History of Potsgrove, Upper Lower and West Providence, Plymouth and Whitemarsh, 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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CHAPTER XXV.
TOWNSHIPS: POTTSGROVE, UPPER, LOWER AND WEST - PROVIDENCE, UPPER AND LOWER - PLYMOUTH - WHITEMARSH.


Pottsgrove- Prior to 1890 the Pottsgrove townships were all known as one township, called Pottsgrove, hence its settlement and general history be treated as one civil subdivision of Montgomery county and not especially as three distinct townships. This territory lies in the extreme southwestern corner of the county, and was erected as a township in 1807, its domain being taken from Douglas and New Hanover townships. As originally constituted, its territory was bounded northeast by Douglas and New Hanover, southeast by Limerick, south by the Schuylkill and the borough of Pottstown; to its west and northwest was Berks county. It was three and a half by five miles in extent, and had an area of 11,600 square acres, nearly eighteen square miles. The southern portion of this township is exceedingly well adapted for farming, its soil being of the best for this part of our country. The eastern part is much more hilly and rolling, Among prominent hills and elevations are Ringing Hill, Stone Hill, Prospect Hill and Fox Hills. On these elevations the soil is very thin and not productive of profitable crops. The township is well watered by Manatawny and Sprogel's creeks, Sanatoga and Goose runs, together with their numerous branches. The largest stream is the Manatawny, rising in Rockland township, Berks county, and after a general course of eighteen miles empties into the Schuylkill river at the borough of Pottstown. Only two miles of this stream, however, are within this township, but in this distance it had many years ago three gristmilis on its banks. Governor Gordon speaks of this mill In 1728 and calls it the "Mahanatawny." It is from Indian dialect, and means "where we drank." Sprogel's run, all within this township, rises in Fox Hills and falls into the Schuylkill. It propelled a clover and chopping mill at one date. Schull shows this stream on his maps of 1720. Formerly on its banks near the center of the township, a copper mine was worked successfully for a number of years. Sanatoga run, three or four miles of which are within this township, gives a valuable water power, at least did thirty-five years ago. Four gristmills and three sawmills were propelled by its waters.

Among the county's natural curiosities may be mentioned the "Ringing Rocks," on Stone Hill, three miles northeast of Pottstown. They consist of trap rocks, exceedingly hard and compact, which on being struck with a hammer, ring like iron. These rocks are piled one on another, and cover about one and a half acres of gràund, within which no trees or bushes are found growing. It is supposed that the largest rocks would weigh from five to twenty-five tons each, and some of the apertures are visible to the depth of twenty-five feet. A number of impressions can be seen on them, among which are three closely resembling the human foot, from three to six inches in depth; also a number resembling the tracks of horses, and elephants, and cannonballs from six to twelve inches in diameter. The sounds emitted by these rocks are various, depending on their shape and size. Some when struck resemble the ringing of anvils, others of church bells, with all their intermediate tones. As was well said by old Aristotle, there is a statue in every block of marble, but it takes a sculptor to find It, so it might be said of these rocks, in every one there is some note in music, but it would still take the aid of a skilled musician to discover it. It was the early German settlers who gave these rocks the name of Klingleberg, meaning Ringing Hill.

October 25, 1701, William Penn conveyed to his son, John Penn, a tract of twelve thousand acres of land, which the latter, in June, 1735, sold to George McCall, a merchant of Philadelphia, for the sum of two thousand guineas, or in our present-day money would be worth $9,339. On a resurvey it was found to contain fifteen thousand acres. This tract comprised all the present township of Douglas; the upper half of Pottsgrove, and the whole of Pottstown. Down to 1753, this tract was commonly known as the "McCall Manor." McCall was a native of Glasgow, Scotland, and in Philadelphia became a wealthy merchant, It is supposed that he built the first iron works in this township, which he called after the place of his nativity, and which name has been retained and familiar to the traders in iron to this day. Among the first to settle in the township was John Henry Sprogel, who with his brother, Ludwick Christian Sprogel, by invitation of William Penn, came to this country from Holland. They were both naturalized in 1705, and John Henry purchased here six hundred acres on which he settled with his family. Sprogel's run was named for him. From gravestone inscriptions, he was among the very earliest to take up a residence in the township. In 1753 John Potts lived in Pottsgrove (now called Pottstown) after whom both the borough and the township were named. By the act of April 11, 1807, it was enacted "that the Sixth Election District shall be composed of the township of Pottsgrove, lately erected from a part of New Hanover and a part of Douglas, shall hold their elections at the house of William Lesher, Pottstown, and the electors of the remainder of the township of Douglas and New Hanover at the house of Henry Kreps, New Hanover." June to, 1875, the Court of Quarter Sessions divided the township into Upper and Lower election districts. Just prior to 1890 this territoryhitherto known as Pottsgrove township was subdivided into what now are known as Upper, Lower and West Pottsgrove townships. The Philadelphia & Reading railroad runs through the entire length of the old original township; the Colebrookdale road also has a course of over two miles within the territory. The various census enumerating periods have given this township (before separation) as follows: 1810, 1,521; 1820, 1,882; in 1830 it was 1,302; in 1840, 1,361; in 1850, 1,689; in 1880 it was 3,985; in 1890 the population in 1910 (after the township had been divided) was, for West Pottsgrove, 1,507: Upper Pottsgrove, 454; Lower Pottsgrove, 704. The Federal census in 1920 gives "Pottsgrove township," 3,057.

Before the division of the original township took place, the villages were listed as Crooked Hill, Glasgow, Grosstown and Half-Way. Glasgow, a small manufacturing village a mile and a half north of Pottstown, is the site of the well known Glasgow iron works and rolling mills. George McCall, the owner, in his will left five hundred acres of what was known as McCall's Manor to his son, Alexander McCall, and which later became known as the Forge tract. Alexander McCall sold his Forge property to Joseph and John Potts and James Hackley. In 1789 it was sold at sheriff's salt to David Rutter and Joseph Potts, Jr. The same year Rutter sold his interest to Samuel Potts, who by will in 1793 authorized his Sons to sell his interest, and February, 1797, it was conveyed to Joseph Potts, Jr., who was the owner of the other half. It remained in the Potts family until 1832, when it was sold to Jacob Weaver, Jr. In 1820 there was at this place a small sheet iron mill, two bloomeries, a gristmill, two mansion houses, ten log tenant houses, and two stone tenant houses. After Weaver bought the property, he constructed ten stone tenant houses. This Weaver also built a furnace, which proved a failure. The forge property in 1864 passed to James Hilton, and in 1873 to Joseph Bailey and Comley Shoemaker. In 1883 Glasgow village consisted of the iron works and several fine residences. With the change of times and the shifting of industries to other parts, the village has been absorbed and is not commercially known to-day.

Grosstown, a small village two miles west of Pottstown, on the old Philadelphia, Reading and Perkiomen turnpike, was started by a family named Gross, who lived there about one hundred and twenty-five years ago. It was only a hamlet of a few houses, a schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop. Its interests have long since been absorbed by Pottstown.

Crooked Hill, another hamlet, situated on Crooked Hill. run, north from the station known as Sanatoga, on the Reading line and three miles east from Pottstown, near a century ago had a tavern kept by Levi Windermuth. A gristmill and post office graced the hamlet at that date, as well as many years thereafter. It was a favorite stopping place for teamsters and travelers on the turnpike. To-day the various business interests of these three Pottsgrove townships have long since been absorbed by It greater industries of Pottstown.

Providence- The three Providence subdivisions of Montgomery county will all be here treated, to contain the history of Providence township, Upper Providence township and Lower Providence township.

When William Penn, the founder of this Commonwealth, sold off lands from his possessions, he reserved for himself a large tract on the east side of the Schuylkill river, it embraced the whole of the present Upper and Lower Providence townships, and parts of the townships of Perkiomen and Worcester. This tract was named by the founder, "The Manor of Gilberts." This name was selected in honor of his mother's family name. One of the early purchasers of land herein was Jacob Teilner, one of the founders of Germantown, who owned a large tract along the Skippack creek, which now constitutes the northwest corner of present Lower Providence township. For many years the land lying along the Skippack was known as Teilner township, while that between the Skippack and Perkiomen was called "Perkoming," the present township of Perkiómen being then known as "Van Bebbers Township." In March, 1725, a petition was presented the court to establish a township of the territory upon which they resided. This was along then called Perquomin creek. Nothing was done in the petition matter until 1729, when a new one was presented, accompanied by a draft of the proposed township. March 2, 1729, the court decreed that the prayer of the petitioners be granted, and that day the court created the township of Providence. The name is uncertain; it may have been after Roger Williams' Providence in Rhode Island, and may have been for some other geographical point in the world. This territory faced the Schuylkill river front, and is south centrally located in the county. There is a good shale soil, and but very little waste land within the domain of these two townships as known to-day. Perkiomen creek forms a natural line between the two townships and is the largest stream in Montgomery county. It is about thirty-two miles long, following Its meanderings. The name indicates in Indian language, "place where grow the cranberries." It has been spelled an endless number of ways, but of recent decades has come to be as just given.

Mingo creek rises in Limerick township, and runs through a part of Upper Providence, where it empties into the Schuylkill river. Another small stream known as Zimmerman's run rises near Trappe and empties into the Perkiomen near Yerkes. Lower Providence has two fair sized streams, the Skippack and Mine run. The former is seventeen miles long and is tributary to the Perkiomen. Mine run rises in the township, and after flowing three miles empties Into the Perkiomen at Oaks. The wagon roads or highways are too ancient and complex to be given any intelligent account of in this connection. One of the most ancient roads is the Great Road from Philadelphia to the Perkiomen; in 1709 it was being extended on to Reading. The Perkiomen and Reading turnpike runs through this part of the county, and was built in 1815. The Perkiomen and Sumneytown turnpike was finished in 1845. In Lower Providence there are two main pike roads, both beginning at the eastern end of Perkiomen bridge at Coliegeville. Three railroads pass in and out of this township. The Philadelphia & Reading runs two miles through Upper Providence, with a station at Mingo, the Perkiomen Valley running from Perkiomen to Allentown. This road was open for travel in the year of 1868. The Pennsylvania & Schuylkill Valley railroad passes along the east side of the Schuylkill; this was finished in 1884. Its four original stations were Port Kennedy, Perkiomen, Port Providence and Mont Clare. There have been numerous bridges in this township, and several were pay or toll bridges up to the eighties.

This township was settled first by an Englishman named Edward Lane, who came from Jamaica in 1884, and in 1698 bought 2,500 acres of land, confirmed to him by William Penn in 1701. This land was situated on both sides of the Perkiomen, upon which now stand the boroughs of Collegeville and Evansburg. He built a gristmill on the Skippack in 1708. These Lanes were instrumental in establishing the Episcopal church in Lower Providence. Another pioneer was Joseph Richardson, who bought a thousand acres here in 1710. He left eight children at his death, and many of his descendants still live in the county. In 1717 John Jacob Schrack and wife came from Germany to this township. He it was who after much persistency got Rev. Muhlenberg to locate in America. During the Revolutionary War he made a wonderful record, and aided in founding the first churches in Pennsylvania of his religious faith. From the earliest time down to 1777 the settlers had to go to Philadelphia to cast their votes. The elections were then held at the Inn opposite the State House, Later the people voted at Norristown. In 1734 the township had only seventy-four landowners. In 1741 it had taxables amounting to 146. In 1785 the township contained twenty slaves and had six hotels.

Lower Providence township as now constituted is bounded on the west by Upper Providence, on the northeast by Perkiomen and Worcester townships, on the southwest by Norriton, and on the south by the Schuylkill river. Its area is 9,143 acres. Red shale greatly predominates in the soils of this part of the county. Near the Perkiomen, at Oaks, at an early day lead mines were worked, but never to profit. The mines were opened in 1800, and were being operated in 1818 by Mr. Wetherell. With lead mining came the discovery of copper, and in January, 1848, the Perkiomen Mining Association was formed. The land cost about $10,000; much costly machinery was placed in position, and a shaft was sunk feet, There many thousands of tons of copper were taken from the earth, but later all was abandoned and the machinery rusted out with the passing years.

In 1810 the population was 904 in 1820 it was 1,146; in 1850, 1,961; in 1880 It was 1,856; in 1900 It was 1,625; in 1920, it 'was 2,221. As to schools and churches, the reader is referred to separate chapters on these topics elsewhere in this work. There are six mills, three upon the Perkiomen and three on the Skippack, "all doing a good business," it was said in 1883.

The villages of Lower Providence were as listed forty years ago: Evansburg, Shannonville, Eagleville, and Providence Square. At that date each village had its post office, The largest of these places was Evansburg. The land on which it was built was a part of the old Lane estate. In 1721 an Episcopal church was built there, and in 1725 a post office obtained. Edward Evans, the postmaster, was the son of Owen Evans, American ancestor, who engaged in gun-making for the government. The place was named for this family of Evans. The nickname that stuck to this place for more than a generation was "Hustletown." It is supposed that Mr. Hustle Town was a resident there when the place got its nickname. Shannonville, another village of this township, was first so called in 1823, when a post office was established there. It was named for the large, influential family of Shannons near by. Jack's tavern was at this point, and the place like its sister had a nickname - here it was "Hogtown." Mr. Shannon was a large swine farmer, and hence the wags called the plate Hogtown. But with a more dignified age, these rude names have been forgotten only by the very aged, who smile at hearing them mentioned.

Eagleville was a good sized village in the early eighties. It s on the Ridge turnpike, at the top of Skippack Hill, near the center of the township. Town meetings were held there many years. Hotel, stores, post office, a carriage shop, all sprung up around the large building erected by Silas Rittenhouse. It still remains a hamlet of the county. Providence Square, another collection of houses and shops, sprung from a small beginning in 1855, when Thomas Miller erected a large shop for the making of wagons and carriages on the Germantown pike. It hives by name and a few houses at present. Wetheral's Corner, another place of this township, came up by reason of Dr. William Wetheral in 1865, who erected some buildings at the corner of Egypt road and another public highway, a half mile south of Shannonville.

Upper Providence township, as established in 1805, is bounded on the north by Perkiomen township, on the east by Perkiomen creek, separating it from Lower Providence; on the southwest by the Schuylkill river and on the northwest by Limerick township. It is three by six miles in extent, and contains 12,098 acres. It was the third best agricultural township In the county forty odd years ago. The villages within the township are: Trappe, Freeland, Collegeville, Oaks, Port Providence, Green Tree, and Quinceyville or Mont Clare. The history of many of these have been Incorporated into the Borough history chapters of this volume, which see.

Plymouth- This township is bounded on the north by Whitpain, east by Whitemarsh, south by Schuylkill river and the borough of Conshohocken, and west by the borough of Norristown and Norriton. It originally contained 5,641 acres. The surface is rolling, but in no sense hilly. It was stated by those engaged in research work as farm experts forty years ago, that no township in this county has more acres of fertile all workable land than Plymouth. However, it hacks the beautiful streams found in other parts of this county. Plymouth creek is the largest stream; Saw Mill run is another, too small to be utilized for power purpose at any time of the year. Two-thirds of the township is underlaid with litnerock, at places near the surface. Nearly the whole river front is a bluff of pure limestone, which has for long years been a source of revenue and profit to the burners of excellent lime which has been shipped both by rail and water to distant parts of the country. In 1840 the government reports gave this industry here at $45,480. In 1858 seventy-five kilns in operation produced over 100,000 bushels at one "burning." Later, the industry grew to be very extensive. Places where a century ago there appeared to be no traces of iron ore, now have developed into an inexhaustible amount. For an account of railroads including those touching this township, see chapter on Railroads in this work. Special chapters also on Educational and Religious societies are devoted to these subjects for the county in general. The population in 1800 of the township was 572; in 1840 was 1,417; in 1880 it was 1,916; in 1900 only 1,449; and in 1920 3,201.

The settlement of this township was very early. From such scattering records as can be obtained and which historians Bean and William J. Buck relied chiefly upon in their writings, it must have been settled between 1686 and 1690. The first settlers after a time became tired of the routine of labors in the wild woodland in which they had settled, and "pulled up," as we say to-day, and moved into Philadelphia. The list of names that have from time to time been published, will in no way settle a dispute as to who the first settlers here were, hence are not inserted in this article. The first survey was about 1690, and the colony remained a few years and abandoned the township, and records say that a second survey of the land was made in 1701, when it was first designated as "Plymouth township." Also it states that said township then contained 5,327 acres, A large number of the first to locate here were of the Quaker religious faith. Some of these men who braved the dangers and privations of a wilderness to open up a country such as this has come to be, were men of sturdy, unflinching character. The list Includes Zebulon Potts, who was a Whig, and the British in Philadelphia hunted him down with spies as a traitor to their cause, but failed to capture him, He held numerous local offices, Including that of sheriff, he being the first one elected In this county. Another man of influence was Jacob Ritter, a noted minister of Plymouth Meeting, born in Bucks county in 1757, and the history of his family from the way they left Germany till his death reads like romance. He was among the second generation of men who opened up this township to a Christian civilization.

The church records show that the pioneers here were Friends, and that William Penn conceived the plan of having a town to be laid out about one mile square, where is now the site of the present meeting house. It was in the summer of 1686 the township was purchased and settled by James Fox, Francis Rawle, Richard Gove, John Chelson and some other Friends, who for a time lived and held meetings at the house of John Fox. Then a few years later came the second set of settlers, to whom William Penn sent greetings from England as follows: "Salute me to the Welsh Friends and the Plimouth Friends-indeed to all of them."

The Seven Stars Inn ranks among the oldest stands In Montgomery county. It was licensed in 1854 to Benjamin Davis. Soldiers of the French and Indian War, and later those of the British army in Revolutionary war days, gazed at its peculiar sign-board as they marched through the township. William Lawrence kept this or another tavern here in 1767. The old Black Horse Tavern was another notable tavern, along with the Seven Stars.

The small but ancient villages of this township include Plymouth Meeting, Hickorytown and Harmansville. Plymouth Meeting House is situated at the junction of Perkiomen and Plymouth turnpikes, on the township line. A portion of the hamlet stands in Whitemarsh township. It was here the original settlement of Plymouth was effected and here the first Friends' meeting house was built. A post office was established in 1827. Much lime was burned here in early years ; some was shipped by railroad after such highways had been built.

Hickorytown is on the Germantown and Perkiomen turnpike, three miles southeast of Norristown. A post office was established there in 1857, and elections held there. Robert Kennedy, a Revolutionary officer, kept an inn there in 1801. Early in the last century it was noted here as being the place where the 36th Regiment of Pennsylvania drilled; also the Montgomery cavalry practiced here. One of the more modern Improvements in the village is its creamery, established in 1882.

Harmansville is situated on the line between this township and Whitemarsh. It has a few business places. it has grown up since 1850. The ore and marble Industries have greatly enhanced Its commercial interests, Fire clay is another mineral that has been profitably taken from the earth and converted into fire brick.

Whitemarsh- This township is bounded on the northeast by Upper Dublin, on the southeast by Springfield southwest by Schuylkill and Conshohocken, west by Plymouth, and northwest by Whitpaln township. It contains an area of 8,857 acres. It was reduced in 1850 by the incorporation of Conshohocken, taking from it three hundred and sixty acres. Again in 1876, one hundred and sixty acres were added from Springfield township, along the Schuylkill river. The soil is fertile, and generally an abundance of limestone is found beneath the surface. Edge Hill extends through this township, a distance of two miles and more, and crosses the Schuylkill river below Spring Mill. It is a singular circumstance that no iron, limestone, marble or other valuable mineral deposit is found on the south side of this hill. There are several fine never-failing streams of pure water found within this part of the county. Nineteen miles of the Wissahickon creek flow through the township, and finally info the Schuylkill below Manayunk. Valley run and Sandy run are its chief tributaries. Sandy run has cold spring water, and originally had many trout, but of late years they are not plentiful. This township has had its present name at least since 1703. Forty years ago this township ranked sixth In population of any in Montgomery county. In 1800 it had 1,085; in 1840 it was 2,079; in 1880 it was 3,229; in 1900 it was 3,350; and in 1920 it was 3,436. In 1858 it contained ten hotels, fifteen stores, six gristmills, three furnaces, two marble mills, a paper factory and an auger factory. In 1875 it had five inns, five gristmills, three paper mills, and two large tanneries. With the passing of years many of these industries have been discontinued or relocated in some city where various inducements have drawn them hither. There is some milling here yet, but no such volume as formerly. The schools and churches will be noticed in general chapters on such topics. The villages found here are Barren Hill, Plymouth Meeting, Fort Washington, Spring Hill, Marble Hall, Lafayette, Lancasterville and Valley Green or Whitemarsh. About one-half of these places had post offices before the advent of the rural free delivery system. The Pennsylvania railroad passes through a portion of the township, while pikes and excellent wagon roads gridiron the territory to-day. The Plymouth railroad passes through the central part, with a trackage of upwards of three miles, with stations on its line at Plymouth Meeting, Williams and Flourtown. The Schuylkill Valley railway, the coal road, was built in 1883-84.

The road petitions made In June, 1713, ask that a road may be "laid out from the upper end of the said township down to the wide marsh, or Farmer's Mill." It is well known that there was an extremely broad expanse of meadow land greatly subject to overflow, which doubtless was the "wide marsh," which needed but a slight change to make it "Whitemarsh," as we know it to-day. Lewis Evans noted it on his map in 1749 as Whitemarsh. The Farmar family were the earliest and largest purchasers of lands within this township. Major Jasper Farmar was an officer in the British army, and a resident of Cork, Ireland. Hearing of William Penn's success in America, he through a patent granted him, purchased in 1683 five thousand acres along the Schuylkill river front. But after this man had made all necessary arrangements to ship to this country, he was taken ill and died, hence never saw the tract he had bought. But his widow and children, as well as other relatives, came on, arriving at Philadelphia, November 10, 1685. In the same ship also came Nicholas Scull and his numerous servants. These persons all soon located on this tract. John Scull was overseer for the Farmar family. It will be remembered that Indians were in goodly numbers in this township at that date. Madame Farmar, as the widow of Major Farmar was called, had an eye to business, as will be discovered in this paragraph: "Madame Farmar has found out as good limestone on the Schuylkill river as any In the world, and is building with it; she offers to sell ten thousand bushels at six-pence the bushel upon her plantation, where are several considerable hills, and near to your Manor of Springfield." Her lime, it is believed, was the first to be used in Pennsylvania. Her numerous kilns were located at Whitemarsh quarries, With such fine building stone and the limestone from which such excellent lime could be made, it is no wonder that this portion of Pennsylvania is filled with its hundreds of thousands of solid stone structures in both .city and country.

This township, like so many in Montgomery county, had its full share of taverns or inns. Before railroad days in the thirties and forties the pikes were swarming with travel by stage coach and private teamsters. Everyone going to "the city," of course had to go by this means, and thus it was that the inn was in evidence at almost every crossroad and scattered along every pike. Among the earlier tavern licenses was one granted to James Stringer in 1773. In 1775 five public houses were licensed.

This township was a lively place in the days just prior, in and after the Revolutionary struggle. Here were four paper mills, grist and sawmills, two liquor stills, then numerous smiths and artisans of almost every description. The first school -house where later stood the William public school was built by a committee in 1816. It was eight-sided in form and styled "the eight square school building." The lime burning industry for years was great. In 1840 the United States census reports show near $60,000 worth shipped outside the township. Wine was also produced in large quantities. One vineyard contained five acres of large abundantly bearing wine grapes. In 1848 the iron furnace of Mr. Hitncr turned out twelve thousand tons of Iron. These works were at Spring Hill.

The villages as known many years ago in this township were Lancasterville, Lafayette, Plymouth Meeting, Fort Washington, near Upper Dublin line, Spring Mill, Barren Hill, and Marble Hall, and have each and all been villages of more or less importance during the last two centuries.

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