Someone a while back asked me about Bacton Hill. I don’t remember who exactly so I’m putting this in a post and putting it out there.
When we think of Bacton Hill, we think of Bacton Hill Road. But it actually used to be more than just the name of the road. It was an entire community.
Historically speaking, it was a significant an early free black settlement in Chester County. Which is why in my opinion along with Ebeneezer AME it should have always been in a historic district.
In 2017 I wrote about a gift of history sent to me by way of South Dakota. It was concerning Hiram Woodyard. He was a freed slave and Black Civil War Soldier who resided in the village of Bacton, “Bacton Hisotric District”, AKA “Bacton African American Community”.
In 1991, Jane Davidson, the then Chester County Historic Preservation Officer certified that one of the houses attributed to him on Conestoga Road as a “County Historic Resource”. She said “The events and activities that have occurred in and around the site form a chronological record of past knowledge that portrays a history of the area.”
The historical information listed in some of the paperwork states:
This resource is part of the Bacton Historic District which is a post-Civil War, Afro-American community. This resource is also connected with Hiram Woodyard who was a prominent member of this community….Due to previous development there is an eminent potential to widen Rte. 401,this threat would negatively impact the integrity of this resource.
In other paperwork, the same author continues:
Hiram Woodyard, one of two leaders in the Bacton African-American community, has become a local folk hero in recent years. While part of the timber industry as a fence maker, he also commanded a great deal of respect for his leadership ability, not only in the community, but also in the Union army.
Here are these documents again:
Bacton Hill is fascinating and rapidly disappearing. That is why it would’ve been important to have had this preserved decades ago as it’s own little historic district.
Anyway people always have many things to say when it comes to how an area gets it’s name. And my friend historian an artist and author Catherine Quillman gave me some answers, I would like to share:
📌”Hey, finally got into the Chester County History Center. Bacton was formerly known as Valley View.
In 1871, a branch of the Reading Rail Co. was proposed and a stockbroker complained it was an unnecessary expense (though the rail line would connect to west Chester and Phoenixville). He complained it would just go through “back towns”.
I think Anselma was on that run, and that had a large creamery so it could hardly be a “back town” and the name stuck for Valley View – it officially became Bacton when the little post office which was once there opened in 1887.”📌
So Bacton came out of “back town“ and not “black town” which someone wrote to me once upon a time that I found a little bit offensive, but almost would’ve been understandable for certain times a century and longer ago.
Catherine also reminded me that this area also may have probably seen activity during the Revolutionary War. After all part of the Battle of the Clouds took place near where they have that “Ship Road Park” (West Whiteland), and other battles and encampments occurred close enough by in other municipalities which border East Whiteland like Tredyffrin.
The African American community at Bacton Hill was definitely significant once upon a time. They worked in the local quarries and worked for the railroad and even farmed where they could (A lot of the land there as you know is both scrubby, wet, rocky.)
So yes the little post office back then was renamed Bacton from Valley View. But people also speak of Pickering Valley railroad, but I am told it didn’t climb the “hill” of Bacton Hill. The story of conductor saying “Blacktown” instead of Bacton is probably more local lore and misremembering than fact.
Another aspect of this area that has never really been adequately studied was its relationship to the Underground Railroad. Because there was one, as some homeowners of historic homes alone 401 can attest.
Anyway that is what I have to share with all of you today about this fascinating topic and I do think it’s fascinating. If any of you have other recollections of the area of Bacton Hill or Ebenezer, I love to hear about these things so leave me a comment and write into the blog. I am also always happy to share old photos of the area.
Someone said to me that the greater Philadelphia region spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the Revolutionary War and not other parts of our region’s history. To an extent, that is true. I think that’s why things like Duffy’s Cut got buried forever as well. It’s not fun for a lot of people to talk about the inconvenient or even uncomfortable aspects of our own history. And I think as complete a picture as it’s available helps all of us.
I was close with what the screenshot is you see at the top of this post. While I was looking for my things on Bacton Hill and Ebenezer I came across this marvelous photo that came out of the East Whiteland Fire Company archives. I don’t have an exact date, but it is always been common practice for fire companies to get their squad practice in by burning dilapidated structures. Is this Ebenezer? I want it to be. It’s just interesting to note that if hindsight was 20/20, would they have chosen to do that knowing the history of the area? I don’t think so.
A reader sent the next screenshot with the following note:
“This is Bacton Hill chapel. The fire was set to provide a drill for the Upper Main Line firefighters association. Summer 1961. My family attended Bacton Hill Chapel in the 1950’s. The new Bacton Hill Church was on Yellow Springs Road. I believe It was destroyed by fire in the late 60’s early 70’s.”
Thanks for stopping by! This chapel that looks like Ebenezer adds another layer to the community of Bacton Hill, doesn’t it?
What a wonderful post! In this day and age when so many are spending so much time DIVIDING US AS A NATION and denying our history, I found it incredibly relevant. As Americans, we are nothing more or less than our fellow flawed humans of all genders and colors who populate this earth. We have been and continue to be at our BEST, though, when fighting for the IDEALS that are embodied in the Constitution. The fact that this small community existed, even flourished when it did, is a testament to the American capacity to flourish, despite adversity, and to right moral weaknesses and wrongs, all while pursuing the ideals guaranteeing US ALL a better life. We must also recognize that , because we are ALL flawed human beings, pursuing “better” often takes too long and many pay too high a price. But authentic history is often not one thing or another, not solely good or bad–there are often courageous among the cowardly, good amidst evil, on and on the list goes. There is so much in this little area you highlight that should be recognized within this vein, and remembered by all Americans, Pennsylvanians in particular, an absolute REQUISITE in order that our country continues to UNITE AS AMERICANs in our quest for the betterment of all of us. The wrongs of the past were based on division and rather than repeating them via rhetoric that divides, let’s study authentic history like this in order that all of us move forward TOGETHER. Didn’t Maya Angelou say, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going” ?
I attended Bacton Chapel perhaps 60 years ago for a brief time. A sermon that Pastor Mckay provided was about a RR accident. It was back when lanterns were used at some RR crossings and a family was killed by a train. In a court case several times the crossing guard said he came out and waved his lantern 3 times before the train impacted the car. On closing arguments after the jury was all but sure to award the family’s relatives a settlement the defense attorney for the RR asked the crossing guard if the lantern was lit. The response was the lantern was not lit. I am sure the sermon had deeper meaning about light but at perhaps 10 years old it was not within my understanding at the time but I have remembered that sermon from many years ago.