Changing Landscapes People and Places in the Mill Creek Valley Lower Merion c.1870-c.1920

Vaughan Property

The Changing Landscape

 

After Gabriel died his grandson Harry took up residence on the property. He was renting the home from his mother as Agnes remained in possession of the property.  Harry worked as a day laborer, adapting to the changing job market in the United States.[1] With no one tending to the farm, the landscape would begin to change. The trees that occupy the land today would begin to sprout, and the wooden barns would become brick or stone garages. Unfortunately Harry perished unexpectedly in May of 1906.

After his death Harry’s Widow Mary Keech (nee Godshall), and their daughters Bessie and Sadie, moved to Narberth. The girls were eight and six respectively at the time of his death. In Narberth, By 1910 Mary was the head of the house in Narberth working as a seamstress.[2] She supported her two daughters as well as her little sister and mother. The property on Old Gulf remained under the care of Agnes during the 1910’s but she and her husband Bartholomew were living in a rented property in Philadelphia. They had had seven children together, Amelia, Stella, Harry, Sallie, Louisia, Levis, and Rea. He and Agnes raised their children in Gladwyne in the same town as Bartholomew’s older brothers Lorenzo and Aaron.[3]  They purchased the property from a man named John MeGann. Bartholomew made a living as a stone mason. Given how close the family was to Mill Creek the children likely frequented their grandfather Gabriel’s farm. As his only child Agnes was his focus and her marriage to Bartholomew Keech, a man from another prominent farming family, likely garnered Gabriel’s approval. The Keech’s were all over Lower Merion, the most prominent was Bartholomew’s father Henry.

Henry Keech in many ways was very similar to Gabriel Vaughan. Henry was born to two natives of Lower Merion, Aaron Keech and Rebecca Righter. He spent his adult life farming a forty four acre plot of land along the Schuylkill, and when he died he had a considerable estate left to his progeny. He was different from Gabriel in that he came from a large family. He was one of sixteen children Aaron and Rebecca had, many of his brothers and sisters remained in the area to farm as well. He also had five of his own children, Lorenzo, Aaron, Bartholomew, Sylvania, and George. Henry also constantly sought to acquire more land and assets. He rented his property to miners, he bought his sons Lorenzo and Aaron land in Lower Merion and he purchased another property for farming on Hallow Road. Like Gabriel, Henry left a very detailed will.[4]

His will would become the center of a legal struggle between his children in which Bartholomew found himself alone. It signifies how the transition from farming to industry left some families in difficult financial situations as well. In the 1900’s and 1910’s Bartholomew was in financial trouble. He was pushing his family to sell their father’s 44 acre property before Henry’s will stated they could. Henry wanted the property to remain in the family for twenty years before they sold it. He even stated that if any of his children violated this they would have five hundred dollars docked from their inheritance. Bartholomew needed the money at the turn of the century and took his case to the court. He tried to argue that they could sell his father’s estate in 1900, twenty years after it was written. The court instead sided with George Keech, the youngest son and executor of Henry’s estate. George insisted they sell the estate in 1908, exactly twenty years after Henry died. This was their father’s desire and George seemed particularly angry that Bartholomew had attempted to contradict him. The other children Keech siblings agreed. Sylvania even stipulated in her will that if she died before the estate should be sold then her share should be divided between Aaron and George, leaving out Bartholomew.

Bartholomew’s dire situation is exemplified in what happened to his share of the money generated in the 1908 sale of the property. Rather than receiving any of the money Bartholomew used the two thousand dollars to pay off debts to Josiah Pearce and three others. Ironically Bartholomew’s pursuit of his inheritance may have caused some of his debt. He owed $600 to Bella Haws, a stenographer for a local law office.[5]

In 1880 Bartholomew was living in Gladwyne as a successful stone mason. He lived alongside his brothers and they even shopped for groceries together. Just twenty years later Bartholomew had switched professions to contractor. He had moved out of Gladwyne and into a house in Ardmore they were renting.[6] Most significantly he was quarelling with his siblings over his father’s inheritance and even a small amount of money his brother George owed him.[7] All this indicates that when they moved into the Old Gulf Road property in 1920 they were likely in a difficult financial situation. A contractor in a developing suburban landscape should have been at least somewhat successful, and yet he floundered. It may have been a function of his initial skillset as a stone mason. He was unable to adapt to the changing techniques in the new century, and it cost him financial success.

In 1920 the married couple was still supporting forty nine year old daughter Amelia, granddaughter Elizabeth, and grandson Elwood. Amelia was never married and never held a job. After her parents death she lived in Philadelphia, in the same neighborhood as her little sister Stella, who was married to a gilder by the name of Edward Rodgers. Bartholomew was retired at this point but had witnessed a serious decline in his business as a stone mason. At the time of his death, he had no personal property and was likely being supported by his children and grandchildren.[8] Many had married at this point, mostly in the Philadelphia suburbs. In 1927 both Bartholomew and Agnes perished.[9] They left no personal property, indicating they were now relying on their surviving children and many grandchildren. Ten years later the property was sold for $40,000.[10] It was promptly split into smaller plots of land and new homes were built upon them.

The Vaughan-Keech family story is one that reflects much of what was happening in Mill Creek at this time. Families were adapting to a new economy, one that put agriculture out of the forefront of the community’s consciousness. The self-sufficiency of small family farms gave way to the uncertain nature of industry. Their family is one that witnessed two very different patriarchs in the two generations spent on this property. With Gabriel there was a sense of permanence, a sure handed approach to farming that allowed him the independence to survive the decline of farming. His will gives a snapshot of a well-organized farm, not a neglected estate whose owner was in his 77th year. The marriage of Agnes and Bartholomew illustrates the role proximity and the farming community played in forming new marriages. The saga of Bartholomew’s financial instability shows how the industrial revolution affected a craftsman. Bartholomew was a victim of this changing industrial landscape. He was unable to adapt, and rather than thriving off the new development he sunk into debt.



[1]  Havens, Studies, 30.

[2]  United States Census Office, 1910 Census, Harold Bruce, 2-276.

[3]  United States Census Office, Census 1880, 7-296.

[4]  Montgomery County Records Office, Last Will and Testament of Henry Keech, 3491.

 

[5]  United States Census Office, Census 1900, Sam G. Nelson 7-224

[6]  United States Census Office, 1900 Census, Jane G. Levin, 7-224.

[7]  Montgomery County Records Office, Orphans Court of Henry Keech, 54348.

[8]  Montgomery County Records Office, Last Will and Testament of Bartholomew Keech, 54348.

[9]  Montgomery County Records Office, Last Will and Testament of Bartholomew Keech, 54348.

Montgomery Country Records Office, Last Will and Testament of Agnes Keech, 42045.

[10]  Montgomery Country Records Office, Last Will and Testament of Agnes Keech, 42045.

Harry Keech.JPG

Harry Keech's obituary in the local newspaper, nineteen days after his death.  

"Gladwyne Items." Ardmore Chronicle, Vol. XVI, No. 36, May 19, 1906. "Historical Society of Montgomery County Collection, Digital Library@Villanova University.[http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl%3A318524]"