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Upper Providence Township


Upper Providence Township municipal offices are located at 935 N. Providence Road, Media, PA 19063; phone: 610-565-4944.

A Brief History [2]

Upper Providence Township is located near the geographic center of Delaware County, Pennsylvania in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. Measured as a straight line, Center City Philadelphia lies approximately twelve miles to the east of the Township. The Township currently covers 5.9 square miles between the Ridley and Crum Creeks, which form its southwestern and northeastern boundaries respectively. The southern end of the Township almost entirely surrounds the Borough of Media, the seat of Delaware County.

The earliest known residents of the area were the Lenni Lenape people. European settlement began in the late seventeenth century. The Swedes and the Dutch established trading posts along the nearby Delaware River as early as 1623, but Europeans would not permanently inhabit the land now occupied by Upper Providence until William Penn and a dozen shiploads of prospective settlers arrived from England in the summer of 1682. The establishment of the Providence Great Road in 1684 accelerated the settlement process. This road still exists today as a major route through the Township, although it is now simply called "Providence Road." Following the English model, Penn divided the Pennsylvania Colony into three counties, and established all of the area between Ridley Creek and Crum Creek as the Providence Township of Chester County in 1682. In 1687, the area was divided into Upper Providence and Nether Providence Townships.

The earliest settlers were farmers. A recently published history of the Township states that the average farm of the 1700's was about 150 acres, although some were as large as 400 acres. Most of this was cropland. The few animals typically found on each farm were there to provide labor for cultivation and to meet the needs of the family: oxen and horses pulled plows and provided transportation, cows gave milk, and sheep supplied wool. As the farms became more prevalent and more prosperous, small commercial uses were established along the Providence Great Road, and various mills availed themselves of water power from the creeks. Additional roads, most notably Baltimore Pike, provided direct connection to Philadelphia and, in the opposite direction, the western shore of the Chesapeake, including Baltimore and points south.

Historical records suggest that Township residents did not universally support the Declaration of Independence and the ensuing Revolutionary War. In the first place, a large proportion of the people were Quakers and were therefore opposed to war in principle, regardless of the cause. Secondly, many residents had prospered under British rule, felt strong allegiance to the Crown, saw the Declaration of Independence as an act of treason, and feared what might happen under this strange democracy proposed by Franklin, Jefferson, and the Adams brothers. Upper Providence never saw military action during the Revolution: the closest battle was the British victory at the Battle of the Brandywine in September 1777. Local ambivalence about the war is reflected by various records naming those who served in the Continental Army or the local militias (or both), those punished for providing supplies to the British, and those — typically the Quakers — who did not fight at all. It should be noted that many in this last group supported the American cause with money and supplies. Finally, as A Land of Providence wryly notes, "Loyalties may have shifted depending on which army was near at hand."

1789 was a significant year in the politics of the Township: the new U.S. Constitution was adopted, and, more locally, the eastern part of Chester County – including Upper Providence – broke away to become Delaware County. The first United States census was taken the following year and showed that Upper Providence Township was home to 346 residents.

Life in the Township was quiet. As the eighteenth century slipped into the nineteenth, the Township population was rising slowly (about 1.5% annually) and residents were continuing to establish the institutions necessary to the life of the community. A property deed from 1776 makes reference to a schoolhouse in the vicinity of Providence and Sandy Bank Roads. This would be the earliest known school in the Township, but this deed is the only record of its existence and virtually nothing else is known about it. It is possible that this was the site where the Sandy Bank School was established in 1836. The 1836 structure was replaced by a new stone structure in 1905. This building, with several additions made since then, is now home to the Walden Montessori School. Notwithstanding the somewhat mysterious precursor of the Sandy Bank School, the Blue Hill School, established in 1777 along Providence Road near what is now the intersection of Steeple Chase Road, is generally recognized as the earliest in the Township.

A major flood in August 1843 wiped out most of the industry in the Township, which was still located along the Ridley and Crum Creeks at that time. The numerous mills that located there were never rebuilt: apparently transportation was sufficiently convenient and the people were sufficiently prosperous to get their necessary manufactured goods from Chester and Philadelphia. The elimination of industry enhanced the Township's bucolic appeal, making it increasingly popular as a location for large country homes and estates owned by wealthy Philadelphians.

The last major change to the boundary of Upper Providence came in 1850 when the Borough of Media was calved from the Township's southeastern flank (along with a much smaller portion of Nether Providence) and established as the seat of Delaware County. The relocation of County offices from the City of Chester was probably a boon to the surrounding area, as the town began to offer services required by the more affluent judges and lawyers who of necessity frequented the courts. The increasing prestige of the area as a year-round residence may be partially responsible for the establishment in 1859 of the Rose Tree Fox Hunting Club at what is now Rose Tree Park. The Pennsylvania Railroad began regular service to Media in 1870 with the station located exactly where it is today: just over the Borough line in Upper Providence Township. The following year, the Idlewild Hotel opened as a posh summer resort just south of Media, featuring a boardwalk providing pedestrians with a direct route to the train station.

Although the economic expansion of the Industrial Revolution was in full swing by the end of the nineteenth century, Upper Providence changed little through the early 1900's. The community of prosperous farmers, wealthy estate owners, and generally well-to-do professionals and businessmen working in Media, Chester, or Philadelphia changed little through the roaring '20's, the Great Depression of the '30's, and the war years of the early '40's. The end of World War II, however, brought rapid change, beginning with explosive population growth and the construction of the housing necessary to accommodate it.

In 1940, the population of the Township was less than 2,000; by 1970 it was over 9,000. This growth was in many ways typical of the post-war boom that occurred in suburban communities all over the country. In Upper Providence, farmlands and estates were developed with hundreds of comfortable new homes. In contrast, large-scale commercial and industrial development largely passed the Township by, such that it remains overwhelmingly residential to this day. This may be partially due to the proximity of Media, but is more likely due to the transportation network. Although the Providence Great Road was largely responsible for opening up the land to development in the seventeenth century, the Providence Road of the twentieth was entirely inadequate to accommodate the volume of traffic demanded by industrial parks, major office buildings, and shopping centers. In fact, the only limited access highway in the Township to this day is the Media By-Pass: although opened in the closing days of 1959 it was not connected to the regional expressway network until the completion of Interstate Route 476 (the "Blue Route") in 1991.

  1. Upper Providence Township, 2005 Comprehensive Plan, www.upperprovidence.org
**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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