THE MOWREY MANSION
Updated: May 19
In the fall of 1959, before I became interested in local history, I began the new school year going to a brand-new high school on Lewis Road in Royersford. That school has been replaced and now serves as the Ninth-Grade Center. My day would start by walking up the hill to the junior high school on New Street and getting on the bus to ride over to the high school. As I gazed out the window of the bus going up Royersford hill, I would see the steps to nowhere. They were on the right-side approaching 3rd Avenue before the borough hall. I would see them every day and always wondered where they went and what a story about them might reveal.
In 2001, twenty years ago, I was sitting in the library of the historical society. Carolyn Fetterolf, our museum director, had just put a new notebook on the shelf. It featured houses in Royersford. I loved these notebooks that she made that were a mix of photos, newspaper clippings and other related material on one specific subject. I immediately took the notebook off the shelf and began looking at the pictures. There it was, an old newspaper clipping showing the steps to nowhere leading up the hill to a magnificent mansion. I had finally got to see where they led. There was a limited amount of information and I learned the house belonged to Jacob Mowrey. He was born in Germany in 1847 and came to the US when he was five years old. Mowrey was a building contractor, and was a well-known builder in the town. Further research would reveal the full range of his building accomplishments. The quality of the newspaper photo was exceptionally poor. It was not able to be enhanced in any way. The clipping photo only left me with many more questions. These questions would not to be answered without doing considerable research.
There were several great homes in both towns that have been removed over the years and they will never be replaced. Each was unique and each had a story to be told. One that comes to mind is the Joseph Addison Buckwalter Mansion and we know a lot about it. We knew extraordinarily little about the Mowrey House.
Last year, I was looking in my files for a picture of the National Bank of Royersford to answer a Facebook question. I came across two photos I purchased 20 years ago showing the construction of the bank back in 1922 and 1923. I looked at the photos and I saw a part of the Mowrey Mansion. There it is again and this time in a better-quality photo, but only showing half of it. At that time, I did not realize that the National Bank of Royersford had purchased the Mowrey property to build a new bank on the corner. They were the ones who tore it down a few short years later.
This was one of two photographs I purchased 20 years ago showing the construction of the new National Bank of Royersford in 1922. It is located at the corner of Main and 3rd Ave. Note section of the Mowrey mansion showing on the right.
On the left is a photo of the National Bank of Royersford. This building #1 on the map was replaced by the new bank # 2. The Mowrey home was #3. The bank owned the lot shown.
In January 2021, Jackie Swanson sent some photos to the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society. The photographs were of her Great Grandfather, William L Mowrey, his parents Jacob & Diana Shlichter Mowrey and their home on top of the hill. Yes, that house again. Dave Willauer brought these photos to my attention and it was then I started to research the subject. Steve Finkbiner, Jackie’s father, was able to give me some family information as well as a great summer photograph showing some workmen doing cement work in the front of the house. Sam Brunner, a local Royersford cement contractor, and distant relative of mine, was in the photograph. I value this photo and was so happy to add it to my Mowrey folder.
The view from the front porch in 1881 must have been spectacular but if you entered from Main Street you had 30 steps to climb to reach the front door. Most of the time the side door off of 3rd Avenue was used as it only had a couple of steps. The photo shows Sam Brunner and two of his work crew. Sam being a cement contractor was a good friend of Jacob. The photo is in the summer, but we do not know what the date is, but I believe it was circa 1883.
I have seen Mowrey spelled in numerous ways. The spelling “Mowrey” was used on most of the advertisements he placed in the newspapers. Cold Meadow, the pen name used by an author of many Royersford history stories spelled it Mowrey. Jacob’s tombstone clearly spells his name Mawrey as do the cemetery records. The all-important deed, when he purchased the mansion, has it spelled Maury and that spelling was used by numerous small newspaper stories during the 1880s. Mowrey was the favored spelling used on Royersford maps. It never ends.
Jacob Mowrey, aka Jacob Mawrey, aka Jacob Mourey, aka Jacob Maury, aka Jacob Mowery. I feel like I‘m on To Tell The Truth - Will the real Jacob Mowrey please stand up?
April 21st, 1924 Jacob’s obituary is published in the local newspaper. This is a small portion, and it plainly shows the spelling discrepancy as his last name was spelled with a variation further down in the paragraph. His sons did not suddenly change to a different spelling. There was no official name changing but rather a perfect example of how the spelling of a name has been ignored.
The official deed recorded on January 12, 1887, where Jacob Mowrey buys the mansion from Margaret Buckwalter his name is written as Jacob Maury.
With all the information and photos, I set out to do research and to write a story about this house. I knew it would be interesting and challenging but I wanted to forge on. I spent January and February looking at old newspaper clippings, maps, death certificates and whatever I could find. I found a wealth of information, but for every question answered, two more sprung up with each answer I found. I wanted to have it be a simple answer that would have Jacob Mowrey being the builder of the Mansion and the original owner. He was a well-known builder in the Royersford area and had built numerous houses, and factory buildings. Building a mansion of this size and grandeur would have been easy for him. I spent time learning about Jacob Mowrey. There were numerous newspaper clippings that mentioned his building ventures, contracts awarded and it did not take long to see the scope of his business.
Jacob Mowrey built a mammoth warehouse for Floyd-Wells; he was under contract to build a four-story brick planning mill with the main building being 40 by 60 foot. He had 8 of his workmen working on the Limerick Cold Storage facility and he built the parsonage at 3rd and Church St. in Royersford for the Methodist church in 1909. The list goes on and I will share a few of the clippings with you.
This clip on the left is from the writings of Cold Meadow. In his memoirs he remembers the Mowrey mansion and refers to the many homes in Royersford that were built by Jacob and his sons.
Jacob also was dealing in homes and lots and like many others, was a dealer in Real Estate.
This is an especially important clipping as it shows us the transaction, as noted in the local news, where Jacob purchased the mansion from Mrs. Margaret Buckwalter. The reference to Winter Street is correct as 3rd Avenue was the new name given to Winter Street, it took a few years to stick, and for all the maps to be updated.
Here we see a photograph of Jacob Mowrey and his wife, Diana. She died at the age of 64 in 1918. She was living in their house at 3rd & Main at the time. Diana was born on January 24th, 1854 in Montgomery County, PA. Her parents were Daniel & Amelia Schlicher.
The five Mowrey children were sons Daniel and William Mowrey. The daughters were Mrs. Clayton Anderson, Mrs. Clarence Bertolett and Mrs. Elmer Eppehimer.
The Mowrey sons took over the father’s construction business in 1924 after he died.
Jacob was born on January 8, 1847 in Germany. His parents were Jacob & Magdaline (Hahn) Mowrey. Jacob died on April 19, 1924 and is buried with his wife at Fernwood.
Drawing of the farmland in Limerick Township from 1839. It shows 3 farms that took up the area that would become the borough of Royersford in 1879. In the small section on the left near the river we see Bergstresser farm. To the top is the Latshaw farm and to the right is the Custer farm. The Latshaw portion being the largest extending NW.
Here to the left is an 1877 Royersford Map. You can plainly see the large tract of land belonging to Mrs. Custer. The little asterisk I added shows where the mansion would be built. at 3rd & Main. If the map is correct, she has not sold this tract as of 1877.
In a newspaper article published at the time that Jacob purchased the mansion from Margaret Buckwalter, it stated he would move in right away. We know the family lived there from 1888 until 1922, a total of 34 years. This fact establishes the Mowrey family name being associated with the building to be justified by the number of years that they lived there. The building remained four more years until being completely demolished in 1926 by the bank. Another landmark from Royersford had fallen.
I was incredibly happy that the former owner was named Buckwalter, but I was unable to connect Margaret to the right Buckwalter. I literally got on the wrong trail as I found some information about a Margaret Buckwalter and followed it through, getting all kinds of leads and documents etc. Her son was the treasurer of the Buckwalter Stove works. I had her being associated with the family. Her husband worked there, and it just did not make sense to me.
I thought that the Buckwalter family, at least the stove group would have the capitol necessary to build a mansion but every time I read a story about Margaret, she was alone at the mansion. Where were the rest of the family? I reached a point where I could no longer make it all come together. I knew the only way was to do a property search. I used to go to the courthouse and do these long ago, but now much is done online.
I called a longtime friend Lew Deery and asked for help. Lew is a loyal supporter of the historical society, a life member, and a first-rate real estate man. I was hopeful he would help, and he did. He put me in touch with Gil Holley, a friend of his, who he said might be able to help. I talked to Gil and he assured me he would see what he could do but warned me that at a certain point the search could not be completed online and would require research at the courthouse. With Covid restrictions now in effect it would delay any trip to the courthouse. I understood and any help would be appreciated.
It was a few days later when I received an e-mail with a property search taking me back to builder of the mansion. Yes, and it was a Buckwalter. Henry L. Buckwalter the older brother of the Buckwalter clan. Joseph Addison Buckwalter was Henry’s younger brother, and he was the one most people remember. Margaret was Henry’s wife. I was looking at the wrong Margaret Buckwalter. It was starting to make sense. I had to connect a few strings and I called upon another helper and friend Mike Osiol. I have been helped all along as most of the older 1880s newspaper clippings were the work of Mike. I have them on my computer for reference. I needed Henry L. Buckwalter’s obit and when I could not find it right away, I asked Mike. He sent me a copy later that night and with that came the final proclamation. I am attaching it below, and the last sentence says it all. Everything made sense.
I needed to revisit the Buckwalter family. Joe, our former director of family research, had placed two 3-inch binders in our library. They contained so many branches of the family it was like there was an overload of Buckwalters. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I knew that the family line I wanted was one with the brothers who came from Kimberton to Royersford.
Abraham and Rachel Buckwalter of West Vincent Township, (Kimberton), had 7 sons and at least 2 daughters. The sons were: Henry, Franklin, Addison, Newton, David, Levin and John. To keep this simple as I am already overwhelmed with Buckwalters, I will talk only about Henry and his younger brother Joseph Addison. These two brothers had a little shop of sorts where they tinkered around with new ideas. In addition to the business of making cabinets they came up with a couple of inventions that were successful. The cherry seeder and a treadmill for farmers were two that were quite successful. They had patents and they came to Royersford to start a business. This was in the early 1860s. They had a wealth of the ideas and needed some help with the capitol. Their patents were for improved models of existing products. They used improved material and designs to create a superior product that sold well.
With the help of Casper and Henry Francis and John Sheeler, they formed a new company. As time went by the Buckwalter’s designed kitchen stoves and the business flourished beyond their dreams. Some of the men retired, some died, and eventually this business was the Buckwalter Stove Co. There were several Buckwalter Brothers in the company along with Joseph Addison. He was the last brother standing. Henry the older brother and one of the two masterminds had died early at the age of 50. His wife’s name was Margaret and that is the Margaret I was looking for all along.
The story ended in a way I just could not have believed. Henry Buckwalter, the man who shared the stage with his younger brother, builds his mansion in downtown Royersford. A building that was the culmination of a life long successful career and he does not live to step foot into his new house.
Here side by side are the two former mansions built for the Buckwalter Brothers;
The Jacob Mowrey Mansion (left), The Joseph Addison Buckwalter Mansion (right)
William C. Brunner served on the board of the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society for 30 years, 15 of those years serving as its president. He now serves as President Emeritus and continues to write articles, blog posts, and newsletter inserts for the society. Bill has written three books about Spring City and Royersford, all available at the museum. He loves photography, garden railroading, postcard collecting, and local history. He graduated from Spring-Ford High School in 1962. He and his wife of 58 years, Joyce, live in Spring City. They have a son, Chuck, a daughter, Joyce, three grandchildren, Amber, Willie & Frank, and 5 great grandchildren.