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A Brief History of East Vincent Township

There is archaeological evidence that East Vincent Township was visited by Native Americans thousands of years before Europeans arrived.  It is believed that the Native Americans roamed the area, stopping to fish along the Schuylkill River, hunt game, and gather hickory nuts.  Some may have set up camps for a few days or even a month.  Others probably just passed through.  It is known that a major Indian path followed along the ridge between French Creek and Stony Run.  The French Creek Path, as it has been named, originated in Phoenixville, at the mouth of French Creek, and ran to what is now Morgantown, New Holland, Lancaster, and Columbia on the Susquehanna.

To settle a debt owed to William Penn's father, an admiral in the service of King Charles II of England, King Charles made a gift to William which included land in the New World (America) and the right to govern.  William Penn sought asylum for the Society of Friends (Quakers) who were being persecuted in England and Europe.

In 1662, William Penn purchased a land interest in West New Jersey, which included land in western New Jersey and all of Pennsylvania.  The venture was referred to as the Society of Friends of West New Jersey and, later, the West Jersey Society.

Although Swedes and Dutch had already settled in the area for several decades, the early development of southeastern Pennsylvania began in 1682, when William Penn formed the three original counties of Pennsylvania:  Chester, Bucks, and Philadelphia.  The boundary between Philadelphia (later Montgomery) and Chester Counties was drawn at the middle of the Schuylkill River.

From 1682 to 1729, Chester comprised all the land west of the Schuylkill River to approximately the Blue Ridge range of the Appalachians to the north and west.  From this area, Lancaster County was formed in 1729, Berks County in 1752, and Delaware County in 1789.

The king's court physician, Daniel Coxe, received a land patent from William Penn, Proprietor of Pennsylvania, in 1686.  Coxe, Sir Mathias Vincent, and Major Robert Thompson combined their resources to form the New Mediterranean Sea Company and purchased 30,000 acres of land in Chester County from William Penn.  The land included that area which is now comprised of East Pikeland, West Pikeland, East Vincent, and West Vincent Townships.  Each partner owned 10,000 acres.  Sir Mathias Vincent owned what is now East and West Pikeland.  Coxe and Thompson owned what is now East and West Vincent.  Vincent died in 1687, and his heirs sold his land to Joseph Pike.  Neither Vincent, Coxe, Thompson, nor Pike ever visited their lands or set foot in America.

After Penn's death, his widow and sons disputed the sale of land to Coxe and his partners.  The dispute carried through negotiations and court proceedings for 100 years.  Long delays were caused because of the ensuing legal wrangle and the Revolutionary War.  After the Revolutionary War, the dispute was finally resolved in 1786.

Since title to the land was unclear during the 100-year controversy, none of the land could be sold.  The land could only be rented.  No land was sold in East and West Vincent until after 1790.

It was logical that the first land route used by Europeans followed the French Creek Indian Path.  The route is more familiar as Ridge Road or Route 23.  Today's alignment of Ridge Road is the same as the early road, except that the original road followed the ridge top from Ridge Road at Buckwalter Road and connected directly with Bonnie Brae Road, and followed Slonaker Road at Brownback's.  By the 1740's, Schuylkill Road and Pughtown Road had been established.  There were few other roads except local lanes that led from farm to farm.

Actual settlement was sporadic and sparse.  Peter Bezallion, a trapper and trader with the Indians, was one of the earliest to have moved into East Vincent.  It is said that he first lived in a cave.  His stay was not long.  He moved to a location near Pottstown Landing in North Coventry Township and then farther westward with the Indians and the fur trade.  By the early 1730's, enough people had moved to the area to establish the German Reformed Congregation of Vincent Township (1733) and the Vincent Mennonite Meeting (1735).  An early permanent settler was Garrett Brumbaugh, who opened a tavern on Ridge Road (at Ellis Woods Road) around 1735 to serve those who traveled that route.   Most moved to the East Vincent area to take advantage of the good farmland and the ample supply of water.  By 1746, all lands were leased.  There were 46 renters.

The farmers were soon followed by a variety of millers and manufacturers who set up their works along French Creek and other tributaries to the Schuylkill River.  The creeks were easily dammed, and there was sufficient water to power the mills.  As early as 1737, Nicholas Kaiser established a grist mill near the mouth of Pigeon Creek.

Michael Cyfer opened another tavern along Ridge Road (Seven Stars Inn) in 1754.  Peter Stager established his inn on Schuylkill Road (White Hall Inn) in 1762.  Edward Parker opened a tavern near a ford on the Schuylkill River in 1768.  Despite some of these early enterprises, significant growth and investment did not begin until after the Revolutionary War and after the settlement of the land dispute, when renters could purchase their lands.  By 1790, the number of renters had increased to 90.  The population is estimated at about 430.  There were seven mills, including a forge, and six inns.  Many of the present roads (except local subdivision streets) were in place in the eastern part of the Township, but in the west, Bertolet School Road was the only north-south road west of Sheeder Road.  There were two fords on the Schuylkill River and five crossings on French Creek.  Within a decade or two, there were four fords on the Schuylkill and seven crossings of French Creek.

In 1823-1824, the Schuylkill Navigation Company built a system of dams, lakes, and canals that provided water transportation from Philadelphia to Pottsville for cargo and passengers.  Business on the canal flourished.  The opening of the canal added to the activity at Parker's Tavern.  People could now travel in a more relaxed fashion by packet boat, rather than by the jostling ride of stagecoach or wagon.  Access to Berks County farms allowed products from that area to compete with those from Chester County.  Access to cheap coal allowed manufacturing to switch quickly to steam power.  This eventually diminished the importance of the small, water-powered mills in East Vincent.

Because of increasingly different interest and patterns of growth, Vincent Township was divided into East Vincent and West Vincent Townships in 1832.

In 1834, the economics of the Schuylkill Valley were again jolted by the founding of the Reading and Philadelphia Railroad.  The first trackage was opened in that year between Reading and Pottsville.  The rail line was completed to Philadelphia by 1839.  Located on the northwest side of the Schuylkill, the railroad favored the growth of Phoenixville, Royersford, Pottstown, Reading, and Pottsville.

In 1834, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed the Free School Act, mandating an education for all.  By 1847, East Vincent Township had established seven one-room schoolhouses.  These were located on:

Pughtown Road and Bertolet School Road (Bertolet School); Bethel Road, south of Brownbacks Run (Thomas School); Hallman Mill Road at Hoffecker Road; Hill Church Road at the Vincent German Reformed Church; Stony Run Road at the East Coventry boundary (Brownbacks School); Mennonite Church Road at Route 724; and Brown Road, near Old Schuylkill Road (Kolb School).  In addition to the schools, there were four stores, two inns, three grist mills, one oil mill, one paper mill, four blacksmith shops, two churches, and a Post Office.  In addition to three fords on the Schuylkill River, Royers Ford had been replaced by a covered bridge in 1840.  There were seven crossings on French Creek.  East Vincent's population had reached 1,194.

By 1860, the basic road system that now serves the Township was in place.  The population had reached 1,681.  A portion of this population was beginning to settle around Royers Ford bridge.  By 1867, the settlement was incorporated as the Borough of Springville (later to be changed to Spring City).  It had been formed from portions of East Vincent and East Pikeland Townships.

By 1873, the Township had begun to grow at an increasing rate.  There were seven mill sites, with one bone mill, one clover mill, two paper mills, three saw mills, two grist mills, a planing mill, and two machine works.  There were seven blacksmiths, a coach shop, a saddler's shop, and an ice house.  There were three stores, two inns, two churches, and six schools.

Other than a concentration of mills along French Creek, developments and farmsteads were evenly dispersed over the Township.  By contrast, Spring City was beginning to look more like a village.  Most development was confined to the two-block area between Main and Church Streets and between New and Hall Streets.  There was a church on the hill, a hotel and four stores on Main Street, about 50 homes, one blacksmith shop, a grist mill, a bank, and a foundry.  The population of Spring City in 1880 was 1,112 and that of East Vincent 1,252; or a combined total of 2,364.

In 1884, the Pennsylvania Railroad completed a line from Philadelphia to Reading.  The rail line followed the Schuylkill River, passing through East Vincent, with a station in Spring City.  The line was built to compete with the Reading Railroad located on the other side of the river.  It never effectively achieved its goal.  Although the railroad was a convenience to some local businesses, it had only a limited impact on the growth of the area.  Unfortunately, for most Township residents, the rail line limited access to the Schuylkill River and enjoyment of the waterfront.

In 1890, another railroad was built through East Vincent, along French Creek.  The French Creek Railroad, Division of the Delaware and Lancaster Railroad, connected from the Pickering Valley Railroad in Kimberton to French Creek Falls (St. Peter's Village) – a distance of about 12 miles.  Its primary intended purpose was to haul granite from a quarry near the falls, but it also carried other freight and passengers.  The railroad was hastily constructed and poorly engineered.  It developed so many waves and undulations that it was quickly dubbed the "Sow Belly" railroad. East Pikeland, Pughtown, Coventryville, Knauertown, and St. Peter's each had one station; there were three stations located in East Vincent and three in West Vincent.  The railroad operated a little more than a year, but the ensuing lawsuits between creditors and stockholders lasted much longer.  The tracks were finally torn up seven years after they were first laid.

More significant to East Vincent Township, 1890 also marked the founding of a state sanitarium near Spring City (Pennhurst).  In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature appropriated funds for building facilities for the "feeble-minded" and "epileptic."  The first client was admitted in 1908.  The Pennhurst Center grew to include dormitories and hospital facilities for inmates, housing for staff, heating and sewage treatment plants, and many acres of farmland.  Until 1986, the Center provided a significant number of employment opportunities for area residents.

Between 1890 and 1930, most new development in East Vincent occurred as an expansion around Spring City and Pennhurst Center.  The suburban development of that period was mostly confined to the area northeast of Schuylkill Road known as Owen J. Roberts School District.  With the new school district, the Spring City High School built in 1928 was demolished in 1982.  Vincent Heights was built on that site for low income housing.  Kimberton Farm School formed in 1940 and is currently known as Kimberton Waldorf School.  The remainder of East Vincent continued as farms, with dairy production as the primary industry.

Bridges that continue to serve East Vincent Township include two historic covered bridges, the Kennedy (1856/1988) and Sheeder Hall (1850), the oldest covered bridge in Chester County.  Five other historic bridges with construction of iron and varied construction design provide access over the French Creek.  These are Wilson’s Corner (1835), Hallman’s (1854), Sheeder Mill (1887) the first iron bridge in East Vincent Township, Cooks Glen (1897) and Tyson’s Mill (1905).

A map of 1938 shows that most roads in the Township were unpaved.  The paved roads included Schuylkill Road, Ridge Road, Pughtown Road, Bridge Street, Stony Run Road (northwest of Schuylkill Road), Sheeder Road, New Street, and Arch Street.  The 1940 population was 3,614.

Since World War II, the Township has seen the development of mobile home parks and apartment complexes at the fringes of Spring City and the spread of suburban homes into the previously rural areas of the Township.  Commercial and industrial activities have developed along Route 724.  In 1953, the remaining one- and two-room schoolhouses were closed in favor of a regional school system.

The mills and the "Sow Belly" Railroad have long disappeared from French Creek.  The Pennsylvania Railroad and the Schuylkill Canal no longer parallel the Schuylkill River.  Pennhurst Center is no longer active, and much of the expansive farmland is giving way to suburban development.  While these happenings may be viewed in a negative way, the opening of accessibility to the Schuylkill River and French Creek may offer important scenic and recreational opportunities.  Similarly, the reuse of the Pennhurst Campus holds promise.  Much of the open space, scenic characteristics, and historic architecture of years past are still intact.

Grants to secure and preserve farmlands are being utilized by the township to assure the charm and scenic characteristics valued by the citizens.  Preservation for the future of historic sites is evident by the Revolutionary Soldiers Cemetery and the securing of the unique, one of a kind, 200-year-old Parker Tavern for restoration.

The community gathering sites of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s such as the original Seven Stars for sodas and sandwiches, Sunny Slope Dairy for ice cream and shakes made from local dairy milk, the Rittenhouse Tavern now known as White Hall Inn, and Heistand’s Corner which was the general store are now memories of the past.

In 1988, East Vincent had one part-time police officer.  In 2001 with a population of 5493, the Police Department is fully staffed with 24-hour, seven days a week protection.  One local volunteer fire department has increased to three fire companies now covering the Township.

Governance of the Township, in the early years, found the Board of Supervisor’s meeting in private homes.  A one-time garage was reconstructed to create the current township building which houses the Police Department and the official business of the Township.