Nether Providence Through The Years


     To accommodate the workers for these mills, a village was settled surrounding Mr. Leiper's home of "Strath Haven" and given the name "Avondale" for his home town in Scotland. There were over twenty-seven buildings in the village.

     Getting his products to market was a challenge because transportation was so poor at that time. His first attempt to solve his transportation problem came in 1791 when he requested the Pennsylvania Legislature's permission to construct a canal along Crum Creek that would bring his goods to the tidewater terminals more expeditiously. The request was denied.

     In 1809, Mr. Leiper developed a different solution - he built a railroad. The first commercial railroad in Pennsylvania! This was not a railroad in the modern sense. It was a horse-drawn tramway that went from his quarries in Avondale through the rear of today's Sproul Estates, across Bullen's Lane ending at Ridley Creek. It operated for eighteen years.

     In 1824 (the year before Mr. Leiper died), the State Legislature finally gave permission for the canal.

     So it was left to his son, George, in 1828, to close the tramway and replace it with a canal running from the village of Avondale to a point near present-day MacDade Boulevard. This bold move was made only three years after Governor DeWitt Clinton opened his canal in New York. The fact that the Erie Canal was still referred to as "Clinton's Ditch" did not discourage the Leipers because they believed in the merits of canal transportation. Proving them correct, soon after the Leiper Canal was completed, a wave of canal building swept across the country. The canal, in turn, was replaced in 1852 by a second railroad running the entire length of the Crum Creek valley to presentday Chester Pike. Eventually, George Leiper acquired the Harris powder mill, located just above Yale Avenue on the Crum, and operated a blade mill for scythes and knives. In 1830, it was converted into a paper mill and then a cotton mill that operated until the 1880s. Avondale Mills continued production until the Depression and the quarries were open until 1944.

     A word about Mr. Leiper. We tend to regard William Cameron Sproul as our most influential resident. He was, after all, Governor of Pennsylvania and owner of The Chester Times (now The Delaware County Times). Or maybe Howard H. Huston, former Mayor of Chester, director of several banks and businesses and the electric railway company that put the first trolley across Nether Providence. Nevertheless, in his time, Mr. Leiper's importance could not be surpassed. He helped form and was Treasurer of the First City Troop. He took part in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. He was a friend and partner of Thomas Jefferson, a Presidential Elector in 1809 for Andrew Jackson, and a founder of the Bank of North America. We know he built the first permanent railway in America, but, at his home in Avondale, he also built the first private bank in America. He was President of the Philadelphia City Council (1802-1805) and President of the Philadelphia Common Council (1813). In addition to all this, he was a founder and first officer of the Franklin Institute. In retrospect, Mr. Leiper was a man for all seasons!

     Further up Crum Creek, in the area surrounding Baltimore Pike, were the mills of the Lewis family. Their first mill was a cotton mill. Around 1890, it became Victoria Plush Mill and operated until the 1930s. A second mill was a paper mill. It operated from 1825 until the 1960s under various names such as Paper Manufacturing Products Company and Franklin Paper Mills. The mill buildings are on the Springfield side of Crum Creek, but the workers' tenement houses are on the Township's side. J. Howard Lewis selected a site on his 106acre estate for his home and built it around 1840. The house, located in Smedley Park, is now occupied by the Cooperative Extension Center.

     Another major mill site was at the foot of Beatty Road, known as the Edge Tool Factory. It produced farm and carpentry implements starting in 1848. Around 1860, the Beatty family took it over and, in 1892, sold it to the Springfield Water Company.

     The mills played an essential part in the growth of Nether Providence. In addition to hundreds of employees (men, women, and children), hundreds more were employed in occupations ancillary to the mills - as stable hands, teamsters, smiths, tailors and carpenters. Self-contained villages grew up around those mills consisting of houses, churches, stores, schools and recreational areas.

     As the township stabilized and flourished, more substantial homes began to appear. Wooley Stille (802 Harvey Road) expanded its original 1685 section by adding the "Great Hall" in 1700. Other new homes included the 1704 James Sharpless house (322 North Providence Road), 1728 John Sharpless, III house (610 Creekside Lane), 1735 Vernon house (106 North Providence Road), 1735 Jonathan Vernon house (107 Wallingford Avenue), 1737 James Hinkson house (I East Brookhaven Road), 1740 Daniel Sharpless, Sr. house (723 South Providence Road), 1746 Isaac Briggs house (403 North Providence Road), 1750 John Byre dairy farm house (101 West Brookhaven Road), 1760 Beatty house (603 Beatty Road), 1763 William Edward house (410 North Providence Road), 1777 Jonathan Vernon house (41 South Providence Road), 1785 Thomas Leiper house (521 Avondale Road), 1785 Enos Sharpless house (280 Chestnut Parkway), 1790 James Vernon house (10 Meadow Lane), 1793 Franklin Iron Works foreman's house (109 Waterville Road), 1796 Thomas Hinkson house (212 Sykes Lane), 1798 Seth Thomas house (8 South Providence Road), 1798 Worrall family house (900 Penn Valley Road) and the 1799 James Hinkson Blacksmith Shop (3 West Brookhaven Road). The Blacksmith Shop was used as the Township Commissioners' meeting room from the late 1930s until 1953. There are twenty-seven houses built in the eighteenth century that are still used today. Another thirty-nine structures built in the 1800s are still in use today.