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

William H. Todd

The Toddtown Tale: A Story of Community and Place



What does it mean to come to know a place’s history?  Oftentimes it seems it is restricted to knowing the history of a particular city or the growth of particular large towns.  It makes sense to study great hubs and the metropolises that have survived and thrived to this very day in order to understand the character of various regions throughout the United States.  Yet, the somewhat peculiar legacy of the property of William H. Todd suggests that the history of place is far more nuanced and that perhaps one needs to look beyond large cities or towns or villages to get a true perspective of a place’s history.  Indeed, the property—home to the real but short-lived community of “Toddtown”, suggests one needs to even extend beyond the borders of maps to get to know the history of place.

William H. Todd: Toddtown Beginnings

William H. Todd Mill.jpg

 The thread mill of William H. Todd (Courtesy of the Lower Merion Historical Society, W. Robert Swartz Collection)

“Toddtown” (referred to also as “Todd town”) is referenced, albeit briefly, in numerous historical documents from Lower Merion in the late nineteenth century yet, what it was—as a community and as a place—is not entirely clear.  According to the Lower Merion Historical Society, Toddtown referred to a community that sprang up with the textile mill industry.[1]  Henry Deringer, a well-known rifle manufactured is said to have sold some of his property to his son-in-law, the Kentucky-born planter William H. Todd who then opened a cotton yarn mill on the land.[2]  According to the Historical Society, the price agreed upon was $7,444.50 along with an annuity Todd was to pay to the widow of the land’s former owner.[3] This can be verified by looking at land deeds from the time which show a transfer of land from Henry Deringer to William H. Todd on February 27, 1849 for the sum mentioned previously.[4]  In addition, the deed says that Todd was required to pay the “sum of three thousand three hundred and thirty three dollars and thirty three cents on the fifteenth day of December yearly and every year during the natural life of said Elizabeth Sehman widow of said Samuel Sehman deceased”.[5] By looking at other deeds of William H. Todd, it would also appear that he added to his land by purchases from Rebecca Priest on March 7, 1860 and John D. Jones on April 4, 1867.[6],[7]  Such were the beginnings of the land that would become known as Toddtown.  But what of the community itself and the people who lived there?

Community Life in Toddtown: What Do We Know? 

The community was small—it never appears on a map as incorporated town—and was, as is mentioned on the Lower Merion Historical Society webpage, a community of mill workers.[8]  The community is also mentioned by the Bureau of Interior in a document contextualizing a different mill site up for consideration as a Historic Place.  In this document, Toddtown is referred to as an example of the area’s historic industrial importance. 

In evaluating the Crosley-Garret Mill Workers’ Housing, Store and Mill Site for registration as a National Historic Place, the Bureau of the Interior describes Toddtown within the historic background of the mill industry.  According to this account William H. Todd possessed a three-story factory building in which “Three thousand spindles produced cotton yarn”.[9]  In addition, and more pertinent to the community of Toddtown,, the report notes that also built on the property was a “three-story stone and stuccoed tenement building with eight housing units” which “still stands in [Merion] Township’s Rolling Hill Park”.   [10] Furthermore, the report attests that the number of mill workers employed at the Todd mill “caused the growth of a school, chapel and community reading room for a village called Todd Town”.[11]  Such details serve to give an idea of Toddtown’s impact on the local landscape and community.  Small though it was, Toddtown was more than a passing ghost of a community.  It had roots, though perhaps not deep ones, and its existence effected the local community of Lower Merion in various ways.  One particular set of documents referring to Toddtown, the Journal of the Proceedings of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania suggests one way in which the community of Lower Merion was affected by the existence of Toddtown.

Toddtown Tenement house Rolling Hill Park.jpg

The remains of the Toddtown Tenement houses referenced by National Parks report located in Rolling Hill Park in Gladwyne PA (courtesy of the Lower Merion Conservancy)

The Episcopal Journals: Christ the Redeemer

The report form the Bureau of the Interior mentions the existence of a church at the Toddtown tenements, the history of which is recorded and substantiated in the some of the volumes of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania.  In fact these annual journals offer the most detailed thrust of inquiry found within the breadth of this research into the nature of Toddtown.  They record the birth and growth of a centralizing force of community life—the community church.  Furthermore, the Journals record interactions between the community of Lower Merion outside of Toddtown and residents of Toddtown itself that occurred due to the existence of the church.   According to the journals, the existence of a church in Toddtown began with the church of Christ the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr.

Each annual publication of the Journal includes a section in which the individual churches present their current congregation’s demographics (baptisms, marriages, burials and the like) along with financial the parish’s financial  records.  The records of Christ the Redeemer lead a trail that goes to Toddtown.  According the journal of 1887, Christ the Redeemer’s mission in Ardmore became well established enough to proceed on its own as an independent church.[12]  In a section entitled “Other Information”, the Church reports “The Ardmore Mission became an independent Mission on the first of May.  Its statistics are not herein included.”[13]  Likewise, in the bishop’s log (each journal has a yearly log of all his major engagements) he writes in the month of December “31st, Friday, Laid the cornerstone of St. Mary’s Church, Ardmore, and made an address”[14].  Finally, in a report from the resigning Reverend of Christ the Redeemer, St. Mary’s is mentioned once more.   The Reverend Shippen Watson of Christ the Redeemer recalls that “about a year ago” he set out to establish an “Ardmore Mission” and that that mission was now so successful it could support itself as an independent church; St. Mary’s Church.[15]  The Rev. Watson furthers reports that it is his hope that St. Mary’s, not be “merely self-supporting” given it is located “wealthy neighborhood”.[16]  “Within a few years”, writes Reverend Watson, “it [St. Mary’s Church] should not only abundantly provide for itself, but extend a hand to weaker and poorer sections…”.[17]  As time would tell, St. Mary’s remained true to the vision of Reverend Watson.  The establishment of this church in Ardmore and its background as once being a mission itself laid the groundwork for the parish to develop a mission of its own—a mission at Toddtown.

The Episcopal Journals: St. Mary's Church

The Journal of 1888 is the first in which St. Mary’s records statistics of its own establishing itself as a stable and enthusiastic community.  In 1888 St. Mary’s records that it consists of “families 52 (individuals 235)”, hosts Sunday School classes and Bible studies, and bought a new organ for $200.[18]  Furthermore, in the section under the heading “Financial Condition”, the Church reports that it has no mortgages or debts on its building nor on the church building land though there is a mortgage of $2,500 on the Rectory lot[19].  By all accounts, St. Mary’s appears to be a solid church and community but what sets it apart and what is telling for its future impact on Toddtown is the final section of its report; the “Other Information” section.  Here, St. Mary’s includes a brief statement referencing its humble beginnings as a “Mission Sunday School with a night service attended by fifteen or twenty people contributing at most $40 per year for its support” but also a statement that speaks confidently of the future.  “A conservative Church service [at St. Mary's Church] has been effective…and a continuance of the same will hold them [the congregation] and largely increase their numbers”.[20]  In like assuredness, the report closes by saying “Unless unduly hampered by private fancies or personal aims S. Mary’s should ere long become as strong numerically and financially as the mother Church at Bryn Mawr”.[21]  Such a statement reflects the enthusiasm and vigor of the newly independent St. Mary’s community and suggests that an imitation of Christ the Redeemer; an imitation of their own history as a mission was what spurred St. Mary’s onward to pursue the formation of a mission at Toddtown.

The Episcopal Journals: The Toddtown Mission

The next available journal found within the confines if this inquiry into Toddtown is the Journal of 1891.  By all accounts St. Mary’s church is doing well in this year.  Though in the 1891 report it does not list families and individual counts for the church congregation, other markers give every indication of a healthy institution and community.  The “Financial Condition” section in particular indicates the soundness of the parish.  By 1891, the parish property is valued at $25,000 up from 18,000 in 1887.[22],[23]  Likewise, there are no new debts to report and the mortgage on the Rectory has been reduced from $2,500 to just $25.[24]  The salary of the Rector increased from $1000 to $1500 per year from 1887 to 1891.[25],[26]  Finally in the “Other Information” portion of the annual report, St. Mary’s records its contributions to various charities as though to say “No time to talk about ourselves anymore.  We are doing, not talking”.  By all available accounts this industriousness continued within the St. Mary’s community through to the year 1895 where it culminated in the development of mission of its own at Toddtown.

The Journal of 1892 exuded a similar general air of soundness for St. Mary’s with little change from 1891.[27]  Though they would perhaps be located with further investigation, the Journals of 1893 and 1894 could not be found in the breadth of this research.  Therefore, at least within the confines of this research, the next year of note for St. Mary’s and a year of particular note for the history of the elusive Toddtown was 1895.   St. Mary’s report in the Journal of 1895 includes that of a “Mission Station” that has a teacher and 63 “scholars”.[28]  In addition, under “Expenditures” there is a note that a sum of $450 was allotted to “fitting up Mission room, current expenses [presumably those of the Mission], and Christmas dinner”[29].   It is not until the last section of the report that Toddtown is mentioned by name.  In lieu of an “Other Information” section, the 1895 journal includes a brief section titled “Toddtown” and records that: “St. Mary’s Mission at Toddtown, under the care of two licensced Lay readers, continues with its good work. The Sunday School is double in numbers, and the attendance at the Mission services is rarely less than seventy persons.”[30]  What serves its function as a report to the Episcopal Church also serves the function of giving historical insight into Toddtown. 

The Episcopal Journals: The Toddtown Mission and Community Life

To recall the words of Reverend Watson’s he hoped that St. Mary’s would “not only abundantly provide for itself, but extend a hand to weaker and poorer sections…”.[31]  True to the Reverend’s vision, St. Mary’s in Ardmore did indeed set out to build up a mission.  That Toddtown was the mission base selected suggests that it was of the more impoverished areas of an otherwise wealthy community.  That it was chosen as a mission gives clues to the wages and quality of life of the mill workers given that they were deemed most in need.  Of course,, Toddtown may also have been selected because it was already a community of some size which made missionary work easier.  But given the set goals for St. Mary’s Church laid out by one of her founders, it seems unlikely that Toddtown was selected by population alone or that the mill workers were anything but of the poorest members of the Lower Merion community.  In addition, the ways in which St. Mary’s decided to reach out to the local community also indicates its areas of need and the type of community Toddtown was. 

Besides ministering to the spiritual needs of the Toddtown community, the ongoing accounts of the Toddtown Mission indicate the need of the Toddtown community.  In the Journal of 1896, the section of the Toddtown Mission reads “There is a Coal Club and a Clothing Club in connection with the Mission that have been of great service to the people”. [32] Furthermore, in that same year, St. Mary’s records in the Toddtown Mission expenditures that $110 were spent on Christmas dinners.[33]  In 1897, this amount increases to $230 for “a Christmas dinner for each family” despite the average attendance to weekly services decreasing from 54 persons to 50 between the two years.[34]  Finally, one last telling number is the weekly offering.  In 1896 contributions were $31.79 with an average attendance of 54 people per week.[35]  In 1897, however, contributions were at $31.43 with an average attendance of 50 persons per week. [36] Therefore, contributions appear to be less than 70 cents per person for these two years alone. For comparison, St. Mary’s parish in Ardmore averaged a contribution of about $13 per person through 1896 and 1897.  These statistics suggest that community was indeed quite depressed and that many of the mill workers lived in a state of some need despite the wealth of much of Lower Merion.  The nature of what the journals can tell, however, decreased around 1900 due to an apparent change in format.

The Episcopal Journals: Fading Information

The Journal of 1900 is the last of those studied (1887 through 1909) that included an “Other Information” section.  The layout of the sections in the Journal which detailed the doings of each individual church of the Diocese of Pennsylvania changed from the less organized, narrative form to a stripped, minimalist account that focused heavily on numerical statistics rather than on words.  As such, insights into the doings of the Toddtown Mission after 1899 are limited and rely on inference.  In 1899, the Mission is noted only in the “Expenditures” section of St. Mary’s annual report (costing the parish $400) and in two brief sentence in “Other Information” which read “St. Mary’s Mission, Mill Creek continues it’s good work.  The expenses are borne by the Rector’s Warden”.[37]  By 1900, the Mission is only mentioned in the overview of Parish activities as its singular mission.  It is not regarded by any name; neither as the Toddtown Mission nor as the St. Mary’s Mission.[38]  In the Journals of 1903 and 1904, the Mission is regarded in the same manner although there is mention of a “Mother’s Meeting (Mill Creek)” that likely refers to an outreach of the Toddtown Mission.[39]  However in subsequent years, it is more difficult than ever to glean much insight about Toddtown from the Journals.  In fact it is not clear from the individual parish report of St. Mary’s if the mission still exists.  There are accounts of donations being made to “Parish Mission Stations” but neither a reference to the room in which the Toddtown Mission met nor a reference to the Toddtown Mission by name can be found.  It may be that somewhere in the years between 1904 and 1909 the Toddtown mission was abandon or perhaps handed over to a different parish.  All the same, these accounts bear testimony to the community that existed within another community and remains an access point to the history of Toddtown.  Yet it is not the only way of getting to know this little known place.

Toddtown Beyond the Episcopal Journals

Some accounts beyond the Episcopal Church journals also draw Toddtown out of the shadows and help form what sort of place within a larger place--Lower Merion--it was.  Such accounts are found in newspaper articles from the time.  Toddtown was not mentioned often nor at length but for a place little known community, every bit helps. Two starkly contrasting accounts shape some insight into Toddtown in particular.  The first is the mention of Toddtown in the Conshohocken Recorder on February 5, 1892.[40]  In a reflective piece, Mill Creek is remembered as it was during ‘the first three years of the war” (presumably the Civil War) as a place of industry as well as a place of “parties, hops, and receptions”.  In particular:

“Sunday was a general holiday and all the men and boys from one end of the creek to the other assembled at “Todd Town,” Derringerville. Everything went. Foot-racing, jumping, boxing, pitching pennies, card playing, clog dancing and drinking ale, principally home-brewed, was indulged in.”[41]

This account reveals a couple of things.  First, Toddtown or Todd town was alive and well as early as the 1860s (assuming it is indeed the Civil War this piece refers to).  It also reveals that Toddtown was a lively place; a place known as the spot to go for conviviality and relaxation among friends.  The account goes on to say that the war took so many men away, that much was left desolate.  Yet it is not clear from either this account or the church journals if Toddtown's poverty is a holdover from the war or if it possible that the lively spirit that was once there was reborn after the war.  Indeed, its not clear what people in Toddtown did for fun or if any gatherings of the likes described in the Recorder in 1890 occurred after the war.   All the same, this account lends itself to the idea that at least at one time, Toddtown was a spirited place and a place with a history extending back as far as the 1860s.  The second account views Toddtown in a grimmer but not necessarily unflattering light.

On December 17, 1888 the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about a murder-suicide that occurred in Toddtown.[42]  A paranoid husband and engineer at the cotton mill of Seth Humphries, concerned that his wife was being unfaithful shot her and himself in their home in Toddtown.  Details of the tragedy suggest some things about Toddtown.  First, the account reports that Toddtown is situated “within a mile and a half from Conshohocken and about six miles from Norristown”; helpful information given that Toddtown does not appear on  map.  Second, the public reaction to the crime and the evident shock of the community suggests that violence was not a common occurrence in Toddtown.  In addition, it is perhaps worth noting that the account of the events records that the son of John Ferguson, the deranged mill worker, ran to alert his aunt on who lived on the same street and she in turn flagged down a neighbor to enter the home with her, fearing what she might find.  Though the circumstances are grime, all these details suggest a close knit community.  Of course, however, these are very limited samplings of Toddtown but samplings they remain, nonetheless.  Combined with the Episcopal Church records, these accounts serve to add to the information that would slowly solidify Toddtown as a place and map its impact on Lower Merion.  With a subject like Toddtown, where research is sparse, details, though they may prove misleading, are worth considering and worth using as points of further inquiry.

Implications and Inquiry

The disappearance of Toddtown itself, just like its appearance, remains mysterious.   The land of William H. Todd was sold at a Sheriff’s sale on March 16, 1878 after Todd fell into debt.[43]  The new owner, Gilbert Fox was a Norristown attorney.[44]  From 1890 until 1910, records are sparse but in 1910 the land, according to atlases from the time, was incorporated into the rambling estate of Percival Roberts Junior, an enormously successful businessman of the steel industry.[45]  Of course, it is likely that the “Toddtown” name did not confine itself to the land of William H. Todd alone.  It may have expanded beyond or contracted within the original dimensions of its namesake’s property.  That, like so many aspects of the place, remains to be seen.  So what can be taken away from this inquiry into Toddtown?


Percival Roberts Jr., wealthy businessman and the eventually owner (by 1910) of all of former property of William H. Tod (Courtesy of the Lower Merion Historical Society)

First and foremost is that Toddtown challenges conventional ideas about place.  The community that existed in Toddtown, a community quite different from those that surrounded it and a community that interacted with its contrasting wealthy neighbors, suggests a new level of complexity to the history of place.  As mentioned previously, Toddtown does not appear on maps and as this research has reiterated, there is little information about it in detail. Yet, there is enough information to see that histories of place have layers and sometimes those layers are not visible in without a bit of digging.  First impressions and generalizations about place can be misleading and/or incomplete.

Second,  the research process involved in only thickening the outline of the still unclear Toddtown suggests that one need not abandon making any claims about place without complete knowledge of elusive towns and communities.  Toddtown offers for consideration the idea that it is important to be aware of place in a sense that extends beyond well chronicled communities and large cities.  Yet, it would absurd to expect historical research to only make claims about place if all communities could be accounted for.  Indeed, historical research could not move forward.  Therefore, an awareness and an open mind with regards to place is appropriate but an obsession is not.

Finally, what is most apparent about Toddtown is that there is a wealth of information still waiting to be uncovered.  The church Journals provide a good starting place for unlocking the secrets of this community but they also suggest that there are more points of inquiry to be found.  Who knows? Maybe Toddtown itself is only one piece of many hidden towns and communities that influenced what sort of place Lower Merion was in the past and is today.


[1]  “The Mills”, The Lower Merion Historical Society, May 3, 2015,

[2]  Ibid.

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Montgomery County Records Office, Deed: Henry Deringer to William H. Todd, February 27, 1849

[5]  Ibid.

[6]  Montgomery Country Record Office, Deed: Rebecca Priest to William H. Todd, March 7, 1860

[7]  Montgomery County Record Office, Deed: John D. Jones to William H. Todd, April 4, 1867

[8]  “Main Line Atlases Collection”, The Lower Merion Historical Society, May 3, 2015

[9]  Jean K. Wolf, United States Department of the Interior National Park Service National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Newton Township: 2002),

[10]  Ibid.

[11]  Ibid.

[12]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Third Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Collins Printing House, Philadelphia 1887, 156

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Journal of One-Hundred and Third Convention, Philadelphia 1887, 55

[15]  Journal of One-Hundred and Third Convention, Philadelphia 1887, 256

[16]  Ibid.

[17]  Ibid.

[18]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Fourth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Press of MaCalla and Co., Philadelphia 1888, 172

[19]  Ibid.

[20]  Journal of One-Hundred and Fourth Convention, Philadelphia 1888, 173

[21]  Ibid.

[22]  Journal of One-Hundred and Third Convention, Philadelphia 1887, 156

[23]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Seventh Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Collins Printing House., Philadelphia 1891, 168

[24]  Ibid.

[25]  Journal of One-Hundred and Third Convention, Philadelphia 1887, 156

[26]  Journal of One-Hundred and Seventh Convention, Philadelphia 1887, 168

[27]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Eighth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Collins Printing House., Philadelphia 1892, 227

[28]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Eleventh Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Press of Avil Printing Co., Philadelphia 1895, 212

[29]  Ibid.

[30]  Ibid.

[31]  Journal of One-Hundred and Third Convention, Philadelphia 1887, 256

[32]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Twelfth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Press of Avil Printing Co., Philadelphia 1896, 198

[33]  Ibid.

[34]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Thirteenth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Press of Avil Printing Co., Philadelphia 1897, 213

[35]   Journal of the One-Hundred and Twelfth, Philadelphia 1896, 198

[36]  Journal of the One-Hundred and Thirteenth, Philadelphia 1897, 214

[37]    Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Fifeenth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Press of Avil Printing Co., Philadelphia 1899, 193

[38]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Sixteenth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Press of Avil Printing Co., Philadelphia 1900, 177

[39]  Journal of the Proceedings of the One-Hundred and Nineteenth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, Press of Avil Printing Co., Philadelphia 1903, 193

[40]  Conshohocken Free Library: Conshohocken Recorder Collection, February 5, 1892,  

[41]   Ibid.

[42]  America’s Historical Newspapers, Philadelphia Inquirer, December 17, 1888 “Murder and Suicide: An Engineer Kills His Wife and Shoots Himself”,

[43]  Montgomery Country Record Office, Deed Poll: Jacob Lyson Sheriff to Gilbert R. Fox, March 16, 1878

[44]  Ruoff, Henry Wilson, Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery Co. Pennsylvania, Biographical Publishing Co,. Pennslyvania, 1895, 88

[45], Year: 1910; Census Place: Lower Merion, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1378; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0093; FHL microfilm: 1375391