McLean. The amount paid for the 187 acres was 545 pounds and 17 shillings. How long George Weidner thereafter held the farm we have no means of knowing, but by a subsequent document of 1784, it appears that Jacob Weyant then owned it and at that date sold of a portion comprising twenty-nine acres to William Rex, of Gwynedd. This was taken off the southwestern part.

From the above it will be seen that the original tract of 720 acres, patented to Robert Jones, extended for over two miles in length across Gwynedd, or more than two-thirds of the whole township from Montgomery to Whitpain townships. The breadth of this was something over a half mile.

It is somewhat difficult to fix the northeast boundary, but it is supposed to have been near the present road running from Lansdale (Hancock street) to State road (Route 202), and extending nearly to the Whitpain border. Just above this oblong tract was one still longer and much more narrow, lying across Gwynedd, patented to Evans Hugh (sometimes spelled Pugh). All above, to the Towamencin line, was patented to William Jones, while below, as before mentioned, lay the grants owned by various members of the Evans family, Thomas, Cadwalader, Owen, and Robert.

The will of Robert John is interesting. In his will, he bequeaths to his only son, John, 300 acres, “on which I now reside,” out of which he was to pay two pounds, ten shillings yearly to his mother. There was more land than this that John Jones received from his father. This was “all that part of the tract of land lately bought of Cadwalader Foulke. which lieth to the east side of The Great Road, containing 185 acres, with all the improvements thereon,” out of which he was to pay six pounds annually to his sister, Ellen. This daughter also received some real estate being “the remainder of the said land bought of Foulke, being divided therefrom by The Great Road,” amounting to 150 acres, indicating that the land was on the westerly side of it. It was provided that John might acquire said 150 acres by paying his sister 200 pounds for it.

The will also bequeaths to his daughter “a case of drawers and table, both standing in the new house, and also chamber and white ware.” This shows that Robert John, before his death, had built two houses on this land. It would be interesting to know the exact site of these two dwellings of the pioneer. In 1758, John Jones sold 120½ acres to Abraham Lukens, Sr. In 1760, two years later, as already mentioned, Jones sold 186 acres, lying on the opposite side of the Great Road to George Weidner, and thus, the last of the plantation that John Jones received from his father, passed from his hands.

Almost immediately, the same year, 1758, Abraham Lukens, Sr., sold 80 acres of the tract to his son Abraham Lukens, Jr. Fourteen years later, in 1772, the elder Lukens sold 50 acres on the southwest corner to Philip Heist, and in the same year, Abraham Lukens, Jr. sold 70 acres more to Philip Heist. (This is the land occupied now by Merrybrook, including the old colonial stone house now occupied by Chase R. Whitaker, on the Sumneytown pike.)

This furnishes nearly a complete history of the territory upon which modern North Wales now stands. The name “North Wales” is the translation of the Welsh word “Gwyneth” and from which Elias Clark, the general agent of the North Penn Railroad got the name of “Gwynedd.” It is the name of a river in Wales, U.K.

North Wales, the fifth of the county’s boroughs to be incorporated is situated, as was stated before, in the middle of a countryside whose settlement dates back to early Colonial times, but as a community, North Wales came into existence as the result of the building of the North Pennsylvania Railroad [today’s SEPTA Lansdale-Doylestown line]. When the railroad was opened in 1857, the little community included only a dozen houses and a distillery.

Preceding boroughs had been established by acts of the State Legislature. North Wales was the first in the county to be incorporated by the county court.

In 1849, which is about ten years before the railroad came through and twenty years before the incorporation of the borough, research shows that in what is now the borough limits, and its immediate vicinity, there was then only the farm house of Philip Hurst, the oldest in town, and where now stands the Rorer-Seems Building [3rd and Walnut]; the farm house of Jacob Booz, now the residence of George B. Burpee; the Shearer homestead, now an apartment house at Pennsylvania and Shearer streets; the Schwenk Homestead at Main and School, now occupied by the Reformed Church and private residences; the Miller place, the ground upon which now stands the home of Benjamin Miller; a long house near the parking lot of the Montgomery Bank and Trust Company (the foundations of which were unearthed when the bank building was recently remodeled); a tenement on the site of the home of Frank Rea; the Beaver farm house, now the home of Mrs. Harvey Baer; the Schwenk farm, now the Gordon Tract [today’s Parkside Place].

Of those mentioned, the Hurts, Booz, Miller and Beaver Tracts were along The Great North Wales Road, opened on an old Indian trail, and it was along this road that Ross Gordon, the then-owner of the Gordon Tract, commenced building the Spring-house and Sumneytown Turnpike, finishing it in 1849.

As stated above, when the railroad was built across the Sumneytown Pike, it was evident that this would be a fine place to start a new town, and soon after trains began running, in 1856, a hotel was built, then stores and dwellings. (A post office was opened for the hamlet in 1864. Its first name was Gwynedd, but after a few years the name was changed to North Wales.) The train station was first located on the east side of the single-track railroad, between Main and Second streets. The land for the station was donated by squire Algernon Jenkins in 1857. The first station was a one story affair and was used as both a passenger depot and freight house. The first locomotive on the railroad was called The Civilizer. The steam engine was pulled overland, above the tunnel still under construction, on a temporary track so that the railroad north of the tunnel could be completed.

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 17, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.