more tales of bacton hill

The farmhouse demolished a couple of years ago on Bacton Hill Road for development of houses yet to be built.

One of my favorite bits of Chester County, which is in my opinion completely under recorded and insufficiently remembered for what it represents is the area in Frazer, East Whiteland, Chester County known as Bacton Hill. That is where my favorite ruin, Ebenezer AME is located on Bacton Hill Road. Ebenezer was a very early AME church, and Bishop Richard Allen was still alive when the Quaker, James Malin, deeded the land to the AME Church so Ebenezer could be built. The origins of the AME Church go back to the Free African Society which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787. Richard Allen was born a slave in 1760. He was owned and then freed by Benjamin Chew.

Ebenezer on Bacton Hill Road in Frazer (East Whiteland) is a sacred and historic place. It’s no secret I have written about this place for years.

As referenced above, the AME Church grew out of the Free African Society in the late 1700s, but the church became it’s own entity founded in Philadelphia around 1816. So you can see given the age of Ebenezer AME in East Whiteland, Chester County, PA that it is truly part of the early days of a church and religion founded in Philadelphia. Bishop Richard Allen died in 1831, just months before Ebenezer came to be after Joseph Malin deeded the land.

Hiram Woodyard was a Township resident and former slave who served in the Union Army as a teamster. He was a leader in the African American community and is buried at the Ebenezer AME Church. His home still stands on Congestoga Road. Other homes he built still stand. He was an inhabitant of Bacton Hill.

Without active preservation there will come a time that all which will be left of the area will be my blog posts including this one from 2017 which is an oral history complete with some really cool photos courtesy of Claude Bernadin, or this one from 2015, this one from 2016, this one from 2017, the ceremony November 2016, a post from October 2016, another one from October 2016, when for brief moment people stopped to visit the old souls now covered by weeds and brush once more, 2015 post which had links to earlier posts. Also what will survive will be the occasional newspaper article from every newspaper reporter who tried to raise awareness to this area and to Ebenezer.

Once upon a time people tried to get a Bacton Hill Historic District or something like that. It’s a shame it never happened. Because at least then there would have been a more organized history of the place. (See Juneteenth post for more.)

Bacton Hill was an early freed black settlement and not just important in Frazer, East Whiteland, but Chester County. It has always been of historic import, yet it never made it to a historic district.

Today I am sharing some memories of Bacton Hill from former resident, Mark Lanser. He grew up with artist Claude Bernadin, whose memories and photos I shared before.

Here is Mark in his own words:

📌Just wanted to share a bit of my memories growing up on Bacton Hill. I am not sure of what be of interest. I have memories which some may be bit fuzzy but I believe they are mostly intact.

We : my parents Richard & Norma and my 4 brothers Rick, Chris, Scott & Elliott. I was number two son between Rick & Chris. The area before Rt. 202 was built was relatively quiet. I traveled around the area with Claude Bernardin collecting bottles.

I also had a paper route for the daily local news when I was 12 (1967). One of my customers was Mary Cain. Their original home was their farm at the intersection of Bacton Hill & Spring Valley roads. I remember when Mrs. Cain turned 100. She eventually lived to be 108. I think her son was named John (?) Don’t remember her daughter in law’s name. Her son died in his 80’s before his mom. They told me that she was the last proprietor of the Bacton General Store. That was the residence of Barry & Judy Love at the time. It is located on Bacton Hill (401) almost directly across from Bacton Hill Rd. It is literally just several feet off the road. They told me of a time in the late 1920’s when 5 people froze to death in a blizzard out side the farm in a snow drift. At the time they were telling me this they were living on Spring Valley Road a few hundred yards west of Bacton Hill Rd.

I think that the town itself lasted until the Second World War and then lost the post office. My recollection was the general store was built in 1810. Our house midway up the hill was supposedly built in 1732 but the date stone had been removed from the second floor so I never confirmed that.

I was told by Miss Hopper who lived in the log cabin next to us to our west that it was built in 1704. Then was the tavern the next house up just above Spring Valley Road. My recollection was the date stone there was 1765. In regards to the tavern Mr. Cain said the “colored folk” (Mr. Cain’s description back then no offense meant) had some gatherings that went late into the night and were quite lively.

Please let me know if this is of any interest. I am obviously not a writer but I could share some more details about Elwood that Claude wrote about , Miss Hopper, & the cave among others as I can recall them.📌

The oral histories of an area are as important as the historical facts and recorded historical activities. For example, I heard at one time it was rumored adjacent to the trail where there are office suites at Swedesford Road and Bacton Hill Road there were possibly remains of Revolutionary War Soldiers at one time. But there is nothing documented that I can find so it might not be true. But given the age of the area and the documented historical sites all around, could it be possible? Sure. And that’s another thing where I wonder if people have memories of finding arrowheads, or other little relics?

Bacton Hill today is nothing like people remember even only back to the 1960s and 1970s. Because it’s not a preservation area, structures come down. Like what I knew as the old green farmhouse which will be the last photo here on this post today, as well as the first photo. A lot of the road feels industrial today, which were not the origins, it’s just how it evolved .

There are a smattering of homes on and off Bacton Hill Road up near the intersection with Conestoga Road or Route 401 which still exist. Most of the truly old homes that have stood since the 18th and 19th century are on Conestoga Road. And they are lovely. I love that they endure in spite of all that is torn down around them.

As a blogger, if there is something I can give to this area, it’s bits of the history of individuals who lived there. I am also interested in the history of the black settlement which once existed because that’s so historically important vis a vis Ebenezer AME. If you have anything to add, or tales to tell, historical photos, old area photos, either on Bacton Hill, what was once the village (general store, post office, etc), or close by on 401/Conestoga Road, I am happy to listen and view the photos.

Thanks for rambling with me today.

5 thoughts on “more tales of bacton hill

  1. For the last 11 years, I have lived at 401 Conestoga Rd, which right at the corner of Bacton Hill. While it’s been a few years since I have looked at them, I have the property records going back to the original 1750 William Penn land grant and have been told by a friend of mine who is a college professor and somewhat of an expert, that my house was built by freed slaves around 18290 and that what I thought was a root cellar under the house was most likely a hiding place for runaway slaves. Bacton Hill was the mid point between West Chester and Phoenixville which were active on the underground railroad and thus was a logical stopping place for travellers.

    In addition, the house was built well off the road (which was not the norm at the time) which would make it less noticeable by travellers on the Conestoga Pike. More recently, my house was the home for (something) Manning-Smith from the 1920s to the 1970s. He was the British Consul General in Philadelphia.

    I unfortunately had a major fire in March of 2019 but am now in the process of restoring the house. If you would like more info, please let me know –

    • I grew up with the Manning-Smiths. My brothers and I spent many great times there with their 3 boys. 1823 is in my mind 1829 is probably right. I remember the barn before it was converted. Peter (Mr. Manning-Smith) was a jolly British gent. The walk in Fireplace was very cool. I wasn’t sure when they purchased the property. If any of my memories are of interest please let me know. I would love to see it again.

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