Within the borough of Royersford, there remain four houses that reach back in history and the families who lived in them planted the seeds of what would grow into a thriving small town along the banks of the Schuylkill River. The buildings remain today as a reminder of our past. One has been split into two dwellings, two remain as private residences, and one serves as the home of the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society.
The Custer House is the oldest house in the borough of Royersford. The house, built in 1817, is located at 224 – 226 Second Avenue. Shown in this 1898 photo are seven of the original nine Custer children, posing on the front lawn of their homestead. Standing from left to right are Sarah A. Grubb, Mary Ann Custer, Elizabeth A. Quigg, and Charlotte Poley. Seated are: Maria Huzzard, Abraham Custer and Rebecca Lewin. Samuel Custer’s farm property bordered the river to the west and, what is now Main Street, on the North. It covered over 200 acres. Samuel Custer was born July 24th, 1794 in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County, PA. He was married to Sarah Hallman on January 16th, 1820. The Custer’s had nine children, listed as being born at home. The name Custer is generally of English origin, but I did a family search and traced Samuel Custer back to Hermanus Custer who was born in 1681 and died in 1760. Hermanus was the 2nd great grandfather of Samuel. He was living in Skippack when he died. I could not find his place of birth but since this area was the Colony of Pennsylvania, established in 1681, and 90 percent of the people coming in the 17th century were British, I will assume his name was English in origin. Samuel Custer died on April 12, 1858.
Frederick Berkstresser built his house in 1818. It is the second oldest house in Royersford and is located at 327 North 3rd Avenue. At the time Frederick built this house, he owned over 200 acres of ground that bordered the river on the West and Main Street on the South. He was the first of two local farmers to build a tavern in 1838 in anticipation of the new railroad coming to town. The right of way for the rail road was just over the hill from his house, and he had the tavern completed by the time the first train came through the following year. A few years later, the tavern was sold it to Daniel Schwenk whose name stuck with it until the end. (1931).
In 2014 the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society had the opportunity to purchase the deed transferring ownership of the tavern from Frederick Bergstresser to Daniel Schwenk. This historic document was made part of our deed collection. In that collection we also have the deed in which James Rogers purchased the tract of ground where he built the Canal Store in Springville. These deeds are on display at the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society in the main house.
Daniel Hiestand Latshaw was a farmer for the greater part of his life working the land in East Vincent Township on the Chester County side of the river. He moved to Limerick Township on the Montgomery County side of the river where he acquired a large tract of ground which today would be all of the North West section of the borough. His farmhouse, located at 623 Main Street, was built in 1855 and is the third oldest house in the borough still standing as a private residence.
He plotted his farmland into building lots, which encouraged people to settle in Royersford. He was a Mennonite who was broadminded and liberal, giving ground to the Methodists and Baptists to build their churches. He also gave land for a schoolhouse site as well as securing a factory for the town, Francis & Company. He surely earned the right to be called one of the early founders of Royersford.
Daniel Latshaw was born on December 19. 1819. He was married to Angeline Bean in 1850. They had 9 sons. He died on October 31, 1886 and was buried at Fernwood Cemetery. His wife died on March, 15, 1905. Several of Latshaw's sons went on to become prominent citizens and successful businessmen and their achievements are too numerous to list here.
For many years this house belonged to Mr. & Mrs. Bertram Brandreth. The house remains a private residence and a member of the Brandreth family still lives there today.
William Lewin was born in England on May 4, 1823. He came with his parents to this country in 1831. He learned the trade of wheelwright and moved to Springville (Spring City) where he worked in a shop for several years. On February 8, 1851 he married Rebecca Custer from Royersford. She was the oldest daughter of Samuel Custer, who was the farmer in Royersford whose house, (the first in Royersford), we talked about earlier. The Lewins had nine children, Elizabeth, John Milton, Sarah, Jane and Samuel, who were born in Springville; and Mary Ida, Willis, George, Emma and Abraham who were born in Royersford.
In 1860 William Lewin purchased a tract of 31 acres from the estate of his father-in-law, Samuel Custer. The following year in 1861 he cleared timber and erected several buildings including the main farmhouse at 526 Main Street. He was a farmer and sold some of the ground off as building lots. After his death, his wife Rebecca and his oldest son, John Milton Lewin, divided up all the ground into building lots and were aggressive in selling them. John Milton Lewin went on to be a major businessman, a store owner, part owner of Grander Stove Co., mayor of the town, and was recognized as one of Royersford's founders.
This beautiful 1861 house had a makeover in 1910. Emma Lewin and her husband Chester Rogers purchased the properly at auction in 1910. Rogers made extensive changes to the house, removing the fireplaces (which he thought were dangerous), wiring the house for electricity, adding plumbing, and adding a 2-story addition with a bathroom and sewing room upstairs. The first-floor room was built as his office and still contains the safe that was built into the wall. Chester was in the butchering business and a cave behind the house was where he hung meat to be butchered. From the day it was built until the day the SFAHS acquired it in 2000, the house remained in the same family.
I have completed the story of the four older houses in Royersford but I feel the story is not complete without mentioning the one that got away. There were many great mansions in the twin boroughs that have fallen by the wayside over the years, each special in its own way.
The four houses featured in this blog post all served as homes to the early founders of Royersford. They are with us today and we can pass by and see them as a reminder of our rich heritage. I feel sad, and a sense of anger, that we have been denied the opportunity to add one very important house to that list. People without care or knowledge of its historical significance allowed it to be removed. Others stood by silently, and let it happen.
Progress ? The stately Buckwalter Mansion met its fate at the hands of a wrecking ball in early 1970 to make way for Golden Age Manor, Royersford. Located at Fourth and Walnut St., this Grand Victorian dwelling was the home of industrialist J. A. Buckwalter, owner of Buckwalter Stove Works. It featured elaborate stonework, ornate gables and stained-glass windows throughout.
William C. Brunner