The Mill Creek Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, and an expanded are was listed in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from copies of the original nomination documents. [†, ‡]
The Mill Creek Historic District is located in Gladwyne, Lower Merion Township, on the west side of the Schuylkill River. Approximately ten miles from downtown Philadelphia, it is situated at the juncture of Mill Creek and Old Gulph Roads alongside of Mill Creek.
The area was originally settled by a Welsh Quaker named John Roberts "the miller" who purchased the rights to 500 acres of land in the Welsh Tract in 1682. Taking title to 250 acres; he set up his grist mill called "The Wain" by 1690 or earlier.
In the Mill Creek Historic District there are some noteworthy examples of vernacular architecture of the 18th century in a rural setting, all of which belonged to the Roberts family's milling industry. The houses that John Roberts, his son and grandson (all of the same name) built were several millworkers' houses and the former mill store, in use since the 1700's.
Other features of the Mill Creek Historic District are 3 mill ruins, a dam, an old fording place (rebuilt) on the Creek, and a Penn ten-mile road marker of 1770.
Fourteen property owners are represented in the original documented Mill Creek Historic District and no intrusions. There are a total of 6 houses of which 5 date from the 18th century (although one is altered on the exterior) and the lone 20th century house is not visible from the road. Mill Creek is protected by the Mill Creek Agreement of 1941 between the township and most of the owners along its entire 4-1/2 mile length.
The building material used in this district is locally quarried stone. Two of the houses (104 and 121-119 Old Gulph Road) are of stucco over stone. Rubble stone and occasionally ashlar, shutters and pent eaves overhangs or porches are common to Welsh and English Quaker architecture and are found here. 121-119 Old Gulph Road ("Fishburne-Miller House") is a good example of this. It was built about 1750, is stucco over stone, 2 1/2 stories, and the center entrance has a small porch sheltering it. It housed the miller who worked at the John Roberts Mill across the road during the Colonial period and later.
The most important building in this district is the John Roberts III house at 105 Old Gulph Road at Dodds Lane. It was built in three stages: c.1721 (probably by John Roberts II, the Wheelwright) c. 1746 and 1752 (date stone). The 2nd and 3rd stages were built by John Roberts III, prominent Colonial Quaker merchant who has hung for treason in 1778. The house is of rubble stone except for the facade of stage 3 which is pointed ashlar. Stage 3 has a porch similar to 121-119 Old Gulph Road. There is evidence that this stage also had a pent eave or large porch on the front and sides. The roof pitch is moderately steep. There are a variety of window sizes, boxed cove cornices, and brick chimneys. The house was a prototype for others in the Gladwyne area. The building at 112 Old Gulph Road (1771 date stone) was originally a store for the Roberts Grist Mill and later mills. It was eventually converted to a residence. It is an asymmetrical Georgian structure of pointed ashlar.
The house at 543 Mill Creek Road is the oldest in the area and possibly in Lower Merion Township. Originally it was the log house of John Roberts, the Miller, c.1683. The house, which is commonly called "the 1690 house" has been expanded several times and now bears no resemblance to the original. It is 1 1/2 stories has brick chimneys, and dormers with slanting overhangs. Presently, it is sheathed with wood shingles. Over the years, Mill Creek Road has been raised giving the house the appearance of being in a gully.
The house that is not visible from the road is at 45 Old Gulph Road. It is a central entrance Georgian, c.1925, of pointed stone. It has a large flat-roofed porch trimmed with wrought iron across the front. A large stone wing has been added. The house is set on a hill and is reached by an access road.
The three mill sites in the originally documented Mill Creek Historic District are in varying stages of disintegration. Of the John Roberts III 1746 grist mill, only one wall stands along Old Gulph Road. (It has been suggested that this stretch of road was originally on the other side of the Creek.) The site of Conrad Sheetz (Schultz) Lower Mill, a once thriving paper mill, c.1749 is now but a pile of rubble. The remains of Sheetz's Croft's 1846 brass and copper rolling mill ("the Croft-Kettle Mill") or its foundry are still standing, but the roof is gone. All of these mills were of local stone, with the addition of brick on the Croft Mill.
The boundaries were selected because the area they encompass evokes the pre-Revolution milling complex of John Roberts III with its stone houses, mill sites, dam and ford — all in a wooded setting along Mill Creek. This cluster of houses and mills is typical of mill villages of the 18th and early 19th century. Furthermore, the fine architectural examples of the Mill Creek Historic District are structurally excellent and have a clear relationship to each other and to the industrial development of this area in the Colonial period.
The earliest settlers along Mill Creek were Welsh Quakers who were part of a mass migration to the New World in search of religious and political freedom. In 1681 they purchased 40,000 acres from William Penn for what became known as the Welsh Tract. Their dreams of establishing an autonomous government never materialized, but they did found the Townships of Merion, Radnor and Haverford.
In 1682 a Welsh miller named John Roberts purchased the rights to 500 acres along Mill Creek in the Welsh Tract (shown on Thomas Holme's Map of the Province of Pennsylvania 1681, 1687). Taking title to 250 acres, by 1690 he set up a grist mill called "The Wain" at what is now the intersection of Old Gulph and Mill Creek Roads. His home across the road from the Creek, while much altered still stands and is known as "The 1690 House."
Roberts died in 1704 leaving a son, John Roberts II, the Wheelwright, who inherited the property. Upon the death of Roberts II in 1721, the property passed to his unborn child who was to be John Roberts III.
In 1743 Roberts III took over his estate which consisted of "a dwelling house and Plantacon together with one Grist Mill". He added a new grist mill in 1746, a wall of which still stands on Old Gulph Road (showing on Scull and Heap's 1750 map of Philadelphia and Parts Adjacent). To the stone house which his father had built on Old Gulph Road, c.1721 (corner of Old Gulph Road and Dodds Lane), Roberts added two stages, c.1746 and 1752. In addition, Roberts purchased more land near the Schuylkill River and in 1776 built a powder mill.
John Roberts III was a wealthy and prominent miller. He was also a Quaker and a Tory. During the Revolution he was rumored to have ground glass in the flour he supplied to Washington's troops. Fleeing an angry lynch mob, Roberts hid in British-held Philadelphia where he was captured and later tried for treason. In 1778 Roberts was convicted and hung. Almost all of his property was confiscated and sold. Years later, the unsold portion was returned to his widow. Much of the estate which had been sold eventually was purchased by the McClenahan family. During the 19th century, the McClenahans sold sections to other millers.
John Roberts the Miller's grist mill which started here by 1690 was the beginning of an important milling industry which spread along Mill Creek until it eventually included up to twenty-three mills. These were in operation until a flood in 1893 virtually destroyed the industry. The Mill Creek Historic District is significant because it played a major part in the genesis of industrial development of Lower Merion and, indirectly, of Philadelphia as well. Mill Creek was easily dammed for water power. It was also well-situated in the eighteenth century for water traffic to Philadelphia. Moreover, there were early land routes to the Merion and Upper Gulph Mills areas and to fording places on the Schuylkill River.
By the mid-1700's it was discovered that the clear water and 250 foot fall of Mill Creek were perfect for the manufacture of fine hand-make white paper. In a cultural drift from Germantown, Whitemarsh and Roxborough (all on the opposite side of the Schuylkill), several families of German paper makers established mills on Mill Creek. The earliest of these was that of Conrad Sheetz (Shultz) of Germantown who bought David Davis' fulling mill in 1748 and began a paper mill. This mill is shown on Scull & Heap's 1750 Map of Philadelphia and Environs, although inaccurately located. The ruins of this, his "lower mill," are now barely visible near the William Penn ten-mile road marker of 1770.
Sheetz' "upper mill" was located at what is now Dove Lake. After Sheetz' death, his son-in-law George Helmbold(t) sold the "upper mill" to Thomas Amies (Amos) of Philadelphia in 1798. The mill was then called the "Dove Mill" and its dove-and-olive branch trademark were widely known. Here paper was manufactured for the Second Bank of the U.S. The "upper mill" site disappeared when Dove Lake was impounded in 1873.
In 1797 the property formerly owned by John Roberts III was subsequently sold to George McClenahan, son of Blair McClenahan, Revolutionary war hero (this property is listed in the 1789 Direct Tax).
After George McClenahan's death in 1833, his wife, Mary, inherited all of his 378 acres, save a small section with a paper mill which he had sold previously (not in district). In 1844, Mary sold ten acres, a factory and two frame tenements to Samuel Croft. The following years she sold an additional piece of land to him, giving Croft a total of thirty-five acres. Here, in 1846 (date-stone on pillar on Mill Creek Road), Croft established a brass and copper rolling mill called "the Croft-Kettle Mill." Croft rolled silver and copper for the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia (see John Levering's 1851 Map). This mill was in use throughout most of the second half of the nineteenth century.
Thus, the milling industry which began in the Mill Creek Historic District c.1690 continued for over two hundred years and was an important factor in the settlement and economic growth of the area.
Through the use of surface reconnaissance, historical documentation and old photographs, much is known about the three mill sites in the Mill Creek Historic District: the John Roberts III 1746 grist mill (one wall standing), the Conrad Sheetz 1748 paper mill (rubble only), and the Samuel Croft 1846 brass and copper rolling mill (four walls standing). In addition, late Colonial artifacts have been dug up in the garden of the John Roberts III house.
Unfortunately, these mill sites are in a rapid state of decay, and indeed, the remains of the Sheetz mill is barely visible.
The sites as well as much of the Mill Creek Historic District merit intensive study by Historic American archaeologists. Their findings could supply significant information to the data bank on Colonial mills, and, in particular, to those of this area. The fact that these sites are already identified and their dimensions given on the 1798 Direct Tax should lend impetus to research endeavors of industrial archaeologists in the future.
Although much is known about these mills from deeds and written records, there is much more that remains unanswered about the daily life of a milling village. For example, how did the mid-1700's village of the John Roberts III era differ from the period a hundred years later when this village was called "Crofton" in honor of Samuel Croft's mill? What types of mill wheels were used at the respective mills and what was the way-of-life for the millworkers in the tenements?
Information of this nature, the products of archaeological exploration, could add materially to our understanding of the mill village environment.
Given the protected nature of the banks of Mill Creek within this district, as well as the longevity of family ownership and continued usage, the Mill Creek Historic District should yield a rich store of evidence regarding the industrial and cultural heritage of the area.
Within the Mill Creek Historic District is a small community of buildings which are exceptionally well-preserved examples of Welsh Tract construction and design.
While contemporaneous Philadelphia architecture is mainly of brick here, only ten miles away, are found Welsh and English type vernacular buildings entirely of locally quarried stone. Moderately steeply pitched roofs, deep cove cornices, and pent eaves, although also found on Philadelphia Colonial buildings, are key features of this building type.
The frequent usage of porches of varying sizes appears to be directly related to Quaker Meeting House architecture of the Delaware Valley. For example, the small porches over the entrances on houses in this district replicates the ones on the Merion Meeting House (1695-1713) a few miles away.
Early in the nineteenth century, stuccoing over stone buildings became a common practice. Two of the houses in this district have been stuccoed. Again, the Merion Meeting House may have set the style for this fashionable trend.
The cultural and economic growth of the Mill Creek Historic District is mirrored in the architecture as well. The house at 105 Old Gulph Road clearly demonstrates the development of style and scale during the period 1720-1727, no doubt linked to the upward mobility of the culture and the personal success of John Roberts III. The earliest stage, built by John Roberts II, faces Dodds Lane, is 1 1/2 stories, asymmetrical, and only one bay wide; the second and third stages were built by John Roberts III. Stage two, c.1743 has a symmetrical facade facing Old Gulph Road and is two stories high; the final stage of 1752 is slightly asymmetrical, also two stories high and faces Old Gulph Road, but much grander than the earlier stages as it has French doors on the gable end and had a wide impressive pent eave or porch. While the first two stages are of rubble stone, the facade of the 1752 stage is pointed coursed ashlar. Thus, in the three parts of one house may be traced social and economic change over time in this community.
These Georgian buildings are important for yet another reason. They show the juxtaposition of mill owner's home, mill store (now a residence), mill sites and millworker's housing within a tightly knit rural setting. In this interrelationship of the components of the milling village are found visible evidence of a vital part of Colonial life.
Whereas the interiors of these houses have been "modernized" periodically, enough remains on the exteriors and in the general construction and design for this district to be considered significant from the standpoint of extant architecture of the 1700's.
Lower Merion Township's Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase is a wooded enclave composed of the Mill Creek Valley and surrounding hills. The boundary increase enlarges the size of the original Mill Creek Historic District (National Register 1980) by 550 acres. The boundary increase contains eighteenth and nineteenth century vernacular water power mill buildings, mill workers' housing, and mill ruins. The mills are primarily constructed in rubble stone; mill workers' housing is constructed mainly of stone or wood framing and weather board. The boundary increase also contains large, architecturally significant estate residences, constructed in the early twentieth century by wealthy Philadelphians, and fashionable single dwellings constructed throughout the twentieth century. Builders mainly used stone, brick, and exposed wooden beams to construct these estate homes and single dwellings. The boundary increase is located in Lower Merion Township, about ten miles from center city Philadelphia, near the village of Gladwyne (National Register 1980), and within suburban Philadelphia's "Main Line." Mill Creek, the backbone of the boundary increase, flows down a heavily wooded ravine, under nineteenth century stone bridges, over paved fords, and through eighteenth and early nineteenth century mill settlements before finally meeting the Schuylkill River. The area of the Mill Creek Historic Boundary is located between the original Mill Creek Historic District and the Schuylkill River. Surrounding the district and its boundary increase are the river to the north, the heavily developed Ardmore and Bryn Mawr areas to the south, the Gladwyne area to the west, and other highly developed residential areas to the east. Within the boundary increase, mill buildings and mill workers' housing are located along the banks of the creek and in the ravines of its important tributaries. Large estate homes are mainly located on the hilltops, and the fashionable twentieth century homes are located throughout the boundary increase. The most visible elements which contribute to the boundary increase's historic character are the mill complexes, including Walover/Jones Mill, the Egbert Mill, and Nippes Barker Mill. The boundary increase contains 157 resources. There are 132 contributing resources and 25 noncontributing resources. There are 84 buildings, 27 structures, 16 sites and 5 objects which are all contributing, and 24 buildings, and 1 structure which are all noncontributing. Almost all of the buildings are residences. Every site is a mill ruin or associated with a mill. The originally designated Mill Creek Historic District is centered on a small hamlet of primarily eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings located at the intersection of Old Gulph Road and the western most portion of Mill Creek Road and covers approximately 24 acres. The boundary increase consists of land which abuts the existing district to the southeast, and is located approximately one quarter mile to the east of the Gladwyne Historic District. Given the boundary increase's high ratio of contributing resources over noncontributing resources and the large quantity of open space, the boundary increase maintains a high degree of historic, visual, and architectural integrity.
The most prevalent resources along the creek are the stone buildings belonging to the vernacular building tradition of the area's English/Welsh Quaker settlers. These well-built buildings were constructed of roughly laid, often coursed, field stone. They are predominantly 2-1/2 stories in height. The stone work of the exterior walls was often stuccoed. Wood shingled gabled roofs were the rule and usually were augmented with dormers. There is considerable diversity in plan even among residential resources. Single family homes, similar in plan to many Pennsylvania farm houses, housed mill owners and managers, while cottages and multiple family dwellings lodged mill workers and their families. Many of these buildings also show the influence of the Federal style. One example of this type of architecture is a mill worker's house found on Old Gulph Road in the southern part of the boundary increase. The house is a two story, field stone building with an end gabled roof and rear addition. It was once a twin mill worker's house, having two entrances. There are two gable wall dormers on the front facade as well. The mills were, for the most part, of vernacular design. They were two to three stories tall and usually constructed of fieldstone. Initially, water wheels provided power but as the nineteenth century progressed several were retro-fitted with turbines and steam power. Mills were located very close to one another on the creek. Consequently, mill dams were rarely located more than a short distance above the mill. Races channelled water from the small ponds to the mills. A long portion of surviving earthwork mill race can be found west of the Bicking Mill site. The water was then channelled back into Mill Creek to be reused by the mills located further down stream.
Mill Complexes and Associated Mill Resources
Overview: Water Power for Mills
The mill complexes and other mill resources are the main focus of the boundary increase. They were dispersed along the length of Mill Creek as it falls approximately 250 feet between the point of its origin south west of the boundary increase and the Schuylkill River. Mill Creek had plenty of fall to turn mill wheels, and there were very few days during the year when there was not a constant flow of water. John Roberts I set up the first mill where there was a natural 10-12 foot head or fall of water. Many of the subsequent mills on the creek were set up in an area where there were either no natural fall, or falls not large enough to turn a wheel. In these areas, the millers did one of several things: they either built a dam and artificially raised the level of the creek, or they used a flume to carry the water to the top of their wheel. An 1877 map shows dams at Hagy, Chadwick and Robeson mills. Dams could be earthen work, stone or concrete. Water was transported to the mill by a race, passed through the mill's wheel or turbine and returned by means of a tail race to the creek. Due to the narrowness of the creek gorge, the mill ponds tended to be small but deep, providing more than sufficient power to the mills. An example of this is the Walover/Jones Mill Complex. There are no surviving mill ponds along Mill Creek within the Mill Creek Historic District boundary increase.
Mill Complexes and Contributing Mill Buildings
The boundary increase contains three nearly intact mill complexes: the Walover/Jones Mill complex, the Nippes/Barker Mill complex, and Egbert Mill complex. There are at least four mill owner's or mill manager's houses: Fairview, Robeson, Old Gulph House, and Righter House. Other major mill buildings include mill workers' housing, including several masonry and frame buildings on Rose Glen Road. Overall, there are approximately 19 mill workers' houses throughout the boundary increase, one of which is noncontributing. Finally, the location of seven no longer extant mills and one residential community associated with a mill exist within the boundary increase as sites and have archeological significance.
The Walover/Jones Mill complex was a paper mill venture begun by the Roberts family in the middle of the eighteenth century. The mill hamlet is located in a deepening of the valley on Mill Creek Road just east of Crosby Brown Road. At the center of the grouping is the short single span twentieth century concrete bridge over which Mill Creek Road traverses the creek. The focal point of the community is the two-and-a-half story stucco over stone mill located on the south side of the creek just east of the bridge. The building possibly dates as early as 1758 (the beginning of the boundary increase's period of significance) but was remodeled in the mid-nineteenth century and converted to residential use in the early twentieth. The mill has an asphalt shingle end gabled roof with gable and shed dormers. The remnants of the earthen work mill race are located on the south side of Mill Creek west of the mill building and on the opposite side of Mill Creek Road. A wood frame stable building is located directly opposite the mill building on the other side of Mill Creek Rd. This building is sheathed with board and batten siding.
The rest of the buildings in the Walover/Jones Mill complex help form a small hamlet and are perched on the hillsides rising above both sides of the creek. The most prominent is Tayr Pont, the mill proprietor's house. The house is located in an elevated position on the hillside above the north side of the stream. The oldest portions of the house possibly date to the late seventeenth century. Two additions to the original part of the building have been dated circa 1722, however this has not been substantiated. The building is constructed in separate fieldstone and timber with stone in-fill portions and has been stuccoed for unified appearance. Housing for mill workers was located on the hillside above the mill building itself. A series of three fieldstone tenement houses are perched on the steep slope. The design of each is highly representative of the region's vernacular building heritage. They are fieldstone buildings. Two of the three are stuccoed while the stone work of the third remains exposed showing prominent stone quoins. They have end gabled shingled roofs with dormers and generally have small frame additions. A larger fourth tenement house is located on the north side of the road just west of the hamlet. This is a four story parged fieldstone bank house with an end gabled roof and a two story rear wood frame addition. A stone and timber barn also originally associated with the complex is located in a shallow ravine located just west of Tayr Pont on Crosby Brown Road. The building has been remodeled into a residence.
Another similar mill complex, the Egbert Mill complex is located just north of Mill Creek along the eastern side of Rose Glen Road. The circa 1840 2-1/2 story parged fieldstone mill is set into a wooded hillside just above a small tributary of the creek. Just north of the mill building is a two story nineteenth century twin mill workers' tenement house. It is constructed of roughly laid fieldstone with a rear frame addition and second story veranda. Both buildings now serve as single residences. The mill and tenement house are separated from the road by a low crenelated nineteenth century stone wall and a stone lined mill race. Further north on Rose Glen Road is a cohesive row of nine stone and frame mill workers' cottages which line the west side of the roadway. For the most part, these frame buildings have relatively high integrity, although several have undergone changes, including modifications to rear facades and the remodeling of one building to the point that it is no longer contributing. All of these buildings were constructed circa 1860. As a group these buildings also retain many of their original architectural details, including molded ceramic chimney pots and scrollwork bracketing. An example is the Sturgis Cottage, a two story frame house with horizontal wood siding, end gabled roof, a large front porch, and fretwork detailing.
The Nippes/Barker mill complex consists of three buildings and one ruin. The main building, the mill is composed of several blocks. The mass is divided into two halves by a second story bridge which connects a western twelve bay brick section from an eastern stone grouping. The buildings are situated parallel to the creek which flows about fifteen feet below through a wide stone walled channel. To the northwest of the large building is a stone and clapboard tenement house. A roofless two story, three bay ruin site is situated east of these buildings alongside the stream.
Another prominent building once associated with a mill is Fairview, a mill owner's house located on the east side of Conshohocken State Road near its intersection with Mill Creek Road. The oldest part of Fairview was constructed by Jonathan Robeson, a prominent mill owner, probably in 1794. The house was remodeled in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The stuccoed stone residence is located on a 2.8 acre site where Conshohocken State Road crosses a large stone bridge. The large residence, with its nineteenth century mansard roof and impressive two story porches supported by columns, sits on a hill facing southwest over the creek and valley. In the valley below the house are the remains of an early stone spring house. Another small building, a stone changing room, is located next to the stone walled, spring-fed pool, both constructed in 1928. Beside the pool is Mill Creek and a series of stone walls which may once have been part of a mill building located on the site.
None of the existing mills have been changed or altered to the extent that they can no longer be considered to contribute to the historic character of the boundary increase. Likewise, no noncontributing buildings have heavily impinged on the historic mill complexes and related buildings.
Contributing Structures Associated with Mills
In addition to the many intact resources dating from this industrial period of the boundary increase's history, remnants of dams, races, foundations and several groups of mill ruins line the creek's banks. There are four contributing structures relating to mills in the boundary increase. The Egbert Mill contains a stone-lined mill race running behind several buildings along Rose Glen Road, then under the road, and to the mill. Another structure is the remnants of and iron pipe, race, and dam above the Walover/Jones mill complex. Also at the Walover/Jones complex is a round stone well structure near Tayr Pont, the mill owner's house.
Contributing Mill Sites
There are thirteen sites in the boundary increase upon which mills once stood or where buildings and structures associated with mills once stood. All sites have the potential to produce archeological findings. These include the S.L. Robeson Mill site, the Righters Mill site, c.1765, Robeson Paper Mill site, c.1796, Humphreys Mill site, c.1825, rebuilt after fire in 1877, and demolished sometime after 1894, Bicking Mill site, late 1700s, Chadwick Mill site, 1836, Hagys Saw and Paper Mill site, and a residential community associated with the Nippes/Barker Mill. The Hagy's Mill dam, located just south of the Schuylkill Expressway, is a remnant of a concrete, fieldstone, and earthen dam, approximately 85 feet long and 16 feet at its highest. A site associated with the Nippes/Barker Mill is a series of stone ruins on a hill southwest of the mill and a standing ruin adjacent to the present mill building ruin. The Egbert Mill complex contains a group of stone foundations of possible archeological significance. There is also a stone barn ruin thought to be associated with the Humphreys Mill site. One other example is the ruins of a large, standing, four part tenement house once associated with the Bicking Mill. Surviving details make evident the vernacular architectural traditions associated with the mill and enables a person to determine the number of housing units the site once contained. The Nippes/Barker residential ruins also contains standing ruins, one being the ruins of a fieldstone springhouse.
Twentieth Century Contributing Estate Buildings
The highland areas of the proposed boundary increase are dotted with early twentieth century country estate buildings and structures designed in an eclectic and diverse group of revivalist styles. The resources on the estates are indicative of the transition between the boundary increase's early industrial beginnings and to what became a wealthy suburban enclave. Included are four estates, two of which survive intact, one subdivided but with all primary buildings surviving, and one on which no major buildings remain, yet the land remains as a single parcel.
The Rodman E. Griscom house (also formerly owned by John T. Dorrance Jr.), designed by Edmund B. Gilchrist and built in 1929, is indicative of this period in the area's development. This estate's large "chateauesque" French Renaissance Revival style country house is arranged with a collection of attached out buildings around a central courtyard. The fenced complex is located in the midst of a large orchard and largely obscured from the public view.
Clyfton Wynyates, at 57 Crosby Brown Road, once the main house of the 192 acre James Crosby Brown estate, is located on a commanding bluff above Mill Creek just west of Righter's Mill Road. The steep hillside below is impressively buttressed by a series of large stone retaining walls, which are contributing structures. The house, first known as "Dipple," was originally constructed in 1903 for William C. Scott by the firm of Price and McLanahan in an "English" style. The twenty bedroom home was purchased in 1914 by James Crosby Brown and remodeled by the original architects in the Tudor mode to reflect the Brown's English ancestral seat, Clyfton Wynyates. The property is accessed by a high stone arched bridge over a tributary to Mill Creek. The bridge has a crenelated wall and is a contributing structure.
On Old Gulph Road is the 60 acre "Wooded Hill" estate. The main house, circa 1920 is a large two story, rubble masonry, Tudor Revival mansion with a polychrome slate roof surrounded by a stone and stucco wall. The compound includes a two story half timbered Tudor Revival guest house with a end gabled slate roof, and a two story fieldstone, two bay banked garage with a pyramidal slate roof. These buildings sit around a cobble stone court yard. The estate is approximately 12 acres and contains, in addition to the contributing resources described above, a masonry mill worker's house. The house is a fieldstone, banked, end gabled vernacular residence.
In addition, the center of the boundary increase contains the former estate of Walter C. Pew, heir of the Sun Company founder. The estate was known as Rolling Hill Farms. The main house burned in the mid-1950s. Today, only a caretaker's house survives and some ruins, a stone bridge near the estate's entrance, and a pond. The property was purchased by Lower Merion Township in 1995 to be preserved as open recreational space.
Twentieth Century Residential Resources
Unlike the large estates of the turn of the century, later development within the boundary increase has involved smaller buildings on smaller lots. Philadelphia architect Walter K. Durham, played a pivotal role in the development of the boundary increase between 1933 and 1962. Durham constructed substantial suburban homes on three to twenty acre lots. Durham constructed twelve homes within the boundary increase (one of which is noncontributing) and made modifications to at least a half dozen others. Only two other houses, besides those built on estates, were constructed in the boundary increase's period of significance in the twentieth century (1900-1946). The Maple Hill Road section of the proposed boundary increase, also known as "Castle Hill," is a section of the boundary increase heavily influenced by Durham. The heavily wooded hilltop area was developed by Durham with large Colonial Revival and "English" homes sighted on spacious lots. In 1946, Durham chose to erect his own home on one of the prime lots along the road. This house is exceptional among Durham designs for its exceptional interpretation of the Colonial Revival style. The main block is brick with a wood shingled, end gabled roof. The door has a pedimented architrave. Two smaller sections are connected on the northeast end of the house to give it a telescoping effect. A pair of substantial brick chimneys dominate the profile of the building. Arguably, the most grand Durham-designed residence on Maple Hill Road is the former William C. Elliot residence. This Georgian Revival style building, erected in 1936, is sighted on a 31 acre lot located at the southern terminus of the Maple Hill Road. The fieldstone house sits atop a large terraced lawn on the hillside above Mill Creek. The end gabled house has a substantial wood cornice and other elaborate cornice and architrave woodwork on both the front and rear of the house.
Within the boundary increase Durham's work can also be found on Mill Creek Road, Righter's Mill Road, Greaves Lane, Monk's Road, and Conshohocken State Road. He planned the sensitive 1932-45 division of the J. Crosby Brown estate and designed and built several houses there as well.
Non-Mill Related Contributing Structures
One important group of contributing structures is the three similar late nineteenth century stone and concrete single span bridges found within the boundary increase. Each bridge spans Mill Creek and replaces an earlier bridge washed out by the 1894 flood. These structures help to link the region within the boundary increase as a single landscape. Another contributing structure is the cobble paved ford where Righter's Mill Road traverses Mill Creek.
The boundary increase also contains several contributing objects. One is a drive marker/lamp post on the east side of Mill Road just south of Rose Glen Road. The object is designed to look like a European dovecote and is associated with an adjoining stone retaining wall. The twelve foot high construction is a familiar landmark along the road. Another object is a metal and wood sign post marking the corner of Rose Glen and Maple Hill Roads. The sign post is an early twentieth century object that relates to the architecture of nearby houses.
Since the end of the boundary increase's period of significance, noncontributing housing has been lightly scattered along the slopes of the Mill Creek ravine and in small subdivisions of the large estates. These intrusions are limited to the area above the intersection of Mill Creek Road and Conshohocken State Road and a few small subdivisions in the upland estates. A typical example of an intruding noncontributing building is on Conshohocken State Road, a large International Style residence, c.1950, cantilevered over the hillside above Mill Creek. The building mixes glass block and stuccoed concrete with exposed field stone in the composition of its exterior walls. Several other "modernist" buildings (erected c.1950) have been built in the boundary increase but the Colonial Revival is the most prevalent style for those constructed after 1944. Many of the modernist houses, however, use natural materials, mitigating their otherwise intrusive appearance.
The most striking attribute of the area encompassed by the Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase is the degree to which the eighteenth and nineteenth century rural landscape remains intact. Today, the boundary increase maintains its historic integrity through the retention of eighteenth and nineteenth century mill structures and related buildings and the valley's largely unaltered natural viewshed.
The Mill Creek National Register Historic District Boundary Increase is historically important in the areas of industry, architecture, and historic archeology for its association with the eighteenth and nineteenth century milling industry and its twentieth century estate and suburban architecture. It is notable for the role its mills and small factories played in the development of the greater Philadelphia region in becoming an international center of industry. The boundary increase contained some of the Philadelphia region's most important mills, known for their paper, guns, and textiles. Architecturally, it is significant for its large body of surviving eighteenth and nineteenth century mill complex resources, its group of large turn-of-the-century estate houses, and for the residential buildings designed and constructed in the nineteen twenties, thirties and forties by the locally prominent and nationally influential architect, Walter K. Durham. For two centuries, Mill Creek was the seat for an industry that played a vital role in the development of Lower Merion Township. Its archeological sites may yield important information about the development of industry and technology in this country, and about the lives of eighteenth and nineteenth century mill workers and owners. Thus, the boundary increase's resources exemplify the industrial, architectural, and socioeconomic changes that occurred here.
The existing Mill Creek National Register Historic District and the boundary increase are located in Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The previously established historic district focused on a single mill hamlet, the site of the original Roberts grist mill, that was the first mill built along the creek. The boundary increase enlarges the original district by encompassing the area between the original district and the Schuylkill River. Situated just south and west of Philadelphia, the boundary increase includes the creek, its valley and adjacent lands. Taken together, the districts were once the industrial heart of the township and remain its historic core. The boundary increase goes much further in explaining the township's milling history, as well as its transition into a wealthy suburb in the early twentieth century. There are roughly twelve times the resources in the boundary increase than in the original district. While both the district and the boundary increase contain many mill complex resources, the boundary increase contains proportionately more twentieth century resources.
European settlement of the region began in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. The lands of the Mill Creek valley were part of the Welsh Tract, a parcel of 40,000 acres purchased in 1681 from William Penn by a group of Welsh Quakers. Many of the earliest purchasers of the lands around the creek, both Welsh and otherwise, were primarily interested in the property for investment. They built their own residences and lived in Philadelphia.
Located so near Philadelphia, the Mill Creek, with its four mile length and its 250 foot drop in elevation, was quickly identified by settlers as a prime location for mills. In 1682, Dr. Edward Jones, the leader of the "Merioneth Adventurers," the first of seven groups of Welshmen to settle on the tract, wrote to a prospective settler that, "there are stones to be had at the falls of the Skoolkill, that is where we are to settle & water enough for mills, but thou must bring Mill stones and ye irons that belong to it, for smiths are dear..." Soon after, several Welshmen began milling operations along the creek.
The first miller on the creek was John Roberts. In 1682, Roberts acquired most of the Mill Creek valley lands from first purchasers, Thomas Wynne and John ap John. He settled on the land, building a home and the township's first grist mill The site of this settlement forms the nucleus of the present Mill Creek Historic District. Four successive generations of Roberts owned land and various types of mill enterprises along the creek. The small dynasty reached its zenith under John Roberts III, who at one time owned much of the land along the creek from present day Dove Lake (west of the Mill Creek Historic District) to the creek's mouth at the Schuylkill. The Roberts family held a virtual monopoly on much of the creek until the mid-1700s.
While the Roberts' family had begun its milling enterprise upstream, mills were soon located at the creek's mouth near the Schuylkill River. There operations had the advantage of easy river passage to Philadelphia for people and products. The earliest mill located at the mouth of the creek was a saw mill owned by Thomas Rees, a stone cutter formerly of Roxborough. Rees ran the mill from 1735 to 1741. The original Rees Mill was destroyed in 1805, the result of an attempt at operating it as a powder mill. The site is now below the waters of the Schuylkill River, the river's height having since been raised by the construction of the Flat Rocks dam.
In 1758, a mill was constructed just upstream from the former Rees mill by Christopher Robins, of Whitemarsh, today a contributing site. The date of the mill's founding marks the beginning of the boundary increase's period of significance. Today, all that remains are some ruins of the mill buildings and the dam. In 1768, the mill and 170 acres was sold by Robbins' son to Jacob Hagy, also of Whitemarsh. The road to the mill, which had been called "Christopher Robins Mill Road," then became known as Hagys Ford Road. An abandoned part of the road is located in the boundary increase. Hagy was a paper-maker. The success of his mill and the Scheetz mill upstream (in the original district), soon attracted other mills. By 1765 a grist and saw mill located at the present location of the Righter's Ford over Mill Creek was constructed by John Righter. The Bicking Mill followed soon after. In 1795, Jonathon Robeson constructed a paper mill immediately downstream from Righter's mill. Several more followed.
Meanwhile, John Roberts III also constructed a paper mill, probably in 1758, where the Walover/Jones Mill now stands, supporting the beginning of the boundary increase's period of significance. Like all of John Roberts III's property, the mill was confiscated after his execution for treason in 1778. (The Supreme Executive Council convicted Roberts of treason for joining the British army and acting as a guide in September, 1777.) Eventually, this land was sold by George McClenahan to Peter Walover, a Lower Merion paper-maker. Evan Jones purchased the mill through a sheriffs sale, and continued to operate the paper mill until 1848, when it first changed to a cotton and woollen mill, and finally to a grist mill, known as Merion Flour Mills. Like most mills on the creek, it ceased operation after the 1894 flood, and was eventually renovated into apartments under the ownership of James Crosby Brown, in 1924. The mill and its surrounding community of outbuildings and residences is the boundary increase's most intact mill community, providing a standing demonstration of nineteenth century mill community for all who pass by on Creek Road.
The first mills along the creek were usually owned and operated by one man. Other individuals came and paid a fee to have the miller (probably the owner) grind their grain, process their wool, or saw their timber. Many early millers were involved in other businesses, including farming. Mill owners could be residents or absentee and could run the mill themselves or hire managers to run the mills. In addition to employing managers, the mill owners began to hire outside help as business increased. Mill owners could then afford to build second and third mills, because employees made it possible for mill owners to oversee the operation rather than laboring themselves. Mill owners Hagy, Righter and Roberts followed this practice. Slaves and indentured servants also supplied a source of labor for the mills. For example, tax records show that in 1767 John Roberts, miller, had three slaves and one indentured servant. John Righter, another Mill Creek miller, had one slave. Frederick Bicking, still another miller, advertised in newspapers of the period (after 1762 but before his death in 1809) for servants — "German, English, and Negro."
While milling such as paper-making may have required extra skilled workers, it was not until after 1800 when the mills began to change to other manufactures, i.e., lamp wicks, woolen and cotton manufacturing, and later, gun parts, that there was a noticeable increase in the number of workers. Concomitantly, there was an increase in demand for small privately-owned dwellings, as well as tenant housing. The Fairview Mills, under Seth Humphreys, for example, employed 55 hands when it burned in 1884. The appearance of the mill hands created a new social climate along Mill Creek. This shift from a single-man operation to multiple mill ownership and workers is made evident by the eighteenth and nineteenth century mill workers' and managers' tenant houses located throughout the boundary increase.
The influx of workers changed the nature of the boundary increase from a landscape of scattered mills to that of mill communities. In addition to the mills, owners' houses, and outbuildings, groups of mill workers' housing and other support buildings began appearing along the creek. The Chadwick Mill, originally constructed in 1836 by William Chadwick, contained a company store and post office in addition to workers' housing. Much of this workers' housing was constructed by Robert Chadwick, William's son, after he purchased the mill in 1863. An Episcopal mission for mill workers was located along the creek near the Bicking Mill. The surviving reading room that was associated with the mission is now a private residence. The reading room also served as a de facto township library. Although many millworkers' residences were constructed on the mill owners' property and owned by the mill owner, some of the boundary increase's mill workers' residences were owned by the workers. For example, on Rose Glen Road, a row of houses constructed in the late 1860s to early 1870s are thought to have been owned by skilled craftsmen of the mills, who were able to purchase their own homes. The existence of these homes make evident the rising skill level associated with milling as the century progressed. Most non-mill needs, however, were centered in the small and prosperous crossroads village of Merion Square, now called Gladwyne (National Register 1980). The village contained a general store, post office, tavern, inn, blacksmith, church, and several houses. As the mill worker population grew, so did Gladwyne, located just west of the boundary increase's mill communities.
During the eighteenth century the undeveloped lands between the original Roberts Mill complex and the Schuylkill were gradually filled in with other milling operations. Powder mills, introduced to the creek in the eighteenth century, were one type of mill. After the start of the Revolution, the Committee of Safety for Pennsylvania aided in the establishment of private powder mills to ensure a domestic supply of gunpowder in the face of the then imminent hostilities. The first powder mill was established along the creek in 1776 when George Lush rented a powder mill seat "on a stream call'd Mill Creek, in the possession of John Roberts (the third), about 10 miles from town [Philadelphia]." The mill site was located near the mouth of the creek. Powder operations at that location were repeatedly undertaken between 1776 and 1804 but each proved unsuccessful. Frequent explosions proved too costly in both financial resources and human life. (Also see Thomas Rees Mill above.)
Throughout the last half of the eighteenth and part of the nineteenth centuries, Mill Creek valley industry centered largely on the endeavor of paper-making. Paper for the Bill of Rights, it is believed, for Benjamin Franklin's printing business, and some of the young nation's first dollar bills was produced in the boundary increase's mills. Paper manufacture was introduced to Mill Creek by Conrad Scheetz as early as 1750 and soon proved a profitable enterprise. By the early nineteenth century, the creek's mills produced a substantial percentage of Pennsylvania's paper. There were at least six paper mills in operation within the Mill Creek Historic District. Many of the paper mills were either owned or managed by skilled German craftsmen who immigrated to the valley by way of nearby Germantown or Whitemarsh. One such miller was Frederick Bicking, originally from Winterburg, Germany. After constructing his mill in 1762, Bicking became a successful miller who eventually owned several hundred acres along Mill Creek. In 1776 he became one of the signers of a petition sent to the Committee of Safety for Pennsylvania, pleading that paper-makers be exempted from conscription for the Continental army, for skilled labor was required in the mills. He died in 1809. The influx of German paper makers and their families drastically altered the ethnic make up of the local population which was previously predominately Welsh-English. In 1804, an old resident of the area noted, "[it is] amaising what a number of people that crick does imploy...at the paper mills; their is seven of them in less than three miles...the hills swarm with children."
The American paper making industry declined after 1815 due to the increased availability of European paper goods following the War of 1812. Technological advances in European paper production drove the price of imported paper products far below the level where domestic sources could compete. At the peak of the region's paper industry, about 1815, there were 70 mills in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Within forty miles of Philadelphia, about 950 persons were employed in the production of about $800,000 worth of paper annually. By 1820, there were less than 17 paper mills operating, employing only about 175 persons. The paper mills of Mill Creek were forced to find other goods to produce.
Gun manufacture was one alternative to paper making. Daniel Nippes began manufacturing long guns along the creek in 1814 at what is now the Nippes/Barker Mill. Tradition has it that Bicking Paper Mill, just up the creek from Nippes/Barker, was re-tooled in the nineteenth century to manufacture the barrels for the famous Derringer pistol. The Bicking Mill was eventually acquired by Henry Derringer, "of the County of Philadelphia, Riflemaker" in 1840. However, both the deed that conveyed the mill tract to Derringer and the deed by which he conveyed it to its next owner listed the operation as a paper mill. Henry Springer is also said to have manufactured pistols and guns at the same mill but is not known to have owned it.
As the nineteenth century progressed, textiles also became a major industry on the creek. Paper mills were transformed into carpet yarn, wool, shoddy, cotton, and button mills. The Fairview Mill, constructed in 1825 produced mainly textiles, and at one time had eighteen broad looms for making blankets. At one time, it made 1,850 pounds of blanket cloth and 900 pounds a day of woolen yard. Egbert Mill, constructed in the 1840s, manufactured lamp wick. (Some of the buildings of the Egbert Mill complex eventually became part of the Gladwine Colony in 1931, a sanitarium run by Dr. Seymour Dewitt Ludlum of Philadelphia. At the time, the area's peaceful setting was thought to be an ideal setting for treatment of emotional disorders. The colony closed in 1959.)
The introduction and technological advancements of steam powered factory machinery made it possible to locate larger and more efficient mills directly in Philadelphia, taking advantage of a large and inexpensive labor supply and transportation network. Eventually, steam made water power obsolete. Some mills did use steam power in addition to water power to turn their turbines towards the end of the nineteenth century, but they remained small scale operations in comparison to the large mills in Philadelphia. Other mills, like the Barker Mill, relied on advanced turbine technology. For example, in 1890, a steel turbine run on a horizontal shaft replaced the Barker Mill's overshot wheel. The turbine was constructed by the S. Morgan Smith Company. According to company catalogs, the turbine was 44.3 horse power at 263 RPMS. Aside from the Barker Mill, property along Mill Creek became much less desirable as industrial real estate. Most of the mills that survived into the late nineteenth century were finally closed after the devastating flood of 1894, which destroyed or damaged several mill dams and buildings. The last active mill, the Barker Wool and Yarn Mill, located in the old Nippes Mill complex, operated into the mid-twentieth century using a water turbine system. These same buildings remain in use today as light industrial and office space continuing a three hundred year tradition of manufacturing along the creek.
The Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase contains significant architecture from three periods of its development, as described below. The most significant number of contributing resources stem from the milling industry, and, taken together, provide the most visually significant collection of resources in the boundary increase. The scale, setting, and materials of the vernacular architectural traditions of the mill buildings constructed there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had a profound effect on twentieth century architecture in the boundary increase and to a large extent, throughout Philadelphia's Main Line.
Within the Mill Creek Valley, a local vernacular architectural tradition was adapted to the utilitarian demands of mill buildings, mill worker's tenements, and outbuildings. Their stone construction and simple utilitarian lines are typical of rural Pennsylvania industrial buildings built in the area during the boundary increase's period of significance. Many examples survive, making the creek worthy of its name and preserving the eighteenth and nineteenth century milling heritage along the creek. This body of eighteenth and nineteenth century resources can also be found along the banks of the creek and its tributaries. Few noncontributing resources adversely effect the boundary increase's integrity. Among the remaining resources that reflect the boundary increase's industrial heritage are the four remaining mill buildings: the Walover/Jones Mill, the Nippes/Barker Mill, the Robeson Saw Mill and the Egbert Mill. These mills formed the center of their own communities. The Walover/Jones Mill site remains nearly intact, complete with the mill owner's house, the mill workers' tenements, the mill, and the stable. Remnants of the earthen work mill race and dam, and a large iron pipe that once carried the race beneath Mill Creek Road, also survive.
Most numerous along the creek, however, are the surviving examples of mill workers' housing. These include the row of ten mill workers' cottages along the west side of Rose Glen Road; the small duplex located at the Chadwick Mill site near the intersection of the abandoned track of Hagy's Ford Road and Mill Creek Road; the much larger Egbert Mill workers' tenement; and the two twin fieldstone duplex mill worker's houses on the west side of Old Gulph Road just south of its intersection with Mill Creek Road. These buildings provide a vital contextual link between the boundary increase's mill buildings and people who worked in them.
The closing years of the nineteenth century were a period of great change in the way the land was used in Lower Merion and throughout the boundary increase. Land once belonging to the mill owners became the country estates of some of Philadelphia's most wealthy, powerful, and socially prominent families. Estate development in the boundary increase was bolstered by the close locations of Rose Glen Station (demolished) near the railroad tracks just west of the mouth of the creek. The station accessed a Reading Railroad line that provided easy access to Philadelphia for the residents of Gladwyne and the lower Mill Creek valley. The boundary increase's estates contribute to the significance of the boundary increase for their architectural merit and for their contribution to the retention of the boundary increase's mill complex resources and the open space.
The estates contain some of the Main Line's most impressive residential architecture, designed by some of the leading architects of their time. Also, the estates were critical to the preservation of the historic character of the Mill Creek valley. Although the estates did change the appearance of the landscape on the highlands surrounding the valley, they did little to disrupt the appearance of the mills or mill workers' housing. In fact, one estate owner, J. Crosby Brown, housed his servants in old mill buildings located on his property. Other estate owners, such as Walter C. Pew, allowed mill buildings, mill ruins, and open space surrounding the resources to remain relatively unaltered, mainly by not allowing the property to be subdivided. Pew, an heir of the Sun Company founder, owned a 103 acre estate in the center of the boundary increase called Rolling Hills. The property is mainly open space. It has just one building, a small caretaker's house, and several ruins, including the Bicking Mill site. The open space contributes to the boundary increase's rural character.
"Clyfton Wynyates" is one of the boundary increase's most grand estates. Its immense main house, first known as "Dipple," was constructed in 1903 for William C. Scott and designed by the noted Philadelphia architectural firm of Price and McLanahan. Like many large houses constructed on the Main Line at this time, it was designed in a Tudor Revival style, simply termed "English" by period architects. It was purchased in 1914 by J. Crosby Brown. Brown was a member of the Brown Brothers, an international financial firm based in Liverpool, New York, and Philadelphia. The house was renamed Clyfton Wynyates by Brown and became the centerpiece of the 192 acre estate he built around it.'' The estate included a carriage house and ballroom, mill house, two barns, stables, a green house, a garage, and many smaller outbuildings. Brown had also purchased the Walover/Jones and Righter mill hamlets in which he housed the servants who staffed his estate. Although the estate was eventually subdivided, a large number of resources remain intact, including the Walover/Jones mill complex. The subdivision, planned by architect Walter Durham (see below), visibly preserved the major components of the estate, and allowed for a limited number of houses without disrupting the natural wooded setting along Mill Creek.
Equally worthy of mention is the large "Chateauesque" style country house built for Rodman E. Griscom in 1929. Rodman E. Griscom was the son of Clement A. Griscom (1841-1912), a wealthy ship builder and president of the International Navigation Company, a steamship concern. Clement purchased a 90 acre parcel of land known as the Soapstone Farm. After his father's death, Rodman expanded this parcel with land once part of the Hagy mill tract and constructed a house on it. He named the house Dolboran after his father's old house in nearby Wynnewood. The estate, surrounded by an orchard and many acres of forest, is located on the highlands to the north of the creek not far from its mouth. The Griscom house and complex was an intentionally impressive architectural conception designed by the Philadelphia architect Edmund B. Gilchrist. Gilchrist was known for his Colonial Revival and French Eclectic style architecture. The house was later purchased by John T. Dorrance, Jr. Dorrance (1873-1930) was the son of the owner of the Campbell Soup Company and served as Campbell's chief executive and chairman of the board from 1915-1930. Like very few other estate properties on the Main Line, the estate not only retains its architectural integrity but the open land and rural character integral to its original conception.
Twentieth Century Houses
Another major force in the evolution of the present day character of the boundary increase was architect Walter K. Durham (1896-1978). Durham was not only responsible for the design of most of the houses constructed in the boundary increase since 1933, but also for the remodeling of many older buildings. A nationally known architect who worked primarily in the Delaware Valley and largely along the Main Line, Durham's clients were usually wealthy individuals who wanted well-built homes carefully sited in scenic, natural settings. Durham often relied on the Mill Creek valley's domestic vernacular building tradition as a primary source for his designs. Indigenous characteristics were used or altered to create buildings well suited to its historic rural environment while still catering to the needs of his affluent twentieth century clients. Durham's promotion of the three hundred year old Welsh/Quaker building patterns helped to again make it a preferred style of architecture throughout the Main Line in the years before and just after World War II. The Durham-designed buildings within the Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase represent the largest cluster of his residential architecture in its proper setting. Thanks largely to Durham's concern for the continuance of natural and historic fabric, much of the region's present day rural character has been preserved.
One of the areas where Durham's work can best be seen is along Maple Hill Road. Here, Durham designed and built five extremely large and elegant houses built between 1935 and 1962, including his own house. His most impressive house is the William Coulter Elliott house (1936). It is a large Georgian Revival building overlooking the Mill Creek valley.
The boundary increase also has numerous resources of archeological significance. There are at least seven mill hamlets and related sites now surviving as clusters of foundations, standing ruins, and single foundations. One mill site, the Hagy paper mill, was the subject of an archeological excavation in 1975-76. As excavated by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, the mill building was found to have been somewhat larger than the 1798 direct tax dimensions (30' x 5[?]) had suggested. It probably had been enlarged in the nineteenth century. Also uncovered was evidence of another building, possibly the 18' x 20' grist mill also listed on the property by the direct tax. Many of these former eighteenth and nineteenth century mill sites, both those now in ruin and those substantively intact, may yield important archeological information about the development of industry and technology in this country and the life of the mill workers and families.
Comparison, Preservation, Threats
At its height in the early nineteenth century, the Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase was a major industrial center in the Philadelphia region, being one of several which helped propel Philadelphia to national and international industrial and financial stature. Although many of the Schuylkill's larger tributaries became mill streams, only Philadelphia's Wissahickon Creek rivaled Mill Creek in the extent of its milling operations. While the Wissahickon probably surpassed Mill Creek in the density and size of its mills, none survive. Today, the Wissahickon little resembles the mill stream it once was. Another valley known for its mills is the Brandywine valley in Chester County, Pennsylvania. While several eighteenth and nineteenth mills survive, including the Hagley, Brinton, and Hoffman mills, they are spread along a 40 mile creek corridor that is interrupted by several large communities and subdivisions, major highways, and vast distances between mills. These areas lack Mill Creek's historic and visual continuity and its still rural character. The same can be said for nearby Chester and Darby Creeks, which also supported many mills. With its numerous surviving mill buildings and relatively undisturbed landscape, the boundary increase, together with the original Mill Creek Historic District, retain tangible and physical links with its industrial past. It remains the best preserved mill stream along the southern Schuylkill River and one of the best in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Besides the presence of estates and Durham's influence on the boundary increase, several other factors have contributed to the continued preservation of the boundary increase's historic fabric and natural landscape. Approximately 75 percent of the property owners whose properties border the creek signed the Mill Creek Conservancy Agreement of 1941. This covenant prohibits tree cutting and the erection or demolition of buildings within 100 feet on either side of the creek bed, where many mill buildings were located. The township has long recognized the Mill Creek valley as an important historical asset, and one of the largest reserves of open space remaining in the municipality. The proposed boundary increase includes lands within three township parks, expressly acquired for preservation purposes. The most recent acquisition was the 103 acre Walter Pew property in 1995, which includes the Bicking mill ruins and elements of the Nippes mill. The township also recently enacted a cluster zoning ordinance for developments of over five acres and has a historic preservation ordinance. These measures, along with the presence of large estates held privately, have not only helped preserve the boundary increase's historic resources, but its natural setting as well.
Threats to the boundary increase include high land values making the remaining parcels ripe for development, and the boundary increase's close proximity to Philadelphia, Route 76, also called the Schuylkill Expressway, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's (SEPTA) R5 commuter rail line, also known as the Paoli Local. Standing ruins continue to show signs of deterioration and erosion along the creek threaten archeological resources.
In summary, the Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase is Lower Merion Township's historic, architectural and archeological core. It contains a landscape that has a rural historic characteristic yet is surrounded by suburban Philadelphia. Most significant is the large number of contributing resources which survive within its boundary, particularly intact eighteenth and nineteenth century mill resources, large estate properties designed for notable individuals by prominent architects, and single houses designed by architect Walter K. Durham. Few noncontributing resources disrupt this historic landscape, much of which has been preserved as open space. Thus, the Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase, existing alone or together with the original Mill Creek Historic District, is a visual record of the township's industrial and socioeconomic past.
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† Becker, Gloria O., Gladwyne Civic Association, Mill Creek Historic District, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
‡ Robert J. Wise Jr. and Damon Tvaryanas, Brandywine Conservancy, Mill Creek Historic District Boundary Increase, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Conshohocken State Road • Crosby Brown Road • Greaves Lane • Maple Hill Road • Mill Creek Road • Monk Road • Old Gulph Road • Righters Mill Road • Rose Glen Road