Township History

 

A General East Pikeland History
 
In 1682, William Penn petitioned King Charles II to make payment in land for a debt owed by the Crown to his father, an Admiral in the British Navy. The land was called West New Jersey, which included the land west of the Delaware River that was to later become Pennsylvania. Penn was granted a royal charter appointing Penn and his heirs “true and absolute Proprietors of a tract of land, called Pennsylvania, lying north of Maryland, south of New York”. He saw the land west of the Delaware as an opportunity for his “Holy Experiment” – a Quaker colony, first called the Society of Friends of West New Jersey, a realization of his ideal to enable Quaker households to practice their discipline of familial and spiritual communities in an agrarian society.

Swedish, Finnish and Dutch settlements had existed along the rivers for several decades before William Penn formed the three original counties: Chester, Bucks and Philadelphia. The original Quaker homesteading settlements, the Cheshire or Chester Meeting Tract, and the Welsh or Radnor Meeting Tract, were laid out between the Delaware and the Schuylkill, covering parts of present day Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

The Radnor Tract then extended only as far as Gulph Mills on the Schuylkill. But the Quaker settlements soon went far beyond to land farther up the Schuylkill, including The Pikelands. However, some of these properties became the tools of speculators. Dr. Daniel Coxe, Court Physician to King Charles II and friendly with William Penn, was able to obtain a land patent, together with investors Sir Matthias Vincent and Major Robert Thompson, each having 10,000 of the 30,000 acres that make up what are today four townships – East and West Pikeland, and East and West Vincent. This was one of many pieces of land involved in a grand scheme that intended to control the fur trade in beaver skins, all the way out to Lake Erie. Together with other investors they formed the “New Mediterranean Sea Company” to pursue their elaborate trading plan.

The early death of Vincent, and both the disinterest and early death of Thompson were among many setbacks for Coxe in promoting the Company. Penn himself complicated the finalizing of the legal deed of the Company, not being in favor of the trade monopoly that it might represent, and possibly influenced by the fact that Coxe was an Anglican, not a Quaker. For the land that would become the Pikelands, the break with the Company came with the sale of Vincent’s 10,000 acres by his surviving wife and family to a Mr. Joseph Pike, Quaker merchant, of Kilcreagh farm, County Cork, Ireland.Coxe tried to purchase both the Vincent and Thompson acreage from the estates to add to his own, but many delays drained his patience. He sold his 10,000 acres to the new West Jersey Company, and turned his speculation to the purchase of land in the “Carolana” Tract, south of Virginia.

Pike's Land was the first name given to the grant of 10,000 acres to Joseph Pike in 1705. Joseph Pike was the eldest son of an English father and an Irish mother. His father had served in Cromwell’s army in Ireland with distinction, but both parents later took the Quaker faith. From agrarian family beginnings Joseph began in business at age 18 as a wool trader and later as a dry goods merchant, opening a shop in Cork. In the course of his business that took him to Holland and Flanders, he gained friendly relations with William Penn. He was a strong supporter of Quaker teachings, writing and publishing tracts. This and a friendship with a Thomas Story, another friend of Penn, led to Story becoming Pike’s agent in Pennsylvania.

With the death of Joseph Pike in 1729, having never set foot in Pennsylvania, his eldest son Richard became owner of Pike’s Pennsylvania properties, which included land in Caln Township, in Bucks County and elsewhere. As agent he chose Michael Lightfoot, brother of Samuel Lightfoot the surveyor, whose Quaker family lived in Pikeland and later built the first grist mill on Pickering Creek. Richard died in 1755 and his executors, Samuel Hoare and Nathaniel Newberry of London appointed Michael Lightfoot’s sons, Thomas and William, as agents. Hoare was a brother in law to Richard Pike.

Pikelanders had lived on the land for more than half a century, paying taxes assessed under “Pikeland Township.” With the lingering uncertainty of deed to their land, they were all still tenants. Hoare administered the properties, pursuing collection of rents from the Pikelands tenants. After Richard’s death, he moved to sell the land to the leaseholders, who formed themselves into the loosely-knit “Pikeland Company” in 1762 to negotiate with Hoare. A court battle with the Pike family contesting Richard’s will continued, based on a charge of mental incapacity when it was written, but the outcome gave Hoare undisputed control, acting as owner of the properties by 1764. Hoare offered a deal to the Pikeland Company to enable the tenants to purchase their holdings, with L 2,500 down payment and L 4,000 per year for 3 years, beginning in 1763. This was divided on the basis of property value, and 68 tenants signed for it. Apparently Lightfoot, the agent, had great difficulty collecting. After years of frustration, Hoare replaced the Lightfoots in 1773 with Andrew Allen, attorney and member of the first Continental Congress. Hoare soon conveyed the properties to Allen for a L 16,000 mortgage.

At this point a new period of confusing and obscure history began that lasted another 30 years. Allen was a Tory. In 1776 he departed for England and much of his property was sold by the Pennsylvania Assembly. In the charged atmosphere of the war, the Pikeland papers were lost, Hoare was trying to collect his mortgage, and finally in 1786 Hoare transferred his Trust powers to Benjamin Chew, who began a new period of negotiations with the Pikeland Company. By 1792, accommodation had largely been reached, so that valid titles to Pikeland lands were finally obtained for the most diligent tenants. Others who could not or did not pay were less fortunate.

By the end of the 18th Century, the distance from a hundred years of uncertainty was sufficient to enable a new foundation for growth. In the northern Pikelands close to Phoenixville and the transportation corridors, the character of growth began to diverge from that of the Pickering Valley, which maintained a more rural character. In 1838, the differences had grown such that a division in the townships was decided - into East Pikeland and West Pikeland. Thus two Pikeland municipalities have come down to us.

East Pikeland was directly involved in the Revolutionary War, especially from 1775 through 1778, and most heavily during the "Philadelphia Campaign" in 1777 and 1778. It was a source of provisions for the Army from its farms, mills and cottage industries. Military importance came in 1775 with the authorization by the Committee of Safety in Philadelphia from the Continental Powder Works, and the site chosen was at Rapps Dam on French Creek. The mill was a key element in a system of munitions supply that involved the Warwick and Reading iron furnaces near the headwaters of French Creek, which together with other furnaces such as Hopewell produced cannon and ammunition for Washington. The prime location of the mill on the creek with its long millrace was not forgotten after the war. Some of the mill buildings were reconstructed and over the next 150 years, continued to operate variously as oil, saw, grist and spoke mills; in the historic Snyder’s Mill, of which the remnants can still be seen today at the site of the powder works, located northwest side of Rapp’s dam Road, southwest of French Creek. Other mills in the area that would later become a successful were a Grist Mill called Prizer’s Mill, which closed in 1954 and is on the National Register and Chrisman’s mill (now the Kimberton Post Office) located in the center of Kimberton Village and operated until 1938.

Kimberton Village is a quaint 18th century village located off Route 113. The Kimberton Historic District includes sixty-two buildings and two structures along three eighteenth and nineteenth century roadways that helped to make the village a local education, market, and transportation center. The village is also locally significant for its namesake, Emmor Kimber, an enterprising educator who arrived here in 1817 and promptly established himself as the community’s leading citizen and a prominent county figure. Kimber started a French Creek Boarding School for girls in 1818 and later in 1820 built the Kimberton Inn, which was intended to house the relatives of his students at the school. After Kimber died in 1850, the school was renamed Kimberton Academy. In addition to those establishments, Kimber was also an instrumental figure in founding the Schuylkill navigational canal and the Reading Railroad.

He also had a reputation of being an active abolitionist and the boarding school was reportedly a stop on the Underground Railroad. Kimberton’s architecture reflects the village’s two phases of growth. At the district’s western end, around an early crossroads (Kimberton and Hare’s Hill roads), stand eighteenth and early nineteenth century stone buildings that are representative of the eighteenth century vernacular architecture of this part of Chester County. George Chrisman who built and owned Chrisman’s mill was also the owner of the Sign of the Black Bear Tavern which was also located at the main Kimberton Village intersection and is still standing today. The opposite end of the district reflects the development of building lots around the post-Civil War railroad station. The regular plan and sitting of house in this section of the district are distinctive in comparison to other historic villages in northern Chester County.

The building of permanent churches in the Pikeland began when the “Pikeland Lutheran Congregation beyond the Schuylkill” was formed in 1743, on the influence of Henry Muhlenberg. The Zion Lutheran church also called the “The Old Organ Church” replaced in 1771 and it was actually used as a hospital by General Washington’s troops in 1777. Another church that formed in the township was the Centennial Lutheran Church at Kimberton located at the intersection of Coldstream and Hares Hill Roads.

There were two railroads that formerly existed and provided service to Kimberton and the township. They were the short lived “Sow Belly” Railroad and the once booming Pickering Valley Railroad. The Sow Belly had a reputation of having tracks that were very winding and had bends that went all over the place and was thus not very useful and did not last long. On the other hand the Pickering Valley Railroad was wildly successful for many years, because of the financial upturn it spiked in Kimberton due to its shipping of crops and other cargo.

The name of French Creek – also called the Vincent River on some records, is thought to have come from the interest of early pioneers in the area, many of whom were French. Such a Frenchman, Peter Bezallion, is said to have lived, about 1700, in a cave where French Creek empties into the Schuylkill. But it may also be an alliteration of “Friend’s Creek,” from its Quaker settlers. The Indian name, Sankanac, means “Flint River.”

Bridges have also played a crucial role in East Pikeland’s overall transportation over the years. The two most important being the Hare’s Hill Road Bridge also called the Silver Bridge and the Rapps Dam Covered Bridge which is one of the only 15 active covered bridges currently in existence in Chester County. The Rapps Dam Bridge was built in 1866 and is on Rapps Dam Road in East Pikeland and Hare’s Hill Bridge on Hare’s Hill Road was built in 1869.

East Pikeland Township has seen considerable change since the early part of the 20th Century. The area around Kimberton saw expanded housing areas, as did the corridors near Routes 23 & 724. Only the main roads were paved, according to a 1938 map. The reason for the growth in the township over the years has been an influx of population that has found East Pikeland Township an attractive and practical place to live. The suburbanization of the township, as most areas, occurred as the availability of automobiles made the general population mobile. In 1940, the township population was 976. Space to house the ever-increasing population came from the conversion of lands that had traditionally been dairy or wheat farms. Although some farms remain today, the predominant land use pattern in the central portion of the township is residential. The spread of suburban development has occurred primarily in the French Creek valley, along Cold Stream Road. Also occurring since World War II has been the development of townhouse complexes, shopping centers and industrial sites, such as the Cromby Power Station (PECO) and shopping centers along Routes 23 & 724. The closing of the remaining one and two room school houses occurred in the 1950's, in favor of the regional school system.

In recent years stemming back to the 80’s, East Pikeland has also opened itself up to the production of local Community Supported Agriculture which contribute fresh organic crops to the local community. These CSA’s include: Kimberton CSA, Charlestown Farm, Sankanac farm, and Seven Stars Farm. Also The First Municipal Park dedicated to Public use; Kimberton Park, was established in 1998.

East Pikeland Township is a township of the second class operating under the Pennsylvania Second Class Township Code. The Board of Supervisors is the governing body, with three members elected at large by the voters for staggered six-year terms. They are responsible for both the legislative and executive functions of the township. The township manager is appointed by the board and is responsible for the day-to-day business activities of the township. The manager coordinates the work of all operating departments and is directly responsible to the Board of Supervisors.

Sources:

Immigration of the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania,1682-1750 by Albert Cook Myers

Appendix C, East Pikeland Township Significant historic/Architectural Resources

Estelle Creamers- “30,000 Acres- Vincent and Pikleland Townships, 1686 to 1850

Miriam Clegg- Numerous articles written for the Phoenixville Historical society newsletters

S.W. Pennypacker- Phoenixville and its vicinity, published 1872

East Pikeland Township, Open Space, Recreation and Environmental Resource Plan

 

Visit the East Pikeland Historic Commission page for recent news and information on historic activities and events. 

 

 
 
East Pikeland Township Photos
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