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.
In part 5 we said we would devote part of this article to Jacob S. Zebley. So, here it is, quoted directly from the obituary column of the North Wales record under date of March 5, 1904.
“Jacob S. Zebley, a well known resident of Upper Gwynedd, died at his home on the Spring House and Sumneytown Turnpike, near North Wales, on Thursday, March 3rd, in the 90th year of his age. Mr. Zebley was one of our best known and most eccentric citizens, and will long be remembered for the wonderfully clear and accurate stories of days long gone by with which he delighted to entertain his willing listeners. While at all times he displayed a keen interest and appreciation of the history and politics of the present, nothing gave him so much evident pleasure as to regale some of his friends with glowing descriptions of the old merchants and operatic stars of the past, and to picture the joys and adventures of a voyage to South America in the early part of the last century [1800s].
“Mr. Zebley was a man of fine moral caliber, an unswerving friend, and a business man of ideal integrity; his word was absolutely as good as his bond at all times. He was a man of most sincere hospitality, and those who have had the pleasure of meeting him at his table can never forget the feeling of welcome with which his manner filled them.
“The name of Zebley was originally Zebli, but has been variously written Zubely, Zebley and Sibley. The family of Zubli was in a flourishing condition as early as the 16th century, at Berne, Switzerland. During some of the religious commotions of that century a part of the family passed into the low countries, and thence to America—this branch being represented by a Jacob Zubli who was born in 1610, at Berne, and who in 1638 emigrated to this country, and settled on the Delaware. His grandson, Jacob Zubley, 3rd, was born. in 1693, and married an Elizabeth Neff. They were both members of the German Reformed Church at Germantown. Their son Jacob Zebley, 4th, was born in 1733 and died in 1796. He was one of the founders of the Frankford German Reformed Church, and owned and farmed that ground upon which the United States Arsenal now stands. In 1761 he married Ester Madeira. Among other children they had a son Jacob Zebley, 5th, born in 1763, and baptized in the Germantown German Reformed Church. In 1787 he married Wilhemina Hess, and to them were born 13 children. In 1806 he married his second wife Arnie, who bore him five children, among whom was the subject of our sketch, Jacob Seman Zebley.
“Mr. Zebley was born in Union street, Philadelphia, in 1813. His father was a soldier in Washington’s Army, and a wheelwright by trade. He was high Constable of the City of Philadelphia – a chain presented to him bears the date of 1809 – and afterward held a position in the Custom House. Many of Mr. Zebley’s best stories related to those days, when his father chased audacious smugglers as far as Lancaster, and brought them back in a coach and four horses to suffer durance vile in the old prison at Third and Walnut streets, Philadelphia.
“Mr. Zebley’s early education was taken care of by one of the old time school masters who vigorously wielded the rod of birch, and rapped into unwilling heads the mysteries of the three R’s, by name Johnathon Palmer. In 1830 at the age of 17 years, the sight of the lonely Delaware so quickened in him an inborn love of the sea, that he persuaded his Uncle Captain Cowpland, of the Brig Ashman, bound for South American ports, to take him along on the voyage. Returning safely from this voyage, the Captain, upon being requested to let him take another, gruffly told him he was better fitted to pick rags, meaning to enter the mercantile business. This advice was kindly taken, and for several years Mr. Zebley was a clerk in a dry goods store in Strawberry Alley, Philadelphia, working 14 hours a day, with plenty of work in each hour. Later on he became one of the firm of Zebley, Chevalier & Company; doing business on Market street between 4th and 5th streets: this was about 1840.
“In 1839 he married Sara Smith Willis, of Jericho Long Island and removed to Eleventh street, below George—now Sansom street, Philadelphia. Here two children were born to them, Emilie Seaman Zebley in 1840 and Sara Willis Zebley in 1842. The latter died in 1849, the former died in North Wales in 1899. About 1850 Mr. Zebley accepted a position with George S. Stuart & Company, in New York, and became their European buyer, making several trips to England and the Continent. It is probable that at this time Mr. Zebley was one of the best known and most successful salesmen in New York. He was afterward connected with the firm of Libby, Graef and Company and the well known Schuable Brothers of New York. During war times the high tariff put upon imported cloth, shawls and so forth, entirely ruined the business with which he was so well acquainted, and having laid by a modest competency he bought a comfortable home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and removed there in 1867.
“Then Mr. Zebley became farm hungry, and for ten years he hunted far and near to find one to his liking, until one cold, snowy day in 1879 lie found, very much to his surprise, that he had bid on one in Gwynedd, and had it knocked down to him. For 25 years he gave his love to that farm, and no man ever enjoyed more the coming of the beautiful yellow corn than did be, and many were the days of pleasure he had in sorting out the noblest ears, and carefully piling them up as seed for the following year.
“The death of his daughter, Emilie, in 1899, was a great loss, and only the tireless attention and devotion of his adopted daughter, Louise Zebley Smith, enabled him to live through what would have been in his advance years an unbearable change of life. The one thing Mr. Zebley feared above all others was change. Many will recall how he stormed and protested when he was told that his farm was to be taken into the Borough of North Wales [the borough would annex that portion of Upper Gwynedd Township in 1910, six years after Zebley’s passing]. Had that [annexation] been done, or any other great change of living brought about, he would never have reached the ripe old age of 90. Until the last few years Mr. Zebley was a most faithful member of the Episcopal Church, Gwynedd, and for years held the office of Rector’s Warden. In politics he was an out and out free trader, until during the second term of [president Grover] Cleveland. Rents took such a drop that he thought it was time for him to do what he could to bring back national prosperity, and so from then on he always voted the Republican ticket.
“In Mr. Zebley, Gwynedd has lost a citizen of the type that is only too rare, and a land mark which cannot be replaced.”
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 14, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.
The borough of North Wales is situated in central Montgomery County, about twenty miles northwest of Philadelphia. Completely surrounded by Upper Gwynedd Township, it is located on the west side of a moderate incline that slopes downward from an elevation of 450 feet above sea level at the borough’s eastern limits to 350 feet at the western limits. The central business area has an approximate elevation of 370 feet.
The area in which North Wales is located was originally settled primarily by Welsh immigrants. Early records indicate that the first settlers established their homes in 1698. The area at that time was variously called Gwynedd, Gwineth, or North Wales Township. All of these names derived from the region of Wales from which the settlers had emigrated. In 1702 Gwynedd Township was established. The township, primarily agricultural, remained populated by the Welsh in the southern and central regions, but before 1750 several Dutch and German families had located in the northern end. North Wales appears to have been the dividing point between the two settlements. A Lenni Lenape Indian trail traveling from the northern areas of Montgomery County to the Delaware River passed directly through Gwynedd Township and the area later to become North Wales. This early trail determined the lines along which the Great Road was laid out in 1728. (This highway, now known as Sumneytown Pike, passes through North Wales as Main Street.) By 1850 improvements to the road were made by a private turnpike company that charged tolls of the horse-drawn traffic making its way to and from the markets of Philadelphia. A cluster of farms, a distillery, and a church occupied the present site of North Wales. In 1857 the North Pennsylvania Railroad, which had been delayed over a year by the construction of a tunnel in Gwynedd Township, was completed. Built to carry people, goods and anthracite coal between the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, the North Penn created a stop, named North Wales, where the railroad intersected with the Great Road. This intersection of two major transportation arteries attracted tradesmen and businessmen.
In 1868 a petition was filed with the Montgomery County Court, requesting the incorporation of the settlement into a borough. The following quotation extracted from that petition (in the Court House) gives an idea of how quickly this hamlet developed and prospered in those first few years after the arrival of the railroad.
On August 20, 1869, the court decreed in part that “the said town of North Wales be incorporated into a borough. . . .That the corporate style and title thereof shall be ‘The Borough of North Wales.’ ” This was the first borough incorporated by the Montgomery County Court, the preceding four boroughs in the county having been created by the state legislature.
The original borough, roughly square, encompassed about 100 acres. An almost equal amount of territory adjoining the southwest boundary was annexed into the borough in 1884, raising the total area to 195 acres. An additional 192 acres was annexed to the northeast boundary in 1910. In 1935 a small tract of about 12 acres was ceded to Upper Gwynedd Township [the northwest corner of E. Walnut Street & Beaver Street]. The most recent increase was in 1958, when a tract of about 14 acres was added along the southeast boundary.
In the first decade of its growth, or until 1880, population steadily increased, to 673. The problems facing the borough government were many. Lack of money to operate was one of the most pressing problems. The borough often borrowed funds from several citizens. Even at this early time residents demanded more and better roadways and lighting.
The North Wales Record, a weekly newspaper published from 1874 until 1942, spread the word that the town was rapidly growing. In 1890 the population was 1,060, and advertisements in the newspaper showed that many small businesses were active.
By the turn of the century North Wales had reached the high point in its growth rate. The population in 1900 was 1,287, more than triple the population only thirty-one years before.
Two large textile knitting and weaving mills, a large asbestos-processing mill, an iron foundry, and a grain-processing mill were the large employers around 1900. Still surrounded completely by farms, North Wales, with its concentration of several mercantile stores and many tradesmen, was the main shopping area for several miles around. Much of the daily traffic was created by the farmers bringing their loads of grain to the mill on Main Street, and driving herds of cattle through the streets to the cattle-loading pens for the railroad on Walnut Street.
The fifteen years from 1885 to 1900 probably saw more improvements to the town than any other period. In 1885 a privately owned water distribution company was formed. This company drilled its own wells and laid pipe throughout the town and the area immediately outside it. It continued to supply water until 1951, when the borough of North Wales purchased it.
Another private company formed about 1896 to generate and supply electricity. Electric street lights were first used in 1897. A generator located in the rear of the flour mill on Main Street provided current. Later a larger generating plant was built at Third Street and Montgomery Avenue, and it remained in operation until the company was sold about 1911.
Also during this period telephone service arrived. A directory of 1901 listed sixteen local phones and two private lines. The first trolleys passed through town in 1901, and service continued until 1926, when buses replaced the trolleys.
By 1915 the town government had begun to install a sanitary-sewer system, which went into service in 1917. The collection and treatment operations worked solely by gravity and water flow power, requiring no outside source of power and little manual maintenance. This system, although modernized, remains in use today .
It is not widely known that North Wales was once a summer resort area. From about 1870 through 1915 several large homes and the three hotels in town (mentioned below) catered to people who wished to escape the heat of the city and spend the summer in the more pleasant and quiet countryside.
During the second thirty-year period of its existence, the borough continued to grow but at a less rapid pace. By 1930 the population had reached 2,393. After World War I the modern technology of the rapidly advancing machine age began taking its toll on the borough’s larger industries. This, coupled with the great financial crisis in 1929, resulted in the failure of many small businesses and the reduction of employment in the larger mills.
Recovery from the Great Depression during the 1930s and the prosperity after World War II did little for industry in North Wales. However, it was during this period that industry, formerly city oriented, began to move to the suburbs, and the township area outside the borough began to grow. As industry receded, the borough began to emerge as a residential area; the population grew to 3,673 in 1960. Housing spread to the limits of the borough and spilled out into Upper Gwynedd Township. In 1950 the Borough Council took steps to control development by adopting the borough’s first Zoning Code. This code remained in effect until 1977, when a new and far-reaching code was adopted to coordinate with the county comprehensive planning program.
NORTH WALES WATER AUTHORITY
In early years a great many of the less than seven hundred residents obtained their water from a hand pump over a large well located beside the Main Street Hotel [on Main Street opposite Shearer Street]. The North Wales Water Company, formed in 1885, distributed and sold water in the borough and the immediately adjacent township area. Borough residents not served by the company relied on their own wells.
In 1951 the Borough Council created the North Wales Water Authority. The authority then purchased the water company by means of a $238,000 bond issue to be paid off entirely from the revenues of the water system.
As the postwar industrial and residential growth boom continued in the region, the North Wales Water Authority kept pace. From 1,100 customers, who required an average of 272,000 gallons per day in 1951, the authority in 1980 used about 173 miles of underground pipe to supply a daily average of over 5 million gallons to more than 10,400 customers in six townships and the borough.
The North Wales Police Department was created by order of Borough Council in 1903, when one man was hired to serve as a full-time peace officer. Before that, police duties had been handled by constables who were called upon as needed. Norman Chestnut, police chief from 1930 to 1938, took the first step toward modernization when he obtained a motorcycle for patrol. The first patrol car was supplied to H. W. Turner, chief from 1938 to 1943. Chief Turner was also responsible for the installation of radio communication with the county radio system. Edward Veit, chief from 1943 to 1966, urged the council to hire an additional patrolman, that position first being filled by Joseph Whitley in 1944. Whitley was promoted to chief upon Veit’s death, and held the office until his death in 1973. The present force, under the direction of Kenneth Veit since 1973, consists of four men supplemented by part-time patrolmen .
Fire protection is supplied by the North Penn Volunteer Fire Company, which was organized in 1930 in North Wales. Before then, the borough had a municipal fire company and associated equipment. The men were paid only for time spent fighting fires. The inability of the council members and the firefighters to agree on the type of equipment and operational methods caused the dissolution of the borough-controlled department and the creation of the new volunteer company. Today this well-trained and well-equipped organization is totally volunteer and operates with funds received from private donations and grants from local municipalities.
The North Wales Memorial Free Library, located [in 1980] in the elementary school building on Summit Street, is also a volunteer organization that operates on private donations and government grants. The library was founded in 1923, primarily through the efforts of the Woman’s Civic Club of North Wales, and supporting the library has been an ongoing project of the club ever since. An unsuccessful attempt had been made to form a library in 1885, when the Union Library operated in the second floor of a small office at Fifth and Walnut streets. Lack of support and interest ended this effort, and after only a few years it was abandoned.
A small building located at the southwest corner of Main Street and Elm Avenue served as the public school until a large two-story brick building was erected in 1887 on School Street between Third and Fourth streets. Some years later the school acquired a three-story addition to the front of the building. This building served as the only school for both elementary and high school until 1928, when a new high school was opened on Summit Street. The older school continued in use for elementary education until 1954, when it was sold to the borough and converted into a municipal building. The Summit Street building became the elementary school; the high school students were absorbed into the North Penn school system.
The North Wales Academy and School of Business was opened by Samuel Brunner in 1871 in a building on Main Street, and moved to larger quarters on the southeast corner of Pennsylvania and Montgomery avenues in 1872. This school, also known as Brunner’s Academy, offered business courses and college preparatory work. The date of its closing is uncertain but is believed to be the early 1900s.
Saint Rose of Lima School, built in 1954-56, opened its first classes in 1956 to serve the parishioners of the church mentioned below.
HOTELS AND PUBLIC BUILDINGS
Three major hotels were located in the borough. The Main Street Hotel (sometimes known by the names of its proprietors) is the oldest, having been rebuilt from a farmhouse and distillery in 1857. Located on Main Street at Lumber Street, it is used today as offices and apartments. In the rear of the hotel, on Second Street, is a two-story brick building that served as the public livery stable for the hotel. During the early 1900s the building was remodeled, and the second floor was used as a public meeting hall and lodge home.
The Central Hotel on School Street at the railroad station was built some time before 1868. This hotel contains apartments today, but continued to serve the traveling public until well into the twentieth century.
The third, the Colonial Hotel at Fifth and Walnut streets, was erected in 1893 and continued in use as hotel until 1974, when it was converted to a restaurant and tavern. It was an ornate four-story brick building and one of the fanciest in the area at its time of construction. It also had a public livery stable. In more recent years before its closure in 2014, it was home to a much-loved community gathering place, McKeever’s Tavern.
Amusement Hall was for many years the borough’s social center. The front portion of the hall was a three-story frame building on School Street between Third and Fourth streets [across from Borough Hall]. Extending from the back portion was a one-story auditorium that was reported to seat over five hundred people and included a stage. The hall was built in 1887 demolished in 1937. It was the scene of plays, graduations, basketball games, roller skating, public meetings, and cinema. The portion of the hall facing School Street was remodeled into twin houses, which still stand today.
Construction of the Municipal Building began in 1959, and the dedication was held in June 1960. The borough had obtained the land and the old School Street school building after the school authority had decided that the building was no longer suited for school use. The borough then transferred title of the property to the North Wales Water Authority, which designed and built the Municipal Building. The design removed the school’s third floor and front tower, but did incorporate some portions of the original building. In 1978 the borough purchased the property from the water authority, which had used part of it, and it is now used solely for the administration of the borough.
WEINGARTNER MEMORIAL PARK
Upon his death in 1944, John Weingartner bequeathed funds to the borough to purchase, develop, and maintain a park. Weingartner Memorial Park, created and dedicated to the memory of John and Carrie Weingartner in 1954, covers a nicely landscaped tract of about three acres on Summit Street across from the North Wales Elementary School. Weingartner Park is frequently the site of civic gatherings, musicals, and memorial services.
A log cabin on the site of the present Lutheran Cemetery at Main Street and Prospect Avenue was the first home of both the Lutheran and the Reformed congregations from the middle 1770s until 1815, when it was destroyed by fire. A second church, built at the same location for the continued use of both congregations, was a stone building seating over five hundred people. The exterior, plastered with yellowish or cream-colored plaster, gave rise to the nickname the “Old Yellow Church.” In 1868 each congregation built its own house of worship in North Wales.
St. Luke’s United Church of Christ (formerly the Reformed) congregation demolished its 1868 church and replaced it with the present church in 1909.
The Lutheran Church on Main Street, although modified, is still the original structure.
The North Wales Baptist Church built its first structure on the Allentown Road on the site of the present Baptist Cemetery in 1861. This was known as the Gwynedd Baptist Church. In 1874 the congregation built the church on Shearer Street. Portions of the original building are included in the present church.
In 1870 the Methodist Church was constructed at Fourth Street and Montgomery Avenue. It acquired an upper room in 1880 and a large stone addition in 1917. In 1966 the new Sanctuary United Methodist Church was built in Upper Gwynedd Township, and the old building in North Wales was sold.
The St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church became a reality in 1915 after the parishioners had held their worship meetings for over two years in the upper floors of the planing mill on Main Street [next to today’s fire house]. The original church was never completed as originally projected; only the basement section was used for services. In 1966 the present church building on Main Street was dedicated, and the old building was used thereafter only for various meetings and functions.
North Wales post office was established on May 2, 1864. Isaac Freed served as the first postmaster.
A 1980 PERSPECTIVE
North Wales Borough, predominantly residential, has a generally middle class, ethnically mixed population of 3,391. Many families living in the borough and the township trace their ancestry to the original Welsh and German settlers. The business community consists primarily of professional offices and a few small stores serving the residents of the area. Industry, which once heavily supported the borough, has mostly moved away from its limited confines to open areas where expansion does not create a problem. Only a small amount of industry remains within the borough.
Leon T. Lewis, Jr. Historian 1980
Geisinger, John B. The Schools of North Wales. Published by the Donald McLeod Post 336, American Legion, 1941.
Lewis, Leon T. Facts about Early North Wales. Published by North Wales 85th Anniversary Committee, 1954.
Lewis, Leon T., Jr. North Wales, Its Birth—Adolescence—Maturity. Published by North Wales Centennial Cele-bration Committee, 1969.
Maag, Mrs. Andrew. A Short History of North Wales. Published by the Donald McLeod Post 336, American Legion, 1941.
The buildings on the former Zebley property were on the top of the hill on the southeast side of North Wales.
Here was a two story stone and brick house, plastered on the outside, close to the northeast side of Main street and well surrounded by shade trees. A lane was at the side of the house which lead to the barn in the rear. This was a farm of 32 acres, but it had been largely cut up into building lots and dwellings erected thereon. This farm formerly extended along the summit of the ridge to the crossroads, or the extension of Fifth street, while the lower boundary was the road (Prospect avenue), passing the Lutheran Cemetery.
The farm comprised two tracts, one of twenty acres nearest the buildings, and one of twelve acres, composed of several smaller tracts.
On one of these near the lower road, or Prospect avenue, up until 1904 stood an ancient log house of one story, which was burned down in that year. From this point a most extensive view of the landscape, far to the north and northwest, and also to the south, can be obtained. This hill is a part of a high ridge extending across the country from the Delaware to the Schuylkill, only dipping down to allow the passage of streams, such as the Neshaminy and Wissahickon. Closely adjacent the Reading railroad passes through it by a deep cut.
This property is a fragment of the great tract of 720 acres, granted in 1770 by William Penn to Robert Johns, who was then one of the sixteen grantees to the whole township. of Gwynedd. This tract extended across the whole width of the township. He lived near the Kneedler tollgate, on the road running to West Point, where he built a house in 1712. His will of 1732 gave this to his son, John Jones.
At what time improvements were made on the top of the hill is not known. In 1758 Abraham Lukens bought 120 acres of John Jones, covering the site of North Wales. Prior to the Revolution, or in 1772, Lukens sold the same to Philip Heist, a German. In 1758 he had also sold 80 acres to his son, Abraham Lukens, Jr., and of which, in 1772, the latter sold 70 acres to Philip Heist. For all we know to the contrary he may have built a house here. His will was made in 1776, when he was the owner of 120 acres. A Welshman named Humphrey Hughes bought the most of this, or a house and 100 acres, in 1780. He paid, in inflated Continental currency, the sum of $16,800 pounds. In 1776 the assessor taxed Philip Heist for 120 acres, two horses and four cows.
The site of the Zebley house, and the lane surrounding it, was certainly a part of a tract of 20 acres sold to Matthias Booz, in 1781, by the executors of Philip Heist, and it was there that Booz, or Boaz, lived. He paid only 170 pounds for the tract and may have built the first house. These 20 acres were surrounded on the northwest side for 43 perches by land of Humphrey Hughes, also by land of Hughes on the northeast side for 78 perches.
On the southeast was the land of Martin Schwenk for 31 perches and the Lutheran Church lot, or Cemetery. The Great Road, or Main street, ran past it on the southwest for 32 perches.
Matthias Booz was a young man when he came here and he spent a long life thereafter on the top of the hill, where he lived for over forty years, or until 1823. He left at least three sons, Jacob, Samuel and John. The two former, as their fathers executors, sold the property to their brother, John H. Booz. The deed was not given until 1839. John H. Booz held the property until 1858. In that year he sold the farm to Silas C. Land, for $4000. The latter died without will, in January 1863. He left minor children for whom Jacob Acuff was made guardian. In 1863 Acuff sold the property, now increased to 32 acres, to David Smith, of Philadelphia, for $5700. During his ownership Silas Land had built a new brick house.
In 1870 David Smith conveyed the property over to his wife, Amanda Smith. They were the parents of Harry Smith, an early publisher of The North Wales Record. The next owner was Charles Massey, who bought the property in 1878. He was a painter and glazier and also came from Philadelphia. The next year, in 1879, the latter gave deed to Jacob S. Zebley, who came from the city of Elizabeth, New Jersey. The price was $6000 for the 32 acres. Zebley lived here for a quarter of a century, reaching the very advanced age of 90 years. His death took place on March 3rd, 1904. The house and seventeen acres were then sold to Andrew H. Tyson, who remodeled the house and lived in it until his death several years ago, after which it was occupied by his widow, who remained there until her recent death, when it was sold on January 10, 1957, to George B. Burpee, the present occupant.
John Booz was born July 1, 1790, and died August 23, 1871. His wife, Margaret, was born April 14, 1797, and died March 1, 1863. Both are buried in the Lutheran Cemetery.
Both Silas Land and wife died of spotted fever in January 1863. He being 46 years of age, while his wife was about 40 years of age.
All of the present houses between Summit street and Prospect avenue, and between Main street and Eighth are built upon the ground of this Zebley tract. The present North Wales Elementary School, and its adjoining grounds, occupies a large portion of this original tract.
It being the purpose of these articles to give the history of North Wales and its early residents, we feel it is proper at this time since we have just given the history of the Zebley farm, to relate the background of Jacob W. Zebley, who was one of the most colorful of our early residents. Therefore next week we will devote part of our article to Mr. Zebley.
Thispost 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 7, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.