Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My History and Connection to Downingtown, Pennsylvania

My first homes weren't in Downingtown, but I consider the borough my home town nonetheless. It is where I spend most of my youth and where much of what I would be as a person was formed.  I hold a great fondness for the place.

My family history goes far back to the town and the surrounding environs of Chester County and the memories of living along the Brandywine flow through my veins as much as blood does.

That history goes back further even than the 1870 photograph of Downingtown's then main street. My family is married into the very name. My Grand
Uncles Herford and Ellsworth Downing (Uncle Ellsworth is pictured on the right.) were direct descendants of Thomas Downing, for whom the town was named.

The two Downing brothers, the 4-Great Grandsons of Thomas, married my Grandmothers two older sisters, Helen and Clara. My Grandmother named Easter was the youngest child of William Frederick and Anna Dunlap Wilson. My Grand Aunt Helen and My Grandmother Esther were named for my Great-Great Grandmother, Esther Helen Bicking Wilson.

Esther Helen Bicking's father was Frederick Bicking and he was the Manager
of his father's paper mill in Downingtown.  The last remains of that mill, long after its usefulness and prior to it disappearing from this world is pictured on the left.

Esther Helen Bicking married William Frederick Wilson, who was a farmer and auctioneer. His son and namesake, known as Fred owned a large dairy farm that stretched along Route 100 from around where Ship Road crosses up to Lionville. He called his farm, "Marchwood".  Today his old lands are covered by housing developments and a shopping center.


The lead rider on the right is my Great Grandfather, William Frederick Wilson, Jr., engaging in what was a popular Chester County activity, riding to the hounds on a fox hunt.

As a boy my grandfather took me along on several such hunts through the farmland of Chester County. We usually ended up in a bar somewhere.

One of William, Jr.'s sisters was Emma Bicking Wilson. She married Benjamin Franklin Meredith. This fact freaks my kids out, "Our family tree doesn't branch," they yell. Yep, my mother and dad are cousins. I have a Great Great Grandmother who is also an Aunt and a Great Great Grandfather that is also an Uncle.

The Meredith's go back in Chester County a ways. David Meredith came here in 1683 with a group of Welsh Quakers. They settled in Chester County with a land grant from William Penn on what was called the Welsh Tract. This is why we have places with names like Llanerch, Bryn Mawr, Gladwyne, Bala Cynwyd, Berwyn and Uwchlan. Davis Meredith married a Philadelphia girl named Sarah Rush, who was the Great Great Aunt of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

David and Sarah settled about twenty-eight miles from Philadelphia, which Sarah described as "Six miles beyond neighbors, except Indians…" Another man who came over with the Welsh at that time was Richard Thomas, he was the namesake of Dick Thomas, who had the Brick Oven restaurant I loved as a boy. The families settled around a Lemi-Lenape village called Katamoonchick, meaning "hazelnut grove". The Lenapes had dogs and this afforded some protection. If strangers came into the area the dogs would bark a warning. Katamoonchick is better known today as Exton. (On the left is an early West Whiteland settler's cabin built in 1707.)

The Thomas Family became leaders in the community and established an estate off of what would
become Route 30. They named their estate, Whitford. The Meredith's eventually established farmland along what is now Route 100/202 and they called their homestead, Whiteland. (On the right is the home build by my 5-Great Grandfather Daniel Meredith in 1815 as it looks today. It sits off of Route 100 on Echo Hollow Road.)

So having established some long buried roots in this area, lets move up to more recent times and my coming to Downingtown. But first lets deal with my own arrival on the scene.

As I said at the beginning, my original home wasn't in D-town.  I was born at the Chester County Hospital in West Chester in the middle of 1941.

My parents at that time lived in Modena, sometimes known as Paperville and originally named Modeville.  This suburb of Coatesville was my father's hometown and a good bit of it was owned by his Grandfather, for whom he had been named, William Wilson Meredith. My father's family lived on Meredith Row (now called Meredith Court) in
one of the row houses owned by his Grandfather. Although his mother and brothers occupied some of these houses at the time, my parents were living in an apartment in this building by the railroad
tracks (pictured left) , also owned by my Great Grandfather.

All these structures still exist pretty much as they were those seventy-plus years ago, as does the family General Store (owned by my Great Grandfather, of course), which sits on the corner of Meredith Row/Court. (Pictured right.)  On the left are my father's family in 1930, when my dad was 12. From left to right are my Grandmother Florence Townsley Meredith with her arm around my father. The blond boy was the youngest of the three boys, Uncle Francis. Next is my Grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Meredith III and finally, Uncle Ben (yes, Benjamin Franklin IV) My Grandfather was the manager of the family store and that is the delivery truck behind the family.

I did not live in Modena long, only a few weeks, and then we moved to Whitford, to the George Thomas III Estate and in with my maternal Grandparents. This is where my mother lived her childhood. The area was known as Whitford Station.




This is me standing in front of the house as it looks today (photo taken 2004).














Whitford Station as it looked in 1908.











My mother in front of the Whitford Home in 1930. She is the girl in the middle. The others are Bill, Bob and Irene Yarnell.

Although this was to be my second home, I didn't live there long either. I do not know the reason, but in December of 1941, when I was six months old, the whole kit and caboodle of us, Grandparents, Parents and I, moved to 424 Washington Avenue in Downingtown, right across the street from the East Ward School.

The house looked pretty much as it does in this photo then, except it had different siding and a wooden rail around the front porch. There was a green glider where that bicycle sits.

The United States had entered World War II at the time we moved here and my father went off to serve aboard the Destroyer Escort USS Jaccard in the South Pacific Theater, taking part in the retaking of Bataan and the Philippines in 1944.

This is my dad with me in 1944 during a leave. The house across the street was where the Buckley's lived. It sat right at the corner of the East Ward playground and I don't think that house is there anymore on Washington Avenue.

My father came home from the Navy in January of 1946, three months before his term was up due to the illness and death of his mother. (His father had died in 1937, when my dad was in his late teens.

On the right I am sitting on the front steps of 424 Washington in 1944.

We remained at 424 Washington for the most of the next two years, but my dad got a job as a trucker at Hines Trucking in Glen Loch. With the job came a house down in a swamp across the highway from the trucking company. Hines owned the property and let us live there rent free because dad was a returning veteran. This meant I moved again. In December, halfway through First grade at east Ward, my parents and I moved.

Glen Loch had once been a large estate and where we now located was at a far corner of it. The main house, called Loch Aerie (pictured right) sat along the Lincoln Highway more toward Frazer. It still is there today,

Our house was not so grand. It sat surrounded by a swamp on two sides, a cow pasture on another and a hill covered with corn behind.
Someone had started to cover the brick with whitewash and never finished, but the scaffolding still stood along one wall.

We lived there in isolation from the world, with no children my age anywhere around. I went to West Whiteland Elementary on the bus and then came home to make up games with my two dogs, Peppy and Topper.

But another December rolled around and my father changed trucking companies, going to drive for Atkinson in Philadelphia. This meant we lost the house and me moved back to 424 Washington Avenue in Downingtown. I was halfway through Third Grade.

I continued in Third Grade at East Ward with Miss Ezrah as my teacher. I am the dark haired boy standing directly in front of her in this class picture, 1950. On the far right of that same row, half hidden by Stuart Meisel, is Ronald Tipton.  Those two would become my best friends and remain so even today, although Stuart is in Florida and Ronald lives in Sussex County Delaware and I live in New Castle County.



Downingtown was small in those days and relatively quiet. (Pictured left, the center of Downingtown in the 1940s. On the right you can see the towers of the Swan Hotel and the side of the Downingtown national bank.) I walked downtown a lot or to the Roosevelt Theater (right) for Saturday matinees or to the library.

We lived with my Grandparents for a couple more years and then my parents were able to rent the
house at 417 Washington Avenue, on the opposite side about the center of the block. We lived directly across from Iva Darlington.

It was a double house. We lived in the side nearest the camera in this photo (right). The lot next door was owned by a farm equipment dealer. It was full of tractors and combines and such equipment. On Sundays when the place was closed I would go play on these vehicles. That is how that dealership looks today, except the farm equipment is gone and the lot is filled with pickup trucks.

I lived at 417 until the spring of 1956. (On right, the 400 Block of Washington Avenue from Chestnut Street.) The Landlord told my parents they would have to move because he wanted the house for his daughter, who was getting married. My parents bought a house near Pottstown, just above the Village of Bucktown and moved there by the end of April. I moved back to 424 Washington and lived with my Grandparents until the school year ended and I finished Ninth grade at Downingtown Jr. High School, then I moved out of town for good, although it will always remain my hometown in mind and heart.








8 comments:

Ron said...

Lar,

The Meredith family has along and rich history in Chester County. Thank you for writing this blog posting so others can see it for reference long after we're gone. They will appreciate it and probably say "Who was that (masked) man?"

Ron

Anonymous said...

thanks for the local history !

Anonymous said...

You've brought some memories to me. I grew up in Exton during the 1960's, my father was the pastor at Exton Baptist Church on Swedesford Road. I remember our family shopping at Rodney's Farm Market on Rte. 30, Max's Farm Market on Rte. 100 and eating at Dick Thomas's place, the Exton Diner, Howard Johnsons, the Guernsey Cow and a diner near Frazier called Twaddels I almost forgot, Marty Martin's Exton Lodge. Exton was a sweet country place to grow up in the 1960's. Thanks for the memories.

Dave Schlosser, MS.

Douglas Smith said...

I moved to Downingtown in the summer of 1959 at the age of 8. I spend my first night in Downingtown at the Swan Hotel and the next morning went to my house at the corner of Hunt and Highland. It was exciting to me because it was my first airplane ride (out of Boston) and the first time I ever stayed in a hotel. I remember very well Dick Thomases ("the world's longest hotdog") and took many dates there after turning 16. I worked at the paper company in HS during summers. Also caddied at Woodford CC. Fun times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I am a descendant of David & Sarah Meredith and I was curious to know where they lived. Do you have any idea where the property was/is?

Larry Meredith said...

My best guess as to the location of David & Sarah would be now 1358 Glen Echo Road between Exton and West Chester. If you are in West Chester, go northwest on N. High Street, which will become Rt. 100. Go about 10 minutes and turn right onto a Kirkland Avenue. Go on Kirkland about one-half mile and turn left onto Glen Echo Road. There is a stone farmhouse at 1358 Glen Echo. This was the home of Daniel Meredith when he died in June of 1826. Daniel was the grandson of David & Sarah and my 5-Great Grandfather. The home has been described as "built in c. 1815 on 100 acres farmed by the Meredith Family for 100 years. Stone farmhouse replaced log dwelling. Variant of Georgian Style popular in township c. 1800-1850. The Meredith farm was named Whiteland. That area today is part of the East and West Whiteland Townships.

Brad said...

Hi Larry. Thanks for sharing. I was raised in the house across the street from East Ward (Fairlamb house) in the 1980's, so I have many found memories of the area. The farm equipment shop that you lived next door to was a video arcade repair shop when I was a boy, so we would stop in there after school and the gentleman who owned it would let us play for free on the machines he repaired. I took my children trick or treating in the neighborhood this past Halloween and the first house we stopped at was 424 Washington. Would you happen to recall who the young man was to the left of Ms. Ezrah? I'm thinking David Fidler? Thanks, Brad

Larry Meredith said...

Brad, yes the boy to Miss Ezrah's left is Dave Fidler.