The Freedom Valley Chronicles: Three Presidents – Part One

Three of the municipalities in the Freedom Valley – Conshohocken Borough, Plymouth Township, and Whitemarsh Township – are among a number of communities that have roadways named after American Presidents.

Within these three municipalities, you will find Jefferson Street in the Plymouth Meeting Postal District (pictured above) and Lincoln Lane and Washington Street in the Conshohocken Postal District.

President Thomas Jefferson

President Thomas Jefferson is honored through Jefferson Street in Plymouth Township.  The roadway goes from Ridge Pike to Fairfield Road and then from Fairfield Road to Penn Road.  It is predominantly a residential street lined with single-family houses.

On May 9, 1842, the Gettysburg Compiler printed a letter from an individual relating how President Jefferson settled a dispute with two men from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.  The letter detailed how these two young men had entered into an agreement with the President to lease a mill at Monticello in Virginia.

The President had made a commitment to build a cooper’s shop as part of the lease, but did not do so.  He was, after all, busy being President.  The letter explained that the two tenants from Montgomery County proceeded to build the cooper’s shop themselves and then billed their landlord – Thomas Jefferson – for the cost.  No settlement was reached on this matter initially.

The father of one of the men from Montgomery County, according to the letter in the Gettysburg Compiler, took over negotiations with President Jefferson.  It was the negotiations between these two men that showed the type of man that served the United States as our third President.

When the negotiations hit a roadblock, the letter explained, the father stated “Well, friend Jefferson, it has always been my practice through life to yield rather than contend.”

With that, the President concurred and resolved the dispute.

The letter writer noted that the President and the father remained friends until death.

The letter writer also noted that thousands of disputes could be resolved every year through this simple process – yield rather than contend.

President Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Lane is located in Andorra Acres, near Spring Mill and Cedar Grove Roads in Whitemarsh Township.  Houses were built in this neighborhood starting in 1952;  home prices began at $13,990.  The lane became a public street in 1956 through the actions of the Board of Supervisors.

The namesake of Lincoln Lane – President Abraham Lincoln – is known by many people as the man who led the United States during the American Civil War.

Many Americans, though, may not know some aspects of the leadership of our 16th President.

According to The Adams Sentinel in Gettysburg on August 4, 1863, President Lincoln had not taken his salary as President for the preceding year.  The newspaper indicated that the President had been quoted by a friend as saying that the United States needed the use of the money as much as any person.  To put this date in context, President Lincoln issued his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

The birthday of President Lincoln – the actual date of his birth, not the date of Presidents Day – has itself impacted the United States of America in ways beyond a national holiday.

What we call “Black History Month” began as “Negro History Week” in 1926.  Dr. Carter Woodson, an American educator who was the son of former slaves, created this week to recognize the contributions of Negroes.  The week chosen by Dr. Woodson was the second week of February to correspond to the birthday of Abraham Lincoln – February 12th – and the birthday of Frederick Douglass – February 14th.

Mr. Douglass was among prominent as well as ordinary folk who spoke out against slavery at Abolition Hall in Plymouth Meeting.  The national significance of Abolition Hall was recognized by the Federal Government on February 18, 1971, when Abolition Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Through the years, the week-long activities had expanded into a month-long celebration.  It was through another President that what began as a civic initiative as Negro History Week became a national celebration as Black History Month.  It was President Gerald Ford – our 38th President – who, on behalf of the United States, first officially proclaimed Black History Month in 1976.

(While the Borough of West Conshohocken does have a Ford Street, that roadway is not named after President Ford.  Instead, the street is named after the ford – the river crossing – of the Schuylkill between West Conshohocken and Conshohocken.)

President George Washington

Our first President, George Washington, is recognized through Washington Street, located within both the Borough of Conshohocken and Whitemarsh Township.  As the general in charge of the Continental Army, President Washington traveled extensively throughout the Freedom Valley.

George Washington actually did sleep in a number of places in this area.

According to the Borough of Conshohocken, Washington Street was initially designed to be a major commercial street in the borough.  It evolved, though, into more of a street focused on industry and rail traffic.  Today, Washington Street is home to a number of office buildings, residential complexes, and a hotel.  Rail activity is still strong as passengers are able board trains off of Washington Street in Conshohocken through train service provided by SEPTA.

In the Freedom Valley – beyond Washington Street – a fire company, a cemetery, a state park, and a village are also named after President Washington.  President Lincoln had also been honored through the former Lincoln Fire Company.  We’ll discuss these aspects in Part Two.

The photos are courtesy of the Library of Congress.  The image of President Thomas Jefferson is a bust portrait by T. Johnson, 1887.  The image of President Abraham Lincoln is photograph by Anthony Berger, 1864.  The image of President George Washington is titled as the Carroll Portrait of the portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1900-1912.

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© 2018 Richard McDonough