Richard Wall House
Richard Wall was one of the original land owners of what would become Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania. He arrived with William Penn‘s group of Quakers in 1682. He and fourteen others pooled their land purchases to create what was referred to as “Cheltenham Plantation.” The naming rights were given to them by William Penn. They named the township for the main town in Gloucestershire, England, where they apparently originated. The area became a township in 1784 when Montgomery County was carved out of Philadelphia County
The Wall family was joined in marriage by the Shoemaker family. The families owned a corn grist mill on Tacony Creek. Descendants of the Walls lived in the house until 1847, followed by the Bosler family. In 1932 the township acquired the house and surrounding lands for “Wall Park.” The house was rented from 1932 to 1979. Harold C. Pike, (township manager) moved in 1941 and resided there until his death in 1978. Since 1980 the house has been managed by the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission, which opened the museum and orientation center in 1993.
Rear View of the Richard Wall House
The Richard Wall House, at one time called “The Ivy” because of its ivy covered walls, has been assigned the date of 1682. It was been placed on the National Register of Historic Places because it was the oldest house in Pennsylvania with continual family occupancy. The historical importance of the Wall House goes far beyond that, beginning with the meetings conducted by the Society of Friends in the Wall home. It arises mostly from the early families who lived here, their significance in the community, and how their marriages for generations connected many of the personalities who became prominent in American history. In addition, their family enterprises were important in the growth and wealth of Cheltenham Township.
For purposes of simplification, this history, which was written and published by Cheltenham Township, focuses on four men prominent in the Wall House’s early history: William Penn, Tobias Leech, Richard Wall and George Shoemaker.
In 1650, George Fox was preaching Quakerism in England and Richard Wall was holding Society meetings in his home, just 15 miles from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. When William Penn received his land grant from Charles II, he announced that if a certain number of purchasers agreed to have their lands adjoining and wished to form a small township, they could do so. It is interesting to note that with the exception of a small land piece gained at a later date, the boundaries of Cheltenham Township are those conceived and executed by lawyers in London over 300 years ago.
One of the original purchasers of the Cheltenham Township land was Tobias Leech, who sailed up the Delaware in 1682 on the ship, “The Bristol Factor.” It accompanied the ship “Welcome,” which carried William Penn. Leech named the Township “Cheltenham” after his hometown in England. In the new Cheltenham he built several structures, two of which are still standing in the community. Leech was also a friend of Richard Wall. They both came from the same Quaker Meeting, “Stokes Orchard” near Cheltenham, England.
Although Richard Wall’s specific emigration details aren’t known, he transferred out of his Society of Friends group in England in April 1682 and into a Philadelphia Society in October, so his arrival in America likely falls between those dates. In America, Richard Wall’s home was the scene of Quaker weddings and services, making the house one of the original Quaker meetinghouses and is one of the oldest still standing in America. The Cheltenham Friends were originally attached to the Frankford and Byberry Meetings but because of distance, the Wall House was used as a meeting place. Cheltenham was also the parent Meeting of the Germantown Friends. Meetings continued in the Wall House until the Abington Meeting House was built in 1702. Unfortunately, Mr. Wall, who was active in the planning, died before the building was completed. The Wall House was also one of the stops on the Underground Railway, as was nearby Lucretia Mott’s home.
Also in 1682, William Penn heard of the plight of the Quakers in Germany, and therefore, he encouraged them to form a group which would settle on his land where a new “ German Town” could offer them religious freedom. A Company was formed with agent, F. Daniel Pastorius. George Shoemaker emigrated with the group. George married Sarah Wall, Richard Wall’s granddaughter and heiress.
Interested in universal freedom, Pastorius wrote a proclamation protesting slavery that had its second reading from the Wall House in 1688. George Shoemaker along with Tobias Leech and others laid out York Road in 1711. The surrounding land was called “Shoemakertown,” then “Ogontz” and then it was renamed “Elkins Park.” Apparently, the residents took the name of Cooke’s estate as the area developed after the Civil War and the railroad named their new station to honor Mr. Elkins in 1898 and the name was applied to the whole area.
Later, George and Sarah’s son married the granddaughter of Tobias Leech, Dorothy Penrose. (It was Governor Penrose who defeated another Cheltenham Township resident, John Wanamaker, for the office), thus the families of two of the original purchasers were united and lived under the roof of the Wall House. Of interesting historical note, another of the Leech granddaughters married a Reverend Ross of the Trinity Oxford Church where Leech worshipped and one of their sons married “Betsy,” who then became Betsy Ross.
In 1746, Dorothy Penrose Shoemaker, with the help of John Mather and John Tyson of Jenkintown, founded a corn gristmill on a site opposite the former Yorktown Inn and the present Walgreens. There is a grinding wheel, which was never uncrated, still in the Wall House smoke house. Dorothy Shoemaker could check on the mill’s activities by looking out the Wall House window. John Tyson had a farm at West Avenue and York Road where he developed a pear called the “Tyson Pear.
Of interest to local residents, the Tysons also married into the Shoemaker family. The Wall House exhibits Tyson Christening gowns, and therefore, probably Shoemaker gowns as well.”
Subsequently, Dorothy Shoemaker became the sole owner of the mill, but sold it to the Bosler’s in 1847 when it became known as the Bosler Mill. She sold the house to them at the same time, ending the occupancy of the direct Wall descendants.
However, the Boslers were also a distinguished family, who were connected with other business enterprises. In 1905, Joseph Bosler was an Assistant Treasurer of the United States under Theodore Roosevelt and, for a short time, president of the Cheltenham Township Board of Commissioners.
It has been said that the Lenape Valley Indians originally named the Tacony Creek, “Tookeney,” meaning, heavily wooded, but the actual spelling of “Tookany” for the Tacony Creek in Cheltenham came from the phonetic spelling that first appeared in the minutes of the Quaker Friends at the Wall House in 1682. The creek which runs right by the Wall House front door, was a part of the industrialization of the area and was, the means by which numerous mills owed their existence to its waters. The Wall House with its well and spring has seen not only the history of the Township, but Pennsylvania as well.
On a national level the home was authenticated in the 1970s by the Friends Society of London as a stop on the Underground Railroad, but it is not known how this designation was determined. At this time, there is no evidence of Undergrown Railroad activity with the Wall House.
According to present research, four families lived in the house before the Township purchased it in 1932. It became the residence for Township Manager Harold Pike in 1941. His stepchildren, the Flecks, left some toys and cards in the attic nursery. Mrs. Pike was the last resident. She left, a widow, in 1979. In 1980 the building was placed under the aegis of the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission.
Money was raised for rehabilitation through flea markets, antique and craft shows, tour donations, and contributions from generous clubs, organizations, and interested individuals, such as the Knauer Foundation, Questers International, and Rotary International. The largest grant by former State Representative Charles Nahill, enabled the house and carriage house to be opened to the public as a museum. There is also a research room, a colonial herb and flower garden conceived and maintained by the Old York Road Garden Club, a two-level springhouse, a gift shop, and an orientation center.
The Wall House is open by appointment only.
Assistance in the review of this article was provided by Thomas Wieckowski, Vice President, Old Your Road Historical Society.
Portions of this article are attributed to Dorothy Spruill, former Curator of the Wall House
Wall House, September 2008
The “Wall House” also known as “The Ivy” has undergone numerous renovations, with a section of basement wall being the only original construction remaining. The site of religious meetings and weddings, it is also among the earliest places of Quaker worship still standing in the United States. If you would like to take a stroll through the past, the Richard Wall House Museum in Elkins Park offers a unique glimpse into Cheltenham Township’s history. The museum is situated in the Township’s 13.2-acre Wall Park, located at Church Road and Wall Park Drive, just 1/10 mile west of Old York Road in Elkins Park.
The house is listed on State and National Registers of Historic Places and had the distinction of being the oldest Pennsylvania house in continuous residence until rehabilitation began.
Wall House (The Ivy) Marker
The Cheltenham Township Historical Commission, which oversees the operation of the house museum, welcomes donations of historic items in good condition for the museum’s collection.
The Richard Wall House Museum is open on the fourth Sunday of each month, 1-4 PM. Group and individual visits can be arranged by appointment. Tours are conducted by Historical Commission volunteers and docents from Honors History classes at Cheltenham High School. Special tours have been customized for all school grades and adult interest groups. There are first floor handicapped facilities as well as handicapped parking. For the benefit of those who find touring difficult, a DVD is available.
The DVD is also available for community lectures. A video depicting the coming of the original Richard Wall family is shown in the orientation center and may be purchased in the gift shop. The Cheltenham Township Historical Commission conducts bus and walking tours, and periodic lectures on historical themes which are free and open to the public.
Contact: The Richard Wall House Museum 1 Wall Park Drive, Elkins Park, PA 19027
215-887-1000, ext. 227 during business hours or 215-887-9159 and leave a message.
All written inquiries must be addressed to:
Cheltenham Township Historical Commission
8230 Old York Road
Elkins Park, PA 19027-1589
e-mail: [email protected]