This project uncovered more than just a house history, it revealed a connection to American History, and influential colonial families. Our excitement to find the story of this home was heightened by the passion of the current owner, who is no stranger to protecting old homes.
As the host of DIY Network's "Stone House Revival", Jeff Devlin introduces us to historic homes that are in need of some help. He masterfully renovates or "un-renovates" them back to their proper historic roots. Jeff's love for carpentry and historic homes began over twenty years ago when he apprenticed for an historic home remodeler. His appreciation for saving the past doesn't just end with his show, it continues with his own home, a 250 year-old stone farm house.
We contacted Jeff about tracing his home back to its beginnings. He was admittedly skeptical but said in his cool, nonchalant way, "sure why not!" We asked him if he had any knowledge about his home's history. He gave us a few tidbits of information and also explained he made an attempt at finding the history, but had no luck. So off we went to see what we could find. We were SO EXCITED to deliver our findings!!
Here's an overview of what we found. We traced the land back to William Penn, and can we all agree that finding the name BENEDICT ARNOLD in our research was the coolest thing ever?!?
The "Devlin house" has silently witnessed over 300 years of history, and is tied to influential owners and one infamous American. Based on early maps, the current home was most likely a tenant house for hired farmhands who labored on the property. The current home sits on a 1 acre parcel of land, however, this 1 acre was once part of a much larger tract of land. The account below is the history of the owners of the land upon which the stone house was built, and is based on property deeds.
House History Timeline
The original land grant from William Aubrey (William Penn's son-in-law) to land brokers. This is the property where the present day Devlin home would later be built.
Joseph Shippen owned the property in the 1850's and built an estate know as "Plumley", it is conceivable that the Devlin home was built during this time as a tenant house.
According to the “History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, with Genealogical and Biographical Sketches” by John Smith Futhey, Joseph Shippen may have built a mansion on the land. “Tradition says it was the finest house in its neighborhood in its day, having wide halls, high ceilings, etc.” The mansion was likely at the center of acreage, and it can be surmised that outbuildings and tenant houses may have also been built by Shippen to support the cultivation of the land. Shippen named his estate “Plumley” after his mother.
Joseph Shippen was part of an influential early colonial family:
Joseph was born on October 30, 1732 in Philadelphia. He was the son of Edward Shippen and Sarah Plumley.
Edward Shippen was the founder of Shippensburg, PA, a co-founder of the College of New Jersey at Princeton (Princeton University), and was Mayor of Philadelphia in 1744.
Joseph graduated from Princeton in 1753.
He was a colonel in French and Indian War; secretary of Province of Pennsylvania; assistant judge of Chester County
Joseph’s brother, Edward, was Chief Justice of Pennsylvania in 1799. Edward and his wife, Margaret had 7 children.
Their daughter, also named Margaret (she went by “Peggy”) married General Benedict Arnold in 1779. Our Joseph Shippen, then, is the uncle of Benedict Arnold’s wife!
Joseph married Jane Galloway, they had six children
In March of 1794, Joseph Shippen leased the property to Joseph Gibbons, Jr for three years:
“Out of the same for his own convenience, use and benefit, his stone dwelling house and garden he now occupies, with all the young orchard and ground enclosed with it, behind the same; the new frame stables, for the accommodation of his own horses and cows… and also for the accommodation of horses belonging to his friends when they come to him on business, or a visit to himself of family”. (Futhey, History of Chester County, 1881)
It is interesting to ponder whether this stone dwelling house is the same structure that we were researching!
John Shippen, Joseph’s son, wrote to his father at Plumley in December 1801:
“Your time, when in Philadelphia, must indeed have been pretty busily engaged, amidst the several interesting matters of business, and the many friends by whom you would be surrounded… As to the sale of Plumley, I am in hopes you will be able to get your price for it, which, in my opinion, is not farthing too high. Suppose you should not still, still is it not necessary for your own sake and sister Peggy’s, that you should move to Lancaster in the spring? I would give my vote for it. I am a friend of solitude, but I think at your time of life and that of sister Peggy, especially, when distress has taken some possession of the heart; a little change of cheerful company is absolutely necessary.” (John Shippen to his father, Col. Joseph Shippen at Plumley, December 13, 1801)
The Peggy referred to in this letter is likely John’s sister Margaret. She was the only child of Joseph Shippen and Jane Galloway to never marry.
The (In)famous Benedict Arnold was married to Shippen's niece. Local records note him visiting the property for social occassions.
Gottlieb and Mary Anne Schiedt to George and Abbie Rhoads, 187 acres, 1869, $27,622.22
Copy of census from 1860's naming all the members of the George Rhoads household. The Rhoads family owned the property for most of the 1800s.
A newspaper article dated November 16, 1869 describes the “Public Sale of Two Valuable Farms”:
“A valuable farm known as the ‘Jesse James Farm’, containing one hundred and eighty-eight acres of land, situated in the township of Westtown, County of Chester, State of Pennsylvania, The improvements consist of a substantial stone mansion house, large double-floored stone barn with running spring water in the bard yard, together with a large amount of shedding, with Wagon House attached; Spring House of sufficient size to accommodate a dairy of 40 cows, with Tenement overhead, also a good Stone Tenant House. Carriage and Ice Houses, and other necessary outbuildings; an Orchard of Peach, Pear and Apple trees, just coming into bearing. This farm is beautifully located, and the quality of soil is not surpassed in Chester county. There is also Ten Acres of good Timber Land, the balance arable, well watered by the Chester Creek, and other streams, which pass through the same, and is all under good fence.”
The stone tenant house mentioned in this advertisement is very likely the "Devlin Home". The property was being sold along with another tract consisting of 111 acres. A second newspaper notice dated December 7, 1869 states:
“The farm of ‘Jesse James’ of Gottlieb Schiedt, Westtown, 180 acres, was sold to Mr. George Rhoads, of Phil’a for $147 an acre. The adjoining farm of 111 acres was bid for $102 per acre- not sold”
Gottlieb Schiedt and Mary Anne, his wife, sold 187 acres to George Rhoads (also Rhoades) for $27,622.22 on December 21, 1869. It is noted by Futhey, in the “History of Chester County, Pennsylvania” that George Rhoades erected a new dwelling in place of Plumley constructed by Shippen.
The 1870 US Census shows George Rhoads, age 46 living on the property with Abie Rhoads, age 36, Anna P Rhoads, infant, and Hannah Doan, age 25 from Ireland.
The map below from 1873 shows George Rhoads’ property. It also shows for the first time a structure at the location of our subject house - to the immediate left of the Chester Creek.
From Chester County 1873, Pennsylvania
Published by A. R. Witmer in 1873
The 1880 census shows George Rhoads head of the family, age 57, farmer. He lives with:
Abigail, wife, age 42
Anna P., daughter, age 10
William, son, age 6
George E., son, age 5
Getrude, daughter, age 3
Helen, daughter, age 1
Elizabeth Braddock, age 38
Joannah OBrien, age 18 from Ireland
Harry Yates, age 22 from England, and
Harry Tomlinson, age 18
Map of area, George Rhoads "Devlin home" circled in red (approx. 1860):
Marshall Jones to Russell Jones, 187 acres, 1934, $1
Marshall Jones sold the 187 acre tract and the 28 acre tract to Russell B. Jones (his son) on December 13, 1934 for $1. The 1940 US Census shows Russell B Jones, age 28 as head of the household with his wife, Carol, age 28, Russell B, son, age 4, Richard, son, age 2, and Mabel Abel, servant, age 31. Sons Russell and Richard founded Walnut Green, a thoroughbred horse breeding and training facility in Chester County, PA. Their mother, Carol Pyle Jones, was a well known artist.
An engagement announcement from the Wilmington, Delaware “Morning News”, November 24, 1961, page 22 indicates the Jones’ still referred to the estate as “Plumley”. The announcement also links Plumley to the DuPonts. Also note the name of Russell Jones’ son - Richard Irwin Gibbons Jones - perhaps a link to the Gibbons family of the 1700s?
Mr. and Mrs. Harry William Lunger of "Oberod," Wilmington, announce the engagement of their daughter, Miss Ann Brooks Lunger, to Richard Irwin Gibbons Jones. Mr. Jones is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Black Jones of Plumley Farm, Westtown, Pa. Miss Lunger Is the granddaughter of Mrs. Philip Francis du Pont of Mendenhall, and the late Mr. du Pont, and the late Mr. and Mrs. William Daniel Lunger of Milton, Pa. Mr. Jones is the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Irwin W. Pyle of Brandywine Summit, and the late Mr. and Mrs. Marshall L. Jones of West-town. Miss Lunger Is a graduate of the Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., and is a senior at Mount Holyoke College. She made her debut in 1958. Mr. Jones Is a graduate of the Haverford School end of Yale University. He is ' a member of St. Anthony Hall. At present, he is a student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. A summer wedding Is planned.
Russell’s brother was named Marshall after their father. He was the long time owner of "Maple Shade Farm", a dairy farm. Marshall was known for his dislike of development. His family had moved to Chester County to get away from the city that was encroaching them at their last farm in Delaware County. Marshall’s stories about the changing landscape were captured in weekly news columns. One remembered the German POWs who were put into service tending the fields in World War II. Once the prisoners were provided with a hot meal, they were reportedly the some of the best workers. Marshall spoke about the developers buying surrounding land in unkind terms, “the developers had brought their evil habit of naming the plywood palace housing tracts after whatever they had ruined to clear way for them.”
It also appears in a later transaction that Marshall's own brother, Russell Jones, was responsible for the sale of the acreage to developers, except the 1.5 acres and the stone house.
It is fascinating to think of the stories of the people who called the "Devlin house" their home. It has sheltered farm laborers and tenants, as well as families who cared for the building and the land around it. While the house today sits on an acre and a half, the building was, until 1947, part of a much larger estate.
In closing an excerpt from "John Smith Futhey, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1881"
“It is perhaps not saying any more than is believed by most of our readers when we assert that there are very few counties in the State which contain more fine residences and comfortable homes than Chester County. Some of these boast of their age - venerable structures, whose roof-tree has sheltered many generations - others of their delightful situations or beautiful surrounding, and still others of their ornate style, commodious size, or modern adornments. But in every case they are looked upon with just pride by their possessors, embodying as they do a variety of interests which cluster around “hearth and home”.
Can't say it any better than that! We're so grateful for the opportunity to research this property. If anyone has any other information, feel free to comment or send it along. There's always more history to uncover!
Further images of the property and other pieces of interest: