EARLY NORTH WALES: ITS HISTORY AND ITS PEOPLE, Part 18

This article is the first of two that describe the village of Kneedler in Upper Gwynedd Township that once stood at the intersection of Sumneytown Pike and Church Road.  Kneedler is today virtually erased from the landscape, but thanks to articles like this (written in 1959) the village has not been erased from history.  By way of explanation, at one time Allentown Road met Sumneytown Pike at the present-day intersection of Sumneytown Pike / Church Road / West Point Pike.  The village, centered on the historic Kneedler tavern, was located at the former “fork in the road” where travelers bound for the Perkiomen Valley kept left, while those bound for the Lehigh Valley turned right.  Over the years Allentown Road was cut back twice:  first to the far side of the railroad bridge, and more recently to the traffic light opposite the Merck gate.

A mile west of North Wales, near the old Kneedler station, on the Stony Creek Railroad, stands a large stone house, a part of which is of ancient appearance. It has been built in three portions, the south end having been added about 1904.

This large building has seven windows in each front of its upper story. On the east side and closely adjacent was the old Allentown road. This is not to be confused with the present Allentown road. The old Allentown road met Sumneytown Pike at a point between the service station [Joy Cleaners] and the diner [Kori Korean Barbeque].  Allentown Road then crossed the Stony Creek Railroad at a grade crossing that has since been closed.

The old Kneedler Hotel faced the original Allentown Road

A few hundred yards south, on the Sumneytown Pike at the West Point road [Sunoco station] was the Rhoades tollgate, the bridge over the Wissahickon and the road to West Point. Adjacent, and at the forks of the Sumneytown pike and Old Allentown road, is an ancient and large stone tenant house, now [1959] an apartment house.  A frame barn was to the north, on the opposite side of the old Allentown Road.

An unenclosed yard separated the tavern from the pike on the soutwest side, along which the old Lehigh Valley trolley line ran, here turning northward past Green Lawn Cemetery on its way toward Lansdale. A stone Springhouse stood on the east side of the Old Allentown road.

This old tavern is one of the landmarks in the history of Gwynedd, for here stood a public house long before the Revolution, probably a portion of the present house then existed. At the junction of the two great roads, it was natural that a public house should be kept in those times. The Allentown road was first opened in 1768. The two roads were then called the Maxatawney and the Bethlehem roads. A tavern here caught the traveler coming in two directions. As a matter of fact, however, we do not know if this tavern ever had a large traveling trade, especially in late times with the opening of the railroad. It was for many years the voting place for the township of Upper Gwynedd.

This map superimposes features that have disappeared, over a recent aerial photograph. The Kneedler Hotel faced the old Allentown Road, not Sumneytown Pike. A large house occupied the lot at the fork in the road. Roads (yellow) are shown their correct widths – when Sumneytown Pike was paved in 1927 the total width was 20 feet (a 10 foot lane in each direction) with no shoulders. Trolley tracks, shown in blue, were changed several times over the years. There was a long wooden staircase from the road up to the high speed line station.

On the side of the tavern, fronting the old Allentown road, was a hole in the wall. In olden times a wooden figure of a man’s arm extended from this opening upon which was suspended the tavern sign and on which was painted a bunch of grapes significant of the kind of juice to be found within. Afterwards the tavern sign in front bore the portrait of the great Frenchman, the Marquis De Lafayette, the friends of America in her hour of need.

In Gwynedd a long time ago lived a man named John Beaver. He has descendants now living in North Wales. The Beavers are generally reckoned as of German descent. In old documents the name is spelled “Bieber” and that is the name of a prominent land holder in the early history of Montgomery county, Mathias Van Beeber, and Perkiomen was often called Beaver township before the Revolution. He was a Dutchman of Holland origin, and the later Beavers are probably of the same national lineage.

John Beaver was called an “Innkeeper” and kept a tavern here prior to 1760. His death took place in November 1762, while yet a man of middle age. His lands were included in the great patent to William John, and in the 1400 acres to which his widow, Jane, and her son John Jones, fell heir. Across the Allentown road was a lasting spring of water and a pond. This was the attraction which doubtless decided a dwelling here. That one was erected at a very early period may be surmised from the relative portions of the house and spring, indicating that the site was selected before the Allentown road was opened.

It is not improbable that here lived the widow, Jane Jones, and her son, the weaver. The earlier transfers of the property have eluded research. About or soon after 1725 Jesse Morgan came into possession here. It is supposed that John Beaver first kept a tavern here, although this is not certain. From some cause, John Beaver became bankrupt and died in middle life, leaving a widow and a family of children. His wife bore the name of Magdelena, a name common among the Germans, but not used among the English or Welsh. It is generally shortened to “Lenah” or Lanie” in common use.

It 1763 the estate of John Beaver was sold by the sheriff and the widow was the purchaser. It consisted of a house and four contiguous tracts of land comprising 148 acres. Attached to the tavern were thirty-nine and one half acres. Then another much larger piece of 100 acres extended up the northwest side of the present Sumneytown pike to the crossroads at about Gwynedd Square, a part of which was the large mushroom plant, now part of the Merck, Sharpe and Dohme property. There were two other lots of eight and a half and five acres. In the boundaries of that time the land of Joseph Griffith appeared on the northwest, those of George Klippinger on the north; Edward Morgan on the southeast; John Davis on the south, on the original property, where a house was built, in 1712.

We will continue with the Kneedler history next week.

This post is sourced from a column entitled Early North Wales: Its History and Its People penned by long-time North Wales resident historian Leon T. Lewis. The article appeared in its original form in the July 7, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.