600 Main Street - A Glimpse into the Past
By Amy Demchik, Museum Co-Director
Perhaps you have driven down Main Street in Royersford and caught a glimpse of an old home hidden behind some overgrown trees. I had driven past this house countless times, and over the years, I had watched it deteriorate slowly. Then, in 2020, myself and our museum secretary Diane were offered an opportunity to tour the Nelson Ice Cream factory. Knowing that the home was owned by the same family, I wanted to make sure we were in there to document it. Honestly, at the time, I believed the fate of the house would be demolition.
Many times, walking into a home such as this, you either are going to find a house that is completely chopped up into apartments, as so many of these larger homes were transformed into over the years. Or, there are so many "updates" to the interior that really the only part that is original is the shell. So I'm not sure I can even put into words our surprise at how intact we found this beautiful home. All I kept thinking was, "Please don't let us lose this one."
This is a former Lewin property built by Abram and V. Blanche Lewin. The Lewin name may sound familiar, as our Spring-Ford Area Historical Society museum is also a Lewin property. There are other Lewin family properties scattered throughout the borough and sadly some that have been lost over the years.
Connecting a home to a family, through the years, can be a daunting task. We usually can research enough information to say that a particular family lived in a certain home. But how do we bring the house alive? How do you document memories, when many times the family lines tied to a house are lost over the years? Unfortunately, many family histories have not been well documented. So you can imagine how excited we were to get a glimpse into the early history of 600 Main Street in Royersford.
Just as we were getting ready to visit this property, I received a call from the granddaughter of the original owners. She was interested in donating items to our museum and wanted to share her memories of 600 Main. And just like that, we went from looking at this home falling in within itself to opening the doors to its history!
This was the home of Abram and V. Blanche Lewin. Abram was born on March 6th, 1871, at the family homestead at 526 Main Street in Royersford. This is the current home of the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society.
Abram had been one of the founding members of the Lewin, Thomas & Co. Firm, manufacturers of stove fire bricks and linings. In Abe Lewin’s diary of his life in Royersford from January 1894 to May 1895, he refers to fire bricks a few times. In March 1894, he mentions making the first fire bricks. One evening, he went to dancing school and from there went down to the works and kept the room hot to keep the bricks from freezing and stayed there all night. Before too long, his lungs were affected by the dust from the bricks, and he left the business to become a shipping clerk at Grander Stove Company. In 1922, he went into the business of knitting tubing for ladies' undershirts in the carriage house of his residence at 600 Main Street.
Here is where I was pleasantly surprised to find so much history documented about Viola Blanche Davis, Abram's wife. Even in doing research of my own family, we often times find that the men of the family are well documented. Many times, it's hard to even find the maiden name of the women in the family when going back so many years. So I would like to share some of Blanche's story with you today.
Viola Blanche Davis was born on October 23rd, 1879, the same year that Royersford Borough was incorporated. In 1881, the Davis family moved to Reading Pennsylvania. Four years later, they returned as her father went into the lumber, coal, and feed business in Spring City with partner Joseph I. Mowrey. The family moved to 345 Bridge Street in Spring City.
The following was written in an article featuring Mrs. Lewin: "At the age of 16, Blanche was stricken with Typhoid Fever, which hit the area in epidemic form in 1895 due to contaminated wells. She was so ill that the busy Doctor William Brower didn't even bother stopping at the home. Asked later why he hadn't been to the Davis home, Doctor Brower said he really expected to see the crepe on the door (indicating a death in the family). Blanche lost all of her hair and missed a year of school."
She returned to school and graduated from Spring City High School on June 6th, 1899. Blanche took a position as a telephone operator in Royersford after graduation. The office was located on Main Street, uphill from the railroad station.
She met Abram Lewin on a blind date arranged by a friend, and they went rowing on the Schuylkill River. Per the same article referenced above, Abe was 9 years older than her, and he went out with many girls in his bachelor days! She recalls hearing that Abe's mother told him "he'd pick up the crooked stick in the end" and smile at the idea of herself as the "crooked stick." According to his family, Abram always called Blanche ,the prettiest girl in Spring City and Royersford."
The couple were married on May 22nd, 1901, at the Davis home at 345 Bridge Street in Spring City. Blanche recalled that ambrosia, a combination of orange segments and coconut, popular in that day, was served to the guests. Harry Saylor, who had arranged their blind date, was the best man.
They originally lived on Walnut Street in Royersford and 10 years later moved to their new home at the corner of 6th and Main. Their house was built on land that had been part of the Lewin farm property. They had two children, Walter and Catharine.
GALLERY: Click on any image to enlarge. Use arrows to scroll through the pictures.
Blanche recalls so many happy memories. Dance lessons at the home where she and friends hired instructors. Family picnics, driving the horse and carriage. The horse's name was Marwood, and Abram had purchased him at an auction in Philadelphia. They visited Sanatoga Park for the amusements. Blanche enjoyed crafting. At one time, she worked for a seamstress. After she was married, she took oil painting lessons. At the age of 82, she learned rug hooking and created around 20 rugs. She had fond memories of swimming and ice skating at Kerny's Dam, later known as Lakeview Park. She recalled Royersford's 50th Anniversary and that the parade went right past her house at 600 Main Street. Many people watched it from her porch. At the Woman's Club of Royersford 60th Anniversary celebration in 1974, she was the only living charter member of the club at the time.
Sadly, Abram passed away on November 4th, 1939, at the age of 68. Blanche would continue to live at 600 Main Street until 1973. At which time, the house was put up for auction. She passed away on September 7th, 1980, at the age of almost 101, while at 1600 Black Rock Road in Royersford. Both are interred at Fernwood Cemetery.
I wish to thank Abram and Blanche's granddaughter, Barbara Brister. Barbara was kind enough to send many items that I have photographed for this post. Along with the story of her grandparents. She shared the following:
"My grandfather (Abram Lewin) died in 1939, before I was born. But my grandmother (Viola Blanche Davis Lewin) was nearly 101 when she died in 1980, and I spent a lot of time with her in Royersford. My mother would take me to Grandma’s to spend a few days during the summer. My mother was born in that house in 1913. The big brick house seemed huge to me. When we arrived, Grandma’s gleaming kitchen would always be sweet with the smell of fresh-baked, shoofly pie or funny cake.
The separate little building where my grandfather used to make cotton tubing (to trim undershirts, I believe) was still standing, and I vaguely remember seeing the knitting machines. My mother saved balls of the tubing, which I still use to tie things now and then!
I learned to roller skate on brick sidewalks that were rippled, where tree roots heaved them up. Grandma and I would often sit on the enclosed porch off the kitchen, and sometimes she’d send me across the street (6th Ave.) to pick up something at Bertolett’s store. I loved playing 78 rpm records on her windup, Victrola. Grandma didn’t drive, so we’d walk down Main Street to the A & P or the bank. In the evenings we’d play Canasta and Chinese checkers and sometimes visit with her friends, “the girls.” In my eyes, they were all old women!
Grandma taught me to use her Singer sewing machine in the little “sewing room” at the top of the back stairs, watching her dye strips of wool in the basement for her hooked rugs.
Being widowed at age 60, she seemed to create a full life for herself and stay busy. Aside from getting together with friends and family, she designed her own hats and dresses, made her own sauerkraut in the basement, made needlepoint seatcovers and pillows, crocheted placemats, and won contests with her hooked rugs (a hobby she took up in her eighties)."
Thank you, Barbara!
I'd like to walk through 600 Main Street now that I can put a family and a face, through pictures, with this home. This home has stood for over 100 years. Sometimes, when you see a home such as this, you forget that at one time, it was full of life. Although the halls are silent now, the windows stay dark, and the kitchen may no longer be gleaming; it was someone's story. Although many things have changed around it, it continues to hold on to so much history within its walls.
I am happy to say that although we thought demolition was imminent, this home is part of an adaptive reuse plan for the property. The historical society has reached out to the pending owner and hopes to work with them as the house is incorporated into the plans. We are hopeful that much of the original charm of this home will be preserved.
On behalf of the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society, we wish to thank Barbara for sharing her family with us, donating so many family items, and giving us the first chapter in the history of 600 Main Street!
AMY DEMCHIK most recently served the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society as its president. Stepping down in April 2022 in order to fill less of an administrative role and more of a "hands on history" role, Amy now volunteers as the society's Vice President and as a Co-Director of the museum. Amy also serves as a Royersford borough council member; Treasurer and event coordinator for the Royersford Business Association; and board member of Royersford Community Chest. She and her husband, Tim, live in Royersford with their two children.