History of Delaware County Pennsylvania - Chapter 20

Created: Tuesday, 12 April 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

CHAPTER XX

TRAVELING AND TRANSPORTATION, WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE RAILROADS IN THE COUNTY

In these days of rapid transit, when inside of eighty days a man can "put a girdle round about the earth," it is a difficult matter to comprehend the slow journeys of the olden time, or that hardly three hundred years ago travelers had no choice but to ride on horseback or walk. Nor was that all they had to contend with, at least in this colony, for as early as Sept. 22, 1676,* it was a law, "That if hereafter any Stranger or person unknown shall come to or Travill through any Towne or place within this Government without a Passport or Certificate from whence hee came and wither hee is bound, shall bee lyable to bee Seized upon by any Officer of the Towne or Place unto which hee comes, or through which he shall travill, there too bee Licenced untill hee can Cleare himselfe to bee a free Man, and shall defray the Charges of his Detention there, by his worke of Labour (if not otherwise able to give Satesfaction) in the best way and Manner hee shall bee found capable."

Indeed, previous to the year 1700, strangers were by law forbidden to travel from place to place, and so strict was the regulation that ferrymen were compelled to enter into bond not to carry any person unknown to them, unless he could produce a traveling pass signed by a magistrate; and innkeepers were required to notify the officers of the law when strangers sought lodgings at their houses, so that the authorities might inquire into the antecedents of their guests.

Under William Penn it became almost as difficult to get away from the colony as to travel in it. For the fifty-fifth law provided "that Every person intending to depart or leave the Province & Territories thereof; Shall publish his or her intention in writing, affixed to the door of the County Court, where hee or shee inhabits thirty days before his or her Departure, and Shall have a pass under the County Seal." All captains of vessels were forbidden to carry a person away unless he or she was provided with such a pass, and the violation of that injunction rendered the captain responsible for all damages any one might suffer by reason of the passenger having absconded. Similar laws were enacted in 1700 and 1705.

The first mention of a pass being granted occurs at the court held in Chester, 6th of Eighth month, 1685, where it is recorded that "Robert Cloud had a pass granted him to depart the Province, dated ye 26th day of ye 9th month, 1685, his brother William Cloud, of Concord, being his security to Safe ye Country Harmless."

All men then traveled by land on horseback. Ladies at that time rode on pillions (a pad or cushion attached to the hinder part of the saddle and fixed on the horse), behind some relative or servant-man, unless, like Queen Christina, of Sweden, they preferred to ride astride the animal, as men did. In the latter part of the year 1678 it is recorded in the journal of Peter Sluyter and Jasper Danekers, the Labadist missionaries, that Ephraim Herman, who accompanied the travelers from New York to New Castle, had his wife with him, and she rode all the way, excepting that part which was made in boats, on a pillion behind her husband. In the first quarter of the last century it is told of John Salkeld, the noted public Friend (who, about 17O8, built the house which now stands partly in the roadway on Norris Street, above Third, South Ward, Chester), that on one occasion, during a religious visit to New Jersey, he was accompanied by his daughter, Agnes, riding on a pilion behind her father; that after meeting he rode away, leaving his daughter at the house of worship, and that he did not notice that she was not with him until he had gone several miles. The late William Worrall, of Ridley, who was born in Marple in 1730, used to relate that in his youthful days, at marriages, the bride rode to meeting behind her father or next best friend, seated on a pillion; that after the ceremony was over and the wedded couple were ready to return, the pillion was then placed behind the saddle of the husband, and his wife would in that manner be conveyed to her new home. At that time, and until a very recent period, all houses, in the country at least, had high horse-blocks for women to use in mounting behind the men who rode the animals. These blocks were usually three stone steps, and were also located near by all the old churches and meeting-houses. In more modern days they were used to mount into side-saddles.

In the early times all merchandise and freight was transported on pack-horses. Grain was thus carried to market in large sacks, holding between two and three bushels, which were placed on pack-saddles, and a lad mounted on one animal would lead three or four in a line behind the one he rode. Mr. Worrall also stated that in his youth "there were no carts, much less carriages. They hauled their grain on sleds to the stacks. He assisted his father to carry on horseback one hundred bushels of wheat to Charles Humphrey’s mill, in Haverford township, which he sold for two shillings a bushel." In this statement he was partly correct. We know that by means of pack-horses the most unwieldy articles were then transported, bars of iron, barrels of whiskey, and other necessaries.

Mr. Worrall was not, however, accurate in declaring that there were no carriages in the province in his early manhood, for in 1725 there were eight gentlemen of means, including the Governor, each of whom was reported to own a four-wheeled carriage drawn by two horses, and at that time one of the number was kept in the present county of Delaware by Chief Justice David Lloyd, who lived in the old Porter house, as it was known to the present generation, at the foot of Welsh Street. That they were clumsy vehicles cannot be doubted, for even the chair or old-fashioned sulky, that many of the older people can yet recall, was nothing but a common arm-chair on leather braces, suspended over a pair of wheels. The latter conveyance was exceedingly light in weight, which was only proper at that time, when between the highwaymen, who perchance would bid you "stand and deliver" at any moment, and the miry road, almost hub-deep in winter, which might stall you for half a day, no prudent man was justified in traveling a hundred miles without first making his will and so far as he could winding up his affairs, for he had no assurance that he would ever return alive, hence the lighter the vehicle he rode in the greater would be his chance of getting safely home again.

The roads in early times were simply narrow passes for horsemen, and the bridges, as shown by the court records, were built for the passage over the streams of persons traveling in that manner. On Nov. 24, 1708, the justices ordered James Hendrickson to repair the bridge over Chester Creek, and also the same day the court "further agreed that the said James Hendrickson shall build a bridge over Marcus Hook creek in the Queen’s Road, where the old bridge now is, and erect it 10 foot broad and so long as is sufficient and necessary for the same to extend, and to build it all of white oak timber completely finished." The roads, too, previous to 1700, were impassable for horsemen, and travel by water was even intercepted in these times. At a court held in Chester, Seventh month 14, 1692, a case was called, and neither party to the suit appearing, the records show this entry, "The Court considering that the weather was so bad that it was impossible for anyone to get down the River they thought fitt to continue the action. until the next Court."

The people residing near the navigable streams, certainly before the beginning of the eighteenth century, traveled from place to place by water. It was not until about 1720 that any carriages, save that of Penn’s family, were used in the province, and they were then so rare that in passing along the road they excited as much attention from the rustics as a circus does at this time. About the middle of the century they had come into fashion among the grandees of our colonial days. We are informed that Col. Harrison, of Virginia, in 1755, passed through Chester in his chaise** on his way southward, having Mrs. Belchior, of Maryland, under his protection. We know that Gen. Washington rode through the country with a coach and four, with two postilions and an outrider in showy livery. Frequently he passed through Chester in this style, or rather his family would be in the carriage, while he, mounted on a handsome horse, which he rode remarkably well, would follow, the wonder and admiration of the dwellers in the ancient borough, who would gather along the streets to see him pass. He generally stopped at the Washington House, and when his imposing equipage would halt before the door of the old tavern, the entire business of the town would cease, and the people would loiter around until the great man and his coach had rumbled away in the distance.

In 1732 a line of stages ran from Burlington to Amboy, across New Jersey, connecting at each end of the route with sail-boats. These fast stage-coaches, for such they were called, showed at that period remarkable progress in means of passenger transportation. A journey then was no unimportant event, when by the clumsy stage a man could travel about forty miles a day; that is, if the roads were in good condition; while even to do this, if the highway was heavy, he must rise at three or four o’clock in the morning and prolong the ride far into the night. In the winter, if the road was much traveled, it soon became a quagmire, into which the horsed would frequently sink to their knees in the adhesive mud. Then all hands would have to get out and help pry the great lumbering vehicle, which was hub-deep, out of the trouble. As recent as Jan. 10, 1834, the Queen’s Highway between Chester and Darby was so bad that the mail-coach from Washington stuck fast in the mud below Darby, and had to be drawn to that village by oxen; while on Jan. 9, 1836, a heavy lumber box on runners, used as an omnibus between Darby and Philadelphia, stuck fast in a snow-drift near the former place, and it was two days before it could be moved.

I have not definitely ascertained when the first stage-line was established between Philadelphia and Baltimore, but Martin *** gives the abstract of a long advertisement which appears in the Independent Gazetteer, or the Chronicle of Freedom, published in Philadelphia, Jan. 2, 1788. Greeshorn, Johnson & Co., of "the Philadelphia, Baltimore and Eastern Shore Line of Post Coach Carriages," state that carriages will set out on Fourth Street, nearly opposite the old Indian Queen Tavern, during the winter on Mondays and Thursdays of every week, at ten o’clock in the forenoon, and arrive in Baltimore on Wednesdays and Saturdays in good season for dining. The passengers on their way from Philadelphia will dine at the "Queen of France Inn," kept by Mr. John Jarvis, twenty-two miles from the city. In the issue of the same paper, July 12, 1788, the notice is somewhat changed, and the rates of fare are given thus:

  Miles. £ s. d.
"From Phila. to Chester 15 0 5 0
" Chester to Qu. of France 7 0 2 6
Q. of F. to Wilmington 6 0 2 6
Wil. to Christiana Br 10 0 3 4
Christiana Br. to Elk 12 0 4 2
Elk to Susquehanna 16 0 7 6
Phila. to Susque. Br 66 1 5 6
" Susque. to Baltimore 37 Gratis

"The passengers sleep the first night at Christiana bridge."

In the same journal, issue of Feb. 11, 1788, the following note is given: "The proprietors of the Old Line of Stages, having united with the lines from New York to Philadelphia, and thence to Baltimore, will begin to run on Monday, the 18th inst. The stages will leave the New York and Baltimore Stage Office on 4th Street, two doors from the Indian Queen, Kept by Mr. James Thompson, at 6. o’clock on the mornings of Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and will return again on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays each week during the Winter Season."

At the time mentioned there must have been rival lines running to Baltimore, that of Greeshorn, Johnson & Co., and G.P. Vanhorne, Kerlin & Co. The following advertisement appears in the Pennsylvania Packet, March 11, 1790:

"PUBLIC STAGES.

"The well-established Mail Stages between the City of Philadelphia and Baltimore continue their regular Tours respectively from each place by the way of the Susquehannah, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Returning on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. To facilitate the dispatch and arrival of the Public Mails is an obligation indispensable, and every exertion to accommodate engages the duty and interests of the proprietors. The passengers are therefore requested to be early in their preparations for the Stages starting, as the most assiduous efforts are requisite and will be practiced, to render general and complete satisfaction.

"G.P. VANHORNE, KEELIN & Co.
"N.B. -  Regulations to be seen in the Stage office at the George Inn."

William Kerlin and Matthias Kerlin, Jr., were both interested in stage coach companies, by which occupation they became wealthy; Matthias Kerlin retiring from business about 1792 with an ample fortune, returned to Delaware County, his native place, to reside.

The American Annual Register for 1796, published Jan. 19, 1797, presents the unattractive picture of the post-road through the county at that period, and the unpleasant experiences that then awaited the traveler. It says, "The roads from Philadelphia to Baltimore exhibit for the greater part of the way an aspect of savage desolation. Chasms to the depths of six, eight, or ten feet occur at numerous intervals. A stage-coach which left Philadelphia on the 5th of February, 1796, took five days to go to Baltimore. The weather for the first four days was good. The roads are in a fearful condition. Coaches are overturned, passengers killed, and horses destroyed by the overwork put upon them. In winter, sometimes, no stage sets out for two weeks." Isaac Wild, Jr., of Dublin, in 1796 visited this country, and describing his journey by stage from Philadelphia to Baltimore, he records, "The driver had frequently to call to the passengers in the stage to lean out of the carriage, first on one side, then at the other, to prevent it from oversetting in the deep ruts with which the road abounded. ‘Now, gentlemen, to the right,’ upon which all the passengers in the stage stretched their bodies half out of the carriage to balance it on that side; ‘Now, gentlemen, to the left,’ and so on. These performances took place about every half-mile. If the road was contiguous to a wood, they just cut down a few trees to open a new passage, an operation which they called making a road."

During the first thirty odd years of the present century there were several lines of stages running between the points named, Reeside, Stockton & Stokes, Murdock & Nasp, and Janviers’ rival lines of coaches. They changed their horses and stopped for meals at designated places, and made certain inns their headquarters. The large stable-yards around the old Washington Hotel (Reeside’s line stopped at that house), the Columbia House, and the City Hotel (then known as the Eagle and afterwards as the National), in Chester, were necessary for the change of horses and coach stopping-places. It was a busy scene in those times when the lumbering stage, with its coachman, in the winter-time, wrapped in a great coat of many capes, expertly throwing a whip with a long lash that sounded in the frosty air like the crack of a pistol, the horses at a full gallop, came into sight, the coach-body surging on its heavy leather springs, rumbling over the hard-frozen, lumpy road, and at last turning into the spacious inn-yard. The earsplitting blast from the guard’s horn, which was always blown in coming into the town, brought every one to the windows of the houses, for it was something to be regretted, for twenty-four hours at least, in those days if the stage chanced to go by unobserved. Often, too, the guard, out of very wantonness, would "toot his horn" just to see the horses in the field, who came trotting to the roadside fences to look at the passing wonder, scamper at the noise, and sometimes to alarm the farmers jogging along in the road before the stage. About the beginning of this century, at the run which crosses the King’s Highway just below Thurlow Station, the guard once blew a blast to quicken up a lady’s horse that was ambling along in a sleepy manner, and did it so effectually that the rider was thrown to the earth and into the run, receiving such injuries that she died within a few minutes.

After the commissioners appointed by Governor Snyder had laid out the street or State road, in 1815, which was afterwards known as the Baltimore, Philadelphia and New London turnpike, lines of stages were placed on that highway, and John Way, the then landlord of the Concordville Hotel, stated, in his petition in 1830, that his house was located "on the road leading from Philadelphia to New London cross-road, at which the stage teams are now daily changed on their tours between Philadelphia and Baltimore."

Albert Gallatin, in 1807, then Secretary of the Treasury, in a report to the Senate of the United States, states that "the Lancaster road, the first extensive turnpike that was completed in the United States, is the first link of the great western communication from Philadelphia." The road passes through the extreme northeastern verge of Haverford and diagonally through Radnor, and at an early date lines of stage-coaches ran along this noted highway.

Shortly after the Revolution Chester seems to have been a place of considerable attraction as a Sunday resort, and that the public, desirous of visiting the ancient borough, might not lack transportation a Sunday line of stages was run to supply that demand, as we learn from the following advertisement in the Philadelphia Gazetteer for July 3, 1789:
     "The Subscriber intends to run a Carriage from this city to Chester every Sunday and means to carry passengers at a lower rate than the regular stage; and in order that they may arrive in Chester in time for the Sermon, the Coach will leave the INDIAN QUEEN, on Fourth Street at half-past 5 o’clock in the morning At Chester a fresh set of able bodied Horses will be provided to return, so that the company may start thence in time for an agreeable refreshment at Messrs. Grays, and arrive in Philadelphia as early as they wish.

"MATTHIAS KERLIN, JR."

The general local travel from the neighborhood of Chester to Philadelphia was sadly cared for in the beginning of this century. Persons living on the King’s Highway, below Chester, and the Queen’s Highway, above that town, would have their trunks brought to the front gates of their houses and wait for the Baltimore or Wilmington stage to come, and, if there chanced to be a vacant place, they were taken in and carried to their destination, but frequently the coachman shook his head and drove by without stopping. To meet this want, about 1830, Chester rose to the dignity of having a line of stages to Philadelphia. I copy the following advertisement from the Weekly Visitor of Dec. 9, 1881:

"PHILADELPHIA AND CHESTER COACHES.

"John Pucians respectfully informs the inhabitants of Chester and vicinity that he has commenced running a line of stages between Philadelphia and Chester, leaving Philadelphia every morning at 8 o’clock, starting from the Sign of the Camel on North Second street and stopping for passengers at the Sign of the Cross Keys, corner Second and Lombard streets, and leaving Chester every afternoon at three o’clock, starting from the hotel of Samuel R. Lamplugh."

Lamplugh at that time kept the Columbia House, but the steamboats were then furnishing comparatively excellent transportation, and the enterprise languished, and finally the coaches were discontinued.

In alluding to the difficulties that beset the traveler by the public roads, mention was made of highwaymen. Perhaps it would have been better had the term foot-pads been used, for in no instance that I have found did the thief present himself handsomely appareled, mounted on a dashing steed, with a black silk mask covering the upper part of his face; but, in truth, he had usually a hang-dog appearance, without any of the mythological accessories that are always present in the highwaymen of the novelists.

In the fall of 1798 Richard Flower, of Chester Mills, was stopped on the Queen’s Highway near the run that crosses the road below Thurlow Station by a man who demanded his money. Mr. Flower apparently was complying with the unwelcome request when, seeing his opportunity, he struck the thief a blow on the head with his heavy riding-whip, which felled him to the ground, and then urging his horse into a run he made his way safely home.

In the Post Boy for May 25, 1824, is the following account of a highway robbery committed in this county on the night of the 21st of May of that year:
     "ROBBERY. On Friday evening last Mr. Samuel Black, of this county, being in his market-cart, on his way home from Philadelphia, was attacked on the West Chester road by five robbers, armed with clubs, an axe, etc., who led the horse and cart into the woods, bound Mr. Black in the cart, and after beating him, took what money they could find in his pockets, and left him in a mangled and insensible condition. On their first appearance Mr. Black succeeded in concealing his watch and pocket-book (which contained the principal part of his money and some papers) where they were not discovered. One of the robbers, who was very much intoxicated, threatened to take the life of Mr. Black, and there is no doubt he would have put his threat in execution had he succeeded in getting into the cart, which he attempted to do. After they had left him some time, Mr. Black recovered sufficiently to unbind himself, and succeeded in getting to the nearest house. It would be well for persons who travel in the night to be prepared for the reception of such villains."

The last case I shall mention occurred about ten o’clock on the night of Feb. 8, 1838, when Warren Gibbon, returning from market, was stopped on the highway, a short distance west of Darby, by three men, who caught his horse by the head. Two of the men then held Gibbon, while the third presented a pistol at his breast with one hand and robbed him with the other. They took from him seventy-five dollars, his watch, and some of his clothing.

There was, of course, during all the time of which I write, the natural highway, the Delaware, and the early emigrant made constant use of it in going from settlement to settlement. Among the first mention respecting transportation the canoe is prominent, and, we know that after Governor Markham’s coming there appears to have been constant communication by water between the settlements from Burlington to the Capes of the Delaware. Gabriel Thomas, in his "History of Pennsylvania," published in 1698, states that "Chester, the German town, New Castle, and Lewistown" are the four great market towns, and "between these towns the watermen constantly ply their wherries." In October, 1698, Joseph Holt and Isaac Warner were drowned in the river, near Tinicum, by the upsetting of the ferry-boat going from New Castle to Philadelphia, and on the 23d of the preceding month John Barnskill was a passenger from Chester to Philadelphia in a ferry-boat, when it was overturned by a sudden gust of wind and he was drowned. Shallops constantly plied between the villages of Marcus Hook and Chester to Philadelphia in the last century, and during the months of June, July, August, and September, 1790, John Fitch ran a steamboat, the "Perseverance," as a passenger and freight-boat on the Delaware, between Philadelphia, Trenton, Burlington, Chester, Wilmington, and Gray’s Ferry, advertising her trips regularly in the newspapers of that day. During that summer his steamboat ran over three thousand miles in these trips. This was seventeen years before Robert Fulton made his noted journey in the "Clermont," in September, 1807, from New York to Albany. Fitch was a watchmaker, and during the Revolution repaired old muskets. One day, it is stated, he was walking along the stage-road near Newtown, N.J., suffering with rheumatism in his feet, and was so much annoyed by passing wagons that he declared, "I will make steam carry me." He did so, but the machinery of the "Perseverance" was so defectively constructed that it was constantly breaking down, and ultimately ruined its inventor.

In the last decade of the last century and in the early part of this the "Chester Planter," a shallop, built by Richard Flower to carry flour from the Chester Mills (the present site of Upland) to Philadelphia, would frequently take passengers to and from the places named, but in time the vessel became so old and decayed that it was run on the bank at Mount Mellick, on the opposite side of the creek from Upland, where its frame remained many years, until it entirely rotted down.

Previous to 1819, Capt. John D. Hart ran the sloop "John Wall" as a passenger and freight-boat between Chester and Philadelphia, leaving the former place on Mondays and Thursdays, and returning every Wednesday and Saturday. The "Wall" continued on the line until and including the year 1828. In 1824, John Ashmead Eyre owned the sloop "Mary and Louisa," commanded by Capt. James Eyre, which he ran as an opposition packet from Chester, and in 1830 the sloop "Hunter," Capt. Harrison, made regular trips. In 1827, Peter Deshong ran the sloop "Mary and Louisa" as a regular packet between Chester and Philadelphia, leaving the former place every Tuesday and Friday, and returning Thursdays and Saturdays. Joshua P. and William Eyre built the sloop "Jonas Preston," which for many years, commanded by Capt. H.J. Gibson, was the noted packet between Chester and Philadelphia. She subsequently became the property of John Larkin, Jr., and William Booth, who were engaged in freighting between the points mentioned for several years, running a daily line of packets. In 1849 the firm had the sloops "John G. Johnson," Capt. Green, and the "John M. Broomall," Capt. Huston, on the line, and in 1851 the "Jonas Preston" was added, so that one vessel would leave and another arrive at Chester the same day. The "Jonas Preston" ultimately became the property of J. & J. Baker, and on April 6, 1868, when off the light-house near Fort Mifflin, heavily laden with coke, she was struck by the swell from the "Eliza Hancock," which caused her to capsize and sink. In 1850, Pancoast Levis ran the packet "Mary J." between the points named, and the same year William T. Crook established a line of packet schooners, making weekly trips between Chester and New York, employing therein the schooners "William," Capt. Collins, and the "Rebecca," Capt. Russell.

In 1865 the steam freight-boat "Chester" was built by P. Baker & Co., and ran between Philadelphia and Chester, and in the following year the propeller "Lamokin" was placed on the same route by J. & C.D. Pennell, as an opposition boat. In 1871 the lines were consolidated, and in 1872 the Delaware River Transportation Company (a new organization) was formed. The latter company built the "City of Chester," and subsequently became the owners of the Union lines. They have now on the route the freight steamboats "Eddystone," "Mars," and the "Mary Morgan," a large and commodious passenger steamer, The officers of the company are: President, J. Frank Black; Treasurer, J. Howard Roop; Secretary, Capt. Frank S. Baker.

In April, 1870, the Electric Line between Wilmington and New York, via the Delaware and Raritan Canals, in connection with their lines, established direct tri-weekly communication from Chester to New York, placing additional steamers on the route for the purpose. The facility thus afforded to dispatch and receive goods without transshipment was recognized by the manufacturers and business men in the southwesterly part of the county, and the enterprise proved a success from the beginning.

In the fall of 1883 a new organization, the Chester Steamboat Company, was formed, and the steamboat "Artisan" placed on the route, running as a freight-boat between Chester and Philadelphia.

In 1882 the steam barge "Sarah," of which Capt. Deakyne was manager, began running daily between Chester and Philadelphia, but after a few months’ service withdrew.

In the spring of 1883, R.W. Ramsden, who was proprietor of the Pioneer Stage Line from Chester to Upland, started a freight line from Chester to Philadelphia, running the steam barge "M. Massey." He continued in this enterprise until the fall of that year, when his boat was burned at the foot of Edgmont Avenue.

Railroads, That part of the Pennsylvania Railroad which passes through a small part of Haverford, and diagonally through Radnor township, was originally the Columbia Railroad, built by the State. That part of it nearest to Philadelphia was not completed and opened to trade and travel until 1834.

The cars at first were propelled by horse-power, the distance between Columbia and Philadelphia, eighty-two miles, requiring nine hours for the trip, the horses being changed every twelve miles. The cars were built after the form of the old stage-coaches, only larger, the entrance door at the side, and the driver seated on an elevated box in front.

The first locomotive put on the road was the "Black Hawk," which had been built in England. As the eastern end of the railroad for steam purposes was not completed, the engine was drawn to Lancaster over the turnpike road. When the wonderful curiosity was to perform the trial-trip between Lancaster and Columbia, Governor Wolf and most of the State officials were present to witness the novel sight. The "Black Hawk," however, disappointed the audience, who had been informed by an Irishman employed by the road to keep the track clear of the crowd. "Get out of the track!" he shouted; "when she starts, she’ll go like a bird, and ye’ll all be kilt!" But when the moment came, and the engineer applied the lever, the locomotive, would not move, and did not until by pushing the train was started.

The eastern end of the road having been completed, on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 1834, the first train of cars from Lancaster to Philadelphia passed over the road, drawn by "Black Hawk," the distance between Lancaster and the head of the Inclined Plane having been traversed in eight and a half hours. Levi G. James, of Chester, who then resided in Radnor, can recall the excitement along the railroad on that day, the people flocking for miles around to witness the novel spectacle, and how the crowd cheered when the laboring engine, groaning, passed along with the train. The experiment had been successful, and so superior to horses did the locomotive demonstrate itself, that in 1837 there were forty engines in use on the road, and the horses, as a power, ceased to be used.

The extension from the Pennsylvania Railroad to West Chester, which was opened Dec. 25, 1833, aroused a rivalry in Old Chester, and a number of citizens of Delaware County procured the passage of the law of April 11, 1835, incorporating the Delaware County Branch Railroad Company, authorizing the construction of a railway from Chester, along the creek of the same name, to intersect at West Chester with the extension road there. The movement first received shape in November, 1833, when a meeting was held at the Black Horse Hotel to ascertain the probable cost of the proposed road; and as there were then nine cotton-mills, eight grist-mills, two paper-mills, three iron-works, and eleven saw-mills along the proposed route, it was believed the freight from these industries would pay a handsome profit on the costs.

The capital invested in manufacturing was then a million of dollars, while the estimated cost of the road - eighteen miles -  was twenty thousand dollars per mile, or three hundred and sixty thousand dollars for the road laid.

After the passage of the act, on June 18, 1835, subscription-books were opened at the Coffee-House, kept by John Bessonett, Jr., No. 86 South Second Street, Philadelphia, and no person was permitted to subscribe for more than ten shares on any one day. The books were to remain open for three days. A survey was made and stakes driven, but beyond that the project languished.

It was revived in the spring of 1848, and a survey was again made. The stakes driven at that time by the engineers were much the same course as those of twelve years previous, and those which followed twenty years afterwards, when the Chester Creek Railroad was built. The flicker of hope of 1848 was only a forerunner of the time when such a work must, in the necessity of public accommodation, be constructed. The latter was built under the provisions of the acts of Assembly of April 16, 1866, and April 17, 1867, and by the aid and assistance given to the enterprise by Samuel M. Felton, the public believed it must be pushed forward to completion. And it was.

The first time the whistle of a locomotive was heard on that road was Nov. 4, 1868, when the engine attached to the construction train passed some distance along the line, and the horses and cattle in the neighborhood; unused to such screeching, scampered from the roadside in alarm. In the spring of 1869 the road was completed and opened to public travel.

On April 2, 1831, the Legislature of Pennsylvania incorporated the Philadelphia and Delaware County Railroad Company. The charter lay dormant until 1835, when an organization was effected, and a board of directors elected. On Jan. 18, 1832, the Legislature of Delaware chartered the Wilmington and Susquehanna Railroad Company, with power to build a railroad from the Pennsylvania State line through Wilmington to the Maryland State line, towards the Susquehanna River; and on March 5, 1832, the Legislature of Maryland incorporated the Baltimore and Port Deposit Railway Company, with power to construct a road from the points named, and nine days subsequent the same authority incorporated the Delaware and Maryland Railroad to build a road from a point to be selected by the company at the Maryland and Delaware State line to Port Deposit, or any other terminus on the Susquehanna River. All of these companies had organized previous to 1836, when in January of that year the Philadelphia and Delaware County Railroad applied to the Legislature for power to increase its capital, which was granted, and at the same time the title of the company was changed to the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad. Negotiations were entered into by the latter company with the Delaware and Maryland Railroad, which finally resulted in the latter granting the former the right of way from the Delaware State line to Wilmington. And on Dec. 20, 1837, the road was completed from Wilmington to Chester, so that an engine and train of cars came from the former to the latter place, but did not cross the bridge over Chester Creek, the rails not having been laid over that stream. On January 15th the road was opened for public travel from Philadelphia to Wilmington.

The railway from Wilmington to Perryville had also been opened on the 4th of July, 1837, and the road from Baltimore to Havre dè Grace on the 6th of July on the same year. At this time, although there was but one road, it was owned by three corporations, but on Feb. 5, 1838, they consolidated with a capital of two million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, Matthew Newkirk being elected the first president.

"Although the road was now in condition for use, it was, as compared with modern roads, very incomplete. The track was constructed of iron bars nailed upon wooden string-pieces, called mud-sills, which rested on the ground, and consequently were continually getting out of position. It was not until after the lapse of some years that this defect was remedied by the introduction of wooden ties."

It is doubtful whether the foregoing statement applies to the road so far as the Pennsylvania Division was concerned. Martin tells us that "the track of the railroad was originally laid with flat bars, called strap-rail, weighing about fifteen pounds per yard, fastened upon a continuous stringer with cross-ties and mud-sills, and with a gauge of four feet eight and a half inches."

The road was surveyed, so far as its construction through Delaware County is concerned, by William Strickland and Samuel H. Kneass, and in their report to the president and directors of the Philadelphia and Delaware County Railroad in 1835, they state that the whole length of the line of survey from Broad and Prime Streets, Philadelphia, to the Delaware State line was sixteen and three-fourths miles, and they, not without apparent glee, felt "justified in estimating the amount of passengers from data which their investigation afforded" at about one hundred and fifty persons per day. They also express the belief that if the proposed route to Baltimore be adopted (as was done), the distance being thereby reduced to ninety-three miles, the time of passage "may be readily performed in five hours."(5*)

The contract for grading the roadway through Delaware County was awarded to John Cochran, William Eves, and John J. Thurlow, the latter having purchased Spencer McIlvain’s interest in the original contract. The road was laid the greater part of the distance on the low, level meadow-land between Gray’s Ferry and Chester, the earth for grading being supplied from the excavation of the ditches on each side of the track. While the men were working on the road, six laborers, in May, 1837, attempted to cross from one side of Darby Creek to the other in an old boat which lay on the shore, but it leaked so that when in the middle of the stream it sunk, and two of the men were drowned.

The annoyance to the railroad of being compelled to maintain a draw-bridge at Darby Creek was excessive, and after a year or so trial, the company petitioned the Legislature, in 1839, for right to build a permanent bridge across that stream. The proposition met with general opposition from the people of this county, and John K. Zeilin, then representative, obtained a report adverse to the bill. The railroad made no further effort looking to the removal of the draw-bridge at that point.

It is said that the plan of connecting a rope to the bell of an engine drawing a train of cars, so that the conductor might communicate with the engineer, was an idea of John Wolf, a noted conductor in the early days of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad history. It seems that he had a cord running through the cars and made fast to a log of wood in the cab of the locomotive, which gave notice to the engineer when to stop or go ahead. On one occasion the former and Wolf had a disagreement, and at that time in railroad management the train was supposed to be in charge of the engineer while in motion, the conductor being but a secondary figure. Wolf had pulled the rope once or twice to indicate that he wanted the train to stop at the Blue Bell, but the engineer paid no attention, and rushed past the station without even slacking speed. The conductor in anger clambered over the tender, and demanded why his signal to stop had not been obeyed. "I’m in charge of this train, and will stop when I think best at any point not a regular station," replied the engineer. This put Wolf to his mettle, and it resulted finally in the train being stopped, and, in the presence of the passengers, the conductor and engineer fought until the latter was completely conquered. Never after that time was Wolf’s signal disregarded, and the connecting cord was found to work so advantageously that it was adopted on all the railroads in the United States.

After the completion of the road, the consolidated companies, now the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company, found that while their capital was two and a quarter millions, the cost of the road and equipping it had amounted to nearly four and a half millions of dollars. The original subscribers to the stock, which promised such a golden harvest, soon found that the day when a dividend would be paid was uncertain, while creditors were clamorous for payment, and to liquidate these pressing claims two mortgages, amounting to three millions, had to be given. The sturdy farmers who had placed a few hundred dollars in the stock of the company began to grow uneasy of waiting for dividends which never came, and by degrees their holdings passed into the market, where they were purchased as investments by wealthy capitalists of the Eastern cities. In 1851, Samuel M. Felton was elected president of the road, and during his administration the track, rolling stock, and landed estate of the company, which had deteriorated in the endeavor to relieve the road of its heavy debt, was relaid, increased, and improved. The Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad was put into a position to meet the great demand which came upon it ten years later in forwarding troops to the national capital. So admirable was Mr. Felton’s management that the stock paid heavy dividends, and as a consequence it was rarely seen in the market, and if so, it was quickly purchased at a premium. In 1865, Mr. Felton resigned the presidency of the road, and as a testimonial of the great service he had rendered to the company a present of one hundred thousand dollars was made to him on his retiring from the position he had so admirably filled.

Isaac Hinkley was elected to fill the place made vacant by Mr. Felton’s retiracy, and during the latter’s presidency the improved line of railway was laid from Gray’s Ferry through Darby, Sharon Hill, Prospect Park, Norwood, Ridley Park, Crum Lynne, and other stations which have been located on the line of the new road, now dotted along almost its entire length by handsome villas and country residences. Ground was broken on Nov. 11, 1870, and the first train passed over the Darby improvement, as it was popularly known, early in 1873. In the late spring of 1881 the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad passed into the hands of the Pennsylvania Central Railroad, H.F. Kenney, the superintendent of the former road, having been retained in charge of the Delaware and Southern Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which includes the old Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, the Chester Creek, the Baltimore Central, and the Philadelphia and West Chester Railroads, besides other roads in the State of Delaware.

The West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad was incorporated April 11, 1848, and on Jan. 17, 1852, the contract for building the road, except laying the rails, entered into with Gonder, Clark & Co., who were to receive three hundred thousand dollars in cash and two hundred thousand dollars in stock of the road for the work. On Monday July 16, 1855, the middle span of the railroad bridge, then being constructed over Ridley Creek, gave way, precipitating five men to the earth, one hundred and nine feet below, and three were instantly killed. In the autumn of that year the road had been completed, and trains were running to Media; at the close of 1856 the road had extended from Rockdale to Lenni, and by Jan. 1, 1857, to Grubb’s bridge, the present Wawa. The road was an expensive one to build, due to the deep valleys and many streams it crossed, so that at one time its stock had fallen to almost nominal value. In the latter half of the year 1858 the road was pushed onward with remarkable rapidity, the rails being laid from Wawa to West Chester, so that the first train of cars from Philadelphia by the direct road reached West Chester on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 1858, and on the following Thursday a celebration was held in the borough in honor of the event. In May, 1880, the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company purchased the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad, and on the subsequent transfer of the former road to the Pennsylvania Central, the West Chester road was included.

The Philadelphia and Baltimore Central Railroad was incorporated March 17, 1853, and by act of April 6, 1854, was authorized to form a union with a corporation chartered by the State of Maryland. On Jan. 3, 1855, ground was broken for the road on the farm of Darwin Painter, in Birmingham, Delaware Co., Dr. Frank Taylor, the president of the road, turning the first sod between Chad’s Ford and Grubb’s bridge. On Monday, June 1, 1857, the laying of the track from Grubb’s bridge was begun, but it was not completed to Chad’s Ford for public travel until some time in the year 1858, when trains ran as far as that point. The road, which became the property of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company, passed with the transfer made by the latter corporation to the Pennsylvania Central Railroad, already mentioned.

The Chester and Delaware River Railroad Company was incorporated in 1872 by letters patent under the free railroad law of Pennsylvania. Its terminal points were from Thurlow to Ridley Creek, a distance of about four miles. The incorporators were John M. Broomall, William Ward, William A. Todd, Samuel Archibald, Amos Gartside, James A. Williamson, James Kirkman, William H. Green, and Samuel H. Stephenson. Previous to the date of incorporation, Messrs. Broomall and Ward had constructed a spur track from a point below Thurlow Station of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad to the bridge works in South Chester, for the accommodation of those works. The Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company furnished the rails and cross-ties at an annual rental. The demand of other manufacturing establishments along the river soon became urgent for similar accommodations, and the owners of those industries joining with the original projectors, and the authorities of South Chester borough acting in unison with reference to granting privileges on Front Street, the railroad was extended up to the city limits. When the boundary was reached the same demand arose from establishments in Chester, and the city authorities, following the example of the Borough Council, gave a hearty support to the enterprise, and the result was the extension of the road to Penn Street. At this period, (1872) the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company became the lessee of the old bed of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad from Gray’s Ferry to Ridley Creek. The Reading company being owners of a large tract of land on the river near Marcus Hook, assumed control of the railroad on Front Street, finished its extension across Chester Creek, and connected it with its branch purchased from the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad Company. The Chester and Delaware River Railroad Company still preserves its separate corporate existence, the present officers being those of the Reading company, excepting William Ward, who is one of the directors. The completion and operation of this railroad has been followed by the most marked results. Many manufacturing establishments of the largest capacity have been erected on the line, owing to facilities afforded for transportation of heavy freights.


* Duke of York’s Laws, p. 72.

** "Maryland Gossip in 1755," Penna. Mag. of Hist., vol. iii. p. 146

*** History of Chester, p. 194.

(4*) Johnson’s "History of Cecil County, Maryland," p. 430.

(5*) Hazard’s Register, vol. xvi. p. 245.


Source:  Page(s) 192-200, History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, by Henry Graham Ashmead, Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co. 1884