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  • The Milk Trolley  by Doug Humes

    In the early days of West Chester Pike, farmers from Newtown Square and surrounding communities brought their milk to be sold in Philadelphia each day via horse and wagon. The trip to the city and back took all day. Then, beginning in 1895, the Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Company started to run a trolley car between Philadelphia and Newtown Square (eventually going all the way to West Chester). By January of 1897, the company added a daily “milk run.” A special trolley car would travel out to the end of the line, drop off the empty cans from the previous day’s run, and then pick up full milk cans from farmers on the way back to Philadelphia. Farmers had cans custom-made to identify their brand and location. Once the trolley reached 63rd Street, the milk would be purchased by local dairies lined up with horse-drawn wagons. The service was a boon to the farming families, and over one million quarts of milk were transported in just the first year. The farmers-built platforms along the route of the trolley where their milk could be easily picked up. Newtown Square was such a busy pickup location that a special siding off the main line was built next to the Newtown Square Hotel, at the corner of West Chester Pike and Newtown Street Road. Known by the locals as the “Farmers Siding”, it became the convenient location for pickup and delivery of milk destined for Philadelphia for many years.

    However, in 1924 the milk companies started sending their own delivery trucks down West Chester Pike directly to the farmers. By January of 1925, the “milk trolley” was done and milk service was discontinued. The siding next to the Newtown Square Hotel was eventually ripped out and its history was forgotten. With West Chester Pike and Newtown Street Road widened several times since then, all traces of the “milk trolley” siding were buried in history. In 2020 during the latest widening of West Chester Pike, two small pieces of rail from the Farmer’s Siding were unearthed. The artifacts are proudly displayed at the Newtown Square Railroad Museum at Drexel Lodge Park, along with one of the later trolley cars that continued to carry passengers to Newtown Square. The artifacts and the trolley are tangible evidence of how technology began to change a small farming community. Kudos to the Railroad Museum for helping to preserve our past!

Milk Can from Liseter Farm

Photo from winter of 1920 showing trolley tracks splitting and
one set heading off to the Farmers Siding next to the Hotel on the left. Rt 252 north is at far right.

Notorious Fitz Captured

By Doug Humes

A voice from the grave, and a research notebook from preeminent Delaware County historian Hilda Lucas, came into my hands last week and sent me to several sources for the particular details of the last days of James Fitzpatrick, alias Sandy Flash.

Fitzpatrick, a local farm boy, eagerly joined Washington’s army during the Revolution. After being whipped for some minor infraction, he deserted, became a wanted man, and so embarked on a career as a highwayman. A poem captured the character of Captain Fitz:

“Some he did rob, then let them go free
Bold Captain McGowan he tied to a tree
Some he did whip, and some he did spare
He caught Captain McGowan and cut off his hair.”

The Pennsylvania Packet from 1778 told the rest of the tale:

July 13: “… Fitzpatrick … doth infest the highway from this city to Lancaster, committing robbery on the good subjects of this State … a reward of ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS be paid to the person who shall secure the said Fitzpatrick …”

August 25: “A gentlemen of character informs us … he saw the noted robber James Fitzpatrick, … brought in pinioned and secured in the country gaol there … this terrible man was taken by one Mr. McAfee of Edgmont Township.”

August 29: McAfee told how he captured the prisoner. Fitzpatrick entered the McAfee home in Edgmont, moved McAfee, his parents and servant Rachel Walker to an upstairs bedroom. Fitz intended to steal McAfee boots and put his pistol and sword down to try them on. McAfee and the others seized the moment, tackled Fitzpatrick, wrestled the pistol from him, and were able to secure him till help came.

Sept. 15: Fitz convicted on his own confession of burglary and larceny at court in Chester and sentenced to “be hanged by the neck till he be dead.”

Sept. 26: Fitz was hung “at the usual place of execution”, the intersection of Providence and Edgmont roads in Chester.

Nov. 6: McAfee and Walker appeared before the Supreme Executive Council in Philadelphia to lay claim to the $1,000 reward. They each recounted what had occurred, and the Council did what King Solomon would have done, and awarded each $500.

The McAfee home, witness to these events, became known as Castle Rock Farm, and stood for another 200+ years until around 1995 when it was demolished to make way for the Edgmont Shopping Center.

Why is there a Newtown in Delaware County and a Newtown in Bucks County? Blame it on Pennsylvania’s first developer, William Penn

In 1681, Penn was granted a large, wooded tract in the New World, Penn's Sylvania.  He and his surveyor, Thomas Holme, worked out the basics of the initial development.  The capital city, Philadelphia, was laid out in a grid of streets that still identifies Philadelphia’s center city today.

Penn and Holme then turned to the outlying areas.  The results are shown in that first subdivision plan, the "Mapp of Ye Improved Part of Pennsylvania in America, Divided into Countyes, Townships and Lotts" published in 1687. 

In Bucks and Chester County, Penn and Holme planned two “New Towns”.  The 1687 map shows them experimenting with different ideas for how a town would develop.

The town in Chester County was placed in a township bisected by a north-south “straight road”, and an east-west road.  A “townstead” was planned at their intersection.  If you bought a larger parcel outside of the townstead, you also were entitled to a smaller lot in the town.  Everyone would have a stake in the town, and it would be easily accessible to the planned roads. 

In Bucks County, the development was planned like a wagon wheel: the town in the middle, for a market, a meeting house perhaps an inn.  The private lots would each border the town, running like spokes from the central hub of the town.  Each lot would have direct access to town.

Like developers today, Penn and Holme assigned a place holder to these new towns on the map, simply "New Town".  Presumably once the marketing effort started in earnest, they would be given snazzy new names with a little more flare: Aronimink Mews or Newtown Woods!

Yet today, three centuries later, those first new towns still bear the name given on the 1687 map.  Newtown in Bucks County is a beautiful borough of about 2500 people surrounded by a township of the same name.

Newtown in Chester County subsequently ended up in Delaware County when the former was split in two in 1789.  The town planned along the crossroads of Newtown Straight Road and Goshen Road actually grew at that location, with an inn, the Square Tavern, located at the crossroads. However, when the West Chester Turnpike, was built to the new county seat of Chester County, the center of Newtown moved up to that new road. Old Newtown Square was bypassed.

The next time a local visitor wonders why there are two towns with the curiously nondescript name "Newtown" in suburban Philadelphia, you can tell them to blame the developer, William Penn.  He gets an A in planning, but someone from Marketing apparently never got the memo.

Riding Public Transportation – in 1822!

By Doug Humes