Swarthmore Borough

Delaware County, Pennsylvania

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Swarthmore Borough municipal offices are located at 121 Park Avenue, Swarthmore PA 19081; phone 610‑543‑4599.


About 70% of home sales in the borough are detached singles with a median age circa 1948 with lot sizes ranging from less than one-tenth of an acre to more than 1.25 acres; median lot size for the singles is slightly more than one-quarter of an acre a large, hi-rise condominium complex (Strath Haven, circa 1970s) is located on Yale Avenue. Village Green, a newer townhome development (2002) has units located on Dartmouth Ave, Princeton Ave, and Village Green Lane. A small inventory of semi-detached (twins) accounts for less than 10 percent of annual residential resales.

A train station located at the edge of Swarthmore College campus, is part of the SEPTA R-3 line with service between Chester Heights Borough and Center City Philadelphia.

Beginnings [1]

Among the records of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College is an indenture signed by William Perm in 1681 deeding 1500 acres of land to two brothers-in-law, James Kennerly and Henry Maddock of Loom Hall in Cheshire, England, in consideration of the payment of 30 [lbs?]. In that same year these men came to the province, preceding Penn and the Welcome by a year. Although port records found by Marian Balderston include a manifest of the Friendship sailing out of Liverpool in May, 1682, listing quantities of hardware and other goods belonging to James Kennerly, other records recently uncovered offer definitive disproof of any assertion that Maddock and Kennerly themselves were aboard the Welcome.

Initially Henry Maddock and his brother-in-law lived in a log house overlooking the Crum Creek. This house, which appears on the map drawn by Charles Ashcomyin 1683, is today incorporated in a white clapboard house set back 150 yards west from Walnut Lane in Strathmore. It is presumed that this was where the Maddock family lived until 1729 when Mordecai Maddock, having inherited Henry's share of the land, built what is known today as the Benjamin West House.

A Brief History [2]

Swarthmore can trace its history back to 1681, when Henry Maddock and James Kennerly received a land grant of fifteen hundred acres from William Penn, 850 acres of which were in present-day Swarthmore. Henry Maddock built a cabin that until recently stood just 50 feet outside Swarthmore. Henry Maddock's son Mordecai moved to the land and built the "Benjamin West House" in 1724. This is regarded as the birthplace of the early American artist Benjamin West. In 1736, John Maddock, Mordecai Maddock's son, built the Maddock-Ogden House. Still standing at 530 Cedar Lane, the house is Swarthmore's best surviving example from the Colonial era, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The nineteenth century saw a great deal of development in the area. The present intersection of Baltimore Pike and North Chester Road saw the development of a store, post office and school, which became known as "Oakdale". While Oakdale is no longer there, the peculiar boundary between Springfield Township and Swarthmore Borough is the result of the former Oakdale school site. By the 1850's a train running from Philadelphia to Media was in operation. Regular rail service to the Swarthmore area began in 1868, at which time the station was called Westdale in honor of Benjamin West. Its name was changed to Swarthmore two years later. The current station was opened less than a decade later, in 1876, and added to in 1903. The railroad had a profound impact on the development of Swarthmore, evidenced by the introduction of the first real estate investment company in the area in 1878.

Swarthmore's growth and development have been predominantly influenced both by the railroad and by Swarthmore College. The college was established in 1864, its location chosen because of the unique blend of rural charm and regional accessibility. The original campus gradually expanded to include buildings from other, former academic institutions: the Swarthmore Preparatory School, established in 1892, and the former Mary Lyons School for Girls, established in 1913. The railroad provided commuter access to Philadelphia, and encouraged the development of walkable, high-quality, residential subdivisions in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The town features higher-density residential development near the train station and lower-density, single-family residences further from the station. Many of the subdivisions included architect-designed houses. In the 1920s, a commercial center developed close to the rail station, creating a focal point for the community.

As the College grew, so did the surrounding community. With the improvement of the rail line in the 1880's, the Swarthmore area became even more accessible. Several early residents purchased homes and land in the area while working in Philadelphia. Development companies followed soon after. It was during this period that the first calls for the establishment of a new borough came. A meeting at the Oakdale school house in 1885 led to the creation of an exploratory committee, who drew up a proposal for a new township between Baltimore Pike and Yale Avenues. An application for a charter of incorporation was filed in December of 1892, and Swarthmore Borough was officially established in 1893.

Benjamin West [3]

There is a dramatic charm in the life of the Quaker boy, Benjamin West, whose story should become as familiar as that of Whittington; for is there not a cat in it, and the favor of a monarch, and the luxury of London-to ease his declining years?

The West family was descended from Lord Delaware, who distinguished himself under the Black Prince. About 1667 they embraced the tenets of the Quakers, and soon afterward emigrated to America. The substantial stone house built by Benjamin West's grandfather still stands, and is used as a residence by one of the professors at Swarthmore College.

In this house Benjamin West was born, on the 10th of October, 1738. At that time the Friends had declared as one of their indisputable doctrines, that things merely ornamental were not necessary to the well-being of man, and that all superfluous things should be excluded from the usages of their society. Hence it is understood why "at six years of age, Benjamin West had never seen a picture nor an engraving."

When he was almost seven years old, it happened that an elder sister was at home visiting her parents for a few clays, having her infant child with her. When the child was asleep, Mrs. West invited the mother to gather flowers in the garden, giving the little boy a fan to flap away the flies while he watched the baby in their absence.

As Ben stooped over the cradle, the child smiled in her sleep. On a table near at hand were pens and paper, and likeness of the sleeping baby. His drawing was not yet complete when he heard the step of his mother returning, and he hastily tried to conceal the paper. Noticing his confusion, his mother asked, "Benjamin, my son, what hast thou been doing?"

Ben did not yield up the paper at first, thinking perhaps he had done wrong, but his fears turned to joy when he saw the pleasure of his mother. "I declare," said she, "he has made a likeness of little Sally!" And she threw her arms around the boy and kissed him fondly. "A kiss from my mother," said West in after years, "I made me a painter;" and his English biographer gravely records the incident as "the birth of fine art in the New World."

In the course of the summer a party of Mohawk Indians came to pay their annual visit to the hunting ground of their ancestors near West's home. They were pleased with the sketches of flowers and birds which the boy made, and taught him how to prepare the red and yellow colors with which they painted their own ornaments. His mother added blue to these colors by giving him a piece of indigo. He still lacked brushes, and tasked his ingenuity to find something at hand to supply the want. To furnish them, he laid hands upon his father's favorite black cat. He cut the fur from the tip of the animal's tail and with it made his first brush. That was soon worn out, and pussy's fine hairy coat was made to supply others, as fast as they were needed. Ben's father, ignorant of the boy's ingenious way of supplying himself with the tools of his art, grieved over the probable distemper which was spoiling the beauty of his pet. But the young painter soon confessed his fault, and the cat escaped further robbery.

About this time Friend West received a visit from a merchant of Philadelphia, Mr. Pennington, also a member of the Society of Friends. The visitor was much struck with the boy's talent, and advised that he should be permitted to follow the evident leadings of Providence. Not long after the merchant had returned to Philadelphia, there came a package addressed to Ben. The wrapper was taken off, and, behold, there was a paint box with a variety of colors, pencils, brushes of various sizes, and several squares of canvas such as artists use. The joy of the young artist knew no bounds. That night he slept with the precious box on a chair beside his bed, and reached out his hand many times to assure himself that it was no dream, while his fancy was busy with the beautiful things he would put upon the canvas. In the morning he hurried to the garret, and forgot all about school and everything else save his treasures of art. Several days passed in this way, until his mother followed him to the garret. There she found the boy giving the finishing touches to a beautiful painting he had made, in which he had combined parts of two engravings with such skill that his work was far finer than either of the originals.

Sixty-seven years later, this first painting was hung in the Royal Academy in London, beside his sublime painting, "Christ Rejected;" and the great artist declared that there were inventive touches in the first which, with all his subsequent knowledge and experience, he had not been able to surpass.

When he was twenty-five years of age, West went to London, and in the course of time he was made chief painter to King George the Third, and president of the Royal Academy of Arts. Even when he became the most distinguished artist of his day, he laid aside none of the simplicity and sobriety of his early life. West's talent comes down to the present time in the person of his lineal descendant, Frederick MacMonnies, who did so much to beautify the Columbian Exposition at Chicago, and later gave to New York the admirable statue of Nathan Hale, in the City Hall Park.

  1. National Register of Historic Places, Nomination Document prepared by Harry W. Kimgham, The Ogden House, 1979, National Park Service, Washington DC
  2. Nether Providence, Rose Valley, Rutledge, Swarthmore Multi-Municipal Comprehensive Plan, 2006, pp 1.6-1.7
  3. Goho, Stephen O, A.M.m The Pennsylvania Reader: Historical and Patriotic, American Book Company, New York, 1897

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