The Early Days
Radnor Township is a proud, exemplary community, rich in history. Once home to the Lenni Lenape Indians, the land was first settled in 1663-1665 by a group of 40 Quakers from Radnorshire, Wales. Seeking religious freedom, the settlers emigrated to a 5,000 acre section purchased from William Penn, granted him by the Crown, in 1681.
Radnor Township was officially founded a year later in 1682. Penn laid out the township in an elongated rectangle located parallel to the Schuylkill River. The parcels of land contained within were oblongs parallel to the township boundaries. The land then sold at a rate of 1 British pound per 50-acre parcel.
The Meeting House
In 1717, the Welsh Friends erected a meeting house on a trail made by the Conestoga (Susquehanna) Indians, connecting the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Rivers. Later, this trail became the Old Lancaster Road, then the Conestoga Road. Radnorville grew naturally around the meeting house and remained the center of population of the township for 200 years. The exact geographical center of Radnor's rectangular border is a point less than 100 yards south of the original Quaker meetinghouse.
Industry & Taxation
Besides clearing and tilling fields for farmland, the Welsh established grist mills, sawmills, and tanneries using the power of Ithan and Darby creeks. What is now open space at the Willows Park was once the township's busiest commercial area.
The influence of the Welsh, some of whom were forced by heavy taxation to sell their land, waned in the latter half of the 18th century. A hint of Radnor's beginning's remains, however, in the names of streets and places evident throughout the community.
In 1741, the westward extension of the Conestoga Road, which ultimately connected Philadelphia and Lancaster, began for Radnor the enduring legacy of a place through which travelers passed. Traffic supported 4 inns in the town, one of which, the "Sorrel Horse," is said to have sheltered George Washington and General Lafayette during the encampment at Valley Forge; the inn still stands as the Agnes Irwin Lower School.
George Washington & The Army
On September 15, 1777, George Washington, then General of the Continental Armies, which had been disastrously defeated 4 days previously on the banks of the Brandywine, saved the morale of his troops by marching from Germantown out the Conestoga Road beyond what is now Paoli to "engage again" (according to the words on the monument) "the British invader."
During the encampment at Valley Forge, Washington's picket post on the heights behind the Friends Meeting House could survey movements from all directions, thanks to thoroughly cleared land. A no-man's land between Valley Forge and Philadelphia during the Revolution, Radnor was raided twice by British armies.
Accessibility For Travelers
More traffic and development came with the opening of the macadam toll road, the Lancaster Turnpike, the first toll road in America, in 1794. The Columbia (later Pennsylvania) Railroad, which came through the township in 1832, made Radnor more accessible to the city and dominated development here for more than a century. Its monopoly was strengthened later in the 1800s when its president, A. J. Cassatt, brother of impressionist artist Mary Cassatt, bought the turnpike from Philadelphia to Paoli to prevent it from being tracked for streetcars.
New hotels and settlements arose beside railroad stations at Morgan's Corner (adjacent to today's Radnor train station) and White Hall (the Radnor section of Bryn Mawr). The first of many great country estates in Radnor to be converted to institutional use came when the Brothers of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine established the Catholic College of St. Thomas of Villanova in 1842. The growth of this college to national stature is well known; locally it has always been a welcomed neighbor of which the community was proud.
The Development of Louella
In 1865, 300 acres surrounding Cleaver's Landing, a milk stop of the railroad, were bought by banker J. Henry Askin, who named "Louella" for 2 of his 3 daughters and built a mansion there for his family and a small supporting village, with a Presbyterian church, Lyceum hall, and an avenue (Bloomingdale) of mansard-roofed villas.
In the 1880s, George W. Childs, owner of Drexel Estate on Bryn Mawr Avenue, and his partner A. J. Drexel, bought Askin's land holdings in Louella, and turned the mansion into a hotel. Louella was renamed Anthony Wayne (who had been born nearby) and created one of the country's first planned suburban developments (served by electricity, sewers, a central heating system, and a public water supply). Wayne was promoted for its "salubrious air." Its development doubled the township's population to 3,800 between 1880 and 1890, and Wayne remains the population center of the township today.
The new households brought service trades, caused quarries for building stone to be opened an men imported to work in them, and brickyard to flourish in Garretville (now Garrett Hill). In outlying areas, wealthy industrialists from Philadelphia turned farms into the country estates for which the Main Line was known.
Becoming a Township
It was a natural step for Radnor Township to assume on March 12, 1901, the more elaborate governmental structure of a first class township. This form of government provided for representation of the viewpoints of both the suburban areas of Wayne and the Rosemont outskirts of Bryn Mawr, as well as the more leisurely country districts.
Since World War II, tremendous increases in population (from about 13,000 in 1950 to about 29,000 in 1996), taxation, and other factors have forced all but a few of the grand estates (Androssan Farm being the largest) to be subdivided for housing developments. Exceptions remain in those areas that have been turned into commercial centers, schools, colleges, country clubs, or religious institutions.
Radnor Township remains a community that is proud of its heritage and that still reflects many of the values of its settlers of over 300 years earlier. It is a place of ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity, with neighborhoods full of residents that love to call Radnor their home, with a
- Public school system that has been rated as one of the finest in the nation
- Vast network of lush parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields
- Long-standing tradition of demanding and receiving high-quality local government services
This is the Radnor Township of yesterday and today, and is building foundations for the 21st century. Radnor Township is the best place to live in the Philadelphia region!