The Early Families
Tracing the early families that settled the Village of La Mott is relatively simple. Almost parroting the phrase, “It all started in the house of the Lord” it can all but be said, “that the village of La Mott all but started in the house of the Triplett’s.”
An example of this is the fact that of those few streets in old La Mott that are not named after trees, they are named after descendants of this family. Researchers only have to go back to the union of Armstead Triplett and Anna Butcher to trace the early families of La Mott. This marriage produced seven children and the rest is part of the early history of La Mott families.
The names of these seven offspring were Phoebe, William, Sr., Anna, Estelle, Cornelia, Wallace, Sr. and Isabelle. Although no birth dates are available to our records and there is no information about Phoebe and Isabelle, it is known that William Sr. married Letitia Bowser and that they had nine children. Anna Triplett married Jacob Harvey and the marriage produced twelve children. Estelle married John Washington and was the mother of six children. Cornelia married Jesse Wayns and also delivered nine children. Wallace Sr. married Martha Dorsey and this marriage produced six children.
The female off-spring of the family married and brought into the community such names as Jackson, Wester, Walker, Washington, Upshaw, Gaffney, Dobson, Simmons, Busley, Thomas, Littlepage, Berry, Griffin, Slaughter, Moore, Watson, Gould, and Hawkins.
Where the nation’s first United States colored troops once trained for combat in the Civil War and in the very back yard of “the Black Man’s Goddess,” Lucretia Mott, now stands the historic village of La Mott. In this casually integrated community, the daily interaction of its several hundred residents is characterized by the same spirit of cooperation and fellowship, which has existed without interruption for more than a century.
Prior to the origin of this settlement, most of the land in this section of Cheltenham Township belonged to Edward M. Davis, son-in-law of Lucretia Mott. Through the “Chelten Hills Association,” a land company, which he formed in 1854, Davis purchased 1,000 acres of Quaker farmland between Old York Road and Washington Lane. Parcels of this tract were sold to wealthy Philadelphians, including Jay Cooke and John Wanamaker, who established large country estates, as was becoming the fashion among prosperous city dwellers. On Davis’ own estate, “Oak Farm,” was a farmhouse into which James and Lucretia Mott moved in 1857.
Beginning in 1854, Davis sold off, in three separate parcels, most of the land where La Mott now stands. Totaling about 30 acres, it changed hands several times before he began reacquiring it after the war, in 1866.
Two acres, which Davis did not regain, were purchased by Thomas Keenan, a carpenter, for whom Keenan Street is named. This tract was on the west side of Keenan Street, near Willow Avenue.
Davis began to subdivide the acreage bounded roughly by Willow Avenue, City Line, Keenan Street and the future School Lane in August 1867. About 50 lots, costing up to $250 each, were offered for sale. The first purchasers of these lots were white, and almost all were Irish immigrants. Meanwhile,
Thomas Keenan divided his property into six lots, which he sold off between 1869 and 1884. Keenan built houses on these lots, reportedly using lumber taken, from the demolished barracks at Camp William Penn. The lumber apparently had been purchased from the Government by Penrose Mather, a Quaker whose farm was adjacent to Davis’ land, west of the future Penrose Avenue. The six houses, now about 100 years old have retained most of their original features.
The first Negroes to live in the area were Davis’ farmer, William C. Butcher, a native of Virginia, his wife Esther Ann, and their two daughters. The Butchers lived in a house on Oak Farm, built by Davis shortly after 1854 at the corner of Willow Avenue and Butcher Street. It is not far from the gatehouse to Roadside, part of which still stands, just inside the Latham Park fence. This structure served occasionally as the Mott’s underground railroad station.
Aside from the Butchers, the earliest Negro settlers in what was at that time called Camptown were George Hanry and William Watson. The latter was a brickmaker who purchased, in May 1869, property along City Line at Keenan Street. He paid $1,060 for the property and began manufacturing bricks for local construction projects. Four houses on the north side of Willow Avenue, between Sycamore and B.D., are built of Watson bricks.
The next black man to come to Camptown was William J. Bowser Sr., a Civil War veteran who had been a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. According to an autobiographical account, he came to La Mott in 1869, where he died in 1945 at the age of 103. Bowser’s portrait is displayed in the Community Center. He was followed by Benjamin Anderson, John Bowser and Benjamin Griffin. The latter two married sisters of brickmaker William, Watson and settled on School Lane.
Wallace Triplett, in his 1949 History of La Mott, (unpublished) wrote, “Other early settlers were Emanuel Johnson, Walker Jones, George Brent, Henry Hall and Reuben Fripps, who married William Butcher’s wife’s sister. Then came the children of William Butcher’s brother-in-law, Armstead Triplett of Franklinville, New Jersey, which today is the largest family group in La Mott, consisting of Wallace, who married Martha Dorsey; William, who married Letitia Bowser; Stella, who married John Washington; Anna, who married Jacob Harvey; Cornelia, who married Isaac Wayns; and Isabel. They numbered eight children, 43 grandchildren, 74 great-grandchildren, 80 great-great-grandchildren. Then followed the Moore’s, Matthews, Haskins, Burleys, Manly’s and many other prominent citizens of today.”
Needless to say, additional new citizens, as well as additional Triplett generations, have joined the La Mott population since then.
The increase in the number of Coloreds (the national designation) in Montgomery County is obtained from the County level Census Data for 1900.
At the recording of the results of the next census in 1910, the total number of Negroes (the new national designation) had risen to 6,021 in Montgomery County. This represents a growth of more than 77 percent. While it is impossible to attribute all of this increase to the La Mott area, it is known that this area was growing at a comparable rate.
By 1920 the Montgomery County population of Negroes, both male and female had grown to 8,326. Interestingly, for the first time in these ten-year censuses, the number of females in that population, 4,387 significantly increased over the male population, 3,939 in the county. At the time the total county population was slightly under 200,000 at 199,310.
Homes in the Village
By 1926 the village had begun to take on the look of a small city. Streets, such as Willow Avenue, Beech Avenue, Cedar Lane, Butcher Street, Graham Lane, Keenan Street, School Street and Sycamore Avenue all had neatly appointed homes. The descendants and in-laws of the Triplett’s populated many of these houses.
Thanks to the maps and records kept in the archives of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central Library on Logan Square (http://www.library.phila.gov/philamap.htm) the occupants of those homes in 1926 can be identified. A listing follows:
There were no homes along Penrose Avenue during this period (1926). Mrs. George F. Tyler* owned 4¼-acres at the northern-most section of Penrose Avenue. (1232 Land Title Bldg. Philadelphia, PA)
*Mrs. Tyler’s interest in art stemmed from her father who was a collector and had significant works in the home by Corot, Romney, and Gainsborough among many others. She was a pupil of Boris Blai who later became Dean of the Tyler Art School of Temple University (endowed by Mrs. Tyler) and had a one-person show in New York in 1935 at the Grand Central Galleries where she showed about sixty works cast in bronze.
Tyler School of Art Overview
Tyler School of Art has a history based in philanthropy. The School’s 14 acres of grounds were the former estate of Stella Elkins Tyler, a student of the sculptor Boris Blai. In 1935 Mrs. Tyler donated her estate to Temple University with the intent that it would become a center for the advancement of the arts and individual creativity under the direction of Boris Blai.
From its modest enrollment of 12 students in the first freshman class in 1935, Tyler School of Art now boasts a student body of more than 1200 and serves another two to three thousand students each year in elective and core curriculum courses. Today Tyler is a dynamic organization, serving students at its Elkins Park campus, as well as Temple’s Main Campus, the Ambler Campus, the Center City Campus, and the Temple University Rome and Tokyo Campuses.
U.S. News and World Report recently rated Tyler School of Art 10th in Master of Fine Arts programs. U.S. News and World Report has ranked Tyler’s overall programs in the top 20 of art schools across the country in recent years.
Tyler School of Art is recognized as one of the top Art and Design Schools in the country. We are proud of this distinction and realize how important the next years will be in meeting the needs of our students in order to remain competitive.
These early families were instrumental in the growth of La Mott, the village, from what was once only known as “Camptown.”
On May 24, 1982, third generation Triplett family member, Frank Triplett, Sr. died.
“Frank Triplett, Sr., the son of Wallace and Martha Triplett, was born in La Mott on May 8, 1895. He attended the La Mott Grammar School through the eighth grade, but because of the death of both parents he was forced to set aside his education in order to help support his brothers and sisters.
Frank Triplett served in World War I and upon his safe return he was employed first, by the Pennsylvania Railroad and then by the U.S. Postal Service. At the Central Post Office in Philadelphia he was employed as a Postal Clerk, a position at which he remained for 40 years retiring on May 31, 1956.
Frank Triplett was active in many of La Mott’s events and service organizations. For many years he chaired the Annual Independence Day outing, parade and program. This program was part of the Moore-Triplett Post #451 of the American Legion activities. He was a charter member of the Post and remained a member for more than sixty years during which time he served as Commander, Adjutant and Chaplain.
Frank Triplett had a reputation for always being interested in progress and was for many years a delegate to national and state conventions for the American Legion. Other activities included his being a charter member of the NAACP and the Vice President of the La Mott chapter. He was also a member of the Cheltenham Township Historical and Architectural Commission, a past manager and Vice President of the Fairview Cemetery Company. He was also a member of the La Mott A.M.E. Church for more than sixty years where he served as past Superintendent of the Sunday School and Trustee.
Frank Triplett was married to the former Elizabeth Jackson and they and their three children (Elizabeth, Frank Jr. and Norman) live at 1514 Willow Avenue, in La Mott. At the time of his death, he left behind six grandchildren, one great-grandchild, one brother-in-law, one sister-in-law; five nephews, and a host of relatives and a grateful community of friends.
Frank Triplett is buried in the Fairview Cemetery in Willow Grove, PA.