History snippets

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.

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.