We continue with the story of the 1805 murder of Henry Weaver, committed on an isolated stretch of road today known as Dekalb Pike, between Welsh Road and Bethlehem Pike.
Young Weaver was not only an active industrious man, but widely known, having a good character and highly respected. His funeral was attended by multitudes, drawn by the interest which the story of his untimely death had created for miles around. His obsequies were attended by all the pomp of a military burial, as he was a soldier belonging to a volunteer company of Artillerymen and his comrades appeared in uniform marching to the mournful dirge of martial music.
This shocking tragedy occurring in rural Montgomery County produced great commotion, not only in the immediate neighborhood, but at a more remote distance. Search was made in every direction for the hiding place of the murderer. Weaver’s father published a proclamation in the newspapers of those days offering a reward for the detection and conviction of the murderer. The Pennsylvania Correspondent newspaper had been started in Doylestown about a year previous. Here is the advertisement inserted by George Weaver, which appeared in several issues of that paper:
$200 REWARD A most horrible murder was committed on Saturday evening, the 5th of October , on the body of Henry Weaver, between the hours of seven and eight o’clock between Montgomery Square and North Wales [Gwynedd Friends] meeting house, who expired on the spot. The verdict of the Jury states that he was murdered by some unknown person by the discharge of a gun or pistol loaded with shot which entered his head and the upper part of his body together with a stroke on the left temple. Any person who will apprehend the villain shall, upon conviction, receive the above reward. George Weaver Montgomery Square October 7, 1805
Public opinion soon settled on the belief that the guilty party was no stranger to Weaver. Who had committed the fatal deed was the absorbing question that agitated the minds of men and caused a variety of puzzled conjectures. No one had seen the act committed, and it was only by circumstantial evidence that guilt could be fastened upon anyone. The murder was clearly planned and premeditated.
It soon became evident that robbery was not the motive of the killing, for the victim had no money with him, and no attempt had been made to rob his person or the contents of his wagon, loaded as it was with store goods. In this case it became evident that the deed was committed by some person in the neighborhood who knew Weaver, the circumstances of his going to Philadelphia, and the road by which he would return. Another motive became apparent: to be rid of his person, in order to accomplish a nefarious purpose.
Every effort was made to sift the matter to the bottom. But this was one of the murders that would not “out.” Nor will it ever be legally known — until the day of Judgment — by whose hand the crime was committed. Several persons in the immediate neighborhood were taken into custody on suspicion, but it was impossible to obtain proof sufficient to hold any of them for trial and they were accordingly released. Although the murderer escaped the penalty of the outraged law, he did not evade the searching scrutiny of public suspicion.
Among the persons arrested was a young man, living on the North Wales road, about three quarters of a mile west of Montgomery Square. Neighborhood gossip alleged that an illicit friendship had sprung up between this man and the wife of Weaver. There may have been a wronged husband on this account, but this was not known to have been the case. But in some way the violation of the Seventh Commandment led to the commission of a most fearful crime: a not-unusual result of an unlawful amour.
What afterwards became of the wife of Weaver, we have not learned. The suspected person was later married to another woman and continued to live as a farmer in the neighborhood. Tradition says that many years afterward the suspected slayer of Weaver voluntarily expiated his crime by dying the same death as his victim. The suspected person committed suicide by shooting himself with a pistol.
The father of Henry Weaver was an industrious and thrifty man and reported to be wealthy. He was for many years the owner of the store and tavern, kept at the north corner of the State Road [today called Upper State Road] at its intersection with Bethlehem pike. The Weavers not only owned the tavern but possessed considerable landed property, both east and west of the village. Henry was his eldest son, besides whom he had one child, a son John. But all traces of the family have long since disappeared.
About a half mile southwest from Montgomery Square, a memorial stone was placed by the west side of the State road [Dekalb Pike] to mark the fatal spot where Henry Weaver fell that night so long ago. This stone remained on the roadside until perhaps the 1880s or 1890s. What became of the stone is unknown.
Thus we bring to a close the story of one of Montgomery county’s most baffling murder mysteries.
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 June 16, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
Few of the residents of North Wales who visit the Lutheran Cemetery, at S. Main street and Prospect avenue, are aware of the fact that in this cemetery is buried the remains of a young man who met an untimely death at the hands of a killer over 200 years ago.
The present generation knows little of the tragedy that at the time was one of the big sensations of the country. All remembrance of the crime has been forgotten except the brief record on the tombstone which has withstood the ravages of time and remains a silent witness to the shocking death of a respected resident of this section of Montgomery county.
The following history of the murder of Henry Weaver and of the efforts to bring to justice his killer was taken from the North Wales Record newspaper of December 23, 1911:
Near the center of the Lutheran graveyard of North Wales, will be found a plain stone, the reading of whose inscription will cause the stranger to pause and ponder with wondering interest. It is to the memory of Henry Weaver and reads thus:
In Memory of HENRY WEAVER who was Murdered on the Evening of the 5th of October 1805 Son of George & Catherine Weaver Aged 25 Years 6 Months & 25 Days
Referring to the minute book of the church we find only a brief mention of the mystery of his death. Two or three lines in German briefly say, “Henry Weaver was murdered — shot while following his team [of horses].”
The circumstances attending this tragic occurrence have almost faded from the minds of men of later generations. More two centuries have passed since the fatal deed was committed. For a long time it was remembered by a few of the aged, who were children at the time of its occurrence. But for the line engraved on this humble stone, the very fact would be unknown to the people of the present generation. The circumstances which can now only be gathered by the vague light of tradition are an untold story to the people living today.
George Weaver, the father of the man who was murdered, had long kept the tavern at Montgomery Square in Montgomery Township. [This crossroads village once stood at the corner of Bethlehem Pike and Upper State Road, about a mile south of “Five Points.”] George Kneedler lived in Montgomery Square also, and was the father of Henry Kneedler, who in more recent times lived near Gwynedd Square. In company with his brother-in-law, Kneedler was passing to the southwest of Montgomery Square, and saw Weaver’s wagon coming along the State road from Philadelphia and nearing home. Both Henry Weaver and his father had been to the city and their teams had parted company at the Spring House tavern, the son taking the longer but the better road [today’s Sumneytown Pike] because his wagon was loaded. The Bethlehem road was not yet a “Pike” (turnpike) and was – as most country roads were in 1805 – in rough condition. Kneedler and his companion spoke with Henry Weaver a few minutes as he walked behind his wagon and then they crossed the field to the southwest to another enclosure to cut buckwheat. It was near sundown of an autumn evening, October 5th.
They hardly had started their work when they heard the report of a gun. As this was nothing unusual, they paid no attention, but continued their employment until news came to them that Weaver had been shot. Weaver’s wagon was loaded with goods for his father’s store at Montgomery Square. He was shot in the head and breast while walking behind the team and mortally wounded. There was no sign that anything had been stolen. Blood was found not only in the road, but also upon the mane of one of the horses. It is supposed that finding himself rapidly losing strength and unable to walk Weaver had hoped to reach home by running around the wagon and mounting one of the horses. Being unable to do so he fell to the ground and soon after expired.
The horses quickly drew the wagon home. Two dogs which he owned sounded the alarm when they ran loudly barking to meet their master, whose voice would never more greet them.
Suspicion was at once aroused that some dire mishap had befell the driver by reason of his strange absence and parties quickly passed along the highway that the team had come and found the unfortunate man lying in the road dead. Upon investigation it was found that around a walnut tree that stood in a corn field to the east of the roadside had been collected quite a number of shocks of corn, forming a secure ambush. Behind this the killer had securely laid concealed before assailing the unsuspecting victim, who was expected to pass by the lonely place.
The countryside was less thickly settled and more densely wooded than now [much less – this was written in 1911 about something that happened in 1805]. The locality was over a half mile southwest of Montgomery square and two miles east of North Wales. It was on the roadside border of the property once held by Windover Nurseries, on its southerly side [today’s intersection of Dekalb Pike and Gwynmont Drive].
A strip of woodland by the roadside nearby had just been cleared, and the cord wood lay in measured piles. Ample time and facility was thus provided for the retreat of the murderer, before search could be made, protected as he was by the gloom of the early autumn evening.
We will continue with the story of the murder of Henry Weaver in our next installment.
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 June 9, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
Following our usual custom of telling our present day citizens about some of our former prominent residents, we give herewith a sketch of Jason Sexton, about whom we spoke last week.
Jason Sexton was born September 21, 1834, at Sharon, N. Y., coming to Montgomery county in the spring of 1876, when he took charge of the extensive farming operations of William M. Singerly, whose farms of over 600 acres [later the Ralph Beaver Strassburger farm, now Normandy Farms] were under Mr. Sexton’s management for a quarter of a century.
Before moving to North Wales he lived on the turnpike [Sumneytown Pike] near Spring House. In addition to the work of managing the stock and dairy farms, Mr. Sexton took an active part in the affairs of the township and was instrumental in the establishment of a graded school system for Lower Gwynedd and also the Union Sunday School at Springhouse, of which he was Superintendent for many years.
As an Agriculturalist Sexton achieved an enviable reputation among farmers and stockmen. He was one of the first in this section to advocate the feeding of ensilage. With the consent of Mr. Singerly, the first silo in this county was built, and the method of feeding as carried on at the Singerly farms [today Normandy Farms] was adopted by dairymen in all parts of the country. The fattening of cattle was one of his specialties and it was on the home farm that he succeeded in raising a steer that weighed 2400 pounds and which was exhibited at a number of fairs.
In 1862 Mr. Sexton enlisted in as a Private in the 44th Regiment, New York Volunteers. In September 1864 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the 175th New York Volunteers. He served with General Phil Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley and in January 1865, his company became a part of General Sherman’s command at Savannah, Georgia, and participated in Sherman’s march to the sea. He remained with this command until the close of the war.
Mr. Sexton was one of the original members of Ellsworth’s Avengers, a company of New York State Volunteers recruited to avenge the death of Colonel Ellsworth who was shot early in the war. The company was afterwards called the Ellsworth Zouaves and when mustered into service became known as the 44th Regiment.
In politics Mr. Sexton was an ardent Republican, his first vote having been cast for John C. Fremont for President in 1856. He served several terms as School Director in Lower Gwynedd Township. In 1897 he was elected to the State Legislature, by the largest vote ever cast (up to that time) for any candidate in this district, receiving a majority of 6812 votes. He took his seat in the Assembly on the 5th Anniversary of the day his father took his seat in the New York Legislature. Sexton was reelected in 1899 by a nearly 2000 vote majority.
As a member of the State Board of Agriculture Mr. Sexton enjoyed a large acquaintance, among the farmers of this county and also in the state. For years he was in charge of the Farmers Institutes in Montgomery county and took great pleasure in this work. He was also connected with the Grangers. In religious life Mr. Sexton was a member of the Methodist Church, serving on the board of the trustees at the time of his death. For a number of years Mr. Sexton had been connected with the State Highway Department and was in charge of some important work for the state in various counties. The sudden death of Mr. Sexton on Memorial Day 1910 removed from North Wales one of its most respected and energetic citizens.
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 June 2, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
Tragedy marred North Wales 1910 Memorial Day observances
Shortly after noon on Memorial Day, May 30, 1910, members of Colonel Edwin Selma Post, No. 290, Grand Army of the Republic, escorted by Camp No. 92, Sons of Veterans, and also members of the ladies’ auxiliary, arrived in North Wales from Lansdale to take part in the Memorial Day parade and exercises. After dinner had been served at Hotel Wunder [at 5th & Walnut St., later McKeever’s], the delegation was headed by the Citizens Band of Quakertown, the Veterans, and the Women of the War, occupying two large coaches, and proceeded to Elm avenue where they took their places in the parade.
The formation of the parade was as follows: mounted police, chief marshal, assistant marshal, clergymen in carriages, Quakertown Band, Post 290 of the G.A.R., ladies’ auxiliary and Women of the War, Sons of Veterans, North Wales Burgess James Billiard, members of council and school board in carriages, North Wales Lodge No. 610 International Order of Odd Fellows, Lanah Rebekah in coaches, Independent Americans, Gilt Edge Castle Knights of the Golden Eagle, Uniformed Guards of Foresters, Court Pride Foresters of America, Camp 547 P.O.S. of A., Baraca Class of the Baptist Church.
At the cemeteries the various societies placed flowers on the graves of deceased members and the Grand Army men held services over the graves of their departed comrades. A squad from the Sons of Veterans fired a salute at each cemetery. After the Lutheran Cemetery was visited the parade marched to the school yard on School street where it was dismissed.
The program at the school was to have included short addresses by several local ministers. The main speaker was to be Jason Sexton, well-known local citizen, and a former member of the State Legislature and State Board of Agriculture.
The stand from which the speaking was to take place was beautifully decorated with flags and bunting and at night was illuminated with electric light. There was to be a band concert following the address by the main speaker.
Jason Sexton, clad in the uniform of the Grand Army of the Republic, filled with the enthusiasm and patriotism that called himself and thousands of others to the defense of their country in 1861, died in the presence of hundreds of his comrades, neighbors and friends assembled in the school yard soon after he had begun to deliver his address.
Sexton’s sudden and tragic death cast a gloom over the audience, nearly all of whom had seen the speaker fall to the platform. Willing hands were quickly at his side and Dr. H. F. Slifer, who was present, gave prompt assistance to the stricken man, but life was extinct. A few minutes later the announcement was made that Mr. Sexton was dead. His body was wrapped in the Stars and Stripes and borne to his late residence on Main street [later the home of W. Palmer King] by a detachment of the Sons of Veterans, grief stricken comrades acting as a guard of honor.
Mr. Sexton took an active part in the arrangements for Memorial Day, having presided at the meeting in Lansdale that morning. In the afternoon he took part in the parade in our town, going with the Veterans in carriages to both cemeteries. On arriving at the school yard he took a seat on the platform and listened with close attention to the remarks of Rev. J. N. LeVan, pastor of the Reformed Church, who was first on the program. Mr. Sexton followed, and it was only a few minutes after he arose, that he was seen to suddenly grow very pale and then fell backward, his head striking the floor with a sound that was heard all over the grounds. Heart failure, due to over exertion and fatigue following the events of the day, wase given as the cause of death.
The tragic death of the speaker broke up the meeting and the remainder of the program. The band concert which was to have been held in the evening was called off.
Carrying out the theme of these articles, to give our present residents a history of the town and its early residents, next week we will discuss the background of Mr. Sexton.
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 May 26, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
Continuing with the story of the construction of the school building on School Street it seems that the remaining members of the school board did not take kindly to the charges hurled at them by Enos M. Lukens, for on November 17, 1877, they issued the following statement in the local newspaper, the North Wales Record:
“There has been considerable excitement in our borough the past few weeks, owing principally to certain charges and insinuations which appeared in the columns of the Record concerning the members of the school board, and particularly the president and secretary of said board. We deem it but just to take notice of said charges and insinuations as they are of a serious nature, affecting our reputation as officers and as citizens. If the facts were published, we are willing that our reputation as school directors may stand or fall on the merits of our acts. We positively say that neither the president, secretary nor any other member of the board has done any official act without the sanction of the board. As the charges were made either without a knowledge of the facts or with some evil intent, we consider it but fair that we have our accusers face to face, where we can have an opportunity of clearing ourselves of the charges, and where they can have the same opportunity of proving their statements. For this purpose we ask the citizens of the borough to meet at the new school house on Saturday, November 24, 1877 at 2 o’clock p. m., where we hope to meet a large number of our taxpayers, and especially the editors of the North Wales Record and Enos M. Lukens, who have already preferred charges. Signed Jonas H. Harley, B. K. Johnson, Henry W. Moyer, Joseph K. Anders, I. W. Wampole.”
Of course, all this controversy took place after the new building was opened which was on Monday, November 5, 1877, when we find the following in the North Wales Record of Saturday, November 10:
“The new borough school house of North Wales, which has been the subject of considerable comment during the past fortnight, was opened on Monday morning last. No special exercises were held. There were present Jonas Harley, president; Dr. B. K. Johnson, secretary; Harry W. Moyer, treasurer, and Esquire I. W. Wampole, of the school board. Joseph K. Anders and Enos M. Lukens, also members of the board, were absent. Soon after the opening of the schools, E. M. Rosenberger, the efficient principal, began an examination of the pupils for the purpose of grading the school, which now consists of three departments. These are, with their teachers, as follows: grammar, Mr. Rosenberger; secondary, Miss Lizzie Magee; primary, Miss Agnes Sibbald, all experienced teachers, and thoroughly qualified to discharge their duties faithfully and acceptably to both pupils and the public.
“The school opened with about nine inches of water surrounding one of the heaters and six inches surrounding the other. Shortly after 9 o’clock, however, two workmen were put to work with pails, and in a short time the water was carried out. The school rooms were warm and pleasant, and so far as we know, no complaint was made that they were in any wise disagreeable. What effect the water will have upon the health of the pupils, if permitted to collect in the cellar as it has been doing, is a question that we may be unable to solve, but it is reasonable to suppose that no good can accrue from it.
“The heaters are located near the center of the cellar, in an opening probably two or three feet lower than the cellar floor. We are not going to tell the public just now what we know about locating heaters, but we do say, in our opinion, a great mistake has been made, and we are not sure that their position can be improved upon at this late day.
“The workmanship on the school building executed by Hendricks & Baker of North Wales, has been completely and durably done. These men understand their business. They are practical and experienced builders, and whatever fault may be found with certain features connected with the construction of the building, the contractors are, we believe, free from all blame. The best of timber has been used throughout the building. It is covered by a splendid slate roof, is two and a half stories high, and built of brick. The belfry will be enclosed with blinds. The view from the belfry is magnificent and stretches over one of the finest agricultural districts in Montgomery county. The Blue Mountains of Lehigh county are plainly visible. Kulpsville and West Point show themselves to good advantage, and the scene is one to be enjoyed at any time:”
Also appearing in The Record: “A taxpayer” wanted to know if the pupils would be allowed to go fishing in the water that collected in the cellar of the new borough school house.
The school situation must have quieted down because we heard no more until the 25th of November 1878 when, we find the following in the local paper:
“On Monday afternoon last a large quantity of gas from the heaters in the borough high school escaped through the registers into the school rooms, and came near causing serious results. Many of the pupils were so overcome with the gas that they fainted, others were made sick in a terrible manner, and the schools had to be dismissed. That night severe headaches were common in almost every family, and physicians were in demand. It appears that the heaters had been filled with a fresh supply of coal at Monday noon, the dampers it is said, were shut off instead of opened, the flues had become choked up, thus throwing the vile gaseous fluid into school rooms.”
Our research fails to disclose anything further with regard to the school controversy, so we must therefore assume that harmony reigned.
Construction of the front half of the School Street building was started in June of 1896 when the books, maps and organs were removed from the school building to the homes of the members of the board and that of Prof. Harley.
W. H. Brunner, of Montgomery township, whose bid was $8,100, was given the contract to erect the new structure.
Next week we will give a sketch of one of our leading citizens whose tragic death on May 30, 1910, cut short the Memorial Day exercises in our town.
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 May 19, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
The old public school building on School street, which in 1959 was purchased by the borough for the sum of $1, was erected in 1877 at a cost of $7,000. Although heavily altered, today this building serves as North Wales Borough Hall.
The following appeared in the North Wales Record of April 28, 1877:
“The School Board of North Wales has purchased a handsome lot of ground, comprising about an acre, bounded by Third and Fourth streets and School and Beaver streets, upon which will be erected, this coming summer, a new school house. The purchase of this lot was unanimously favored by the board. The price paid for the ground is $1,000. [Clarification: the ground purchased for the school was in fact eight vacant building lots: four facing Beaver street and four facing School street.]
“The new building will comprise four rooms, and will be constructed in a manner that will be eminently creditable to our beautiful and growing borough. The commendable zeal of each community to secure abundant school facilities is too frequently accompanied by an oversight of the necessity of looking after the health, as well as the education, of the young. Vigor of body and industry of habit are just as essential elements of strength as intellectual culture, and the one cannot attain to any great excellence without the other.
“The present borough school [on N. Main Street] is entirely inadequate to meet the wants of the pupils, and reasoning from past experience, the school board proposes that the new building shall meet every requirement necessary. Just what plan will be adopted is yet undecided, but it is safe to say the building and its equipment will equal in every respect any in Montgomery County, as it very properly should, for of what advantage are the fine new school houses fast growing up throughout the County unless they meet the important requisites of health in heating and ventilation, in lighting, in the proper arrangement of the furniture, and other purely physical conditions of a health school with wholesome provisions for teachers and pupils?
“Economy of space is a poor reason for putting successive generations of pupils to work under conditions that are admittedly unfavorable to physical development. Bad contracts and extravagant, useless furniture, and other waste in money outlay may be corrected even if they cannot be excused. But our school board are men of judicious minds, economical yet progressive ideas, and we believe the power invested in them to carry out the construction of the new building to a successful consummation will be wisely exercised.”
It appears that the construction of this school building created considerable dissension among members of the school board because of the cost, as it was deemed that the new school house was an unnecessary expense. Because of this split in the school board, one of its members, Enos M. Lukens, grandfather of George E. Lukens and Clara Lukens Brooks, refused to meet with the board, and the editor of the North Wales Record, knowing him to be a man of undoubted integrity and veracity – one who, as a member of the board, always endeavored to discharge his duties faithfully and honestly – and for the good of the community only, sought an interview with him regarding the alleged wrongs committed by the school board.
The following interview between Wilmer H. Johnson, editor of the North Wales Record, and Mr. Lukens is quoted from the November 10, 1877 issue of the local paper:
Record — Mr. Lukens, you have no personal animosity against any member of the school board, have you?
Mr. Lukens — Not a particle.
Record — When were you elected a member of the board, and when did you cease to meet with it?
Mr. Lukens — I was elected in the spring of 1876, and met regularly with the board up until last June. At the time of my election I was waited upon by leading citizens of the borough and urged to take my seat in that body, for I had an inclination not to do so, notwithstanding my election.
Record — Upon what grounds do you decline to meet with the board?
Mr. Lukens — As I was not at Conshohocken with the board to view the school building there, and was not posted in building school houses, I thought my services in the board of no longer account. The board set a time for me to go with them, but changed that time without proper notice to me, and the president of the board told me I could go in the [railroad] cars. The members who did go, went in carriages.
Record — Previous to this treatment did the board show any anxiety to have you along?
Mr. Lukens — Yes. The president thought I would be of great service – that I would see things that the other members would not notice – which would be of importance to the board in the construction of the new building.
Record — The original specifications for the construction of the school house were drawn up by you, were they not?
Mr. Lukens — They were, and were unanimously adopted by the board; but the building is not constructed according to those specifications. The botch in the cellar, a very important point about the building, and which gives it that squatty appearance, is attributed to me, but I emphatically deny it. The original specifications allowed one foot fall for the drainage of the cellar. The fall should have commenced at the north corner, as the board agreed was correct. But Mr. Harley directed that the opposite southern corner was the one to begin at, which gives the cellar a depth of five and a half feet in the clear, instead of six and a half according to my specifications, and hence the botch.
Record — Had you any interest in the contract further than for the public good?
Mr. Lukens — No; and positively had no thought of entering a bid in any way or shape for the construction of the building.
Record — Hasn’t there been an unnecessary expense attached to the school?
Mr. Lukens — There has. When the matter of building the school was first approached, $3,000 was thought to be a fair sum for the purpose. That amount would have made a good building, but of course would not have allowed for unnecessary extras.
Record — How much over $5,000 do you think the building will cost?
Mr. Lukens — I say $1,500 or $2,000.
This article is continued in Part 11.
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 May 12, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
About 1860 the store building occupied by the Peoples Building & Loan Association was erected by Benjamin Hendricks. Isaac G. Freed, grandfather of John Freed Morris, had a machine shop where A. K. Shearer’s warehouse was located, at Second and Montgomery. On this corner in 1864 the post office was located, with Mr. Freed as the first postmaster.
About 1865 Walnut street was laid out southwest to Morris road and soon thereafter was opened northeast to the railroad. It was about 1865 that the owners of the Hurst farm began to sell building lots, and Shearer street was opened to Pennsylvania avenue. Shearer street was formerly a lane leading to the Shearer homestead, with cherry trees on each side and a big gate at Main street.
The large building next to the current fire station on South Main street dates back to 1859, when it was first erected by J. H. Egner for a grist mill and also a distillery. It measured forty by sixty feet, three stories in height, with an attic. The size of the lot was 200 by 100 feet and fronted on Main street. About the time the mill was finished the proprietor had to sell out, and it was purchased by Jonas D. Moyer, David Moyer and Elias K. Freed. The new firm removed the distillery equipment and changed that part of the building into a planing mill, the other part as a custom mill. [By way of explanation, a planing mill is a facility that takes cut and seasoned boards from a sawmill and turns them into finished dimensional lumber.]
In March 1862 the building was destroyed by fire, but it was quickly rebuilt as a merchant and grist mill, with five run of stones* and a 40 horsepower coal-fired steam engine. In 1866 Jonas D. Moyer withdrew from the firm. In 1868 David Moyer also withdrew, having sold his interest to Henry W. Moyer, father of our present  citizen Clinton B. Moyer. A co-partnership was then formed under the title of Elias K. Freed & Company, who operated the mill upon the old plan until 1876, when they changed the machinery and worked upon what was known as the new process.
In 1881 Mr. Moyer sold his interest to Mr. Freed, who gave a third interest in the business to his son-in-law Frank S. Kriebel. Mr. Freed took down the old mill and rebuilt it for manufacturing flour by the roller process, increasing the capacity of the mill to one hundred and fifty barrels a day. The mill then measured one hundred feet wide by forty feet deep, with three stories and an attic, with a two story warehouse. The storage capacity was twenty thousand bushels of wheat and one thousand barrels of flour. When the roller process came into operation, the firm worked day and night. This was the first roller mill in Montgomery county and the third in the state. Later, the building was occupied by the North Wales Planing Mill, and a “Five and Ten” cent store.
At the intersection of Main street with the railroad, the north corner, now the home of the North Penn Volunteer Fire Company, was a large three story stone building known as Leister’s Hardware Store and tin shop. A portion of this building also served as the office of the North Wales Record newspaper. This building was erected in 1865 by David Moyer to be used as a storage house. Moyer afterwards rented it to Sellers & Kepler for a hardware store. Sellers sold his interest to Isaac G. Freed in 1866 and the firm henceforth consisted of Freed & Kepler. Mr. Freed continued in the business until 1872 when he sold out to George W. Grove of Bucks county. A few years later it passed into the hands of A. S. Winner & Company, who held it until 1878 when Jacob Leister, grandfather of Frank H. Leister, took possession. Winner was for a time postmaster. Mr. Leister continued in this business until 1909 when he sold to V. D. Lewis and William F. Burk who then conducted the business under the name of Burk-Lewis Hardware Company.
A large brick dwelling opposite the fire house was built as a store and dwelling in 1867 by William R. Bechtel. Today the North Wales Pub occupies the first floor of this building.
In 1861 Abel K. Shearer, father of Abel K. and Ralph W. Shearer established an extensive lumber business. Mr. Shearer was born on the farm of his father, Jacob, in Gwynedd township, November 6, 1838, and received his education at the schools in the vicinity, after which, until he was twenty-three years of age, he worked on his father’s farm. He then determined to embark in commercial ventures and established the lumber yard in 1861. This enterprise grew to such proportions as to make the addition of a steam powered planing mill a necessity. This he established in 1870. While mainly occupied in the management of his business, Mr. Shearer found time to devote to local political issues. He served in borough council and as a school director. He was a director of the North Wales Building and Loan Association and a member of the Lutheran Church where he served on the church council. The lumber yard was then conducted by his son Abel K. Shearer.
A harness shop was opened in the sheds to the rear of the hotel on Main street, and in the same building there was a cigar factory. In 1865 the post office was moved to the Hendricks store. A fire company had been organized and a hand engine had been purchased from Philadelphia. The engine was not a success and was later sold for scrap.
The North Wales Record newspaper was started in the hardware building of Jacob H. Leister by Milton Wood, and was printed on a Washington Hand Press. The first number was issued on August 4, 1874, and in the absence of a press, the two first numbers were printed at the office of the NEUTRALIST, in Skippackville, to which place the forms were carried in a wagon, a distance of eight miles. The paper soon acquired considerable circulation, especially in the near vicinity, but was not financally profitable to its publisher. Less than a year afterward, on June 19, 1875, Mr. Wood sold out his interest to the firm of Marlin & Smith. The paper continued to be published weekly, under various ownerships, until February 28, 1942, when the then owner and publisher, Mr. W. M. Kirkpatrick, ceased publication.
Among the advertisers in the first issue of the North Wales Record newspaper were found Harley & Brothers, merchandise; William H. Staiger, barber; Grove & Kepler, hardware; Dr. W. H. Wampole, dentist; Dr. H. B. Johnson, druggist and physician; William R. Bechtel, shoe manufacturer; Shearer, Lukens & Co., planing mill; Moyer & Shearer, lumber; J. A. Gerhart, house and sign painting; Jacob Leister, hardware store and tinsmith; Isaac Wampole, Justice of the Peace; Slutter & Bright, carriage factory; E. K. Freed & Co., millers; North Wales Academy and School of Business. Among the events published in the news was an 1880 visit from General W. S. Hancock, a candidate for President, who was royally entertained at Lukens North Wales Hotel, now the Rorer-Seems Building.
John Kuhns had commenced the erection of a large store house and hall on the corner of Second street and Montgomery avenue. The new building was to be of brick, three stories high, with a depth of 40 feet. The building faced Second street. The first floor and basement were to be used as a dry goods store, the second story to be fitted up for a public hall, and the third floor for a lodge room. Mr. Kuhns stated, in the North Wales Record of August 8, 1875, “A public hall has long been needed by our borough and our citizens will be glad to know that their wishes will be gratified when the new building is erected.” Later, this building served as a hotel known as Philadelphia House. The building no longer stands [see below].
A new pottery and earthenware manufactory operated by Moyer & Young had just been completed at Pennsylvania avenue and Walnut street, and a Board of Trade was active. In 1875 North Wales borough had 470 inhabitants, of which forty were taxpayers; two public schools with 104 pupils; twelve mercantile taxpayers; three hotels; and industrial establishments.
The North Wales Academy and School of Business, with Professor Samuel U. Brunner, father of J. Reiff Brunner, principal, was now located in its new home on Pennsylvania avenue. Previous to this, the school was located on Main street in the present  home of Dr. E. W. Olson. This institution first opened in Kulpsville, Penna. on October 14, 1867, its object being “to meet the increasing demand for practically educated men and women.” The school moved to North Wales April 10, 1871, and the school building was erected in 1872. During mid-20th century the former academy building served as the American Legion Donald McLeod Post, No. 336. Later, the building was torn down and six houses were built on the lot.
The first issue of our local paper, the North Wales Record, on August 8, 1874 had this to say about the North Wales Academy: “The North Wales Academy and School of Business opens its fall term of 13 weeks on September 7th. The principal, S. U. Brunner is receiving the encouragement he deserves for the indefatigable efforts put forth in raising the standard of education in our midst. The academy deserves the success it is attaining, none of its many pupils, graduates and friends will deny. Being so admirably situated in the southern suburbs of our beautiful borough, with all necessary appliances of a first class boarding school, together with its able instructors, destines it to become one of our leading educational institutions in this section of the state.”
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 May 5, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
*Run of millstones or stones — a set of two millstones, consisting of an upper “runner” millstone and the lower “bed” stone. (Also called a Pair of Stones.)
Before the arrival of the North Penn Railroad in the 1850s, travel from Philadelphia to the Perkiomen region (Schwenksville, Pennsburg, East Greenville) was usually over Skippack pike or Germantown pike, then north on the Gravel pike [PA 29] up the west bank of the Perkiomen Creek.
After the railroad opened in 1855, a better option emerged: a stagecoach line began operating from North Wales, through Kulpsville, Harleysville, Green Lane, and thence to Pennsburg. Travelers from Philadelphia rode the North Penn Railroad as far as North Wales, where they would climb aboard the stagecoach for the final leg of their journey. The four-horse stagecoach made one trip per day. Passengers and their luggage shared space with sacks of U.S. Mail. Compared with railroad cars on smooth steel rails, a stagecoach navigating uneven dirt roads was a slow, cramped, rough-riding way to get places. Taking the train rather than riding the stagecoach, even if for only a portion of the trip, was a welcome option for travelers.
As late as 1876, the North Wales Directory contained the name of Jacob Rorer, stage driver, living at Walnut and Sixth streets. Jacob Rorer, Sr. was the grandfather of present  Postmistress Christina Rorer Hankin; John Rorer, realtor; and Mrs. James Constantine. Jacob Rorer lived in North Wales for many years, passing away on January 2nd, 1898. We quote from the local paper, the North Wales Record, of Saturday, January 8. 1898:
The death of Jacob Rorer, Sr., took place on Sunday morning, at his home on Montgomery avenue, North Wales. He had been ailing for a long time but his illness had only taken a serious turn for the worse a few days previous to his demise. Mr. Rorer was born November 22, 1823, at the family homestead near where is now Oak Lane station, which was owned by his father of the same name. He is survived by his wife and seven children. The deceased came to North Wales several years ago and for fifteen or more years ran the stagecoach line from here to Harleysville, carrying the mail between the two places all this time. During his long life of 74 years he had been engaged in a variety of businesses. In his younger days he resided for a year or more in New York City, where he drove a Broadway bus, then drawn by four horses. At one time he kept a hotel. But he was mostly employed in stage transportation, owning various lines running through Bucks county from Doylestown. The Harleysville-North Wales route was the last line he operated. Jacob Rorer was known for his sunny disposition and for his fondness of telling old time stagecoach remembrances. His funeral took place from St. Luke’s Reformed Church Wednesday afternoon, and was largely attended. Reverend J. D. Detrich officiated. Interment was made in the Reformed Cemetery.
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 April 28, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
That the North Penn Railroad was welcome in the 1850’s, is evident from the fact that a site for a depot was given to the railroad company. Algernon S. Jenkins donated the piece of ground between the railroad and E. Montgomery Avenue, between Main and Second Streets. The original train station is long gone, and today the site is occupied by North Penn Volunteer Fire Company’s parking lot.
Two decades later (1873) the new North Wales railroad station was built a quarter mile north of the original station, on the west side of the tracks between E. Walnut Street and Beaver Street. (The 1873 train station is still in use today.)
The coming of the railroad was a boon to North Wales, and spurred many changes in the vicinity. In 1856 the North Penn Railroad was completed from 3rd & Berks Street in North Philadelphia, as far as Gwynedd. A temporary terminal was established at what is now known as Gwynedd Valley.
The completion of the Gwynedd tunnel, located one mile south of what would become North Wales, was the obstacle to the completion of the railroad. The following is quoted from the Philadelphia Inquirer of July 3, 1855, which reports the opening of the railroad to Gwynedd:
“About a mile [north of] Gwynedd, the railroad passes through a cut 60 feet deep, and then a tunnel 500 feet in length, which is now nearly finished, 260 men being there at work, the incessant blasting of rocks sounding like the explosions of heavy artillery.”
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3, 1855
After two years of arduous effort, in 1857 the North Penn Railroad opened between Philadelphia and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
[So, what happened to the tunnel? In 1930, in order to provide space for the overhead catenary electric wires that still power trains today, the Reading Railroad removed the rock tunnel roof, a process known as “daylighting.” See postcard view of the tunnel, above.]
Our present Main Street was part of an Indian trail, and was laid out in 1728. In 1730 the Swedesford Road, intersecting the Pike at Gwynedd, was laid out. The early records show that Robert Evans, of North Wales, was Justice of the Peace in 1726, and his map mentions Acuff’s Tavern (now William Penn Inn). There was also a hotel, kept by George Heist in 1784, where the Pike crosses Haines-Dittingers Creek.
At the crossroads we know as Prospect Avenue and S. Main Street, was the Old Yellow Church, occupied by both the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. In the cemetery stood a small schoolhouse for pay scholars, and on Sundays it was used for vocal singing classes. When the public schools were established the old schoolhouse was used as a tenement.
North Wales first public schoolhouse was erected on the southwest corner of N. Main Street and Elm Avenue (at that time, Elm Avenue was called W. School Street). Today this corner is occupied by an office building “on stilts,” with parking underneath. The schoolhouse was a two-story stone building 24’ 6” by 36’ 6”, with a well of good and lasting water and a number of shade trees. The grounds included two new frame buildings measuring 7’ by 8’ 6” by 7 feet high, and a coal box. Pupils sat on wooden benches, some made of slab wood and some of cord wood. Each day the boys cut wood to heat the school. This building served North Wales students until the new school on E. School Street opened. The old school building was sold on August 4, 1877.
At the Hurst homestead [on S. Main Street opposite Shearer Street] was a distillery, where apple-jack [apple brandy] was made and sold for six cents a quart. A glass cost three cents with two cigars thrown in, which were called rye-straws. In 1857 this farm was sold, the farmhouse being rebuilt as a hotel. We will deal with the history of this hotel [North Wales Hotel] in a later article.
East of the railroad, the Verona House was erected on the northeast corner of S. Main Street and Montgomery Avenue. Circa 1959 a radio and television store occupied the front part of this building. This three story building was erected in 1858 by Charles Losher, who kept an inn here until 1866. It was then sold to John Bush. Bush remained two years, when in 1868 he conveyed it to George Cathrell, who turned it into a private dwelling.
Opposite the schoolhouse on N. Main Street was the farmhouse of Daniel Kenderdine, and beyond that lay the farm of Frederick Beaver. Opposite the school building on School Street was a skating pond. Along Beaver Street were several large groves which were the scenes of many picnics.
In 1860 the first new house was erected, being the house at 107 N. Second Street. Coal yards, stores, cigar factories, shoe and harness shops, and blacksmiths all came and did a thriving business.
The following tidbits of wisdom appeared in our local paper, the North Wales Record, in March 1895:
Just why a spoony couple would rather sit on the stairs than on the softest sofa in the parlor is one of those things no feller can find out.
Never accuse a man of insobriety when he slips on your orange peel.
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 April 28, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
After discussing the Zebley property, let us now cross S. Main street and trace the history of the ground on the south-west side of the Great Road, or the property of the late Tatnall Paulding, which now comprises all that ground between the home of W. Palmer King and West Prospect avenue, extending south to the railroad. [Today this part of North Wales includes Highland Avenue, Fairview Avenue, and St. Rose of Lima Church.]
This property, when bought by Paulding, comprised twenty-one acres, but this was fast diminished by the steady growth of the borough. The property was a triangle lying between the Reading Railroad and Main street. To the southeast it was bounded by Church road (now known as West Prospect avenue) and the new Lutheran Cemetery. In the olden times there was a large plantation comprising also the Zeber Marple farm (in 1959 the Henry Strong property) beyond the railroad.
The dwelling, which stood on the site of the Benjamin H. Miller home, was built of stone with a rear wing, and was quite close to the highway. The stone barn was to the rear. The dwelling, though having a modern appearance, was quite old, but was remodeled by Mr. Paulding. The stone walls of the house had a yellow coating of plaster and it is known that before 1840 Frederick Weber lived here as a tenant.
This farm which earlier included the Marple farm across the railroad, is also a fragment of the patent of 720 acres confirmed in 1702 to Robert Jones. Just for the benefit of those future local historians who are showing such a great interest in these articles, we must repeat that this vast tract of 720 acres which belonged to Robert Jones extended across Gwynedd township for two miles from its northeast boundary, and was a half mile in width. It covered the site of North Wales and was held by Jones until his death 30 years later. He is supposed to have lived eastward of the present town at the George Jones place, or the present C. J. Fisher property. His will of 1732 conveyed to his son, John Jones, 300 acres upon which the latter then lived. His home was probably within the present borough, and was either northward of the present Rorer-Seems building or at the present apartment house at Shearer street and Pennsylvania avenue.
The Jones ownership finally ended in 1760, when John Jones and his wife, Gainor, sold 186 acres to George Weidner. All of this lay on the southwest side of the present Main street. The price was 546 pounds. Concerning what manner of man was this John Jones, who flourished here for three decades of the 18th century, we have no record. There is a record of the death of John Jones, carpenter, in 1775.
At some time prior to the Revolution George Weidner, who was a Lutheran or Reformed, had sold his plantation, or at least the greater part, to Jacob Wyant.
In 1776 Wyant was credited with owning 130 acres, 3 horses and 4 cows. In 1784 he sold off 29 acres of the southwest corner to William Rex. In 1776 Steven Bloom was credited with 35 acres, 2 horses and 2 cows.
In 1787 a property comprising 53 acres, which covered this tract and belonging to Daniel Boone, a blacksmith, was seized by the sheriff and sold to John Roberts. This, or at least part of it, had been, before 1780, a part of the estate of Philip Heist, who in 1776 had 120 acres. In 1795 John Roberts added seven acres, having bought them from the administrator of Hugh Evans. This lot probably lay southwest of West Prospect avenue. This purchase gave Roberts 62 acres. It had no improvements and was bought for 70 pounds. Hugh Evans had gotten it from his father, Thomas Evans, who died in 1784 and he, himself, died in 1789.
John Roberts was the owner of the farm for 11 years, or until 1798 when he sold to Philip Summers, of Gwynedd, for 65 pounds. This was bounded on the southwest for 48 perches of land of Rees Harry and Philip Hurst, on the northwest for a half mile by lands of Philip Hurst to the Great Road [Sumneytown Pike], and by the Road on the northeast side 49 perches; on the southeast side by lands of Martin Schwenk and Thomas Evans for 186 perches. It was a long narrow strip that Summers bought. It was later surveyed to contain 64 acres.
Philip Summers was the grandson of Hans George Summers, an emigrant, who arrived in Philadelphia from Germany in 1754 along with his wife Barbara Maria. Philip Summers and his wife were members of the old Yellow Church, North Wales and were Lutherans. Three of their sons were elected trustees, deacons and elders. They were Martin, Philip, Jr., and John. This Philip died on May 6th, 1814. His wife lived to be quite old, or until 1838. The second Philip Summers was the purchaser of the Gwynedd farm in 1798 from John Roberts and of which he was the owner for 29 years. He sold to John Robinson on March 20, 1827. He then removed to Philadelphia where he died on June 3, 1834.
The later history of this property is one of many changes of ownership which can only be briefly mentioned. The Marple and Paulding places continued as one farm for a long period of time. Robinson held it for a dozen years. In 1839 he sold to Daniel Miller. In 1852 Miller sold to Peter Wells Moore. In 1857 Moore was living in Upper Merion when he sold to Lawrence Corson, a real estate dealer of Norristown, the 62 acres. The North Pennsylvania Railroad [today the SEPTA Lansdale line] had cut the property in two 1856. In 1859 Corson sold to J. Sigmund Reichle for $4500. In 1862 the latter sold the 56 acres back to Corson for $4100. Next year Corson gave title to Jacob Mathias who conveyed to Charles Snyder in 1864.
By this time the Marple farm had become detached. So in 1865 Snyder sold the 21 acres on the east side of the railroad to Clarinda Reeve, of Philadelphia, for $2100. The same year she sold to Mathias Schwenk for $2475. Mathias Schwenk came to stay, and there were no more changes for 17 years. In 1882 he sold to Sara Jane Clark for $5000. He had built a new house. Finally in 1890 Clark sold to Col. Tatnall Paulding, Civil War veteran and prominent businessman residing in Germantown. Paulding the same year bought a lot adjoining the 21 acres, having a house on it, from William J. Clark for $1000.
Mr. Paulding named his farm the Hill-Top Farm, and in June of 1892 he also operated the Hill-Top Quarry which was on the south side of the railroad and a short distance west of West Prospect avenue, at which place he sold stone for building, paving and curbing. The remains of this quarry can still be seen today . In November of 1892 the Reading Railroad ran a switch into this quarry to facilitate the shipment of stone to Philadelphia. In March of 1895 the Reading Railroad Company ordered all work in the quarry discontinued because of the blasting, at which time stones were thrown upon their tracks causing damage to passing trains.
Tatnall Paulding died March 3, 1907. His farm remained idle until May of 1912, when it was sold to Dill & Fenstermacher for development purposes.
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 April 21, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.