Cornwells has been described as a large village between Andalusia and Eddington on the Bristol Pike. Its name probably comes from the Pennsylvania Railroad station called Cornwells as early as 1871, but no one knows how the station acquired its name. Some people speculate that it may be connected with the fact that the Growdens came to this area from Cornwall, England, and "Cornwells" is the American version of the name.
The border joining Andalusia and Cornwells was defined at one time by a toll gate situated on Bristol Pike at Gravel Pike. Yes, once the Bristol Pike was a toll highway.
The original site of the "stammering school" was at the junction of Bristol Pike and Hulmeville Roads, where St. Charles Borromeo Church now is located. The school was started by Dr. William Chapman, victim of murder in 1831. In 1854 the old Union Tavern, known as the "Hornet's Nest" stood here. In 1859 the Rev. Dr. H.T. Wells opened a boarding school for boys on the same property. Later a charter was obtained authorizing the conferring of degrees and the school became Andalusia College. A new building known as Potter Hall was constructed as a preparatory school. After the death of Dr. Wells in 1871 the buildings were used for other purposes, then torn down and replaced by the present structure.
Just across the pike are the beautiful stone buildings of the Mother House for the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, known as St. Elizabeth's Convent and the Holy Providence House. These buildings are now on the National Register of Historic Sites.
Outside the fence of the convent, along the pike, is one of the milestone markers showing the distance from center city Philadelphia. There are four of these milestones remaining in the township.
Also located in Cornwells is the historic Vandegrift Cemetery. This small area remains as a reminder of Bensalem's early settlers. The beautiful stone archway looks a bit out of place now, among the modern businesses along Bristol Pike. Early burial records have been lost, but you can still read names of old families on some of the grave stones placed there so long ago. Old timers remember the wonderful Memorial Day parades to the Vandegrift Cemetery and the carnivals put on by the Cornwells Fire Co. #1 at its old building next to the cemetery.
The boat yard on the corner of Cornwells Avenue opposite the cemetery was the site of the Simon's store, as it was known in the 1940's and 1950's. Next to the store was the Half Way House, a tavern established as early as 1744. Many people stopped there as they traveled the pike.
In the early days of the Bell Telephone Company, the Cornwells office was located in a house near the cemetery. This was the era when you picked up the phone and an operator asked, "Number please." For incoming calls, you had to listen to the number of rings to make sure the call was for you and not for others on your party line.
The 1950's brought Toc's, a great place for teenagers to gather. After a dance at the high school, the crowd gathered at Toc's for ice cream and good fun. That building now houses the ARBB Custom Color Lab.
Tomlinson's Funeral Home, established in 1946, was a bank at one time and Heffner's Funeral Home for seven years. Next to it was the Patriotic Order Sons of America hall with its cannon monument in front, once used as a basement jail and now is Erdman's furniture.
Another landmark on Bristol Pike is Cornwell's Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1888. It is known as Cornwell's United Methodist Church.
Further up the pike is Cornwell's Elementary School, formerly Bensalem High School. The oldest section of the building was once a two-room schoolhouse. Additions were made over a period of years and it housed grades one through twelve. The average graduating class numbered about seventy at that time and everyone in the school knew every other person. Now high school classes are so large that students don't even know all the members of their own class.
Almost directly across the pike from the school are the buildings of the Holy Ghost Preparatory School.
Although the name Cornwells has been used for many years, there was a time when the post office in this village was called "Maud." It is referred to in the book, The Bristol Pike, and the name appears on early maps. Could this have been the name of the postmaster's wife? No one really knows the source of the name.
Near Maud Post Office was the home of the brothers, George E. and W. Penn Brock. Many trees gave a rustic appearance to the property, which fronted on the pike. Dr. Rousseau built the house originally and later sold it to James S. Clark, who manufactured spool cotton.
The Boucher's wheelwright and blacksmith shop were located on the road from Bristol Pike to Cornwell's Station. The depot was described as a pretty building of buff-colored brick, with a yellow tint inside. Altogether a cheerful place to wait for a train.
Just above the depot, on Middleton's Lane, between Bristol Pike and the railway was Clover Nook, purchased by William Hastie Smith in 1870. The house burned and a new one was erected in 1890. The wooden mansion, a cheerful yellow in color, had a large grove of trees and a hedge bounding it on the upper side.
Between the villages of Cornwells and Eddington was a sixty-acre tract of land known as High Point Farm. It was named by George W. Smith, who thought this was the highest point in the area. It was located on the Bristol Pike, another milestone. The earliest deed was dated May 12, 1723 and the property changed hands many times. Best known of the owners was George Washington South, born in Philadelphia in 1799. He lived at High Point Farm from 1842 to 1850. Mr. South was prominent in the Whig party and he was a close friend of Thaddeus Stevens. He was a friend of President Zachary Taylor and was asked to take a place in his cabinet. He also was a friend of President Andrew Jackson.
The area along State Road, once the site of several large estates, now is almost one continuous industrial park. Among the early industries which located there were the Badenhausen Company, Madsen Machine Company, Schutte and Koerting (now Ametek Inc.) and Penn Walt Company. Many have disappeared only to be replaced by new industries; others have just changed their names.
Source: Traveling Through Bensalem: 1692-1984, Historical Society of Bensalem Township, 1984
Nearby Neighborhoods (★ = has photo)
Bensalem Avenue East • Bensalem Avenue West • Bowman Avenue • Bristol Pike • Clovernook Avenue • College Avenue • Cornwells Avenue • Dungan Avenue • Finley Avenue • Frieda Street • Hopkins Avenue • Hulmeville Road • Kings Road • Meadow Lane • Ogden Avenue • Rosalie Avenue • Route 13 • School Lane • Simons Avenue • Station Avenue • Sunset Lane • Traylor Avenue • Wildman Avenue • Williams Avenue