PENN VALLEY HISTORY

228 Old Gulph Road.  The Friends Central Lower School, formerly Montgomery County Day School.

Brief HISTory

A rural area comprising the three localities of "Fairview," "Crow's Hill," and "Bowler's Woods" came to be known as Penn Valley in 1930, when local residents formed a civic association and chose the name Penn Valley. This area, less than three square miles, encompasses the land from the Schuylkill River, along Mill Creek Road to Old Gulph Road to Gypsy Lane, along Montgomery Avenue to the Nine-Mile Stone (east side of Montgomery Avenue opposite Price Avenue in Narberth), then by an imaginary line drawn eastwardly until it touches Manayunk Road, and then from Mary Waters Ford Road to the Schuylkill. 

Although Penn Valley is not a real valley, Hollow Road does follow an old ravine leading to the river. The elevation is from 300 to 380 feet along Hagys Ford Road. It was a farming community until the 1950s when the Charles W. Latch family farm was sold. Their forty-one acres along Hagys Ford Road sloping down to Hollow Road provided vegetables for many local families. 

Penshurst Farm, the 539-acre estate of Percival Roberts, Jr., was the largest property in Penn Valley, located on both sides of Hagys Ford Road and extending to the Schuylkill. The seventy-five-room mansion, built in 1903, was in the Jacobean style heading into the Stuart with typical English gardens. The rock garden on Conshohocken State Road was a show place with ornamental fountains, a fish pond, balustrades, and terraced stairways. Specimens of every variety of tree that survives in this climate surrounded the main house. A pump carried water from nearby springs to a water tower near the main house from which the water flowed by gravity through the estate's piping system. A private electrical system lighted the mansion. 

Penshurst Farm had a prize herd of imported Ayrshire cattle, as well as pedigreed Berkshire hogs, chickens, and sheep. The barns and dairy were immaculate, and the natural milk was bottled and sold through local distributors. Penshurst farmers were pioneers in growing fine alfalfa for their cattle. 

In October 1939 Roberts applied for a permit to demolish the mansion, which was sold to a wrecking crew for $1,000, and the contents of the house were sold at auction. When Percival Roberts, Jr., died in 1943 at the age of eighty-six, the land was sold to the Home Life Insurance Company. It was subdivided for the building of private homes.

Other farms included that of George Grow on Hagys Ford Road. Sold in 1921, it is still known as Crow's Hill (the "G" having become a "C"). Another farm was the Grove of Red Partridges on Old Gulph Road near Bryn Mawr Avenue. The property later was part of the tract of 302 acres belonging to James and Michael Magee. John Frederick Bicking, who operated a paper mill along Mill Creek, owned ten acres where Summit Road ends at Fairview Road. The Bicking family cemetery, mentioned in Bicking's will of 1809, still exists at this location. Ardeleage, the estate of Charles Chauncey at Righters Mill and Summit roads, was torn down in 1938, and fourteen homes were built on the property. 

Information provided by the Lower Merion Historical Society website

William penn milestones

Old Gulph Road, an extension of Old Lancaster Road, was constructed to enable the Welsh Quakers easy access into the Mill Creek Valley region. In the valley or gulph (a hollow place in the ground), they constructed their mills along Mill Creek which was used to power their grist, lumber, woolen, paper and powder mills.

Milestones 9 through 13 were erected on the north side of this roadway in c. 1793 by the Mutual Assurance Fire Company of Philadelphia as a price for their charter from the Penn family. Because of their unique design, this group of milestones is commonly referred to as "William Penn Milestones." On the front side, which faces the roadway, there appears the appropriate mileage numeral, while on the back side are three raised cannon-balls on a bar within a shield which is the coat-of-arms of Admiral Sir William Penn.

fairview union sunday school

Penn Valley's first place of worship was the Fairview Union Sunday School, which was built of stone in 1826 by local farmers.  Religious services continued to be held in the building until World War II, when it was closed. The Penn Valley Women's Club restored the building in 1951, and in 1978 it was designated a historic site by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 


Historic milestone at 901 Montgomery Avenue, Penn Valley

Do you know more about the history of our area...or your street or property?  If you'd like to share the information with us, we'll add it to our website.  Email us at pennvalleycivic@gmail.com