Farmers Sell Land to John Pitcairn for New Church Community and School (1891)

1891rrmapjpeg.jpg“These Sweden-Bordian (sic) are trying to buy all the place around . . .” This statement, recorded 115 years ago (December 9th, 1891) in a young girl’s diary, presages the founding of Bryn Athyn, a New Church community. Her parents, Charles and Mary Holt, sold the family farm in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, to John Pitcairn on December 7th, through the agency of Robert Glenn. John and Gertrude Pitcairn would eventually purchase a number of local farms, amounting to more than five hundred acres—enough land to accommodate Cairnwood (the Pitcairn family’s estate), the New Church community, and the Academy of the New Church campus. Plans for the entire settlement were drawn up in 1893 by Charles Eliot, of the famous landscape architecture firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot. (Frederick Law Olmsted, regarded today as the father of American landscape architecture, designed Central Park in New York City.)

The Holt family papers, including a copy of the sale agreement, are in the collection of The Old York Road Historical Society. The girl’s diary paints a remarkable picture of late 19th century farm life in the area that was renamed Bryn Athyn less than ten years later. She mentions threshing oats, making a pig pen, killing a hog, making scrapple, sewing, cutting wood, and getting goods ready for market. Interestingly, Robert Glenn brought a former neighbor of the Holts (Mr. Knight) with him during one of his visits to their home. The Knight farm, adjacent to the Holt farm, had been bought by the Pitcairns two years earlier.

The diary entries below begin in November of 1891 and continue into December:

“27. clear. getting ready for Market. Mr. Glenn and Mr. Knight were here and made an offer of $350 an Acre for our place. Mr. Knight here to supper. Papa and mother told him they would accept it.

28. fair. Mother and Jesse in Market. Mr. Glenn and Mr. Knight at the market to see mother, she signed an aggrement (sic), they gave her a check for two hundred dollars. Mr. Glenn came up here in the afternoon to get Papa’s signature. Jesse, Anna and I at the school entertaining at Odd Fellows Hall at Huntingdon this evening. . . .

Dec. 1. fair. . . . Mr. Knight here awhile this afternoon . . .

7. stormy. Mr. Glenn here wrote the aggrement (sic) Papa and mother signed it, he gave them a check for eight hundred dollars making with the two hundred dollar check one thousand dollars paid on the place. Threshing oats, sewing. Jesse took Anna to school this morning. George and Sallie Emerson here to supper. . . .

8. fair . . . We heard that Fell’s have sold their place too.

9. clear. Killed a hog Christian Fosster (sic) helped, he has sold his place to Glenn too, he is to get $370 an acre. These Sweden-Bordian (sic) are trying to buy all the place around . . . mother and Jesse went up near Hatboro to look at a farm but they did not like the looks of it. . . .

17. wood. Mr. Fosster (sic) and his wife here this eve to see us make scrapple. Mr. Glenn here and got the ‘deeds’. . .

18. cool. Getting ready for market. Fosster’s (sic) made their scrapple in our kettle this morning and cut their sausage in our chopper. Man cutting wood, making a small pig-pen. Papa got two pigs at Mr. Frank’s yesterday. . . .”

Thanks to The Old York Road Historical Society for permission to publish the above diary excerpt. For more information about the founding of Bryn Athyn, see the following:

Early Maps of Bryn Athyn, a New Church Community (2005)

Bryn Athyn: The Founding of a Religious Community in the Gilded Age (1994)

Bryn Athyn and the Academy of the New Church (1904)

December 7, 2006 | Posted by: Ed Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact