Tuesday, August 7, 2018

When Chester was the county seat, a good read


The Washington House on Edgmont Ave. aka Avenue of the States across from the 1724 Courthouse. The Washington House, a tavern was a main meeting place when Chester was the county seat of Delaware Co.


NOTE: Chester was the county seat of Delaware Co. till 1850 when the seat was moved to Media. In 1920, Albert Dutton was interviewed about what it was like when Chester was the county seat. It is a long article but a good read.



BY Albert Dutton

                During these days when there is so much talk about rebuilding and remodeling the Old Town Hall, at Chester, a few facts about the square that reaches from Fourth to Fifth Streets might not go amiss.  In the days when the old county jail was in vogue, the Court House and the Prothonotary's office were the center of attraction.  There was much business concentrated about these cardinal points from which radiated most of the county’s activities.
                Court week in Old Chester was as important and, for we boys, just as much fun as an English Derby or a boat race on the Thames, at Hanley, between the Oxford and Cambridge picked crews, for when court was in session everybody was in town many farmers to have their cases tried or to have their papers adjusted at the Prothonotary's office.  They came in dear borns, on horseback, in sulkies, many walked, when they had use for the horses on the farm, and the distance was not too great.  They would follow the roads, cut across the fields, cross the railroad covered bridge, coning from Concord Way, Chichester and Aston Townships.  Paul B. Carter usually walked in from Cartertown, invariably carrying his green bag.  I am sure Alexander Wright walked, so did Walter and Samuel Little.
                They would cross the railroad bridge right under the sign which said $5.00 penalty for crossing this bridge, always looking in the opposite direction so they could say they did not see it.  Sometimes Gilliad Carter came with his tall hat cocked on one side dandy like, and browned on the side next the sun, and bob McCoy would bluster in hitting everybody a tap with his cane, and commanding the small boy to keep out of his way.
                Then from the north side of the town came Spencer McIlvain, very gentlemanly, and Jacob Hewes, looking neither to the right or the left, for it was Fourth Day and he was on his way to Friends Meeting.  He walked in from Leiperville, carrying his familiar cane, never looking, but never failing to see all that went on about him, exceedingly proper in deportment, but always sternly polite gracious without smiling to Frederick J. Hinkson, Job Hulon and to William Booth, a dignified nod.
                Occasionally Henry Effinger would come to the Delaware County Bank to look after his deposit of $40,000 it was said he kept there.  He was a bachelor and lived in the first house over Ridley Creek Bridge, just this side of the toll gate.  He owned a large property there, a piece of woodland of hickory trees, the tops of which were filled with the nests of cranes, and we boys would slip up the railroad track, climb those rough-barked trees to get the eggs.  He owned all of the John L. Crosby field, beginning at the corner of Free and Crosby Streets to the Ridley Creek Railroad Bridge bounded on the east by the Delaware River, and Green Bank the home of Commodore Porter.
                Most of the county folks that came to court brought their lunch, and during dinner hour would go to their dear borns, fish out from under some blankets and sit in the shed and eat.  They often brought great hunks of bread and meat and would worry away at it, then go to the pump and wash it down.  They would do this rather than pay at the Washington House a “levy” for a good square meal.  They would bring a feed of oats and give the hostler a “tip” for watering their horses.  The court through, they would hurry back home in time to do the milking or other chores.  This would be the routine until court week was over, the cases all through.
                The county buildings consisted of a jail, a Court House and the Prothonotary's office, and extended from Free Street, Fourth to Work Street (Fourth).  The jail building was a three-story structure, the sheriff, and family living in the front part, and separated from the jail by an iron lattice door opened by a huge key with a course, forbidding noise.
                It was situated fifty feet back from the Market Street curb and cobbled pavement.  There was a wooden fence 12 feet high running parallel with the curb until the engine house was reached, the only piece of fire apparatus, worked by hand, the Tigre, owned by the town.  Then came the Court House, which extends further out or to within twelve feet from the curb, then the high fence continued until the Prothonotary office was reached.  The sidewalk was of brick, laid in the herringbone style, set off with two rows of beautiful Linden trees whose round leaves and thick branches afforded a delightful shade.
                The fence was capped with a molding and as it came within a short distance from the pavement the marbles of the boys ran under much to their annoyance, the balls would bounce over, which also displeased them and I think my brother and I were often blamed.  Marble playing was indulged in to a great extent and the rolling of hoops was another pastime.  Bill Heacock and I excelled, our hoops were four feet in diameter, half an inch thick and made by Jim Evans, the blacksmith.
                Al Taylor had a fine hoop also, as had other boys.  We would stand our hoops against the fence while we engaged in a game of marbles.  A lot of badgering and the usual quibbling was indulged in common among boys, but as a rule we got along without many blows.  Juju paste, licorice root, were freely invested in also.  Whitman’s French mixtures, Iceland Moss paste and certain days a few of we chaps could buy molasses candy from Tommy Clyde, who dipped it out with a spoon in the back corner of the barroom, placing it in a piece of paper made of straw for butchers use.
                On one occasion a tout man by the name of McCoy, a drover, came into the Hotel yard, drove under the shed, hitched his horse, went directly to the barroom where he had a drink.  He was then quite over the day.  Another boy and myself looked in his wagon and found a bag of money.  I knew McCoy to be a good souled fellow.  We took the bag and hid it under a low cot in the stable office covered with blankets and buffalo robes until morning when he had sobered up, looked wise and made inquiries for his money, we took him to where he could find it.  He was very glad, gave us each a “levy” and said thank you boys, there was $600 in that bay.  He admitted it was careless, “but you are good boys,” which pleased us and made us feel fine, and the money he gave us looked as big as a cartwheel to us.
                The Court House was the most noted structure in town was built in early Colonial times (1724).  It was entered by two doors, facing a large bay window, twenty-five feet long, by about eight feet deep.  Here was where the judges sat, on an elevation of any three feet high, entered by two small flights of steps both right and left all painted white.  Two or three windows at the rear of the bay, lighted at eight by candles hung on brackets of tip on the wall.  A railing separated the lawyers and witnesses and criers chair from the audience.  The walls were two feet thick built of stone, with windows on the street side and I recall seeing John M. Broomall sitting in one of these windows with legs drawn up intently reading some document.  It seemed a strange place for a lawyer.
                Venetian blinds and inside shutters prevented the direct rays of the sun.  A flight of stairs led to the second story where Joseph Taylor kept school.  Chester had been the seat of justice since the time of the Swedes, and to give it up was a great grief. The people fell as though the very bottom had fallen out of the town.  There was no direct way to get to Media and many people would not go there anyway.  This property which extended the entire square was sold for less than eight thousand dollars, quite a contrast to values today.  There was a bell in the cupule which told when Court was in session.  I was quite a small boy.  My father was sheriff.  We lived in the jail and I knew much that was going on out with handcuffs.  I was aware something was to be done.
                The murder of Stringer McKim at the Round Pond Hotel created considerable excitement, and when the Black Bear from the steamboat Hotel was tied to Robert Hannum’s office door there was much savory comment.
                Sometime prior to my time a trick was played upon a poor fellow by throwing cayenne pepper in his eyes and he walked off the end of the pier to his death.  This matter seemed to have been shut up, for when I came to Chester little was said about it, but the place where this dastardly bit of business was said to have taken place was pointed out to us boys.
                The Rivera and Darius Circus, with their forty horses to the chariot, and the passage of Dupont powder wagon with mounted dragons created much wonder and amazement among the small boys of the town.  We were a pretty lively lot of boys.  Little went on without our knowledge. I knew most everybody in town from Shoemakerville to the foot of Market Street pier in that direction and from Leiperville to Marcus Hook in the other.  There were less than two thousand people in Chester at that time and it was our business to be posted.
                To cite some of the happenings while we lived at the jail, a Mrs. McCarty, who lived opposite the jail on Work Street, had a lot of ducks that all the time were quacking and hunting things to eat, a prisoner on the third floor put some string together, to which he fastened a bended pin on which he put some sort of bait.  Along came Mr. Duck and gobbled up bait, hook and all.  The prisoner noticed the bait had been taken, hauled up the line.  Mrs. McCarty, seeing her duck going up the wall, cried out:  “your man has got my duck;” to which the prisoner replied:  “If the strings breaks it’s yours, if it holds, it’s my duck.”
                Several prisoners were handy with their knives, one of them carved for one of my sisters a three-foot chain with a heart on each end.  Another made a tomahawk and still another carved from a solid piece of wood a cage with a bird suspended.  One day, while my sisters, Emily and Caroline, were coming up Free Street with a small pail of water from a spring near the railroad bridge in D. S. Bunting’s lumber yard, met two escaped prisoners who spoke pleasantly to them.  They were surprised and told of it when they arrived home.  The prothonotary’s office was a busy place.  It was built of brick with a door in the middle of the building, it was beautifully furnished in mahogany.  My father bought one of the large desks when the contents were sold. I well recall how neatly this desk was fitted.  There were such fine sheets of beautifully ruled paper – sand boxes, wafers and quills in quantity, and the clerks carried their quills over their ears.  I went almost daily to learn the time, for clocks were few in town. One day I was rolling my hoop, stopped opposite the office.  I saw standing on the steps a notable lot of men talking about the removal of the courts to Media.  They were very much in earnest.  There were Judge Samuel Edwards, Charles DeHaven Manley, Paul B. Carter, Y. S. Walter, Robert E. Hannum John M. Broomall, John Hinkson, Judge Leiper, Frederick J. Hinkson, and a Philadelphia lawyer by the named of Tillingham, a fine body of representative men.
                On returning down street with my hoop I met Samuel A. Price swinging his cane.  He had a florid countenance with an enlargement of the nose, which had the appearance of his having three noses, and we boys called him “Three Nose Sammy.”  He was a pleasant talkative gentleman and said to me:  “Well, bud, how do you feel today?  You’re the sheriff boy are you not?”  I said, “Pretty well, I thank you.”  Then he called to ‘Squire Fairlamb, across the street and I went on.
                At Monday’s Run, near Chester town
                Where students knocked a peddler down
                And robbed him of his jewelry.
                The only students I knew of at the time I learned this bit of poetry, and I went to Monday’s Run to have the fact well-established in my mind were John C. Price, Joseph R. T. Coates, Isaac Coates, John O. Deshong, Jr., Billy Broomall and John B. Hinkson, and I felt sure they were not one of them for these chaps went off to school, and came back to town periodically and had little in common with other boys at the time.  Monday’s Run had its source in one of the two springheads under the hill near Abraham Blakeley’s or Spencer McIlvain’s places and flowed on down to Ridley Creek.
                It was the last line of retreat from the Leiperville boys who invariably stoned the Chester boys when their territory was invaded.  They raced use back to Ridley Creek Bridge, when we drove them from there, but they came on again to the gate at the crown on the road, but when Monday’s Run was reached, the limit, the ad finem, for here we had hid a quantity of selected stones which just fit the hand, and with renewal courage we gave it to them in good shape.  We had not forgotten how they worried us.  After the fire at the mill, when we were all tired out, we filled our pockets, our shirts, and went for the nail and tooth.  We chased them up the road through the fields, over the stone wall. We banged them and bruised them.  They were out of ammunition, they cried, held their heads, their backs were bruised, they were struck on the legs and hips – they were completely defeated.  We gave them something that would last a generation.  Theodore Roosevelt – his father’s name was James – had a livery stable, was our leader, a one-armed fellow about two years older than I, brave and courageous held his head high and said:  “Now come on, fellows, let’s drive them,” and we did.
                In the language of Eugene Fields –
                I am looking for my playmates
                I wonder where they are
                POST OFFICE – Right under the high wall of the jail on Work Street is the two story building.  The present mistress was Charlotte Doyle, mother of Lidia Riddle, Louis Doyle and Jack Doyle, who afterwards kept a millinery shop in a brick building on Market Street.  You entered the post office by going up three steps into a passage way on the right side of which was a nest of ten or twelve boxes, six or eight inches square; not padded for letters and newspapers.
                The all was limited in quantity.  A few letters, with no postage stamps thereon, the amount of the postage was written on the right hand corner and the postage collected from the person addressed. I have such a letter written by my grandmother Hartram to my mother, dated December, 1852.  The letter was so folded was held together by a wafer.  There were few papers.  The Delaware County Republican, The Practical farmer, Gleeson’s Pictorial, Gody’s Lady Book and New England Gazetteer.  When the mail arrived the carrier threw the bags over his shoulder at the railroad, and with long strides started for the post office, followed by a crowd of boys and old men curious to know if there was anything in those bags for them or neighbors.
                CALATHUMPIAN BAND – I will now undertake a description of a Calathumplan Band.  I never saw one or even heard of one anywhere outside of Old Chester for what the Chester boys could not think up was not worth a passing thought.
                Halloween was their opportunity.  Such acrobatic pranks could not be excelled by any other body of men and boys at any other place.  Song and dance in costumes galore were indulged in all for fun and a good time.  Gates were unhinged and swapped, running gears taken from the smithy and mounted on the top of the Welsh Street schoolhouse, fences made of corn fodder across the roads and cabbage stalks used to bank the doors and stovepipe hats filled with stones for the unwary to kick masqueraders, Indians, clowns, country jays, ballet girls, with and without fancy umbrellas, with all sorts and kinds of makeup.  Horses with false faces, in men’s breeches with grotesque and striped tabs, with the most laughable and curious Major Dromos astride, with tooting fish horns and burlesque and fancy Indian snake dancers as a prelude.
                Then came the band itself starting at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church above Market Square was composed of the most outlandish conglomeration and heterogeneous and handageneous outfit imaginable.  The horns, sleigh bells, coal-hood choruses; the Devil’s Hornpipe, which consisted of a chord run through the bottom of a tin can well rosined.  When given a centrifugal motion as you put the cord through the handle made a most horrid noise.  Then came the Devil’s Fiddle.  This singular instrument consisted of a dry goods box three feet square, open to the top, a piece of scantling, three by four inches and sixteen feet long, thoroughly coated with rosin, was drawn over the open case by six or eight stalwart men.  This produced the hideous sound, with moans groans, frightful yawns, pathetic murmurings mortal ears ever heard.  This placed in the middle of the street a procession of tin horns, sleigh bells, tin pans, great triangles and small with other monstrosities began to move round in a circle, singing some outlandish mixture of old time ditties and other nocturnal sounds of more or less discordant nature.  There was a generous sprinkle of torchlights left from some political campaigns.
                There are those who recall a bride and groom who were thus serenaded to whom the father of the bride passed 50 cents to the leader as an inducement for the band to move on.  Among those who took part in this performance were Wade Price, Josh Dyer, Jack Boyle, Bill Trout, Jule Dutton, Elwood Black, Harry Hinkson, Charlie Hinkson, Ed McKeever, Malachi Walraven, William Taylor, Josh Eyre, Press Wilson, Ned Taylor Jack Kerlin, Al Dutton and Samuel Dyer – each did his part and did that part well.  We did up the entire town, which extended from Market Square, one turn around the market house, up Market Street to the railroad crossing, stopping now and then to display the beauties of the magic circle.
                Then turning at Jim Burn’s corner down Edgmont Avenue to Third and James, where it was disbanded and the Devil’s Fiddle given to Harry Abbott, the hostler at George Wilson’s Hotel for firewood.

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