Mt. Airy Farm sits on just over 53 acres in the heart of Chester County, one of the original three counties of Pennsylvania. In the early 1700s, immigrants from Calne, England settled in this part of Chester County, calling their new home “Caln Township”. It is one of the oldest townships in Chester County. Caln Township was divided over the centuries, and the original acreage of Caln now includes the townships of East Caln, West Caln, East Brandywine, West Brandywine, and Valley.
Pennsylvania began as a vast expanse of land granted to William Penn by King Charles II in 1680. A note about Penn’s plans complied by the Historical Society of Bensalem Township is worthy to repeat here as it provides perspective to the earliest years of Pennsylvania.
“Charles II, King of England, by Royal Charter in 1680 authorized William Penn, as proprietor, to sell land but to retain feudal lordship. Penn was to subdivide the land granted to him into manors, with the intention of limiting any manors to his own family and to such selected groups as the Free Society of Traders. Penn also sought to attract an elite faithful wanting to own large parcels or manors. Those purchasers, however, never experienced power of manorial rights which existed in the English tradition.
Penn’s original plan was to find one hundred purchasers, each of whom would pay one hundred pounds for five thousand acres. They would purchase a share in the colony and presumably have a voice in provincial government.
…Penn imposed two conditions by which he could restrain the powers of other large purchasers:
1. No purchaser of over one thousand acres should have more than one thousand acres in one tract unless he settled a family on each one thousand acres within three years.
2. Every grant should be planted or settled within three years or be forfeited.
Through these conditions Penn hoped that his wealthy acquaintances who never intended to immigrate to the new colony might sell or rent subdivisions of their large parcels, thus attracting the laboring class needed for a new colony. He then allowed an excess of fifty acres to be added to grants for every servant transported to the colony by the purchaser. The servants would receive these fifty acres at the end of their indenture. By spring of 1681 forty-one purchasers had been found.”
Richard and Martha Hughes (1742 to 1763)
The first records of the property where Mt. Airy farm resides today are found in the Old Rights Index, the ledger of property owners who purchased land directly from William Penn. Richard Hughes is noted as the Warrantee in Warrants numbered 49 for 298 ½ acres in Caln, and in Warrant 71 for 50 acres, also in Caln. The Warrants are dated 1742 and 1744, respectively. Once a Warrant was submitted, the land was surveyed to determine the boundaries and actual acreage. The Surveys returned for Hughes’ purchase had already been conducted in 1734 and 1738. It is interesting to note that the acreage amounts on the Surveys are inconsistent with the amounts listed in the Warrant register and in the deed (215 ½ and 83 acres). East Caln Township was incorporated in 1744ii from Caln Township.
A Deed dated 3 May 1763iii describes the earliest history of the acreage. The document notes that on 6 April 1753, Richard Hughes of East Caln Twp., Taylor, sold three tracts or parcels of land in East Caln Township to Robert Witherow of East Marlborough Township, yeoman for 900 pounds.
Tract 1 being part of a large tract bounded by Brandywine Creek described in an instrument dated 15 November 1733 granted by Gawson (Gayen) and Mary Moore of 100 acres to Richard Hughes.
Tract 2 being a tract of land in East Caln granted to Richard Hughes by John Penn, Thomas Penn and Richard Penn, Esq. by patent dated 20 October 1742 in patent book 10, page 549 containing 298 ½ acres.
Tract 3 in East Caln granted to Richard Hughes by John Penn, Thomas Penn and Richard Penn, Esq. 10 April 1745 recorded in Patent Book 11, page 503 containing 36 acres.
Little history was discovered about Richard and Martha Hughes, other than their marriage record: Richard Hughes married Martha McDonald at Christ Church in Philadelphia 28 Feb 1736vi. The 1763 deed previously described conveyed the Hughes’ land, a total of 434 ½ acres, including “house, edifices, buildings, barns, stables, gardens, orchards, woods, meadows, pastures and ways, waters, mines, minerals, fishing, fowling, hunting and hawking” to Robert Withrow.
The Witherow (Withrow) Family (1763 to 1851)
Robert Withrow, who was likely born in England, settled in Chester County with his family, about whom we know only from Robert’s last Will and Testament. According to his Will, Robert had three daughters living in 1794: Mary McClellan, Hannah Hope, and Margaret Withrow. He also had a son William, but it appears he may have been deceased in 1794. William’s son Robert is mentioned in the Will. Grandchildren James, Samuel, Joseph, and Mary are also mentioned. Robert’s wife is not named in the Will, and her name does not appear on the 1763 deed.
What we know of Robert’s time on the land is documented in Chester County tax records and a newspaper account:
Robert Withrow was taxed in West Caln in 1781 for 214 acres of land, 6 horses, 8 cattle and one negro.
Robert Withrow drafted his Will on 9 November 1794, and he died in 1794.
“In the name of God, Amen. I Robert Withrow of the township of West Caln in the County of Chester, State of Pennsylvania being weak in body but of a perfect mind and memory thanks be to God, and knowing that life is uncertain and that is appointed for men once to die. I make this my last Will and Testament . First, I recommend my soul to God that gave it trusting that in and through the merits of Jesus Christ he may except the same and recommit by body to the Earth from when it came to be buried at the discretion of my executor and friends not doubting but I shall by the mighty power of God receive the same again at the General Resurrection. And as touching my worldly estate with which it hath pleased God to bless my endeavors, I give and dispose of the same in the following manner. First I order all my just debts and funeral charges to be paid out of my estate. Item, I give and bequeath to my daughter Hannah Hope thirty five pounds one half thereof to be paid in one year after my decease and the remainder three years after my decease. Item, I give to my daughter Mary McClellan thirty five pounds to be paid in the same manner as that given to Hannah Hope. Item, I give to my daughter Margrat Withrow ten pounds to be paid two years after my decease. Item, I give to the children of my son William as followeth, to my grandson Robert my silver watch, to by grandchildren James, Samuel, Joseph and Mary to each five pounds when they arrive at twenty one years of age. Item, I give and bequeath to my son James Withrow all the remainder of my Estate real and personal to him his heirs and assigns forever. Item, I give to Alexander Davidson, my son in law ten shillings it is also my will that what I have left to the above mentioned Hannah Hope and Mary McClellan is to them, their heirs, and what I have left to the children of my son William is to go to them and their survivors. I constitute my son James Withrow to be my executor of this my last Will and Testament…”
The inventory of Robert’s possessions describes a man of few, but necessary worldly items.
Transcription of Inventory:
James Withrow, Robert’s son, was bequeathed the property after his father’s death in 1794. James was enumerated in a 1798 Census of West Caln Township with his name spelled as “Withro”. The 1798 Tax was on land, and buildings. James’s taxable buildings include:
1 log Barn, 60 x 20
1 log Weavers Shop 14 x 12
1 log Stable 12 x 14
1 dwelling house 22 x 19, stone
1 kitchen, 25 x 18, log
1 milk house, 12 x 10 , log
Because the Withrow property was large (239 acres), it is not known where on the acreage the taxed buildings were located, or if any of them have survived to present day, or are part of the current stone home and outbuildings on Mt. Airy Farm.
The property continued to be handed down via wills through family members of the Withrow family. The next transaction is in 1851. That deed places the property fully in West Caln Township. Valley Township would be carved out of West Caln, East Caln, West Brandywine, and Sadsbury Townships in 1852.
Eli and Filena (Philena) Hutton (1851 to 1868)
The Hutton family called the property their home for seventeen years. According to a newspaper death notice, Eli Hutton was born in nearby New Garden Township in 1809. He began his apprenticeship in cabinet making when he was 16, and married Philena Pyle in 1833. He farmed the land in Valley Township while he and Philena raised their family.
Eli and Filena are both 43, Eli’s occupation is listed as farmer, and the value of his real estate is $18,000 and personal property is valued at $2,500. Their children are listed as Lewis, age 22, farmer, Hannah, age 15, Elizabeth, age 13, Adeline, age 9, Lena, age 4. A domestic named Julia Nixon, age 21 is living with them along with laborers Michael Burns, age 31 from Ireland, Charles Stump, age 45, Robert Stump, age 48, John Williams, age 40 from Delaware, Jackson Miller, age 15, and John Miller, age 12.
Eli was taxed 20 cents for 1 head of beef and $4.00 for 24 hogs in 1863. He was also taxed $32.36 on income of $1078.50 the same year.
Eli and Philena sold 80 perches of their land to the School Directors of Valley Township in 1858 “for school purposes”. However, the same parcel of land was conveyed back to Eli Hutton in 1861. Little more is known about this curious transfer, and one wonders how the school used the land for three years.
The entirety of the Hutton’s property, 169 acres, was sold by indenture dated 30 March 1868 to C.E. Pennock & Company for $20,000.
Eli and his family moved from Chester County to St. Louis where Eli returned to his cabinet making craft. He and Philena lived into their early 90s.
Increasing population and the industrialization of the area thanks to abundant waterways and natural deposits of minerals and ore began to shift the way Chester County land was used. The Pennock family emerged in the early 1800s as leaders in the Chester County iron industry. The Coatesville area held all of the raw materials and waterways needed to allow a local industrial revolution to occur, coupled with the a new railroad system, the property that Richard Hughes originally bought from the Penn family would be serve to advance the iron industry for the next couple of decades.
“The Wilmington and Northern Railroad was a branch of the Reading railroad system running in a north-south direction between Wilmington, DE and Reading, PA. It began service as the Wilmington and Brandywine Railroad Company on March 5, 1861. The railroad connected industrial locations along the Brandywine Creek with other rail lines leading to coal regions in the west. It changed its name and merged with the Berks and Chester Railroad Company of Pennsylvania on May 29, 1866, to form the Wilmington and Reading Railroad Company. It completed its line from Wilmington to Birdsboro, PA in 1870. The W&R was sold after it declared bankruptcy on December 4, 1876, and reorganized as the Wilmington and Northern Railroad Company under control of its old owners on April 3, 1877.”
Charles E. Pennock (C.E. Pennock and Company (1868 to 1889)
Charles E. Pennock was born on 12 January 1827 to William and Mary Pennock. The Pennock family established a plate iron rolling mill in Coatesville in 1837. An 1873 map of Valley Township shows at least a half dozen properties under the ownership of Charles E. Pennock. It is likely that the Pennocks purchased the farms surrounding their plate factory to house workers, or to secure mining or timber rights. Current day Mt. Airy Farm can be seen on this map (circled) with the main house and spring house located off the main road.
Charles did not live on the property on current day Mt. Airy Road. He appears instead in the 1870 Census in the Coatesville Borough at age 44, with his wife, Mary, age 40. Charles’ profession is listed as “boiler plate manufacturer”. Their son, William, age 14, and daughter Catherine, age 10 are enumerated with them.
The 1880 Census finds Charles and Mary B. living on Main (south side) in Coatesville with their children:
William, age 23
Catherine, age 19
Marian B., age 17
Florence J., age 15
Charles, age 10
Two domestic servants, Mary Cox and Mary Keelhan from Ireland, and a gardener named Theo Shannon are also listed living with the Pennocks.
An Agricultural Survey taken in 1880 shows the extent of C.E. Pennock’s holdings:
115 acres of tilled land
25 acres of permanent meadow, pastures, orchards, vineyards
15 acres of woodland and forest
4 acres of other unimproved land
Charles’ brother Joseph Levis Pennock was responsible for the finances and contracts for the mill. When Joseph died in 1887, the company was found to be in financial disarray. The extent of the company’s troubles was so extreme that an assignment was required to protect the company’s creditors. The newspaper article below describes the appointment of Colonel Augustus Boyd as trustee in August 1887.
Augustus Boyd sold 115 acres of the 169 acres Charles Pennock had purchased from the Huttons to Samuel Greenwood on 22 March 1889 for $4300. Greenwood also purchased additional tracts of property owned by the Pennocks:
Tract 1: 115 acres
Tract 2: 31 acres, 65 perches
Tract 3: 12 acres, 90 perches
Tract 4: 106 acres, 39 perches
Tract 5: mills, etc
Considering the previous purchase price of $20,000 for 169 acres in 1868, the $4300 for 115 acres in 1889 represents a significant decline in value. It is assumed that the current stone home on the property existed during this time, and it can be surmised that the building was likely used to house mill or farm workers during the Pennock’s ownership. The value of the property by 1889 was likely in the land.
Various articles about the Pennock family:
Samuel Greenwood and the Greenwood Family (1889 to 1914)
Samuel Greenwood was born in Halifax, England in 1823. He was married to Mary Jane Sweeten in February 1849. Samuel and Mary Jane had three children: Josephine (1849-1936), James (1851-1936), and Elizabeth (1853-1877). Samuel was engaged in woolen textile manufacturing in Chester County, and he owned the property neighboring the acreage he purchased from the Pennock Company. The map below, from 1883 shows Greenwood’s property next to the Pennock parcel.
Greenwood’s home was called “Mt. Airy”. A sketch of his home and his woolen mills is below. It is likely that our subject home continued to be used as a tenant house under Greenwood’s ownership.
The article below describes The Greenwood & Son woolen mills. They manufactured cotton laps and stocking yarns, satinetts and shawls. At the start of the Civil War the mill manufactured Kersey cloth to make uniforms and Balmoral skirts, which were colored petticoats, intended to show beneath drawn-up skirts.
It is likely that our subject house continued to be used as a tenant or worker house for the Greenwood mills and farms. According to an account of a destructive flood in 1907. James Greenwood owned several farms in Valley Township. The railroad, which ran adjacent to the current acreage, is mentioned in the article. One wonders how this destructive flood affected the spring house on the current property, as it sits at a low point.
James Greenwood celebrated his 84th birthday in 1935, he sustained a broken hip and died in 1936. His obituary speaks of his work in the mills alongside his father Samuel.
James Greenwood conveyed all of the tracts of property his father had purchased from the Pennocks to his son Walter E. Greenwood on 27 March 1914 for a transfer fee of one dollar.
Tract 1: 115 acres
Tract 2: 31 acres, 65 perches
Tract 3: 12 acres, 90 perches
Tract 4: 106 acres, 39 perches
Tract 5: mills, etc.
Walter then transferred the same five tracts by a deed dated three days later (30 March 1914) to Jesse and Catherine Shall. Jesse and Catherine Shallcross (1916 to 1918) Jesse Shallcross was Burgess, or magistrate of Coatesville. Newspaper accounts portray him as a man with little tolerance for drinking and gambling. A full decade before Prohibition, Jesse Shallcross was responsible for suspending all alcohol sales and use in Coatesville, and credited the decline in crime to the absence of liquor.
After purchasing all five tracts in 1914, Jesse and Catherine Shallcross transferred three tracts back to Walter E. Greenwood on 1 May 1916:
Tract 1: 115 acres
Tract 2: 31 acres, 65 perches
Tract 3: land, mills, tenements
Walter E. Greenwood and Laura S. Greenwood then conveyed two of the tracts to Ambrose F. and Mary C. Slaymaker on October 16th 1918 for $10,000:
Tract 1: 115 acres
Tract 2: 31.05 acres
Ambrose F. and Mary C. Slaymaker and the Slaymaker Family (1918 to 1970)
Ambrose Frank Slaymaker was born in Pennsylvania in January 1879. He married Mary C. Tompkins (daughter of Conard Tompkins and Phoebe Russell) and had two sons: Herbert A. Slaymaker who was born in 1906, and Frank Conard Slaymaker, who was born in 1915. The Slaymakers resided in Sadsbury Township prior to moving to the farm in Valley Township. Ambrose and Mary’s eldest son Herbert died of diphtheria at the age of 3 in 1910.
Ambrose Slaymaker is enumerated in the 1920 Census as living in Valley Township with wife Mary and son Frank and Boarder Raymond Widdoes.
A triennial census of farm property taken by the state of Pennsylvania shows Ambrose Slaymaker as the owner of the property with 2 males and one female over the age of 10 living on the farm (likely Ambrose, Mary, and their son Frank). His holdings are enumerated at 147 acres, 58 of which are used for crops, including 19 for grain, 15 for wheat, 16 for oats and 6 for potatoes. Thirty-four acres are devoted to hay and the farm also had 12 apple trees, 2 peach trees, and 2 pear trees. The animals consisted of 4 horses, 4 mules, 8 milk cows, 2 heifers, 2 other cattle, 3 sows, 2 other swine, 50 hens and 150 other chickens. Ambrose is also documented as owning 1 automobile, 1 motor truck, 2 tractors, 1 telephone, 1 radio, and 1 silo.
Ambrose and his family are found again in the 1940 Census as living in Valley Township with wife Mary and son Frank. His occupation is farmer and highest grade level completed is 8th grade.
Although the Slaymakers owned the property for decades, very little personal history was discovered to describe their time on the property. A deed dated 4 May 1946 was drawn to convey the property from Ambrose and Mary to Ambrose and Mary – the purpose of this transference is not clear, as the description of the property did not change.
Ambrose died in July 1966 at the age of 87, and his wife Mary died the following August (1967) at the age of 84. Their son Frank was named executor of the estate. He and his wife Verna assumed ownership of the property by a deed dated 29 September 1969. Two tracts were conveyed by this deed, and Tract 2 was further subdivided into another two parcels.
Current owners (1970 to present)
Frank C. Slaymaker and Verna E. Slaymaker conveyed 52.283 acres with the stone dwelling, barn and outbuildings to the current owners by a deed dated 16 October 1970. They have raised their family on the farm and have made extensive additions and improvements to the property.
The exact year of the oldest portion of the home was not exactly determined. The 1798 tax notes the following structures present on the property: