History of Abington, Cheltenham, Douglas, Franconia & Frederick, Pa.
From: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania A History
By: Clifton S. Hunsicker
Published By Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York & Chicago 1923

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Townships-The important facts and dates given in this chapter, so far as the formation of the county's townships and boroughs is concerned, may be relied upon, as they came from the research and written statements made by historian William J. Buck, long a resident of the county and vicinity.

Very few counties dating back to the colonial period have had complete accounts of the dates and general facts concerning their various townships, yet the township comes first, the county next, then the commonwealth, and last, the Republic itself, but little was ever done in early days in preserving records touching on the formation of the subdivisions of the counties in Pennsylvania. Old maps, charts and local as well as State historical volumes, have had upon their pages gross errors along these lines, many of which in later years have been corrected by painstaking historians.

Prior to the grant to William Penn, there is no positive proof that what is now Montgomery county had any settlements by Europeans. Dutch traders and fur gatherers had gone up and down the Schuylkill river, but were in no sense "settlers." Section 10 of Penn's grant said: "Unto the said Penn, his heirs and assigns, free and absolute power to divide the said country and islands into towns, hundreds and counties, and to erect incorporate towns into boroughs, and boroughs into cities, and to make and constitute fairs and markets therein, with all their convenient privileges and immunities, according to the merit of the inhabitants and the fitness of the places." The county was too sparcely settled until February, 1685, when the Provincial Council passed a resolution ordering the formation of townships and boroughs. It was on this authority that the first sub-divisions of this county were effected in the three original counties in Pennsylvania-namely, Philadelphia, Chester and Bucks. July 27, 1692, the townships of Bucks county were organized, and It is almost certain that the townships in Philadelphia were formed Just prior to that meeting. Courts of Quarter Sessions were not established In these three counties until October, 1706, when it was ordered that a court be established in each county, "to be held four times each year, in which all actions and causes may be tried except matters of life and death."

Probably the earliest township that bore a name within the present limits of Montgomery county was "The parish of Cheltenham," so called In a survey made by Thomas Fairman, July 1, 1683, for a purchase made by Patrick Robinson. Moreland was not called a township before 1718.

Whitpin was called a township in one record as early as 1701, which was no doubt an error in transcribing the date. Springfield township was located In 1684, but was still known as a manor as late as 1704. Whitemarsh was organized as a township in 1704, as were also the townships of Gwynedd and Abington; Plymouth in 1705; Skippack and Van Bebbet's In 1713; Upper Merlon, 1714; Montgomery, 1717; Limerick, 1722; and Salford in 1727. The minutes of the county commissioners commence in 1718, and this record shows assessors appointed for Cheltenham, Merion, Upper Merion, Abington, Whitpln, Perkiomen, and Moreland; Upper Dublin and Plymouth in 1719; Whitcmarsh and Springfield, in 1720; Gwynedd in 1722.

A new era was ushered in by the passage of an act of March 24, 1803, which instructed the "Courts of Quarter Sessions of the Peace of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in their respective counties, shall, from and after the passing of this act, have authority, upon application by petition to them made, to erect new townships, to divide townships already erected, or to alter the lines of any two adjoining townships so as to suit the convenience of the inhabitants thereof."

The power to erect boroughs was vested entirely in the Penn family, and remained thus until the Revolution, when it was confined to the Legislature of the State, in whom it continued until April 1, 1834. This act authorized Courts of Quarter Sessions, with the concurrence of the grand jury, "to incorporate any town or village within their respective Jurisdiction containing not less than three hundread inhabitants." The act of April, 1851, abolished the clause limiting the population. An additional act was passed in June, 1871, to arrest hurried proceedings, which required that due mention of such application be published in the county newspapers at least thirty days. Norristown was Incorporated originally in 1812, Pottstown in 1815, Conshohocken in 1850, and Bridgeport in 1851, by special acts of the Assembly. The later boroughs have been authorized by the Courts of Quarter Sessions, also townships, wards, election and school districts. The dates and locations of the several townships and boroughs of the county will be given In the detailed account of these parts of the county which here follows:

ABINGTON - This township, in the extreme southeastern section of the county, is bounded on the northwest by Upper Dublin, northeast by Moreland, southeast by Philadelphia, and southwest by Springfield, Cheltenham, and the borough of Jenkintown. The last named was made a borough In 1874. The township was organized prior to 1704. The soil is a fertile loam, and contains limestone sufficient to produce excellent crops. For many years the making of lime was a leading Industry in this township. Its streams are Inclusive of Pennypack, and Sandy Run. Cheltenham, Willow Grove and Middle Road turnpikes traverse the territory in several directions; the first named was completed in 1804, and the second in 1857. These highways cost $8,000 per mile. For railway lines, see chapter on Railroads. The township had a population in 1790 of 881; in 1840 it was 1,704; 1880, it had reached 2,125, and in 1920 it was 8,864. Next to Springfield, in 1882, this township was highest rated of any in the county, the amount of taxables being $2,655,030.

Among the first to effect a settlement here are known from record to have been the Fletchers, Morrises, Jenkins, Parry, Thomas, Bonds, Jones, Thompsons, Kenderlines, Pauls, Roberts, Hufty, Williams, Dorland, Kirke, McVaugh, Tysons, Hallowells, Knights, Waterman, Trott, Weems, many of whom still have descendants in the township and county at this date. Germany, England and Wales all had their share in settlements here. Gordon, in his "State Gazeteer," stated that Abington village had in 1832, "ten or twelve dwellings, a tannery, a boarding school for boys, a tavern, two stores, and a Presbyterian church." A post office was established here in 1816 and continued two years. A hotel was kept here by Mary Moore, having a sign reading "Square and Compass." At the little hamlet of Weldon in this township occurred a skirmish between the British and Washington's forces, resulting in the killing of more than one hundred persons. An anti-tramp association was organized here in 1877 to protect the people against roving bands of would-be laborers, but who were worthless fellows making their way through from one part of the county to another and who were for the first time known (that year) as "tramps." Five officers were employed by the citizens to see that this lawless gang did no harm,

The churches and schools are treated in special chapters of this work, and include those of Abington township. One of the first Friends' meeting-houses in Pennsylvania was situated here, and was formed in 1683. The former historical volumes, especially Bean's "History of Montgomery County" (1884), give detailed accounts of many interesting things which this work has no space to insert.

CHELTENHAM - This is the extreme southeastern township in Montgomery county, bounded northeast by Abington, southeast and southwest by Philadelphia city, and on the northwest by Springfield. It is about one and one-half miles wide by five and one-half long, and contains 5,400 acres. It has a rolling surface, and a fair soil composed of gravel and loam. It is well watered by small streams and many neverfailing springs of the finest water. Tacony creek is the largest stream that courses through its territory, emptying into the Delaware river at Bridesburg. Along its banks In early times there were numerous small mills and factories propelled by its waters, either direct or by mill-races. This portion of the county is peculiarly noted as being rich in many minerals, including excellent stone for quarrying purposes and for a good grade of pure mica. The York road passes through this township and was completed for general use in 1804. The Willow Grove and Germantown road was built in 1857. The North Pennsylvania railroad was a highway through the township that materially aided the better development of the location. Ashbourne, York Road, Chelton Hills and Abington are all villages within this civil township. The railroad from Philadelphia to Newton also passes through the territory, and has for station points Shoemakertown, Edge Hill, Cheltenham, Ashbourne, Camptown and Harmer Hill. The common school system was adopted here in 1838 by sixteen majority. In 1880 there were thirteen excellent school buildings within the limits of the township. The population for periods has been: In 1800, 630; in 1880, 4,561; in 1900, 6,151, in 1920, 11,015.

There is no doubt about the township receiving its name through Toby Leech, one of the earliest land-owners and actual settlers, and a man of considerable influence. On his tombstone at Oxford Church is found a statement that he "came from Cheltenham, in Gloucestershire, England, in the year 1682." It is also believed that there was no part of the county named at an earlier date than this township. In the month of July, 1683, Patrick Robinson had two hundred acres surveyed for him by Thomas Fairman, so reads the early county records. The name is also found in the eleventh month of said year in the records of the Abington meeting. In other works may be found a list of scores of names of pioneer settlers in this township, but for our purpose, the above is sufficient, so we will hasten on to matters concerning the township, and especially its various towns and villages in a more recent day. Forty years ago the following were referred to as being the chief villages within the township: Ashbourne, the largest of all, about a half mile from the Philadelphia city line, then had sixty-five houses, a store, post office, and one church. The census in 1880 gives it a population of 342 persons. This place was the outgrowth of the railroad having passed through that part of the county In 1856. A grist mill was the first to give coloring to early history here; this was erected in 1750.

Besides Ashbourne, already given, there arc other hamlets or villages, includeing the following, worthy of mention: Cheltenham, long known as Milltown, situated on Tacony creek, near the east corner of the township, and within eighty rods of the city line of Philadelphia, in 1882 had sixty residences, a few stores, and several churches, In the census of the county in 1810, mention was made that the only tilt-hammers in Montgomery county were those being operated by Benjamin Rowland, by means of which he was enabled to make twelve hundred dozen of spades and shovels in a single year. In 1832 the "Gazetteer" mentioned that that year there had been manufactured there 14,500 dozen of spades and shovels, using a total of one hundred tons of iron.

Shoemakertown, near the center of this township, on the York turnpike, forty years ago had thirty houses, a merchant mill, a carriage factory, hotel, Episcopal church, two halls, several machine shops, and, the passenger station for the North Pennsylvania railroad. The charming country surrounding the village is noted for its many valuable and truly handsome country-seats and mansions built of stone, most of which are still standing and in use. The post office was established in 1857, The York road was laid out through the place in 1711. The famous stone bridge here was constructed in 1746. A tannery stood near the site of the bridge in 1776, and was no doubt there several years prior to that. What was in record as "the corn grist water mill" at about this point, was erected in 1746 and remained in the Shoemaker family many years.

Edge Hill village, in the northwest corner of the township, stands on a very elevated tract of land, herfce its name. It is almost three hundred feet above tide-water of the Delaware river at Philadelphia. A post office was established here in 1851, the first in the township. The old Edge Hill iron works were located just over the line, in Springfield township. Other villages are Harmer Hill and Camptown, of more recent origin and without much development.

DOUGLAS - This civil township is found within the southwestern part of the county, adjoining Upper Hanover, New Hanover and Pottsgrove townships. It also unites its territory with portions of Berks county. Its total area is fifteen square miles. It has had population at various times as shown here: In 1800 it was 1,297; in 1880, 1,676; in 1900, 1,650; in 1920, 1,599. The surface is rolling, and the soil usually red shale. Springs of never-failing water abound, and from them the numerous streams take their rise. Many of these creeks have for years provided excellent water power, as their fall is great per mile. In 1707 William Penn conveyed to his son John Penn a tract of twelve thousand acres within what is now Douglas township. In John Penn sold the land to George McCall, a merchant of Philadelphia. Upon a new survey It was discovered the tract described really contained about two thousand acres more than was originally conveyed. This land was known many years as the "McCall Manor," and later was in Douglas township, which appears to have been erected in 1741, when there were eighty five taxables. In 1776 It was well settled, for here is where Colonel Burd's battalion of infantry was credited to. In 1785, a year after Montgomery county was created, this township had among its taxables four hotels, four gristmills, five sawmills, one paper mill, one tannery, and one good sized iron forge, hence was a very early Industrial portion of the county. The villages of this township are Gllbertsvllle, Engleville, Douglas, and Niantic, These, except Gilbertsville, have never been known other than hamlets and post office points where a few business houses have been and are to-day to be found. Gilbertsville in 1883 had about seventy dwellings and the usual number of shops and stores. From an early day this place had Its smiths, its wheelwrights, weavers, tlnsmlths, and a large number of cigar factories. The village was also noted for its many large public auctions of live-stock.

But the great feature of this part of the county is its agricultural resources, and the manner in which the soil has been cared for and cultivated for generations by a thrifty set of German farmers, whose farms have been graced by massive barns and farm-houses, all built of native stone which has not changed in solidity In the passing of more than a century. Here the farmer has ever been king, and he has aided In building up the county with fine highways, and supported all that was good for .a community to have and enjoy. Perhaps no better roads, fences, barns atid general buildings can be seen in Montgomery county than those in this township.

The religious denominations are largely made up from the membership of the Lutherans, of Huber's Church, near Niantic, and another combined Lutheran and Reformed church at the village of Douglas. The burial grounds of the township show what great love and devotion the citizens have always had for the departed dead.

As to elections it should be said that the township was first created by an act of the General Assembly, approved April 16, 1827. The first election was held at the public house of Abraham Stetler. The township was divided into two election districts March 5, 1873, and are known as East and West Douglas. Special chapters in this work will treat in a general way on the schools and churches found within the township at this time.

FRANCONIA - In the northeastern part of the county is one subdivision known as Franconia township, which joins Bucks county on the northeast, and joins the townships of Upper and Lower Salford and Hatfield of this county. It has an area of almost fifteen square miles. Its streams are small, but in early days afforded ample water-power to run the ordinary mill. Among such streams are the Skippack, Indian creek, and East branch of the Perkiomen creek, all of which still have fair stages of water.

One of the best of earlier historians for this county said of the name of this township: "The name Franconia Is derived from an old duchy which afterwards formed a circle of the Germanic Empire, and signifies 'Land of the Franks,' whence also Prance. On Holme's map of 1682 it is called 'The Dutch Township,' from which we infer that the Germans were its first settlers." In 1734 this township had listed thirty-four taxables, nearly everyone German, Christian Meyer arrived in 1727; Frederick Sholl, in 1728; Hans Jacob Oberholtz, George Hartzel, Ludwig Hartzel, and Johannes Fry, in 1730. It is believed that the first actual settler here was Christian Funk, of Indian creek neighborhood, below the old mill of George S. Reiff. The Souders also came from the same family lines and are still represented In this township. One of the landmarks here is the old tannery, one mile south of Souderton, which was built In 1780 by Jacob Leidy, whose grandson was still operating it in 1885.

The population of the township, according to the United States census reports, has been: In 1800, 629; in 1830, 998; in 1850, 1,270; in 1870, 1,950; in 1880, 2,556; in 1890, 2,036; in 1900, 2,036; in 1910, 2,339; and in 1920 it was less than 1,700, but this was outside the boroughs.

The villages and boroughs made up from the territory of the townships are as follows: Franconia Square, near the center; Franconiaville, in the southern part; and Souderton and Telford, situated on the line of the railroad in the eastern portion of the township. The two last-named are now sprightly incorporated boroughs, of which see chapter of boroughs, within this work. Concerning Franconia Square and Franconiaville, it only needs to be said that these old landmarks were four ded by the opening of hotels, a few stores and shops, with a post office in each locality, and even the oldest living person knows nothing save by dim tradition of the comings and goings of those who formerly dwelt in the hamlets, except that such places did exist at one time.

This civil township was made by act of the General Assembly, approved March 16, 1847, to become a separate election district. The first election was ordered to be held at the store-house of Daniel E. Moyer.

FREDERICK - This township is bounded on the northwest by New Hanover and Upper Hanover townships; on the east by Perkiomen creek, flowing from north to south, separating it from Marlborough and Upper Salford townships; on the southeast by Perkioman township; and on the southwest by Limerick and New Hanover townships. Its area is 13,440 acres. Its central part is fifteen miles distant from Norristown, and thirty-two miles from Philadelphia. The general surface of this part of Montgomery county is decidedly rough and rolling, yet there are hundreds of well kept farms where good crops are annually produced. The valley lands are blessed with an extra good soil for various crops. As a stock growing section, it is ideal for Pennsylvania. Concerning the several streams of spring-fed water, It only needs to be said that they must be seen and fully utilized in order to duly appreciate their beauty and value to the residents of the township, The rapid flowing water of these streams dashing over the well worn flattened stones of their valleys, are Indeed a fit subject for the artist. In the past these streams abounded with fine game fish, but not to any great extent In the times of this generation. The first forests have long since been destroyed, but second and third growths of these forest kings still cover many a hill slope within the township, These trees Include the oak, ash, elm, hickory, walnut, butternut, chestnut, maple, gum, hemlock, pine, spruce, and smaller growths.

This township was prior to 1731 without an official name, neither did it possess a local government. It was commonly known as Falkner Swamp, in common with the remainder of the territory drained by Swamp creek and its numerous tributaries. But at the last date named, its citizens found the necessity of a local government and they petitioned the court for such government. The record is silent as to who the township was named In honor of, but it is natural to suppose that it was for the line of middle-age emperors, and because the petitioners, with but a single exception, were of the Teutonic stock.

Before the arrival of the first actual settlers to this green, glad solitude, the choicest of the land had been taken up by speculators from Philadelphia and other parts; even many in England invested in these wild lands at a mere song per acre. Among the first pioneers to invade the township for actual settlement were these: By virtue of a warrant dated December, 1716, there was laid out to James Shattick five hundred acres, apart of the tract William Penn had granted to Richard Pearce, May 4, 1682. To follow down with the long list of those who settled the township the first fifty years, will be of no general interest to the reader, suffice to say they were largely of German speaking people, and by reason of this the township in more recent generations, has been styled a "Pennsylvania German section." The Federal census returns show a population here as follows: In 1800, it was 629; in 1810, 828; in 1820, 927; in 1830, 1,047; in 1840, 1,217; in 1850 it was 1,431; in 1860, 1,783; in 1870, 1,818; in 1880, in 1890, 1,850; in 1900, it was only 1,690; in 1910, it was 1,512, and in 1920 given as 1,405. Hundreds of the present generation have caught a vision of possibilities for bettering their circumstances by going on west toward the setting sun, and thus has the population decreased materially. In the returns of 1840 this township showed in its classification: 229 employed in agriculture; 8 In commerce; 106 in manufacturing; 3 in navigation; 5 in the learned professions; 2 persons were blind, and 4 of unsound mind, In 1860 there were listed in the census returns 17 colored persons in this township.

It should not be lost to the view, of the readers of to-day that this part of the county has few mills of importance in operation, although the numerous streams afforded abundant water power which was utilized to a large degree by the pioneer band of Germans who first set foot on this soil. Before January, 1736, Henry Antes and George Heebner had erected a grist mill on Swamp creek. It has been described in milling Journals as "a grist mill with two pair of stones under one roof." Joseph Goff erected a mill in on Perkiomen creek; in 1759 George Nyce established a tannery at New Hanover and Frederick township line. In x785 the township had Its five gristmllls, four sawmills, two tanneries and two hemp mills. Peter Smith owned a powder mill, which later was converted Into an oil mill and subsequently was allowed to go into decay. Many of these mills stood the test of a full century and more before they gave way to others. One of the more recent industries here was the creamery established in 1880 by a company of citizens, under the title of "Green Tree Creamery."

There are no boroughs within this township's territory, but the villages are Zeiglersviile, Frederick, part of Perkiomannville, Frederick's Station, Delphi and Obelisk. Some of these places are railway stations and others inland hamlets, where there are a few small stores and shops and usually a post office. Each and all of these places have been the scene of many historical transactions and events dating back to Revolutionary times, all too lengthy for reproducing in this connection.

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