Articles on the History of the
by Jim Jones
|When many people think about history, they think about famous documents like the Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, or various treaties, surrender papers and military orders issued over the years. Although not as famous as any of those, there are a number of documents associated with crucial moments in the history of West Chester. In 1788, the state issued a charter that still exists -- former Council member Bill Scott was instrumental in bringing it to the Borough for display during the 1999 Bicentennial. More recently, Judge Stively's 1987 decision that at-large council elections were unconstitutional changed the way Borough government operated.|
Although it's not as well known, the 1829
deed of sale of William Wollerton's farm to William Everhart
was probably just as significant in the history of West Chester.
That sale enabled shopkeeper William Everhart to create building
lots on 102 acres of open farmland next to the town, and sparked
the first major expansion of the town since it was founded in
1799. The transaction also made Everhart a rich man, enabling
him to dabble in local politics and even serve a term in the
state legislature. It may have also stimulated other men of
wealth to invest in the West Chester Railroad, which arrived in
1832, and it inspired other investors to build houses and start
industries that laid the foundation for the Borough's transition
from market town to manufacturing town. Within ten years the
town's population more than doubled, and it continued to grow
rapidly for decades afterwards.
Historians describe the Everhart Tract as the land west of Church Street and south of Market Street (although it was called South Street at the time). At the time of Everhart's purchase, West Chester consisted of the crossroads at Gay and High Street plus four blocks surrounding it. Church and Market Streets formed the western and southern boundaries of the town respectively (Chestnut and Walnut Streets framed the other two sides). Although a few people had constructed buildings on lots lining the Wilmington Road (High Street) and the road to Jefferis' Ford (Gay Street), the town was overwhelmingly rural and surrounded by farms.
Wollerton's farm lay southwest of town. He acquired most of it --just over one hundred acres -- from John Rankin in 1808. According to Douglas Harper, he tried to sell it in 1817 and in 1818 without success, but in 1828, his agent William Work convinced a storeowner named "William Everhart, Esquire" to take it. [see Harper, West Chester to 1865: That Elegant & Notorious Place (West Chester: Chester County Historical Society, 1999), 308.]
Harper called Everhart "the consummate West Chester outsider." He was born in West Vincent, ran stores there and in Tredyffrin, West Whiteland and West Goshen before buying a store on Gay Street in 1824. By then, he was no longer a complete outsider because he married Hannah Matlack, the granddaughter of one of the Borough's first farmers, in 1814. His adopted community was still dominated by families who had been in the area for nearly a century, however, so Everhart had to make his own fortune.
By 1829, he had earned enough from his store to finance the purchase of the Wollerton farm on February 19, 1829. The deed was recorded in Chester County Deed Book B 4 on pages 135-137, and the original is still in the collection of the Chester County Archives on Westtown Road. A microfilm copy is available for public inspection which gives the sales price, the history of Wollerton's purchases, the surveyor's description of the property and a list of witnesses to the transaction.
The deed is handwritten in early 19th century Pennsylvania legalese, so it is not easy to read. If the following example were translated into simple, modern English, it would say that Everhart got all of the rights to Wollerton's land by paying him and his wife $16,000. In fact, it reads:
The surveyor's description of the property is equally arcane.
To make sense of this, it is handy to know that a "perch" is equivalent to sixteen and a half feet, and that the north-south streets in the Borough actually run from northwest to southeast about 30 degrees counter-clockwise from true north-south. In the following "translation" of the surveyor's description, High Street is treated as if it runs from north to south, and Market Street as if it runs from east to west.
The property description starts at "a corner of Patton's orchard" along the boundary with Nathan L. Sharpless's farm. Sharpless' farm was located south of Dean Street -- the house still stands next to Burger King -- and continued south to Rosedale Avenue. The starting point must have been about 450 feet west of High Street and 150 feet south of the point where it reached High Street, placing it along Dean Street in the middle of the 100-block (midway between Church and Darlington Street).
The line ran north a half block, turned east towards High Street, running parallel to and between Dean and Union Streets. At High Street it went north for 196 feet to the corner at Union Street, then turned west along the southern edge of Jesse Green's land. Green owned the southernmost of a series of 180-foot deep lots that faced the west side of High Street. Everhart's property line ran to the rear of Green's property, then turned north behind the High Street properties until it reached John Babb's property a half block south of Market Street. Babb's property, which included the corner where the Farmers & Mechanics Building now stands, extended 211 feet back from High Street, so Everhart's property line turned west for 31 feet to the western edge of Babb's land, then ran north until it reached Market Street about midway between High and Church Streets.
At Market Street, the property line went west to the far side of Church Street, then turned north to what is now Courthouse Alley. It followed the alley west for half a block, then turned back towards Market Street in order to pass along the south end of the lots facing Gay Street. Everhart's line continued west to New Street through the middle of the properties that now face Market Street on the north side. One result is that most of the deeds for the north side of Market Street east of New Street refer back to at least two different properties.
At New Street (which already existed in 1829), Everhart's property line turned north towards Gay to the middle of the block, then west to Potter Alley and north to Gay Street. From there, it continued along Gay Street for more than 2,000 feet to the East Bradford line, then followed that line south for more than 1,500 feet to W. Union St. From there, it ran over 3,100 feet back to the starting point in Patton's orchard, a half block west of Church Street.
All in all, the Everhart Tract contained nearly 700 of the roughly 4,000 properties in the Borough today. The deed of sale shows that Everhart was not the first person to subdivide a West Chester farm, since the process was already underway along High and Gay Streets. In addition, his gamble led to more than the commercial zone along Market Street and blocks of brick residences to the south. The blocks north of Market Street and west of Potter Alley provided the site of West Chester's first factory, Enos Smedley's pottery, plus blacksmiths, metal dealers and even the first Lasko factory.
NOTE: This deed was transcribed by Dr. Jim Jones, a West Chester University history professor, from a photocopy made from microfilm of the original deed in the collection of the Chester County Archives, 601 Westtown Road, West Chester PA 19382. Comments in [square brackets] were added by the transcriber.
Chester County Deed Book B4, pages 135-137.
William Wollerton et ux to William Everhart, Esquire
This Indenture, made the nineteenth day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine
Between William Wollerton of the Borough of West Chester in the County of Chester and the State of Pennsylvania, Yeoman, and Rebecca, his wife, of the one part, and William Everhart Esq., being of the same place, Merchant, of the other part.
Whereas Edward McClosky and Margaret his wife, by two several Indentures under their hands and seals, one of them bearing the date the thirteenth day of October, Anno Domini 1800, and Recorded in the [illegible] offices of Chester County aforesaid, in Deed Book S 2, vol. 42, page 520 &c., the [illegible] the fifth day of June, Anno Domini, 1807? and recorded in the office aforesaid, in Deed Book [illegible] page 473 &c., did grant and convey unto the said William Wollerton and his heirs and assigns, a certain Lot of ground situate on the Wilmington Road or High Street, in the borough aforesaid, Containing two Acres with the appurtenances to hold the same to him, his heirs and assigns forever, as by the said recited Indentures, recourse being thereunto had, appears --
And Whereas John Rankin by Indenture under his hand and seal, bearing date the twenty-ninth day of March, Anno Domini 1808, and Recorded in the office aforesaid in Deed Book C 3, vol. 51, page 109 &c, did grant and convey unto the said William Wollerton and to his heirs and assigns, a certain messuage and plantation or Lot of land situate in the borough aforesaid, adjoining the above mentioned Lot. Containing one hundred Acres and eighty-four perches with appurtenances. To hold the same to him, his heirs and assigns forever, as by the said recited Indenture, recourse being thereunto had, appears --
And whereas Joshua Weaver and Mary, his wife, by Indenture under their hands and seals, bearing date the sixteenth day of February, Anno Domini 1825, and Recorded in the office aforesaid in Deed Book B 4, vol. 74, page 52 &c, did grant and convey unto the said William Wollerton and to his heirs and assigns, a certain lot of ground situate on the Westerly side of Church Street in the borough aforesaid, adjoining the above mentioned tracts. Containing about seventeen square perches with the appurtenances. To hold the same to him, his heirs and assigns forever, as by the said last above recited Indenture, recourse being thereunto had, appears --
Now this Indenture witnesseth that the said William Wollerton and Rebecca his wife, for and in consideration of the sum of sixteen thousand Dollars lawful money of the United States to them in hand, well and truly paid by the said William Everhart, Esquire, at and before the unsealing and delivery here of the Receipt whereof they do hereby acknowledge, and thereof acquit, exonerate and forever discharge the said William Everhart, Esquire, his heirs, executors, and Administrators, by these presents have granted, bargained, sold, aliened, estopped, released, and confirmed, by these presents do grant, bargain, sell, alien, estopp, release and confirm unto the said William Everhart, Esquire, and his heirs, and assigns,
All that certain messuage and plantation or tract of land situate in the Borough aforesaid, consisting of and including the whole of first and third [illegible] and part of the second lots or tracts above mentioned [illegible] and described [illegible]
Beginning at a corner of Patton's orchard in a line of Nathan L. Sharpless and hence by said orchard north thirty-five degrees and an half west nine perches and [illegible: one?] tenths and north fifty-three degrees and three quarters east twenty- seven perches to the Wilmington Road or High Street, thence along the same north thirty-six degrees west eleven perches and nine- tenths to the corner of Jesse Green's lot.
Thence by said lot south fifty-four degrees and one half west ten perches and eight tenths to the southwestern corner of said lot, thence by the same and sundry other lots North thirty degrees West thirty-two perches to a corner of Olaf Stromberg in a line of John Babb's lot, thence by said Babb's Lot South fifty- four degrees west two perches and north thirty-six degrees west ten perches and two tenths to a corner of said lot in the south line of South Street, thence along the same South Street sixty- two degrees and a half west twelve perches and one tenth to the westerly line of Church Street, and along the same North thirty- two degrees and a quarter West five perches and two tenths to the corner of James Hutchinson's lot, thence by the said Lot South sixty-four degrees and a half west ten perches, South twenty-six degrees and a three quarters East one perch and nine tenths, and by the same and sundry other Lots south sixty-two degrees and three quarters West forty-one perches and six tenths to the Southwesterly corner of James Tillum's Lot., thence by said last mentioned lot, north twenty-six degrees and three quarters west ten perches, south sixty-two degrees and three quarters, West six perches and one tenth, and North twenty-six degrees and three quarters west nine perches and sixty-five hundredths to the middle of the road leading to Jefferis' ford on Brandywine, thence along the same south sixty-four degrees west one hundred and twenty-five perches to a corner of William Bennett's land in said road, in a line of John C.? Townsend's lands, thence along said line twenty-eight degrees and three quarters East, ninety- one perches and two tenths to a corner of Nathan H. Sharpless' lands, and thence by the said Sharpless' lands North sixty-two degrees and three quarters East one hundred and eighty-nine perches to the Beginning.
Containing one hundred and two acres be the same more or less.
Together with all and singular houses, barns, buildings, gardens, orchards, meadows, woods, streets, alleys, ways, waters, water courses, rights, [illegible], privileges, improvements, hereditaments and appertenances whatsoever thereunto belonging or [illegible] and the reversions and remainders, rents, issues and profits thereof, and also all that Estate and Estates, Rights, Tolls, Interest, Property, Claims and Demands whatsoever of them the said William Wollerton and Rebecca his wife in law or equity or otherwise howsoever of in to or out of the same.
To have and to hold the said Messuages and Plantation or Tract of one hundred and two acres of land above described, hereditaments and premises hereby granted or mentioned or intended so to be with the appurtenances under the said William Everhart, Esquire, his heirs and assigns to the only proper use and behoof of the said William Everhart, Esquire, his heirs and assigns forever. And the said William Wollerton, for himself, his heirs, Executors, Administrators, doth covenant, promise, grant and agree to and with the said William Everhart, Esquire, his heirs and assigns, by these presents, that the said William Wollerton and his heirs, the said above-mentioned and described Messuages and tract of one hundred and two acres of land ... [language conveying every conceivable right from Wollerton to Everhart].
In witness whereof the said parties to these presents have [illegible] set their hands and seals hereunto dated the day and year first above written. William Wollerton. Rebecca Wollerton. Sealed and delivered in the presence of James M. Gibbons, Thomas Williamson, Chester County.
So be it remembered on the nineteenth day of February Anno Domini one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine before me the subscriber one of the Justices of the Peace in and for the County of Chester aforesaid, personally came William Wollerton and Rebecca his wife, the grantors above named, and severally acknowledged the above written Indenture to be their act and deed in order that it might be Recorded as such according to Law. The said Rebecca, being of full age and by me duly examined separate and apart from her said husband, and the Contents thereof being first fully made known to her, declared on said separate examination that she did voluntarily and of her own free will and accord, seal, and as her act and deed deliver the said Indenture without any coercion or compulsion of her said husband. In testimony whereof I have hereunder set my hand and Seal the day and year aforesaid. James M. Gibbons. Recorded February 19, 1828.
NOTE: The year of the last date is an error. It should be 1829.
The article entitled West Chester's
Everhart Park: A Century of Recreation includes a reference note that refers to a
clause from the will of Isaiah Everhart. Isaiah was a Scranton
cousin of the West Chester Everharts who inherited 128 properties
when the last of them (Benjamin) died in 1904. The footnote
quotes the beginning of a provision from Isaiah's will which
reads "My son, Edwin E. Everhart, having conducted himself in a
manner which meets with my disapproval ... ." On February 4,
2008, a reader from from Scranton, Pennsylvania wrote "I was
wondering if you know exactly what it is that Edwin Everhart did
that caused Isaiah to be so disapproving." A subsequent exchange
of emails enabled researchers from Scranton and West Chester to
piece together the following story ...
Isaiah Everhart was the youngest brother of William Everhart, a Chester County shopkeeper who became the wealthiest man in West Chester after he bought the Wollerton farm southwest of town in 1829 and subdivided it into building lots. That triggered the Borough's first major expansion since it was founded in 1799, and enabled Everhart to invest in a railroad, hotel, and grocery store, lay out Market Street, and run for Borough Council and the state legislature. It also started the fortune that passed on to his five children, but since none of them married, it remained intact until the last one, Benjamin, left it to Isaiah.
|Isaiah was born in Berks County in 1840, but settled in Scranton after serving as a doctor during the Civil War. His main activity was practicing medicine, but he also helped to manage the family's coal fields, invested in other businesses, and created an extensive collection of Pennsylvania flora and fauna. He also married Annie Victoria Ubil, the daughter of one of his neighbors, in 1871, and she produced a single child, Edwin Ellsworth Everhart, before she died in 1898.|
According to the Scranton Times of June 23, 1900, Edwin
was "... the idol of his parents. The only child, sole heir to
his father's wealth. The sun rose and set in him. Everything
that he desired was at his command. Education and travel,
luxury, all could be had for the asking." The Times also
reported that in the mid-1890s, Edwin received close to $100,000
when his uncle James died, and proceeded to throw it away: "...
the young man, who was wild enough before, became absolutely
dissolute. The money went fast, much of it was given in the form
of loans to his companions who are numerous and who stuck to him
through thick and thin, while the money held out."
Things went downhill after his mother died. Edwin began to consort with May Rinsland, the wife of one of Scranton's tax assessors, and in early 1900, her husband sued for divorce. He also filed a separate lawsuit against Edwin for "alienating the affections" of his wife. The case, involving the son of one of Scranton's wealthiest families and the wife of a public official, appeared prominently in Scranton newspapers for the first part of the year. Then in June, Edwin delivered the kind of story that turned him into a national figure. He tried to hire someone to kill his father Isaiah.
Since his father ultimately refused to press charges, and the local district attorney agreed to let the case die, the world was deprived of Edwin's explanation for his behavior. The newspapers speculated freely, however, and most seemed to think that he had done it so that he could inherit his father's fortune. Whatever the reason, the man he chose to carry out the deed, a drinking buddy named Frank Lewis, was well-known around Scranton. He was also honest enough (or smart enough) to reject the plan, which would have paid him $5000 to shoot Isaiah with a 38-caliber revolver. Instead, Lewis informed the authorities and they arrested Edwin on the night that the murder was scheduled to take place.
Isaiah was not pleased, to say the least. He refused to post Edwin's $5,000 bail, and since the first court session was not scheduled until September, Edwin spent three months in the Lackawanna County Jail. The court didn't actually get underway until early October, by which time his father had relented enough to drop the charges and pay his son's penalty from the Rinsland lawsuit. Edwin's troubles continued, however, when May Rinsland filed a breach-of-promise lawsuit against him because he failed to go away with her after her husband divorced her. Edwin eventually won that case thanks to a technicality -- Pennsylvania law didn't recognize the validity of the promise because she was still married to Rinsland at the time -- but his reputation was destroyed and his father wanted to get him out of the state.
According to Michael Wisneski of the Everhart Museum in Scranton, Edwin couldn't handle his alcohol, and at one point he wrote a will that left all of his money to the destruction of the Catholic Church. During his prison stay in 1900, the prison doctors kept him away from alcohol and cigarettes, which his friends claimed had made him insane. Although the Scranton Times reported that he left jail "quite a new man, with a clear brain, and resolutions to live a new life in some healthy spot at a respectful distance from Scranton," in 1913 he was judged insane in San Francisco and then declared mentally incompetent four months later in New York after spending time under observation at Bellevue mental hospital. By that time, he had also married a woman from New York City who left him in 1912, but who "wept bitterly" when he was institutionalized in 1913. Isaiah's estate remained under the control of his lawyers, and most of it went to the construction of the natural history museum which still bears his name in Scranton's Nay Aug Park.
Edwin appeared in West Chester on several occasions between the time of his father's death and his own institutionalization. Once was in 1911, shortly after his father Isaiah died, when he came to see John Gheen, the lawyer who managed Isaiah's West Chester properties. Edwin returned the following year for the same purpose, claiming that he was home on vacation from his mining business in Nevada where he had "struck it rich." But a year after that, the Daily Local News reported that juries in both California and New York had found Edwin incompetent.
The last connection to West Chester was through the person of Benjamin H. Warren, a local man who studied medicine but never practiced. Instead, he learned about birds from Benjamin, one of the West Chester Everharts, and wound up serving as the Pennsylvania State ornithologist in the 1890s and the Dairy and Food Commissioner from 1903 to 1907. In the former position, he became friends with Isaiah Everhart, and after Everhart suffered a stroke in 1907, Warren took over as the superintendent of his museum until World War I. During that period, he also handled some of the details associated with Edwin's legal troubles.
Upon Edwin's death in 1934, the last of the Everhart fortune passed into the hands of six first and second cousins from various places in Pennsylvania. None of them were from West Chester however. Edwin was buried in Dunmore Pennsylvania, about five miles northeast of Scranton, beneath an $85 stone marker.
|Copyright 2010 by Dr. James A. Jones|