Whitpain Township is located in the center part of Montgomery County, PA. The township is bounded on the east side of Lower Gywnedd, Ambler, and Upper Dublin, north of Whitemarsh Township, west of Plymouth Township, and south of Worcester Township.
The Establishment of Whitpain
It all started with William Penn when he executed leases and re-leases to 3 people:
Samuel Fox- 1500 acres
Charles Marshall- 2000 acres
James Claypole- 1000 acres
In total, the tract to land was 4500 acres. The tract was shortly sold to John Marshall who contained all 4500 acres. Then Richard Whitpain (1631-1689), a London butcher, purchased the tract. The tract was called "Whitpain's Creek," but it was later called "Wissahickon Creek" that flows through the township.
It seems that Richard Whitpain died in 1689, but he didn't live on his tract. It could be that he was too old, and decided to write his will, and instructed his wife Mary to sell "as much of his land as necessary to pay off his debts."
"Richard Whitpain made his will and testament, dated April 27, 1689, and willed the payment of his debts and funeral expenses, and authorized his wife, Mary, his executrix, to sell so much of his lands in the province as she should find needful for the payment thereof, and shortly after the said testator died Mary Whitpain, in accordance with the provision of the will, by her indenture dated July 20, 1689, sold the entire tract to Mary Davice, John Eldridge, William Ingram, John Blackhall and John Vace, all of whom were creditors. Shortly afterward John Blackhall, the surviving trustee, sold the great tract above named to William Aubrey, of the town of London."
- Thomas Bean's History of Montgomery County, PA (1162)
His son Zachariah Whitpain (1665-1693) came to America as a mariner to take over his father's property.
It was assumed that Ann Whitpain (-1714) was the daughter of Richard Whitpain. She married a butcher surgeon named Thomas McCarty, and both of them inherited 250 acres of land on the south of Skippack Pike where they built their home in 1704. Ann and Thomas were recognized as the first actual settlers in Whitpain.
Fun Fact #1: Zachariah Whitpain was the first to bring the rumors in Philadelphia, in 1689, about the abdication of King James II.
The oldest road that everyone knows and loves is Skippack Pike. It was considered the most important highway in the township. This road was built due to requests from residence. Like Gwynedd, most of the residence in Whitpain were farmers, and other occupations, and they needed roads for business purposes. In 1713, Skippack Road, as it was called back then, was open for use.
"To the Court of Quarter Sessions held, in Philadelphia, June 2, 1713: 'The petition of the inhabitants of the townships of Skippack and several adjacent plantations in said county, humbly showeth, that whereas, in the aforesaid township and neighbourhood thereof, pretty many families are already settled, and probably not a few more to settle in and about the same, And yet no road being laid out and established to accommodate your petitioners; but what paths have hitherto used are only upon sufferance, and liable to be fenced up. Therefore, your petitioners, both for the public good and their own convenience, humbly desire an order for the laying out and establishing a road or cartway from the upper end of said township down to the wide-marsh, or Farmer's mill, which will greatly tend to the satisfaction of your petitioners, who shall thankfully acknowledge the favor, etc.'"
- Thomas Bean, History of Montgomery County, PA (1173)
Other older roads:
Morris Road (1741)
Penllyn Blue Bell Pike
The First Industry
The first industry that took place in Whitpain was located in a small log cabin in Centre Square owned by Jacob Yost.
"The Yosts were famed far and near for their sickles, scythes and edge-tools, which they made and carried on from 1760 to 1816 at the old homestead. These implements were all forged by hand. In 1746 the first grist-mill in the township was built, on Stony Creek, in the western portion, near the lines of Norriton and Worcester. The mill is yet standing."
- Thomas Bean, History of Montgomery County, PA (1163)
Dawesfield is located along Lewis Lane nearby Shady Grove Elementary School. This colonial homestead was built in 1736, and it was used by General George Washington, and other officers like Marquis de Lafayette and General Anthony Wayne, as their headquarters during the American Revolutionary War, specifically during their Philadelphia Campaign where British General William Howe planned to seize the city. Washington and the other officers stayed at Dawesfield from October 20th to November 2nd, 1777.
Fun Fact #2: Dawesfield was known as "Camp Whippin" and "Camp Morris" because during that time, the owner of this home was James Morris and his wife Elizabeth.
To this day, the homestead is currently owned by a local resident, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
In Whitpain, there are villages within the township: Broad Axe, Blue Bell, Centre Square, Franklinville, and Belfry. In Broad Axe, Blue Bell, and Centre Square, they have hotels and inns that were considered important places for social gatherings like meetings
Centre Square was considered the "hub" in Whitpain. The ownership of the land changed constantly until Thomas Fitzwater purchased 150 acres of land from the DeHavens brothers (Jacob, Samuel, Edward, and Peter) in 1757. A year later, he built the "Waggon Inn" which is now Reed's Country Store.
In Broad Axe, the name possibly came from the hotel that is still standing today known as Broad Axe Tavern. It was debatable when this tavern was built: some say it was built in the late 1680s, but others say it was built in 1792. There use to be a horse race in the area until it was abandoned in 1840.
For Blue Bell, it use to be called, "Pigeontown." Sources said that the name was either originated from the "large flocks of wild pigeons" that flew in the area many years ago, or from a great trapper of pigeons and gunsmith Morgan Morgan. But the name changed to Blue Bell in 1840, possibly because of the establishment of the post office. There were 2 hotels that were considered rivals: one was called "White Horse Inn" which is known today as the Blue Bell Inn; the other hotel that face diagonally across from the White Horse Inn was use to be called the "Black Horse Inn." The Black Horse Inn building is currently standing today.
The Churches of Whitpain
The oldest known church in Whitpain was the Boehm's Reformed Church. It was originally a small stone structure built in 1740 which church founder Reverend John Philip Boehm built the with his bare hands. The church was used as a hospital by Brigadier-General George Weeden and his army.
Fun Fact #3: "Mr. Boehm was the first Reformed (either Dutch or German) that taught the doctrines of the Heidelberg Catechism in the province of Pennsylvania" (Bean, 1167)
St. John Lutheran Church was established in 1769 when Reverend John Frederick Schmidt began preaching in the church. The church was used as a hospital during the Revolutionary War. "Many of the soldiers of the Revolution, who died from wounds or sickness after the battle of Germantown are buried here, without any stone to mark their final resting-place." (Bean, 1169)
The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was built in 1834, which is the same year the first congregation took place. Today, the building still stands along with the graveyard, but the church is currently inactive.
Whitpain, I think, was considered the first township to have a successful school that possibly lead to the establishment of the Wissahickon School District. Just like how Gwynedd schools started, Whitpain schools were mostly small schoolhouses. As the growing number of student enrollment continued, there was a need for a bigger school. That was when the Whitpain Public School came into existence in 1895, located on Skippack Pike and School Road.
It is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2006, and the Wissahickon Valley Historical Society currently owns the building.
Bean, Theodore Weber. History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Volume 2. (Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1884): 1162-1183.
Carpenter, W.H. and T.S. Arthur. The History of Pennsylvania From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1857): 1690-1691.
Historical sketches : a collection of papers prepared for the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. (Norristown: Historical Society of Montgomery County, 1915): 200-206.
Historical sketches : a collection of papers prepared for the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. (Norristown: Historical Society of Montgomery County, 1920): 137-139.
Hopkins, G.M. Atlas of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Page 031, 1871.
Hunsicker, Clifton Swenk. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania ; a history. (New York; Chicago, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, inc., 1923): 350.
Lea, Philip. A mapp of ye improved part of Pensilvania in America, divided into countyes, townships, and lotts, 1687. https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3820.ct004137/?r=0.417,0.297,0.442,0.235,0.
Whitpain... Crossroads in Time. (Montgomery County, PA: Whitpain Township Bicentennial Commission, 1977): 312, 387-389.
Young, John Russell. Memorial History of the City of Philadelphia From Its Settlement to the Year 1895, Volume 1. (New York: New York History Company, 1895): 92-93.