History of Gwynedd and the 1891 Split

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

Lower Gwynedd is located in the southeastern part of Pennsylvania in Montgomery County, PA, bounded on the south of Montgomery Township, west of Horsham Township, north of Ambler and Upper Dublin Township, and east of Whitpain Township.

Before Lower Gwynedd officially became an independent township, it was actually part of one WHOLE township with Upper Gwynedd. Originally, before the split, the township was called, "Gwynedd."


The Establishment of Gwynedd

"Gwynedd" was derived from the Welsh word, "Gwyneth" or "Gwinedith." According to Thomas Holme's 1687 map, the township was owned by different people: the upper half of the township was owned by John Gee & Co. while the lower half was owned by James Peters and Robert Turner. It wasn't until Welsh farmers William John and Thomas Evans arrived in the city of Philadelphia in 1697, and became interested in buying Robert Turner's land. After further examination and inquiry, the Welshmen purchased the land on March 10, 1698. They purchased Turner's property for 508 pounds.

The land was confirmed to the Welshmen by William Penn's commissioners Edward Shippen, Thomas Story, Griffith Owen, and James Logan, on March 8, 1702.

A mapp of ye improved part of Pensilvania in America, divided into countyes, townships, and lots (1687), Philip Lea at ye Atlas and Hercules in Cheapside, Publisher

Fun Fact #3: Before Gwynedd was named, it used to be called "North Wales"

1749 Map by Lewis Evans

The Early Settlers of Gwynedd

The name signifies the early setters in Gwynedd who were Welsh. They came on a ship called Robert and Elizabeth from Liverpool. Among them were Edward Foulke and his family; Thomas Evans' brothers Robert, Owen, and Cadwallader; Hugh Griffith, John Hugh, and John Humphrey accompanied by their families.

In total, there were 66 inhabitants in Gwynedd since 1698:

  • Edward Foulke with his wife and 9 children (11)

  • Thomas Evans with his wife and 8 children (10)

  • Robert Evans with his wife and 7 children (9)

  • Owen Evans with his wife and 6 children (8)

  • Cadwallader Evans with his wife and 2 children (4)

  • William John with his wife and 6 children (8)

  • Hugh Griffith with his wife and 3 children (5)

  • John Hugh with his wife and 3 children (5)

  • John Humphrey with his wife and 4 children (6)


The Early Roads

The most concern the settlers had when living in the area was there were no roads.

NOTE: The early settlers of Gwynedd were farmers by trade, and others were merchants, cobblers, tailors, carpenters, bricklayers, bakers, weavers, coppers, joiners, sawyers, wheelwrights, saddlers, vintners, blacksmiths, and clerks.

Isolation was an issue for them, and needed access to great resources. They also needed roads to go to places like mills and markets. Their desire was sent to the Court of Quarter Sessions in June 1704 who recited,

"There are in the said Township above thirty families already settled, and probably settled, and probably many more to settle in and about the same, especially to the northward thereof, and as yet there is no road laid out to accommodate your petitioners, but what Roads or Paths have formally been marked are removed by some and stopped by others."

- Howard Malcolm Jenkins, Historical collections relating to Gwynedd (282)

Ever since they proposed new roads, we have these roads that still exist today:

  • Welsh Road

  • Plymouth Road (opened in 1715)

  • Sumneytown Pike (confirmed in 1735)

  • Norristown Road (opened in 1738)

  • Bethlehem Pike (opened in 1813)


The Gwynedd Friends Meeting House

The Friends Meeting House is located on the northwest corner of Dekalb Pike and Sumneytown Pike. It was considered the third worship site to be built in Montgomery County. The first two worship sites built were located in Abington and Lower Merion.

The main settlers who first lived in Gwynedd met at the houses of John Hugh and John Humphrey until more people joined their society.

"With the exception of the latter two and most probably Hugh Griffin the remainder were attached to the Established Church of England. An identity of interests in this new settlement was calculated to draw them closer together. It is evident that the meetings held at the aforesaid houses led to the organization of this congregation. The churchmen for a brief term did assemble for worship at the house of Robert Evans, where his brother Cadwallader supplied in part the place of minister, by reading to them portions of the services and passages from his Welsh Bible. This may not have been maintained much beyond a year, for on building the first small log meeting-house in 1700, on the site of the present edifice, they all united, assisted by later immigrants, who, must have also increased the body of Friends. The relation is that Robert and Cadwallader Evans first sought them by attending at their place of worship, and finally through their influence the rest were brought over, on which the meeting-house was agreed upon."

- Thomas Bean, History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania (860)

Fun Fact #2: It was said that between 1700 and 1701, William Penn and his daughter Letitia as well as his servant visited the small log meeting house on horseback, and preached in it.

With the growing population in Gwynedd, the original settlers began building a stone structure with two galleries and a hipped roof in 1712, occupying the former site of the former log meeting house. Two years later, the Gwynedd Friends' Monthly Meeting was established. It was later torn down in order to build a new house in 1823, which is the current building standing at Dekalb and Sumneytown Pike.

Fun Fact #3: The settlers of Gwynedd were mostly Quakers, also known as "Friends."

Fun Fact #4: The meeting house was used as a hospital during the American Revolutionary War.


The Fatal Epidemic of 1745

An unknown disease came into Gywnedd in the summer of 1745. It was assumed that the disease started at Thomas Evans' home with him and his wife Elizabeth. Then it somehow it spread throughout Gwynedd, Towamencin, Montgomery, and New Britain, Bucks County as well as Whitpain.

Most of the victims were children, and few were elders in the community. Among the victims was Evan Foulke, son of Edward Foulke, along with three of his children: Edward, Anne, and Ellen.

There were theories what the disease was:

"Although, a yellow fever epidemic was known to occur throughout colonial America in 1745, the pattern of deaths (mainly children) and the rapidity of its spread (all the deaths occurred in 2 months) suggest diphtheria. Waterborne diseases would be less likely as archeological remains suggest settlers at Gwynedd used wells and spring houses for their water .... A diptheria epidemic broke out in Philadelphia in 1746 perhaps a continuance of the one that hit Gwynedd the year before. Diphtheria had also hit New York and New England in 1744, the year before it hit Gwynedd (Genealogical Encyclopedia of Colonial America, by Christina K. Schaefer p 21, on-line through Google Books)."

- James Quinn and Matthew Quinn, "Gwynedd Friends Meeting Burial Records 1715-1749, including the fatal epidemic of 1745"


The Continuing Growth (In focus of Lower Gwynedd)

There were four villages in Lower Gwynedd: Gwynedd, Gwynedd Valley, Penllyn, and Spring House.

Penllyn was derived from the Welsh for "the head of a dam or the beginning of a stream of water." That would explain why the village is located along the Wissahickon Creek.

The rise of innkeepers in Gwynedd in the 18th century happened due to their farmer neighbors seeking for community leadership. Hotels and inns were used as courts for traveling justices, social halls, polling places, post offices, and clearinghouses for news from around the world.

Only 2 hotels still stand to this day that are reused as restaurants: The William Penn Inn (built after 1728) and the Spring House Hotel (1763).

Before there was SEPTA, there was the North Pennsylvania Railroad. It was established in 1852, and was completed in 1855. In focus on the lower half of Gwynedd, there were two stations built: Gwynedd Valley and Penllyn Stations.

The Church of the Messiah was built in the 1870s after Reverend Samuel Edwards began holding services in 1861 at a hall in nearby Franklinville and at Rudolphus Kent's home at Gwynedd Station where a growing number of people attended the gatherings. The establishment of the church was due to the farmers from Philadelphia who settled in the countryside by taking a short train ride to Gwynedd.

Montgomery County 1877, Gwynedd, North Wales, Ambler, Royer's Ford, Limerick Station; J. D. Scott, Publisher

The Bethlehem Baptist Church was established in 1888 after 19 newly-arrived blacks began meeting at the home of James and Mary Fillman, located in Spring House along Bethlehem Pike. They named their first pastor Caesar Edwards, a Virginia native.


The 1891 Spilt

It was considered the most "momentous and controversial" events in Wissahickon Valley Region history. The spilt happened simply because of a growing population in the 1870s. And officials were forced to make the decision to split Gwynedd with Swedesford Road serving as the geographical division line. In 1890, a movement was rising to divide the township.

On October 7, 1890, 38 citizens of Gwynedd petitioned the Court of Quarter Sessions for the division of Gwynedd. The Court decided to have the jury visit Gwynedd to investigate and report. They met with 15 citizens; most of them opposed the division because of the expenses. Those who supported the division were farmers.

In November 1891, the decision was made by the Court to divide Gwynedd into 2 districts: Upper Gwynedd and Lower Gwynedd.

After the township was split, the population of both Upper and Lower Gywnedd decreased due to people moving into the newly established North Wales borough. Even with their decreased population, they increased real estate value.



"1749 map by Lewis Evans." Genealogy at Pitard.net. Accessed December 17, 2020. https://ancestors.pitard.net/map1749.php.

Bean, Theodore Weber. History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Volume 2. (Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1884): 853-868.

Jenkins, Howard Malcolm. Historical collections relating to Gwynedd, a township of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, settled, 1696, by immigrants from Wales, with some data referring to the adjoining township, of Montgomery, also settled by Welsh. (Philadelphia: Howard Malcolm Jenkins, 1897): 21-32, 40-49, 73-82, 282, 304-311, 401.

Lea, Philip. A mapp of ye improved part of Pensilvania in America, divided into countyes, townships, and lotts, 1687.

Quinn, James and Matthew Quinn. "Gwynedd Friends Meeting Burial Records 1715-1749, including the fatal epidemic of 1745." Gwynedd Friends Meeting. Accessed December 4, 2020. http://www.gwyneddmeeting.org/history/burial_records.htm.

Ruth, Phil Johnson. Fair Land Gwynedd: A Pictorial History of Southeastern Pennsylvania's Lower Gywnedd Township, Upper Gywnedd Township, and North Wales Borough. (Souderton: Merck Sharp & Dohme, 1991): 29, 31, 68, 99-100, 109, 119.

Scott, J. D. Montgomery County 1877, Gwynedd, North Wales, Ambler, Royer's Ford, Limerick Station, 1877.

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