Displaying items by tag: Audubon
Our guest blogger, George Detwiler, is back with another story from the Audubon area:
This home at the corner of Pawlings Road and Lark Lane was part of a large farm owned by Aaron Weikel in the early 19th century. When we moved into our home on Owl Road in 1953, the barn for the home was still partially standing (where the firehouse is now) and served as a playground for the kids in the neighborhood. A dirt lane extended in back of the homes on Lark Lane and Owl Road to a spot that served as their dump. Well into the 1970s at least, my neighbor would occasionally dig up old bottles and other items when he was planting flowers at the back of their yard.
One of the many interesting features of this property was a concrete slab about 6 feet square that sat between the home and barn. I have read in old newspaper accounts of early Shannonville that the property included a ventilation shaft for the Perkiomen mines an this may have been the location of this shaft.
The Weikels were one of the leading families in Shannonville back in the early 19th century. Aaron was a schoolteacher at the Beech Tree School (the second in Shannonville). He also conducted a singing school with Thomas Highley. Weikel even led the choir at Lower Providence Presbyterian Church, led a debate society, dabbled in real estate, was the town's postmaster, and was a courthouse official at various times.
1870s Atlas at HSMC
In 1869, he and John Williams bought the 14 small stone miners' cottages that sat along Egypt Road and covered about two acres of land for $1,200. That was about the same time that the mines were shutting down and it probably seemed like a good deal. A year later, Williams sold his interest in the homes to Weikel for about $350.00. He must have retained a small portion of the land, though, since it was his donation of land that allowed the little white Chapel to be built along Egypt Road neat the intersection that was named after him.
Weikel also was the purchaser of some of the last Shannon land in Shannonville. In 1891 he purchased the Shannonville store and post office at the corner of Pawlings and Egypt Roads (now the site of Ebru Coffee) and the 1/2 acre of land it sat on for $1,800. Prior to owning this I am fairly certain that he ran a store out of his home that competed with the Shannon store. He later transferred the Shannon store to his son, Horace.
In 1883, Weikel was elected the Recorder of Deeds for a three year term. He died at the age of 69 in 1903. His wife survived him until 1926, dying at the age of 88. Her estate held on to the property (I believe) until its eventual sale and development by George Custer into the housing development I grew up in (Lark Lane, Owl Road, Pheasant Road and Sparrow Road).
We have a guest blogger for this latest post. HSMC Board member and volunteer, George Detwiler, writes about Buck Taylor, King of the Cowboys:
One of the more colorful characters associated with the history of Betzwood and the Shannonville/Audubon area was William Levi "Buck" Taylor. Buck was born on November 15, 1857 in Texas. His grandfather was one of those killed at the Alamo. Buck was orphaned at a young age when his father died fighting in the Civil War and his mother died shortly thereafter. He and his brother, Bax, became cowhands while still in their teens, running herds of cattle throughout the West where he was regarded as the best bronco buster in the country. Buck eventually signed on to Buffalo Bill Cody's Ranch in Nebraska.
Photo Credit: Source -Buffalo Bill Online Archive MS6 William F. Cody Collection Rights- McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West
I also learned Buck and Bax's sister, Mary, was also quite the cowhand. She mixed right in there with Buck, Bax, and the other cowboys and was considered an excellent rider, roper, and cattle handler. Sort of the Calamity Jane type.
When Buffalo Bill Cody formed his Wild West Show, Buck was asked to join. His tall size led him to be cast as General Custer in their reenactments of the Battle of Little Bighorn, also sometimes referred to as "Custer's Last Stand." Several dime novels were written with him as the main character. His fame became so great at the time he was known as "The King of the Cowboys."
Times Herald, March 18, 1953, HSMC Microfilm Collection
In the 1890s, middle aged and retired from "show business," Buck settled in the East and was made Superintendent of the Betzwood Stock Farm in Betzwood, PA. This was a phenomenally successful horse breeding farm owned and run by wealthy beer brewer John Betz.
After Betz' death, Taylor manged Stephens farm on Port Kennedy Road. He lived in the house that was used as the headquarters of Gen. Vernaum, commander of the Rhode Island troops, during the Valley Forge encampment during the Revolutionary War. Buck died on April 28, 1924. He is buried in the cemetery behind the Valley Forge Chapel.
This is a watercolor painting of the Wetherill Mansion. It was painted by local artist, illustrator, and educator Lois Rapp (1907-1992) around 1938.
Wetherill Mansion, HSMC Collection
The mansion has had several names over the years including Wetherill Mansion, Fatland, Fatland Farm, and Vaux Hill to name a few. It is located along the banks of the Schuylkill River in Audubon.
Location of the mansion in Audubon
James Vaux, a wealthy Quaker from Philadelphia, purchased the land from the Morgan family in 1772. By 1776, the first mansion was constructed. The property spanned an estimated 300 acres at the time and was referred to as Vaux Hill. During the American Revolution, Vaux temporarily housed both General George Washington and General Sir William Howe on different nights in September 1777.
Various people have lived in the mansion since James Vaux, but the Wetherill family owned the property the longest (1825 - 1946). The original house was raised in 1843 by William Wetherill. The construction of the new mansion, which still stands today, was completed in 1845. It was designed by noted architect John Haviland, who also designed the original Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
This painting of the Wetherill Mansion will be on display during our Grandma's Attic exhibit, which will be free and open to the public from May 19, 2022 to March 31, 2023.
This week we have a guest blogger: our own trustee and regular volunteer, George Detwiler!
If you grew up in Audubon you may have attended Audubon Elementary on Egypt Road. This was actually the fourth school to serve the children of Audubon. The first was a one-room schoolhouse built in 1807 on a small plot of land located diagonally across from The Union Chapel on Pawlings Road. The area was known then as “Wetherill’s Corner” because the family owned so much of the surrounding land. This was “Jack’s School”, named after Andrew Jack, a local landowner and first Constable of Lower Providence Township who sold the ¼ acre piece of ground to the township. He was also the owner of “Jack’s Tavern”, later Bud’s Bar. The school was 26’ x 40’ with a round coal stove in the middle of the room with the desks fastened to the walls around the room. In addition to school the community used the building for concerts, lectures and other gatherings and entertainment. There was an active debate society that held their meetings there as well as a Sunday School organized by Mrs. Sarah Rogers. Thomas Highley led the singing.
Audubon Sunday School, 1878
In the 1850’s, George Corson wrote a poem which he called simply “Jack’s School”. In the Winter of 1872, Howard Rhodes recited it as part of the entertainment during a get together at the school. The first verse was:
Jack’s School is a humble hall
It has no brick or marble wall
No costly bannister or aisles
Bedecked in ornamental style
In all, it contained seven verses but the rest have been lost.
When Jack’s School became too small to accommodate all of the students in the area, a second school, The Beech Tree School, was built in 1852 on land purchased from Albert DeHaven. This property later became part of the Buckwalter Farm on Eagleville Road. It was similar in construction to Jack’s School.
Shannonville Union Public School
These two schools served Shannonville until 1873 when a new two-room schoolhouse replaced them on land purchased from Aaron Weikle. This was called The Shannonville Union Public School and is still standing a short distance off of Pawlings Road behind the David Hagner home. Its first teachers were Miss Sarah Chafin and Miss Elizabeth Gotwals. Chafin spent her first year teaching at Jack’s School. It has been enlarged over the years and eventually became a family residence . Religious services were held here for the Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists until 1878 when the little Baptist chapel on Egypt road near Brewsters Ice Cream was built. This also served as a classroom for overflow students from the school. Miss Cassel, who many of us remember from first grade, taught there early in her career. It served Shannonville and then Audubon until 1929 when the Audubon School on Egypt Road was built.
Audubon Elementary, dedication, 1928
Audubon Elementary served the children of Audubon almost continually for 90 years after it’s opening in 1929. It opened with only four classrooms. Entrance was through the large front door facing Egypt Road, and the first thing you saw when you entered was a large Marble bust of John James Audubon sitting on a wooden pedestal. Numerous additions were made over the decades. First were additional classrooms added behind the original building on both the upper and lower levels. Then, in 1955, a wing on the right when facing the school from Egypt Road added several more. In 1958 a new combination cafeteria, auditorium and gym was added out the back along with a new kitchen. More additions followed as the building of housing developments by George Custer, Mr. Middleton and especially Joe D’s Apple Valley neighborhoods greatly increased the student population. It was permanently closed in 2018 with students now attending either Woodland or Arrowhead (K-4) or Skyview (5-6) Elementary.
By Charles Willson Peale - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, online database, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4023540
In Lower Providence Township, sits the small private Wetherill cemetery, where the man who probably penned the Declaration of Independence is buried.
Timothy Matlack was born in New Jersey to a Quaker family in 1730 and came to Philadelphia as a young man. When war began with Britain, Matlack declared himself a patriot and was read out of meeting. He was a member of the Provincial Congress of Pennsylvania and later secretary to Charles Thompson (of Montgomery County). Because of his excellent penmanship he was tasked with making final copies of important documents. We know for sure that he transcribed George Washington’s commission as Commander-in-Chief, and he is generally credited with writing up the official copy of the Declaration of Independence that was signed by the Continental Congress.
Matlack was also a colonel in the Pennsylvania militia and crossed the Delaware with Washington. Later he was a trustee at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the American Philosophical Society. In 1781 he served a term as Director of the Bank of North America. He later held several different offices in Pennsylvania government.
He was also a founding member of a group known as the Free Quakers, along with Samuel Wetherill. These were Quakers who had been cast out of their meetings because of their support for the American Revolution. Originally the group met at Wetherill’s home, but in 1783, they built a meeting house at 5th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia. Matlack was originally buried there when he died in 1829.
The Free Quakers died out in 1836, either literally dying or being allowed back into other Quaker meetings or joining other denominations. With no active congregation, and the city developing quickly, the land the Free Quakers were buried on became very attractive. In 1895, a Wetherill descendant, Col. Francis D. Wetherill, died and in his will he left land to expand the family’s private cemetery to include the Free Quakers. In 1905, their remains, including those of Timothy Matlack, were reinterned in Lower Providence.
On Thanksgiving Day in 1950, just as families in Lower Providence were sitting down together to enjoy the holiday, a huge explosion occurred. Three thousand feet of a natural gas pipeline that ran from Texas to New York were destroyed in the blast. The Times-Herald reported the explosion on the day after (November 24) and quoted the superintendent of Fish Constructors, Inc., who was working on the pipeline at the time. He said he had “no idea” of the cause.
Although fire officials said anyone close to the blast would have been killed, no one was there because of the holiday. Two old buildings on the former Wetherill estate, then the Philadelphia Protectory for Boys (and now St. Gabrial’s Hall) caught fire and were destroyed. Nearby cornfields were scorched.
The boys at the Protectory were playing a football game only half a mile away. When they heard the blast, both players and spectators ran. Some boys were found miles away, according to the newspaper account.
The men who owned the property, brothers Joseph and Edwin Camiel were both knocked down by the explosion. The line was own by Transcontinental Gas Pipe Lines of Houston.
The paper describes the scenes “The huge mains, made of five-sixteenths of an inch in thickness, were scattered over farmlands in the vicinity of the line.”
The Protectory can be seen in the background