Nether Providence Township
Nether Providence Township municipal offices are located at 214 Sykes Lane, Wallingford, PA 19086; phone 610-566-4516.
Nether Providence Township is home to three National Register Historic Properties.
The Thomas Leiper Estate (circa 1785) located on Avondale Road is a nearly intact 18th century community that developed around the varied industrial and manufacturing activities of Thomas Leiper, merchant, inventor and patriot. The Charles Essig House, "Westlawn" (North Providence Road, circa 1882) was built for this dentist who was the first Dean of the University of Pennsylvania's department of dentistry. Dr. Essig had a clinical practice in Philadelphia from 1876 to 1898. The property has a great architectural integrity. It's located several hundred feet from the Wallingford train station. The Joseph Sharpless House, "Wolley Stille," is located at the intersection of Harvey and Maple Roads. Built pre-1700 with expansions circa 1700, 1751, and 1916. The house, named for neighbor Olof Stille, exhibits a combination of both Swedish and English construction and design elements. A tunnel, since closed, once provide a surreptitious exit from the house; it was reputedly built in case of attack by Indians, and later, used in the Underground Railroad.
Text, below, from www.delcohistory.org/nphs/index.htm, a compilation of J. Mervyn Harris, President of the Nether Providence Historical Society.
As with many areas, the first recorded inhabitants of Nether Providence were Indians: not the Delawares, the Minquas, or Lenni-Lenape, but the Lenape and only the Lenape. The Minquas came through the area to trade on the Delaware, but their home was above Harrisburg near the Susquehannacks. The other names existed only in the minds of the English who called anyone living around the Delaware River "Delawares". The Okehockings, a branch of the Lenape, inhabited the land between the Crum and Ridley Creeks, the creeks that form the boundaries of our Township. To the Five Nations (Iroquois) the Lenape were known as the "Grandfathers," an honorary title indicating great respect. With the coming of the Swedes in 1638, the Dutch in 1655, and finally, the English in 1664, the Lenape started to move west around 1674 to avoid the new settlers. By 1740, there were very few Lenape left in our area.
In colonial America travel was difficult and expensive, so settlements kept close to the coastline or along waterways going inland. Few people lived any farther than 100 miles from the coast. Because of the two creeks, our area became one of the first populated and organized regions of "Penn's Woods". By the time William Penn arrived (1681) in Upland (now the City of Chester), there were several small settlements in this area of the county known as Providence. Providence comprised today's Nether Providence, Rose Valley, Media, and Upper Providence. Providence Township was organized in 1684. The governmental separation came in 1687, dividing Providence into Nether Providence and Upper Providence (Media was carved out in 1850 and Rose Valley in 1923). However, having only 40 taxable properties, both were assessed as one until 1722.
In 1683, residents of Providence petitioned the Court of Chester County, (of which we were then a part), sitting in the City of Chester, to establish a road from Providence to Chester. The court approved the creation of "Providence Great Road" (now Route 252). A short time later, another "Providence" Road was approved by that court. It went from Philadelphia through Darby, through Nether Providence and into the rest of Chester County. While Nether Providence changed the road's name to Plush Mill, it is still called "Providence" in Secane and Aldan.
Over the centuries, Nether Providence went through four somewhat distinct phases of use: from farming, to manufacturing, to resort, and finally, to residential community.
When land grants were sold by William Penn starting in 1681, they were sold as farms of 100 acres or more. Some of our original farm families were Vernon, Pusey, Sharpless, Minshall and Coppock. Because of the mixture of water, steep slopes, and arable soil, farming flourished in Nether Providence. By 1729, the area was producing sufficient crops to allow exporting to New England, Canada and Europe. Of course our two creeks were indispensable in transporting farm goods to "foreign" markets. By the mid-eighteenth century, southeastern Pennsylvania was known as the "breadbasket of America."
Dairying was also important in the Township's early days and several large dairy farms existed. To dispose of and utilize the meat from older cows, Squire John Affleck started a slaughterhouse at 322 North Providence Great Road around 1820. The building is still in existence. One of the largest of the dairy farms was Dick's dairy farm, and it operated in buildings built in 1802 which are still located at 301 and 303 Copples Lane.
The same two creeks that nourished Native Americans also nourished the establishment and fostered the growth of manufacturing in the Township. The creek on our eastern border was called "Okehocking" by the Indians. It meant crooked creek. The Dutch called it "Crumkill" meaning "crooked creek" in their language, and the English shortened it to "Crum". There were eight major mill complexes in Nether Providence, four on each creek. They were founded or operated by families named Hastings, Sharpless, Vernon, Engle, Forrest, Hinkson, Leiper, Moore, Rogers, Byre, Palmer, Turner, Bancroft, Beatty, Osborne, Felds and Walker. Mills that were created to serve the immediate neighborhoods were eventually enlarged and diversified as a result of the Revolution. Two Crum Creek gunpowder mills -- Dr. Robert Harris', just north of Yale Avenue bridge, and farther downstream, Thomas Leiper's -- provided almost half of Washington's total supply of gunpowder for the campaigns of 1776 and 1777. In addition, there were saw mills, snuff mills, cotton mills, woolen mills, tool mills, grist mills, dye mills, grain mills, and rolling mills. Where there were mills, there were mill villages, built to care for the workers. Some of the most important of these were Avondale, Irvington, Waterville, Briggsville, and Sackville. Most of them consisted of tenements, houses, churches, and stores.
The last Township industry was on Ridley Creek, in what we now know as the Sackville area. The original mill was a snuff mill founded around 1791 by Jacob Benninghove. It went through several changes and owners over the years. Samuel Bancroft bought it in 1831 and added a saw mill, calling it "Lower Bank." William T. Crook took over in 1842 and converted it into a woolen mill. Bancroft was back again in 1854 and the name was changed to Todmorden Mills. By 1876, it was one of the largest woolen mills in the nation. Next, Henry T. Kent bought the property and called it Columbia Worsted Mills. Finally, it was sold to Mr. Sack and renamed Sackville Woolen Mills. Sackville continued until it was closed on January 1, 1934 because of an outbreak of anthrax that was spreading throughout the community. Two hundred residents were forced to leave in the dead of winter within a two-week period.
Pennsylvania has a distinguished record in transportation: the Conestoga wagon, the Great Wagon Road, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Lincoln Highway, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Leiper Railroad. Mr. Leiper established his powder mills and snuff mills on Crum Creek in 1779. Later he added stone quarries and a blade mill. By 1825 he had added paper, stone cutting, oyster crushing (for mortar) and textile mills.
To accommodate the workers for these mills, a village was settled surrounding Mr. Leiper's home of "Strath Haven" and given the name "Avondale" for his home town in Scotland. There were over twenty-seven buildings in the village.
Getting his products to market was a challenge because transportation was so poor at that time. His first attempt to solve his transportation problem came in 1791 when he requested the Pennsylvania Legislature's permission to construct a canal along Crum Creek that would bring his goods to the tidewater terminals more expeditiously. The request was denied.
In 1809, Mr. Leiper developed a different solution - he built a railroad. The first commercial railroad in Pennsylvania! This was not a railroad in the modern sense. It was a horse-drawn tramway that went from his quarries in Avondale through the rear of today's Sproul Estates, across Bullen's Lane ending at Ridley Creek. It operated for eighteen years.
In 1824 (the year before Mr. Leiper died), the State Legislature finally gave permission for the canal.
So it was left to his son, George, in 1828, to close the tramway and replace it with a canal running from the village of Avondale to a point near present-day MacDade Boulevard. This bold move was made only three years after Governor DeWitt Clinton opened his canal in New York. The fact that the Erie Canal was still referred to as "Clinton's Ditch" did not discourage the Leipers because they believed in the merits of canal transportation. Proving them correct, soon after the Leiper Canal was completed, a wave of canal building swept across the country. The canal, in turn, was replaced in 1852 by a second railroad running the entire length of the Crum Creek valley to present-day Chester Pike. Eventually, George Leiper acquired the Harris powder mill, located just above Yale Avenue on the Crum, and operated a blade mill for scythes and knives. In 1830, it was converted into a paper mill and then a cotton mill that operated until the 1880s. Avondale Mills continued production until the Depression and the quarries were open until 1944.
A word about Mr. Leiper. We tend to regard William Cameron Sproul as our most influential resident. He was, after all, Governor of Pennsylvania and owner of The Chester Times (now The Delaware County Times). Or maybe Howard H. Huston, former Mayor of Chester, director of several banks and businesses and the electric railway company that put the first trolley across Nether Providence. Nevertheless, in his time, Mr. Leiper's importance could not be surpassed. He helped form and was Treasurer of the First City Troop. He took part in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. He was a friend and partner of Thomas Jefferson, a Presidential Elector in 1809 for Andrew Jackson, and a founder of the Bank of North America. We know he built the first permanent railway in America, but, at his home in Avondale, he also built the first private bank in America. He was President of the Philadelphia City Council (1802-1805) and President of the Philadelphia Common Council (1813). In addition to all this, he was a founder and first officer of the Franklin Institute. In retrospect, Mr. Leiper was a man for all seasons!
Further up Crum Creek, in the area surrounding Baltimore Pike, were the mills of the Lewis family. Their first mill was a cotton mill. Around 1890, it became Victoria Plush Mill and operated until the 1930s. A second mill was a paper mill. It operated from 1825 until the 1960s under various names such as Paper Manufacturing Products Company and Franklin Paper Mills. The mill buildings are on the Springfield side of Crum Creek, but the workers' tenement houses are on the Township's side. J. Howard Lewis selected a site on his 106 acre estate for his home and built it around 1840. The house, located in Smedley Park, is now occupied by the Cooperative Extension Center.
Another major mill site was at the foot of Beatty Road, known as the Edge Tool Factory. It produced farm and carpentry implements starting in 1848. Around 1860, the Beatty family took it over and, in 1892, sold it to the Springfield Water Company.
The mills played an essential part in the growth of Nether Providence. In addition to hundreds of employees (men, women, and children), hundreds more were employed in occupations ancillary to the mills - as stable hands, teamsters, smiths, tailors and carpenters. Self-contained villages grew up around those mills consisting of houses, churches, stores, schools and recreational areas.
As the township stabilized and flourished, more substantial homes began to appear. Wooley Stille (802 Harvey Road) expanded its original 1685 section by adding the "Great Hall" in 1700. Other new homes included the 1704 James Sharpless house (322 North Providence Road), 1728 John Sharpless, III house (610 Creekside Lane), 1735 Vernon house (106 North Providence Road), 1735 Jonathan Vernon house (107 Wallingford Avenue), 1737 James Hinkson house (I East Brookhaven Road), 1740 Daniel Sharpless, Sr. house (723 South Providence Road), 1746 Isaac Briggs house (403 North Providence Road), 1750 John Byre dairy farm house (101 West Brookhaven Road), 1760 Beatty house (603 Beatty Road), 1763 William Edward house (410 North Providence Road), 1777 Jonathan Vernon house (41 South Providence Road), 1785 Thomas Leiper house (521 Avondale Road), 1785 Enos Sharpless house (280 Chestnut Parkway), 1790 James Vernon house (10 Meadow Lane), 1793 Franklin Iron Works foreman's house (109 Waterville Road), 1796 Thomas Hinkson house (212 Sykes Lane), 1798 Seth Thomas house (8 South Providence Road), 1798 Worrall family house (900 Penn Valley Road) and the 1799 James Hinkson Blacksmith Shop (3 West Brookhaven Road). The Blacksmith Shop was used as the Township Commissioners' meeting room from the late 1930s until 1953. There are twenty-seven houses built in the eighteenth century that are still used today. Another thirty-nine structures built in the 1800s are still in use today.