Wilmer W MacElree.

Down the eastern and up the Black Brandywine.. online

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[ "4

In 1843, Joseph R. Downing, " being of advanced age," de-
vised part of the lands devised to him by his father, on the east
side of the Brandywine and north of Lancaster Turnpike, to his
son William W., and another part to his son Samuel J., and made
the dividing line between them " the middle of the Horse Shoe
Road, now vacated." The vacation of this portion of the road
occurred in 1840.

You can go over this portion of its route to-day by enter-
ing the vacated road immediately east of 'Squire Carpenter's of-
fice in Downingtown, and taking a northwesterly course for
about a thousand feet, until you come to a spring run. At this
point, by bearing strongly to the west, in a few minutes you will
reach the Brandywine at the spot where a wooden bridge
formerly stood. West of the stream the route of the old road
is easily perceived until the open road is reached in front of the
mill. A hundred and fifty yards beyond the mill it turns north-
westerly toward the farm of Joseph Baugh.

The following copy of a rough draft attached to a " return "

in 1787, shows the general course of the road near Downingtown.

"5 ]

In 1796, a year after the Lancaster Turnpike had been
opened to public travel, a road was asked for leading from the
turnpike near Samuel Hunt's, to the Horse Shoe Road. The
draught accompanying the reviewers' re-
turn shows not only the situation of the mill,
—then owned by Samuel Hains — but also
the relative locations of the Horse Shoe
Road and the Lancaster Turnpike, which
latter road had adopted the course of the
Old Lancaster Road through Downingtown.
The Horse Shoe Road was known by several
names. It was called the Paxtang Road be-
cause it connected with the Old Paxtang
Road near the Presbyterian Meeting House ;
the Manor Road, because it began just inside

Springton Man-
or ; the Dunk-
erton Road,

because in connection with the

Paxtang Road it led to Dunk-

erstown, "to

the Camp
of the Soli-
tary, Lager
der Ein-

or more
how did it get its
Horse Shoe name?
Frankly, I do not
know, nor have I ever
met with any satisfactory ex
planation. In its own proper
course from Springton Manor to
Downingtown, there was no curve that
by the wildest imagination, could be tor-
tured into a horse shoe. I have already de-
scribed its course as far as Joseph Baugh's, beyond which it con^

[ ii6




I— I









tinued northwesterly to the Manor. An examination of the
above plot, made in 1807, a few years after the Downingtown,
Ephrata and Harrisburg Turnpike had been thrown open to pub-
lic travel, shows that the vacated course of the Horse Shoe
Road from the northern line of Cain Township to the Manor
Church, and the route of the Turnpike, were practically the
same. Those who have driven the latter road will cudgel their
memory in vain for a Horse Shoe Curve.

What then? Some say we must look for an explanation not
in the curves of the road, but on the road. It was called the
Horse Shoe Road because "forsooth," (as one of my legal
friends would say) it was a much traveled road and horse shoes
were frequently found thereon. That it was a much traveled
road is true ; residents of the county whose terminus was Down-
ingtown, used it, and settlers and wagoners whose terminus was
Philadelphia, preferred it to the Paxtang Road beyond the Pres-
byterian Meeting House, in consequence of the disclaimer by
West Nantmeal and Uwchlan Townships, of a piece of land
near the Brandywine, through which the Paxtang Road ran.

Others, finding the road occasionally spelled " Horse Shew "
or " Show," declare that " Shoe " is a corruption, and the interpre-
tation an obvious one. I have never found Horse Shew used
but twice. Horse Show once, and in no instance until the name
Horse Shoe had been applied for years. Analogy is against
both views. The explanation must be found in its connection
with another road. It connected with two — ^the Old Lancaster
at Downingtown— the Paxtang at Springton Manor. At the
time it was laid out a road was opened from the southern line of
Uwchlan to the Old Lancaster Road, but the line of these three
roads would hardly make a deep dish, to say nothing of a horse
shoe. Its angle with the Paxtang Road is the only explanation
left, and is a very plausible one when it is remembered that as
far back as 1771, it was called the Paxtang or Horse Shoe Road.

[ "7


" And when his bones are dust, his grave a blank,
His station, generation, even his nation,
Become a thing, or nothing save to rank
In chronological commemoration.
Some dull MS. oblivion long has sank.
Or graven stone, found in a barrack's station.
In digging the foundation of a closet.
May turn his name up, as a rare deposit."

Byron — Don Juan.

OWNINGTOWN! the most interesting
town in Chester County. Seated in an
easy chair on the porch of the Swan
Hotel, three centuries pass before me.
The Eighteenth and Nineteenth I see
distinctly ; the Twentieth appears some-
what dim and misty ; I hear it rather
than see it as it rushes wildly westward on the line of the Penn-
sylvania Railroad.

The street that runs in front of the Swan and crosses the
Brandywine on a stone bridge beyond Bicking's Paper Mill, is no
common highway, but a lineal descendant of the Old Lancaster

[ ii8

♦ '

The open space to the east of 'Squire Carpenter's office—
almost opposite where I sit— is the end of the Horse Shoe Road.
Its successor, the Downingtown, Ephrata and Harrisburg Turn-
pike, commonly known as the Horse Shoe Pike, enters Downing-
town on the western side of the Brandywine.

In the twilight the Horse Shoe Eoad under the trees, at-
tracts my gaze, but disregards my entreaties and as heretofore,
refuses to disclose the meaning of her name.

Downingtown is rich in antiques, evidently believing with
Hugo, that " nothing is more tragic and more deadly than great
demolitions. He who pulls down his house, pulls down his
family ; he who destroys his dwelling, destroys his name. The
ancient honor clings to these ancient stones." East of the
bridge is one of these
old buildings— a quaint
log house, in the yard of
which a half dozen little
pickaninnies are play-
ing. To this house about
1790, Joseph Downing
took his bride. It is in-
teresting to walk a half
mile westward and see
another landmark of the
Eighteenth Century— the Hunt Mansion built in 1727. In its
various colored brick (which tradition says were imported), in
its wide hall, sharp gables and heavy wainscoting, you recognize
at once the old English style, and are not surprised to learn that
its occupant, Roger Hunt, was a Commissary of King George the
Third in the French and Indian War, It is no less interesting
to face about and stroll a mile or so to the Fox Mansion, form-
erly John Downing's Hotel, on the porch of which the grand-
father of Ziba Mercer once saw the portly figure of George
119 ]

Washington. It was here, at the sign of the " King in Arms,"
that the Revolutionary County Committee met in 1776.

Even a lover of musty deeds, and rare parchments, will find

congenial occupation in
inspecting some old but-
tonwoods, particularly
n e — a monument o f
Richard Downing's title
—that still stands close
to his mill-race. And
yet, strange as it may
seem, I have known per-
sons who cared for none
of these things, but pre-
ferred, instead, to stand on the bridge and wonder why the Bajp-
tists retreated so far from the water, while their Methodist
brethren built their church almost over the stream. For my-
self, I experience much pleasure in noting the mingling of the
old and the new along this quiet, shady avenue. John Ruskin
himself, in his most querulous mood, could have found no mo-
notonous uniformity here, in material, style or color. A beetle-
browed stone house looks across the street at a lofty brick, a lit-
tle library decorated with vines, invitingly opens its doors not
far away from a rough old corn and grist mill that bars the pub-
lic with its notice of " no admittance ; " holly-hocks decorate one
yard, weeping-willows help to hide decay in another. For a
meditative stroll at evening, give me Lancaster Avenue from
the Swan Hotel to Uwchlan Road.

In the early part of the Eighteenth Century, Thomas Moore
became the owner of three tracts of land in the southern part
of Cain Township, which township at that time extended as far
north as Nantmeal. On one of these tracts, east of the Bran-
dy wine, was " a water corn mill," built as early as 1716. This

[ 120













mill (afterwards Shellmire's) was perhaps as widely known as
any in the county.

Thomas Moore died in 1738, and the corn mill and three
tracts of land were conveyed to John Taylor, who in 1739,
deeded five hundred and sixty-one acres north of the Philadel-
phia Road, and in 1747, a saw-mill lot of two and a half acres
south of the Philadelphia Road, to Thomas Downing. Two hun-
dred and twenty-three acres south of the Philadelphia Road,
were purchased in 1747, by Jonathan Parke.

During the twenty-five years that followed the death of
Thomas Moore, the village, with its environments, developed
greatly. To its corn mill and saw mill were added a hemp mill,
fulling mill, oil mill and other mills, until by the end of that
period it had become a Mill-town, and was generally known as

In its development the Downing family was a prominent
factor. Thomas Downing — what a lawyer would call " the Per-
quisitor "—came from Devonshire, England, and was a member
of the Society of Friends. If he had founded no industries,
one of the directions in his will would entitle him to honorable
mention : " As many poor people have formerly purchased of
me and were become debtors my intent and meaning is that I do
hereby forgive the said poor people all the book debts that may
stand in my book against them at the time of my decease and I
do hereby frankly acquit and discharge them from paying the

What an admirable provision ! What a pity to find it so
rarely adopted ! A provision that illustrates an important peti-
tion of our common prayer and recalls to my mind the famous
admonition of Charles Phillips to his king— "Sire, when you
answer the last awful summons be your answer this, ' God, I
forgave, I hope to be forgiven.' "

It is not my purpose to go into the Downing genealogy ;

121 ]

there were Downings and Downings, most of them with good
English names. There were William and Mary, Richard the
First and Richard the Second, Downing the Miller and Downing
the Fuller, Downing the Farmer and Downing the Tavern
Keeper, which last named Downing in 1774, after reciting the
inconvenience under which " the inhabitants residing in or near
the place commonly called and known by the name of Mill-
town," lay, " for want of a house wherein a school may be kept
for the instruction of their youth in literature," donated a lot
on the side of the road leading from Milltown to Uwchlan,

Before the end of the Eighteenth Century, Milltown took
the names of its owners, and became Downingstown.

The Moore tracts, of which I have spoken, were not divided
by the Philadelphia Road either laterally or longitudinally, but di-
agonally. The road was the result of the efforts of a number of
the inhabitants of Lancaster County, including magistrates and
grand-jurors, who in 1731, complained to the Provincial Council,
that not having the conveniency of any navigable water for
bringing the produce of their labor, they were obliged, at great
expense, to transport it by land carriage, the burden of doing
which was heavier through the want of suitable roads for car-
riages to pass. There were few, if any, public roads leading to
Philadelphia through Lancaster County, and those along which
they passed through Chester, were incommodious.

The Council having heard their complaint, appointed seven
viewers from each county, to lay out the road from the division
line of the counties to a point where it should fall into the
King's High Road, in the county of Chester, leading to Phila-

The viewers made their return in 1733. Unfortunately,
however, in Whiteland Township, near John Spruce's house,
where the road fell into the King's High Road— the viewers be-
ing unprovided with a copy of the records of the King's Road,

[ 122

and the lands contiguous to it " being mostly improved and un-
der corn," were unable to say whether the latter road had been
altered from the true course or not.

The reasons for opening the road were obvious, but delay
followed delay. By 1736, the road had been brought no further
than Spruce's house, and it was not until the Fall of 1741, that
the final report was made, and the overseers of the counties of
Chester and Philadelphia were directed to cause the road to be
opened and cleared, according to the courses and distances re-
turned by the viewers.

Shortly after its opening it was known as the Provincial
Road, the Philadelphia Road, and the Lancaster Road. Some
years later it was referred to as the Old Lancaster Road, the
Great Lancaster Road— to distinguish it from other Lancaster
roads— and the Great Conestoga Road, to distinguish it from
other Conestoga Roads, and to mark its adoption of a part of a
road already known by that name.

In passing through Milltown it formed the northern bound-
ary of Jonathan Parke's land and Thomas Downing's saw mill lot.
West of Milltown it was a part of the boundary line between
Peter and Samuel Hunt. Marking its route by taverns, it led
from Downing's Inn to the Ship— a short distance beyond
which the Gap Road from the west entered it. From the Ship
it ran a little south of the Wagon in East Cain, after which it
headed northwestwardly for the Black Horse, three miles west
of which it passed the Wagon in West Cain, and left the county
at the Mariner's Compass.

In using this bridge in winter, travelers had reason to re-
member the Brandywine, especially the Western Branch. " Trav-
elers in general, as well as your petitioners in particular," states
a petition for a bridge in 1770, have often found it very difficult
and hard to pass over the west branch of Brandywine Creek
where the great Provincial Road leading from Philadelphia to

123 ]

Lancaster crosses said creek. It is a fact well known to num-
bers, and severely felt by many who have had to stand many
hours in said creek cutting ice in the several seasons of
the winter in order to pass with their waggons, and many of
them obliged to leave their waggons froze all night in said creek,
some of them the said time loaded with liquors and other valua-
ble goods, and perhaps take them a great part of the next day
to cut them out."

Sketch by Robert Bbook— 1806.

Showing the beginning of the Harrisburg Pike.
Also the beginning of the Horse Shoe Road, west of the Smith Shop.

[ 124




I— I





" I'm amazed at the signs,

As I pass through the town ;
To see the odd mixture,

A Magpie and Crown,
The Axe and the Bottle,

The Sun and the Lute,
The Eagle and Child,

The Shovel and Boot."

From the British Apollo.

HIRTY miles to Philadelphia. On Lancas-
ter Avenue in Downingtown the Half-way
House, on the south side, and the 30th
Mile Stone on the north, memorialize the
first turnpike in America. The road was
completed in 1794, at a cost of almost half
a million, and was thrown open to public
travel in 1795. So enormous was the
travel and transportation of merchandise over it, that in a few
years it had as many public houses as mile stones.

After the opening of the Horse Shoe Pike, it is said that at
various points beyond the line of Chester County, mile stones
were set along it indicating so many miles "To T.," and so many
miles "To P." P. referred to Philadelphia. On this all are
agreed, but to what did T. refer? to Turnpike or Towningtown?
Some Dutchmen whom I have interviewed, admit that it referred
to Downingtown. Julius Sachse, in his work on " German Secta-
rians in Pennsylvania," entertaining the view that the intellectu-
ality of the Pennsylvania Dutch is at stake, has come to their
relief at the expense of Downingtown, and declares :

125 3

" To the uninitiated these letters are something of a puzzle,
especially when told that the upper characters mean miles to
Downingtown— an incident which has been seized up and brought
out, evidently by ignorant and biased writers, whenever they
wish to say anything against the intellectuality of the Pennsyl-
vania-German. More than one writer has made merry over the
Pennsylvania-Dutch, who, according to him, published their ig-
norance to the world on their mile stones, by spelling Downing-
town with a 'T.'"

" Now, the fact of the matter is," says Mr. Sachse, " that
the shoe is on the other foot— the " T " does not stand for Down-
ingtown, but for Turnpike. It will be recollected that the turn-
pike between Philadelphia and Lancaster was the first hard road
in the United States, and was for years alluded to as ' the Turn-
pike.' "

JVobis ecu res magnitudine parum comperta est.

I have been asked whether the course of the Philadelphia
and Lancaster Turnpike through and near Downingtown, dif-
fered materially from that of the Old Lancaster Road. It did
not. From the 29th Mile Stone, east of Downingtown, to a
point several hundred yards west of the 31st Mile Stone their
courses were practically the same. The 29th Mile Stone can be
found to-day under some vines opposite the silo of Howard
Seeds. The 31st Mile Stone stands near a fence a little east
of the water tanks of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Note
Book of Robert Brooke, who completed
his survey of the Turnpike in
1806, contains the oppo-
site illustration, with
the remark— "the Old
L road falls into the T
road at this angle (s. 70 ° 30' w. ) in a direct line with the next
following course."

[ 126













Passing by Hunt Downing's Tavern and the public road
leading to the Red Lion, and Edge's Half-
way House, and the bridge over Down-
ing's mill race, he makes a .pause at the
Horse Shoe Road, " leading from the P.
& L. T. road n. 504° w. abt J mile, then
circling round to the left crossing the
Brandywine and falling into the Down-
ingtown, Ephrata & Harrisburg T road
abt li miles above the P. & L. T. road."
Stopping at the stone bridge over the
Brandywine long enough to sketch it, Brooke continues on to the
31st Mile Stone. Ninety-seven perches beyond this stone he

notes an angle and ob-
serves : " At this angle
the Old L. road leaves the
T. road and passes along
in front of John Edge's
House but is shut up and
vacated from this angle to where it intersects the T. road again
beyond Wm. Hawley's Tavern, Sign of the Waggon— then it is
open to Lancaster." This note is accompanied by two plots.

Hawley's Wag-
on must not be
P^*""^ confused with
the Wagon (now
'Squire Grubb's
House) in West
Cain. Hawley's

stood on the south side of the Turnpike, a little west of the
present residence of James G. Fox. An old gentleman familiar
with its sign informs me that it pictured four horses to a wagon
with a little pony in a circle underneath. It was a favorite
127 ]

John Eo&e.

pastime for frequenters of this hostelry to bet with new comers
on the number of horses on the sign. " Four," was the common
almost invariable answer ; whereupon a shout went up — " The
drinks are on you, you forgot the little pony in the circle,"

But why consume time with angles and mile stones ? Why ?
Because of what Carlyle would call "the confused mass of
noise" which still echoes over the courses of these old high-
ways. It is infinitely more refreshing, I admit, to stand in front
of one of the Pennsylvania Railroad arches and mark a double
horizon, or wander along Thousand Acre Run, and watch it as
it rushes down the hill-side, to supply the engines with water,
or to create its wonderful pictures of beauty. I see "the
Special " lapping up its waters, and say to myself, the mission
of the turnpike is over, when suddenly the horn of the automo-

bile admon
that my re
false; it is
days of "the
tion" that




THE public are rcspsctfully inrormed
that the subscribers Lave conimeiiced
running a line of Stages from Downingtown
to Philadelphia, called the


They have been induc^sd to set up'thio
line for the accommodation of the inhabitanfB
of nouninetowu and tlie way passencers on

ishes me
flections are
only the
are ended.

[ 128









"They call me Mad, and well they may,
When full of rage and trouble,
I burst my banks of sand and clay,
And sweep their wooden bridge away.
Like withered reeds or stubble."

Longfellow — Mad River.

LD ? No ! I have but turned a century
and stand erect as when the turnpike
company first cut the figures on my
date-stone. Even then this Downing-
town was not a common country stop-
ping-place, but claimed to be the chief
town of the county. The older people
called her Milltown, and quite rightly
too, for all the mills were hers— merchant and grist and saw and

But she had other claims besides her industries. Hers was
no mean society. Visitors from the Capitol enjoyed her hospi-
tality and wrote her praise in poetry, and sometimes men-
tioned me.

A little further up the stream — just north of Beaver Creek
— the Horse Shoe Road brought farmers down across the wooden
bridge to look at me. So pleased were they with my appear-
ance that the next year afterwards, they asked the court to
strengthen the abutments of their wooden bridge with heavier
stone. I saw the stone — rough stone and heavy, but no one put
[ 129

a chisel on them as they did on me. They only hammered,
hammered, hammered, and brought great heaps of gravel.
Hains was the man who did the work— a sturdy fellow with an
honest face. I still recall the day when calling to his men, who
were about to leave, he said, " We'll have to get more stone to
keep this stream in bounds," and then more stone was gotten
and more gravel, too. At last a jury came to view it, who first
came out to look at me, and then walked up that bank. When
they came back and told how Hains had done his work even bet-
ter than his contract called for, Hains rubbed his hands and
laughed— a hearty laugh : and proudly said, " I think that bridge
will stand." 'Twas just about the time another turnpike
started on the western side, and those who owned it bridled
Beaver Creek and made it do their bidding. When this was open
travelers left the old road, and I seldom heard the tramp of
horses on its floor. The boys would run across it (so they said)
or else walk softly till they reached the portholes, and look down
upon the fish that sought the sunbath in the shallow water.

One day the wind was blowing and some shingles fell down
from its top. A little later came a gust of rain, and pouring
through the hole, ripped off a broken plank ; and not long after-
wards a great stone tumbled in the stream, but no one cared, they
said the road had been vacated, and the bridge was useless. 'Tis
hard to see a bridge decay. I've seen both, but far more men
than bridges. One evening late in April, when the stream was
high, I heard a man say, as he shook the water off his hat,
" twill be a hard night for the wooden bridge." The rain kept
falling on till midnight, then it ceased, and through the dull and
heavy mist I saw the moon peep out behind an ugly cloud. I
saw the flood of rising waters. They err who call this stream
the gentle, slowly moving Brandy wine. Could they but see it
in an angry mood they'd soon revise their terms. I saw, and
shook with fear. It seemed as if the tide must reach the key-

[ 130














stone of my arch, then I heard a groan like trees make when they
fall against each other in the forest, followed by a loud hurrah
of boisterous waters. I looked again, and saw what seemed a mass
of moving blackness that rose and sunk alternately. Bracing
myself, I waited in the darkness — till its timbers struck me and

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Online LibraryWilmer W MacElreeDown the eastern and up the Black Brandywine.. → online text (page 8 of 11)