Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District
Roxborough was officially recognized as a township by 1706, but it remained sparsely populated throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as the following chart shows. 34
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Until significant transportation and industrials advances in the 1820s, Roxborough remained a linear village with pockets of development located on and very near Ridge Road. The only significant developments off Ridge Road were several mills, which, by necessity, were located along the watercourses, the Wissahickon and its tributaries. Very few people lived to the west of Ridge Road, on the steep slopes down to the Schuylkill. Most Roxborough residents made their livings in agriculture, milling, selling stone, timber, and other building materials, or providing services to the wagoners and others who travelled along Ridge Road. As noted earlier, at least three taverns serving travelers stood on Ridge Road by the end of the eighteenth century, the Leverington Hotel of 1731 (Figure 14), the Plough Tavern of 1746, and the Sorrel Horse Tavern of 1785.
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Although Ridge Road is and has been Roxborough’s primary thoroughfare since its establishment in the first years of the European settlement of the area, other roads were laid out and opened in the eighteenth century, especially to access mills on the Wissahickon. Typically, these roads were first laid out informally, and then later formally surveyed and opened by the Court of the Quarter Sessions, after they had been in use for a while. Most of the early secondary roads in Roxborough ran east from Ridge Road to mills along the Wissahickon and then on into Germantown, the nearest population center. No roads were officially opened from Ridge Road west to the Schuylkill until the early nineteenth century. School House Lane, which marked the southeastern boundary of Roxborough and still runs on its original line from Ridge Road to Germantown Road, was constructed about 1702, but not officially opened until September 1765.35 School House Lane and Ridge Road are the only two roads in Roxborough depicted on the Scull & Heap Map of Philadelphia and Parts Adjacent of about 1750 (Figure 8). Township Line Road, now known as Wissahickon Avenue, which marks the boundary between Roxborough and Germantown, was officially opened on the east side of the Wissahickon Creek in December 1763.36 The extension of Township Line Road on the west side of the Creek, in what is now called Andorra, from Wise’s Mill to Ridge Road, was officially opened four years later, in September 1767.37 A road on the line of Roxborough Avenue in Roxborough and Kitchen’s Lane and Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy ran from Ridge Road, across the Wissahickon, and on to Germantown Road as early as 1761.38 Gorgas Mill Road (now Gorgas Lane and W. Mt. Airy Avenue), which ran east off Ridge Road, across the Wissahickon, and up to Township Line Road (now Wissahickon Avenue), was opened in December 1764.39 Rittenhouse Lane, which connected Ridge Road to the Rittenhouse Paper Mill, partially along the current line of Walnut Lane, was officially opened in December 1767.40 Shawmont Road (now Avenue), from Ridge Road to Wise’s Mill, was opened in June 1786.41 Although probably laid out about 1738, Spruce Mill Road, now known as Thomas Mill Road in Chestnut Hill, was officially opened from Ridge Road to Germantown Road in June 1793.42 That same month, Manatawna Road was opened, running east from Ridge Road.43 The roads that crossed the Wissahickon Creek at dams and small bridges were often swept away during flooding.44
Early tax rolls for Roxborough Township provide unique insights into the wealth, occupations, and numbers of the residents. The rolls for the 1769 proprietary tax list 91 taxpayers for Roxborough Township, 40 of which were landowners. The taxpayers include only one woman, Elizabeth Levering. The landowners owned an average of 68.9 acres. William Levering was the largest landholder, with 250 acres. The smallest holding was but one acre. Of the 91 taxpayers listed in 1769, 26 were associated with occupations, including four grain millers, two paper millers, two millers, two butchers, two coopers, two tanners, two weavers, and one of each of the following: flour miller, ferryman, taylor, innholder, cordwainer, smith, ropemaker, sadler, stonecutter, and hatter. Most of the remaining taxpayers were presumably farmers. The 91 taxpayers owned 119 horses and 148 head of cattle, but several persons owned neither horses nor cows. Only eight servants were listed among the 91 households. The 1774 provincial tax rolls list 105 taxpayers in Roxborough Township, 14 more than five years earlier. The 1774 rolls list very few occupations, but they do include a joiner, an occupation not noted in 1769. The 1779 effective supply tax rolls list 106 taxpayers in Roxborough Township.45
Real estate and other advertisements offer insights into eighteenth-century life in Roxborough. For example, the plantation of Jacob Cook was auctioned in June 1763 to pay his creditors. It was located “in Roxborough Township, Philadelphia County, about eight Miles from the City, on the great Road leading to Plymouth, and about one Mile from Schuylkill.” The property included:
upwards of 14 Acres of Upland and Meadow, … a Dwelling-house, two Stables, a Smoke-house, Coopers Shop, an exceeding good Stone Vault, and a Well of excellent Water, also a Run of Water, with a never-failing Spring, a young bearing Orchard, with Apple, Peach, Quince, Cherry and Pear Trees, a good Flower and Kitchen Garden paled in, and a young Nursery of Apple and Pear Trees; about one Half the Premises Woodland; it is in good Repair, and well fenced in, pleasantly seated on high Ground, and very suitable for a Gentleman’s Country Seat, or a Store.
The same advertisement offered for sale “a Mare, a Cow, two Hogs, a Plow and Harrow, a Cart and Gears, and sundry Implements of Husbandry.”46 Most households in eighteenth-century Roxborough were largely self-sufficient, raising their own food and selling or trading excess production with neighbors or in Germantown and Philadelphia.
A similar advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1755 announced the sale of recently deceased Henry Shellenberg’s dwelling house and mill in the Township of Roxborough. In addition to the buildings and property, Shellenberg’s heirs offered for sale household furnishings, “two guns,” horses, cows, sheep, swine, various miller’s tools and supplies, “a young likely Negro man, a likely young Negro woman, [and] two or three Dutch mens times of servitude.”47 Slave and indentured labor worked the mills and fields in Roxborough. Two years earlier, in 1753, Benjamin Levering of Roxborough Township offered a 20-shilling reward and expenses for the return of a “Dutch servant lad, named Michael Haun, a taylor by trade, about nineteen years of age,” who had “run away.”48 Indentured servants were not the only ones fleeing in eighteenth-century Roxborough. In 1783, Jacob Amos gave public notice “that my wife Elizabeth has eloped from me, therefore I forwarn all persons from lending her or letting her have any thing on my account, as I will not pay any debts for her from the date hereof.”49 In 1758, Isaac Cook offered a 40-shilling reward for the return of stolen goods and an additional 40 shillings for apprehending the thief. He explained that, during the night of 30 June 1758, his house “was broke open, and robbed” of numerous items including garments, bed linens, table linens, a pair of gloves, and a large pewter teapot with feet.50
A real estate advertisement published in 1788 offered a large property in Roxbourough, “on the road leading from Philadelphia to Reading, about 9 miles from the city, containing 248 acres and 137 perches.” The advertisement is especially interesting because it provided several suggestions for the development of the property, providing a glimpse into the commercial activities in Roxborough. The advertisement highlighted the parcel’s proximity to Germantown as well as Plymouth Meeting’s “sundry lime-kilns”; suggested that the timber on the property was valuable and, if the timber was harvested, the cleared land would be excellent for farming; noted that the “Wissahickon Creek, running through this tract, affords an excellent mill-seat; its being situate on a road leading into one of the best wheat countries on the continent”; and even promoted the notion of shipping the processed wheat to market down the Schuylkill, which ran along the western edge of the property.51
An advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754 pointed to another industry in Roxborough. It announced that John Stanaland, stone cutter, had removed from his freestone quarry in Roxborough to a shop in Philadelphia, where “all persons may be supplied with various kinds of freestone work … both in regard to cutting and setting; such as steps for doors, window cases, door cases, battlements, pediments, &c.” The advertisement noted that, despite Stanaland’s departure for the city, Edward Harding continued to operate the quarry in Roxborough.52
With a small population, few institutions were established in eighteenth-century Roxborough. On 1 April 1748, William and Hannah Levering donated to the township a parcel of land on the west side of Ridge Avenue, south of the current Monastery Avenue, for the construction of Roxborough’s first school building.53 A one-story stone school building, known as the Roxborough School, was erected on the site that year. An 1895 newspaper article on the history of the school explained:
This structure being the only public building in the vicinity, met all of the demands of the place for fifty years, not only for school purposes, but also for public meetings, elections and religious services. In it the Baptist people of Roxborough held services from 1754 until October 24, 1790, the Roxborough Baptist Church having been organized in the school house on August 23, 1789. In 1776 an enthusiastic patriotic meeting was held there to secure volunteers for the American Army.54
The school building was enlarged with a second story for an additional classroom and a wing for the school master in the 1790s (Figure 15).55
The first church in Roxborough, the Roxborough Baptist Church, was officially organized by 32 residents in August 1789. The group had met informally for religious services at the Roxborough School since 1754. In October 1789, the church was officially received into the Philadelphia Baptist Association. Nathan and Sarah Levering donated a parcel of land for a church building on the east side of Ridge Road, about 500 feet north of the school, and a small church building was erected. The church building burned down on 17 January 1830 and a new church was erected by September of that year (Figure 16).56 The second Roxborough Baptist Church was replaced by a third church building in 1870. The third church building burned in 1876 and was replaced by the fourth, which still stands today, but has been significantly altered.
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The Plan of the City of Philadelphia and Environs by John Hills, a detailed map of Philadelphia County 10 miles out from the city’s center, indicates that Roxborough remained sparsely settled in 1808. Only three roads, unnamed on the map, ran west from Ridge Road toward the Schuylkill River; they were Green Lane, Hipples Lane (now Fountain Street), and Ship Lane (now Port Royal Avenue). No development or roads were shown along the Schuylkill River in what is now Manayunk. The Roxborough School, Baptist Church, Sorrel Horse Inn, a few unnamed mills, a few property owners, and a soap stone quarry along the Schuylkill at the county line were called out on the 1808 map. No neighborhood names were called out on the map.
This information has been posted by RMWHS with the permission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
34 Road Docket, June 1706, vol. 2, p. 31. Population data taken from Jones, The Levering Family, Appendix A, 189; and John Daly and Allen Weinberg, Genealogy of Philadelphia County Subdivisions (Philadelphia: City of Philadelphia, Department of Records, 1966), p. 94.
35 School House Lane, Germantown Road to Ridge Road, September 1765, Road Dockets, vol. 3, p. 337.
36 Township Line Road (Wissahickon Avenue), December 1763, Road Dockets, vol. 3, p. 312.
37 Township Line Road from Ridge Road to Wise’s Mill, September 1767, Road Dockets, vol. 3, p. 378.
38 Kitchen’s Lane (Roxborough Avenue), Ridge Road to Cresheim Road or Germantown Road, December 1761, Road Dockets, vol. 3, p. 278.
39 Gorgas Mill Road (Gorgas Lane and W. Mt. Airy Avenue), Ridge Road to Wissahickon Avenue, December 1764, Road Dockets, vol. 3, p. 333.
40 Rittenhouse Lane (Walnut Lane) from Ridge Road, December 1767, Road Dockets, vol. 3, p. 389.
41 Shawmont Avenue, Ridge Road to Wise’s Mill, June 1786, Road Dockets, vol. 4, p. 175.
42 Spruce Mill Road (Thomas Mill Road), Ridge Road to Germantown Road, Road Dockets, June 1793, vol. 4, p. 303.
43 Manatawna Avenue from Ridge Road, June 1793, Road Dockets, vol. 4, p. 301.
44 Thomas’ Mill Road, Livezey Mill Road, and Rittenhouse Road are located within present day Wissahickon Park. Joseph D. Bicknell, “The Wissahickon in History, Story and Song,” paper read before the City History Society of Philadelphia, October 10, 1906, in Philadelphia History: Consisting of Papers Read before the City History Society of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: City History Society, 1917), 6.
45 William Henry Egle, ed., Proprietary, Supply, and State Tax Lists of the City and County of Philadelphia for the Years 1769, 1774, and 1779 (Harrisburg: State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1897).
46 The Pennsylvania Gazette, 9 June 1763, p. 1.
47 The Pennsylvania Gazette, 17 April 1755, p. 3.
48 The Pennsylvania Gazette, 30 August 1753, p. 3.
49 The Independent Gazetteer, 19 April 1783, p. 4.
50 The Pennsylvania Gazette, 6 July 1758, p. 3.
51 The Pennsylvania Gazette, 29 October 1788, p. 1.
52 The Pennsylvania Gazette, 23 May 1754, p. 2.
53 William and Hannah Levering and Andrew and Elizabeth Wood donated two additional parcels for the school’s use on 30 March 1771.
54 “Levering School and Its History,” Inquirer, 3 February 1895, p. 7.
55 See Franklin Davenport Edmunds, The Public School Buildings of the City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: 1913), p. 5-7; “The New Levering School,” The Times, 28 July 1895, p. 4; “News and Gossip of the Schools,” Inquirer, 8 March 1896, p. 7. The school was renamed the Levering School in 1847. The school building was badly damaged by a tornado on 12 April 1856 and replaced with a new school building in 1857. That building was in turn replaced in 1895. A large annex to the 1895 school building was constructed in 1929.
56 Rev. David Spencer, The Early Baptists of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: William Sychelmoore, 1877), p. 147-148; “A Century and a Decade of Life for Roxborough Baptist Congregation,” The Times, 24 August 1899, p. 2. The 1830 church building was enlarged in 1846. A new church building was begun in 1868 and completed in 1870. It was lost to a fire in 1873. A new church building was completed in 1878.