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Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District

Early Roxborough

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.

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