By Dick Henkels
Old Forge Crossing is a vibrant and active community of the 21st century, but the land on which it sits has a rich history dating back to the American colonial period, and with a role in the annals of the Revolutionary War.
The property was originally part of the famous Greene Countrie Village, the Land Grant given to William Penn by the English king. The first recorded reference to the property, then consisting of 1,000 acres, was in 1701 when it was deeded by Penn to a woman named Catherine Morgan.
The property at that time ranged from the extension of Swedesford Road at what is now the Gateway Shopping Center to an unidentified location on the south side of the property near the Trenton Cutoff branch of the railroad, from Valley Forge Road to Old Eagle School Road. The land included the acreage where the Post Office Distribution Center now stands.
In 1710 Morgan sold the property to Griffith John (also known as Jones). John, a member of the State Assembly, had three sons and two daughters. Each son was given part of the property.
The property had two entrances, one from Valley Forge Road and the other from Swedesford Road, and at one time a drive circled in front of the mansion house.
The area was originally known as “Cockletown,” then changed to Valleytown. It was later changed to Tredyffrin, the present name of the township in which it is located. “Tre” meant town or township, and “Dyffrin” meant a wide, cultivated valley. There were many variations in the spelling.
As described in 1751, the house consisted of the present rooms on both sides of the center hall. A wing with the present pool room, kitchen and rooms over these areas was added later. Typical of the farmhouses built at that time, the walls are made of two feet thick stone.
David (Davie) Jones, Griffith’s grandson, donated some of his land for the establishment of the Baptist Church in the Great Valley, which had been organized in 1711. The church was built in 1722, on the land just south of the present Old Forge Crossing complex. The present church building was constructed in 1814.
Davie Jones became pastor of the church in 1775. In 1776 he became army chaplain and medic under Generals Gates and St. Clair, and participated in the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He then became Regimental Chaplain to General Anthony Wayne, at Valley Forge.
Jones was reportedly such an important aid to Gen. Wayne that he was entrusted with a secret letter to Benjamin Franklin. He was so valuable, in fact, that he appeared on the British “Most Wanted” list.
A Revolutionary War bullet is still imbedded in the right side of the mantle in the clubhouse pool room, which originally was the farmhouse dining room. The bullet cannot be seen, but can be felt.
No battle actually took place on the property. But from Sept. 18 to Sept. 21, 1777, British General Edward Matthews set up his headquarters in the farmhouse and troops camped between the farmhouse and the headquarters of General Lord Cornwallis near Cassatt and Swedesford Roads
While encamped here, the soldiers were apparently taking advantage of the Jones family. Soldiers robbed Davie Jones of his “riding chair, 14 sheep, 1 hog, 17 geese, 105 bushels of wheat, & c.” Griffith H. Jones, who owned an adjoining property, submitted to the soldiers a bill for the amount of 60 pounds and 2 shillings for damage. The British also looted the Baptist Church.
In 1804, Griffith H. Jones sold 113 acres to Catherine and William Brown. The property was divided again in 1812, when George Beaver bought another portion of the property and was granted water rights for the stream to “watter horses, cattel and c. and pastering.”
Thomas Walker is listed in the records as the next owner, but it is not clear whose acreage, and how much, he purchased. It is known that Isaac Walker sold a right-of-way to the Chester Valley Railroad in 1850. Isaac Walker owned some of the Old Forge Crossing land from 1839 to 1887. He sold a portion of his property to George H. Beaver in 1881.
A plot plan dated 1883 shows three streams flowing through the property: one near the present property line of the post office, one flowing near what is now Valley Forge Road, and a branch of that stream flowing between the present clubhouse and barn.
The small building in the present area of the swimming pool was a spring house where food was stored. The stone walls along the road from the clubhouse to the barn were originally part of a bridge across this stream. A pond near Valley Forge Road is where Schooner Mews stands now.
The Old Forge property changed hands again when Isaac Walker sold his portion to William H. Kemble in 1887. Kemble sold his land to Mary F. Kemble in 1891. In 1902, the property was purchased by Elizabeth K. Yarrow, whose family was in the cattle feed business. They had a contract to feed the horses that pulled the Philadelphia horse cars, but lost their fortune when the cars were replaced by electric trolleys.
During this period a large orchard extended from the house to Valley Forge Road. Thus, the property became known as Old Orchard Farm.
1900 - Present
In 1918 the property was again sold, for $65,000, to George C. Shane. The following year, Shane dammed a stream to create a duck pond between the barn and the stable, which stood on what is now the Post Office property.
At this time the house had no electricity. Instead, what was referred to as a “big device” in the basement made gas for cooking and lighting. When the cost of gasoline rose to 33 cents per gallon, gas lights were replaced with oil lamps.
When he could not sell the property, Shane turned it over to his business consultant, who formed a Delaware corporation to manage it, using the name Old Orchard Farm Corporation. The property changed hands twice more. The corporation sold it to the Jeans family, who lost their money and sold it to the McDowells in 1924.
In 1922 the front porch of the house was removed and the side extensions were enclosed to include what is now the ping pong room. Around that time, when Valley Forge Park was being developed, it was said that if you stood at the front door of the house you could see Anthony Wayne’s statue, two and one half miles away.
The last owner of the farm, Warren H. Wells, sold the property to Old Forge Crossing Associates on May 5, 1969. This company sold it to Prudential Insurance Company, and the property was then maintained as an apartment complex. The Old Forge Crossing Condominium Association was formed on May 26, 1981.
Edited by Lorna Shurkin