Nether Providence Through The Years

 


     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.