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Views of Narberth Past

General Wayne smithy, about 1920

Image source: Collection of the Lower Merion Historical Society

Addresses in view: 606 Montgomery Ave. (†1930)

modern view of the historical image seen from the same viewpoint
20 Jul 2019

A blacksmith shop stood at this location across from the General Wayne Inn since the 18th century; it was said to have shod General Cornwallis's horse during the Revolution.

Circa 1895. Timothy Murphy owned the property in the 1890s and early 1900s and lived in the house behind. Timothy, 53, was one of three Murphys listed as blacksmiths at this location in the 1900 census, along with his father Timothy, 84, and David, 39. This may explain why the two look like twins! Source: Library Company of Philadelphia LCP P.9858.6; printed in Laura Beardsley, Historic Photos of the Main Line, p. 24.

Narberth’s last blacksmith

a row of 12 men and 2 boys, many wearing work aprons and holding backsmith tools
Workers at Parsons Carriage & Wagon Builders, Merionville, undated. Thomas Fleming almost certainly worked here as Horse Shoer c.1890-1905, when he was in his 30s or 40s. Lower Merion Historical Society

Thomas Fleming, the last blacksmith to work its forge, emigrated from County Sligo, Ireland in 1888. Eight-year-old Mary Brennan, also from Sligo, had preceded him in 1880. They found each other, married in Bryn Mawr in 1894 and moved to Merionville[1]. Thomas worked as a Horse Shoer, almost certainly in the Parsons Blacksmith Shop, which stood at Parsons Ave. and Ford Rd. He was successful enough by 1908 to acquire the Narberth smithy property, which included a twin dwelling, today's 610 Montgomery Ave. For the next 16 years, the Flemings lived in its left half and rented out the right. But times were changing. Narberth in 1900 had 857 inhabitants and six blacksmiths. By 1920, the numbers were 3,704 and one, Thomas.

…replaced by first gas station

head and shoulders face-on photo of a midlle-aged woman in a plain dark dress
Mary Fleming, age 53, passport application photo (1924)

After Thomas died in 1924, Mary petitioned the borough to allow the property to be sold for use as a gas station, despite its residential zoning. Her lawyer successfully argued that this constituted a permitted continuation of its previous use, that a gas station was the same kind of business, indeed a "logical successor", to a blacksmith shop.[2] So in 1930 Mary sold the property to Standard Oil of Pennsylvania (Esso) and a gas station, the first in Narberth, soon replaced the 200-year-old smithy.[3] As the first post-colonial commercial structure on Narberth's Montgomery Avenue, it foreshadowed the strip's commercial future, as well.

newspaper clipping, 2 panels: power shovel and bellows taller than two men holding it upright
"Tearing Down Old Blacksmith Shop Dating from Revolutionary Days" (1930). Lower Merion Historical Society, Swartz collection
Transcription

Tearing Down Old Blacksmith Shop Dating from Revolutionary Days

The power shovel is shown at its biting work of demolishing the old landmark at Montgomery and Haverford avs., near Narberth. The ancient shop, the stone walls of which were two feet thick, is making way for an automobile gas station.

The Bellows used by the "smithy," who is said to have shod the chargers of General Howe and Lord Cornwallis during the British occupation of Philadelphia, are in a fair state of preservation. Standing beside the bellows are Charles H. Pararja, who is superintending the building, and Warren Austin, an electrician.

References

  1. Merionville was located at the junction of Montgomery, Levering Mill and Old Lancaster Roads in Merion.
  2. "Many Air Views at Zone Meeting", Our Town, July 23, 1927
  3. "John Odell, owner of the General Wayne, wanted to save it from the wreckers when they cleared the site for the present gas station. However, the cost of moving the historic structure across Montgomery Ave was estimated at $3,500, and Odell had no place to put it, anyhow." —Main Line Chronicle, Narberth 75th Anniversary supplement, 1970 (PDF), p. 18.