History of Delaware County Pennsylvania - Chapter 16

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



In considering the history of the removal of the county-seat from the ancient borough of Chester to Media, the present location, I must necessarily draw largely from the narrative of that event furnished by Dr. Smith, he having been an active advocate of the changes, although his recital takes coloring from his feeling somewhat in relating the incidents connected with that movement.

The first agitation of the measure occurred nearly thirty years before it was actually carried into effect, and is said originally to have been the outgrowth of political disappointment. Robert Frazer, a member of the bar of Delaware County, having been defeated in nomination for office by the delegates of Chester township and several of the districts lying in the immediate neighborhood of the county-seat, is said gave form and shape to the movement.
     "Dissatisfaction had for some time existed among the people of the upper part of the county," says Dr. Smith, "on account of the seat of justice being situated on its southern margin. The people of the township of Radnor, residing much nearer to Norristown, the seat of justice of Montgomery County, than to Chester, petitioned for the annexation of their township to that county. The fact that the taxes of Montgomery were lower than those of Delaware is also said to have had an influence in promoting this movement. Be this as it may, the prospect of losing one of the best townships in the county was a matter of serious alarm, when its small dimensions were taken into consideration. The discontented in the other remote townships seeing that the loss of Radnor would weaken their strongest ground of complaint, determined to test the question of a removal of the seat of justice of the county to a more central situation. Accordingly a general meeting of the inhabitants of the county, ‘both friendly and unfriendly’ to the proposed removal, was convened on the 8th of June, 1820. The meeting was unusually large and very respectable, and after the subject of removal had been discussed very fully and rather freely, a vote was taken which resulted in favor of the removalists. Removal now became the leading topic of discussion throughout the county. All party distinctions became merged in it, and the most ultra politicians of opposite parties united cordially on a removal or anti-removal platform. Meetings were held, and nominations were made accordingly. The ballot-box showed the anti-removalists in the majority. George G. Leiper, of Ridley, and Abner Lewis, of Radnor, both anti-removalists, were elected to the Assembly. The anti-removalists, by the nomination of Mr. Lewis, had secured nearly the whole vote of Radnor, under the belief that the election of the anti-removal ticket afforded them the only chance of being annexed to Montgomery County. The test was not regarded by the removalists as satisfactory, and they petitioned the Legislature for redress, but certainly with but small hopes of success. In their memorial, which is very long, they set forth the fact of the effort of Radnor to be attached to Montgomery County, the dilapidated condition of the jail, the insalubrity of the air of Chester, the danger of the records from attack from an enemy, the badness of the water, etc. And finally,’ they say, ‘to satisfy the Legislature that nothing is asked for by the petitioners which would throw any unreasonable expense on the county, assurances are given by one of the inhabitants -  perfectly responsible and competent to the undertaking -  that he will give an obligation to any one authorized to receive it, conditioned to erect the public buildings upon any reasonable and approved plan, for the sum of fifteen thousand dollars, to be paid in seven years, by installments, if the convenience of the county should require credit -  and to take the present buildings and lots at Chester at a fair valuation as part pay.’. . . . This petition was drawn, signed by nine hundred and nineteen, citizens. The number who signed the remonstrance is not known."

On March 21, 1821, Mr. Evans, of Chester County, presented the petitions -  there were nineteen of them -  from the inhabitants of the county of Delaware to the House of Representatives, praying for the removal of the seat of justice, and on March 31st, Mr. Lewis, of Delaware County, presented to the House twenty-five remonstrances from inhabitants of the county against such removal, and the petitions and remonstrances were laid on the table.
     "The people of Radnor," said Dr. Smith, "appeared to relax their efforts to obtain legislation to authorize the township to be annexed to Montgomery County. At the next election, John Lewis and William Cheyney, both removalists, were elected members of the Assembly, but from some cause they failed in obtaining the much-desired law authorizing the seat of justice to be removed to a more central situation. The question after this effort appears to have been allowed to slumber for a time. It was, however, occasionally discussed, and the removalists maintained a strict vigilance to prevent any extensive repairs being made to the public buildings at Chester."

The project slumbered for nearly a quarter of a century, but in the latter part of the year 1845 was revived with redoubled ardor. The court-house at Chester was sadly out of repair, while the old jail was dilapidated and falling into ruins, and it became apparent that in the near future the county would be compelled to expend a considerable sum of money on the public buildings at the ancient seat of justice. Hence the removalists on Nov. 22, 1845, called a public meeting at the Black Horse Tavern, in Middletown, "to take into consideration the propriety of removing the seat of justice to a more central position." The result of this meeting was a call to the several townships on the 5th of December following "to elect two delegates in each, to meet on the 6th of December at the Black Horse Tavern; the delegates appointed to vote for the removal of the seat of justice, or otherwise, also to decide upon those (the sites) designated by this meeting, which of them shall be adopted." The following-named places were presented as suitable locations for the public buildings: County property, in Providence; Black Horse, in Middletown; Chester; Rose Tree, in Upper Providence; and Beaumont’s Corner, Newtown."

The roads on the 6th of December were in a wretched condition, so much so that the delegates representing several of the townships were unable to attend, while in others no meetings had been held. On that day the following townships were represented: Birmingham, Dr. Ellwood Harvey, J.D. Gilpin; Chester, John K. Zeilin, Y.S. Walter; Upper Chester, Robert R. Dutton; Concord, M. Stamp, E. Yarnall; Edgmont, E.B. Green, George Baker; Marple, Abraham Platt, Dr. J.M. Moore; Middletown, Joseph Edwards, Abram Pennell; Newtown, Eli Lewis, Thomas H. Speakman; Nether Providence, R.T. Worrall, Peter Worrall; Upper Providence, Emmor Bishop, Thomas Reese; Thornbury, Eli Baker, Daniel Green; Tinicum, Joseph Weaver, Jr.

A vote being had on the proposed sites, the result showed bight votes in favor of the county property, six for the Black Horse, six for Chester, and two for the Rose Tree, but finally the county property received twelve votes, a majority of delegates present.* The result obtained was not satisfactory to the antiremovalists, and a bitter wordy war was waged in the newspapers of that day. An attempt was made to reconcile the conflicting elements by the committee appointed at the meeting of the 6th of December, and to that end a meeting was called at the hall of the Delaware County Institute of Science, on the 30th of that month. The meeting was well attended, and an address to the people of the county formulated, as well as two different petitions to be circulated for signatures, desiring the Legislature to enact a law submitting the question to a popular vote. At the time the Hon. William Williamson, of Chester County, was senator for the district, and Hon. John Larkin, Jr., was the member in the House from Delaware County, and, although both of these representatives were favorable to a law submitting the controversy to the vote of the people, yet neither favored an act in which the site of the proposed county-seat should be left as a future matter to be decided. Hence, when the bill submitted in the House in that form was called up, Mr. Larkin objected to it, for that reason, and it was defeated. In 1846, Hon. Sketchley Morton was elected to the Legislature, and at the session of 1847, when the act providing for the removal of the seat of justice, submitting the matter to the popular will whether the county-seat should be continued at Chester, or be removed to a point not more distant "than one-half of a mile from the farm attached to the house for the support and employment of the poor of Delaware County," nor more than a half-mile from the State road leading from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Mr. Morton, although adverse to the measure, voted in favor of the bill, and it was adopted. As the time for the election drew nigh, the public excitement was fanned to fever heat, and the newspapers teemed with lengthy articles urging the peculiar views of the various writers on the question at issue, which in the lapse of years has become very uninteresting reading.

The election was held on Oct. 12, 1847, and resulted in a majority of seven hundred and fifty-two votes in favor of the proposed change in the location of the county-seat. The opponents of the measure, inasmuch as the Supreme Court had decided that a law submitting to the vote of the people the power to determine whether spirituous liquors should or should not be sold in the respective townships when such a vote was had was unconstitutional, determined to test the validity of the law, which had been in like manner submitted to the people, respecting the change of the county-seat. In the mean while the act of April 9, 1848, confirming the removal of the seat of justice was adopted, a proviso in that act, however, declaring it should not go into effect until the Supreme Court had decided the question as to the constitutionality of the law under which it had been voted on by the people. At the December term of that year the case was argued, and at the following spring term the Supreme Court held the act to be constitutional. In compliance with that decision the court records were removed from Chester to Media in the summer of 1851, on the completion of the public buildings at that borough.

The incidents and happenings in the county from that date are so connected with the various townships wherein they occurred that practically the general history of the county terminates for the present. The glorious story of the civil war -  for no locality in the loyal States exceeds in patriotism that of Delaware County in that trying period of our nation’s annals will be related in the succeeding chapter.

Under the provisions of the Constitution of 1874 Delaware County became the thirty-second judicial district, the vacancy on the bench thereby created being filled early in that year by the appointment by Governor Hartranft of Hon. John M. Broomall, president judge. At the ensuing election in November, Hon. Thomas J. Clayton was elected to the bench, and took his seat in January, 1875.

* In Dr. Harvey’s copy of Smith’s" History of Delaware County," is the following manuscript note in the doctor’s handwriting: "After voting with the minority against removal, I was urged by several other delegates to vote for a choice of locations, but refused to participate in that part of the proceedings, having no other choice than Chester."

Dr. Henry further notes: "I was a delegate in the first convention held to consider the matter, and opposed removal in accordance with my own convictions and the instructions of my constituents. On further consideration of the subject, I changed positions, believing the majority should have a chance to settle the question, and also believing Chester would thrive more without it (the county-seat) when her energies were better directed than towards living off the county offices and legal business of the county. I thought Media would be a miserably poor place and Chester very prosperous. Media has done better than I expected, and so has Chester."

Hon. John M. Broomall, in his "History of Delaware County for the Past Century" (a centennial historical sketch, published in 1876, page 9), says, In referring to the causes of removal, "For many years the popularity of Chester had been upon the wane. Its people had given offense by endeavoring to rule the county, and only partially succeeded. Jurors, parties, and witnesses believed themselves to be imposed upon by high charges, and they knew themselves to be sneered at and ridiculed by the tavern idlers, who constituted most of the elite of the town."

Source:  Page(s) 112-114, History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, by Henry Graham Ashmead, Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co. 1884