The Philadelphia Main Line Real Estate Agency
|Bala-Cynwyd was settled
in 1682 by Edward Jones and seventeen families of Welsh Quakers. John Roberts, a
took up his claim to 150 acres, paid the surveyor in barley, and named his tract
"Pencoyd" for ancestral holdings in Caernarvonshire, Wales. His strip of land,
which began at the Schuylkill and formed part of the eastern border of the present
township, was adjacent to land of Gainer (nee) Roberts, the woman he married in 1684. The
history of the area is threaded with the names of people who trace their ancestry to John
and Gainer Roberts.
Bala-Cynwyd, once called Merionville and its post office Academyville, is bounded by City Line Avenue, Old Lancaster Road, Parsons Avenue, Levering Mill Road, Manayunk Road to Belmont Hills, and the Schuylkill. The names Bala and Cynwyd were selected by Mrs. George B. Roberts, the wife of a descendant of John Roberts. George Roberts was president of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1880 to 1897, during which time the railroad built its Schuylkill Valley branch. Mrs. Roberts chose the names for the three stations: Bala, for the ancestral land in Wales, Cynwyd, and Barmouth because of their Welsh origins. Further Welsh influences can be found in the names of such roads as Llandrillo, Llanberris, and Clwyd.
Early industry was predominantly farming, milling, ice harvesting, quarrying, and iron manufacturing. Gulley Run supplied the power to operate numerous mills, and the hills on either side of it were quarried for several varieties of stone. Ice was cut from a pond behind a dam across Gulley Run. Two leading ice companies, Knickerbocker and John C. Hancock, harvested ice on the Schuylkill and stored it in huge stone buildings along the waterfront. In 1890 the water was found to be polluted and the companies moved to sites on the Perkiomen. The Glen Willow Ice Company had to be razed when the expressway was built.
The Pencoyd Iron Works, founded in 1852 by Percival and Algernon Roberts, and located along the Schuylkill, became famous for the manufacture of metal bridges. In 1900 it merged with the American Bridge Company, which later became a major component in the formation of the United States Steel Corporation.
The growth of the City Line area, also known as the Golden Mile, began in the early 1930s. At that time three heirs still living on Pencoyd land, T. William Roberts, Mrs. Algernon Roberts, and G. Brinton Roberts, gave the township a strip of land fifteen feet wide along their respective properties on City Line Avenue to widen the roadway. The extension of the Schuylkill Expressway to City Line opened the area to a tremendous building and development boom.
Two of the largest cemeteries of the Philadelphia suburbs are in Bala-Cynwyd: West Laurel Hill, originally 197 acres, established in 1869: and
Westminster Cemetery, 92 acres, incorporated in 1893. The former is the resting place of Anna Jarvis, founder in 1908 of Mother's Day. A third cemetery, Merion Memorial Park, situated on Bryn Mawr Avenue at Rock Hill Road, was established in 1888 for Negroes and Chinese. James A. Bland, the composer of "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," "O, Dem Golden Slippers," and hundreds more songs, is buried here. Harry Wright, the father of professional baseball, is represented by a life-size statue.
The Lower Merion Library, organized March 15, 1915, began in the old Lower Merion Academy building that had been built in 1812 at Bryn Mawr Avenue and Levering Mill Road. After some years in the Union Fire House it moved to a new building on Levering Mill Road, which was built under the auspices of, and next to, the Bala-Cynwyd Woman's Club.lt was dedicated in 1927 as the "Bala-Cynwyd Memorial Library honoring the men who lost their lives in World War I." In 1974 the library moved to a larger, new building, which also housed the Bala Elementary School. The school soon closed because of decreasing enrollment. Meanwhile, the Woman's Club of Bala-Cynwyd regained its building on Levering Mill Road, renamed it "Levering Mill House, " and in 1975 converted it for the use of senior citizens. The township finances its operations. The Woman's Club, a civic, social, and cultural organization, holds an annual antique show, begun in 1942. Extensive additions to the club's building were completed in 1955; facilities are made available rent-free to many local groups. Another women's group, the Junior Woman's Club of Bala-Cynwyd, was founded in 1919 and disbanded in 1979.
Bala-Cynwyd residents had a baseball team in the Main Line Baseball League in the early twenties. Tennis has been available at the Cynwyd Club since 1913, with squash and bowling introduced later. The Riverside Racquetball Club on Righters Ferry Road opened in 1977, offering tennis and racquetball. Sports facilities at the schools are also open to other groups, and public tennis courts are available at Belmont Avenue Playground and Bala Avenue Playground. Use of the courts dates from 1917, according to the files of the Lower Marion Planning Commission. Belmont Park also has a baseball diamond, paths for walking and jogging, play equipment, and huge rocks in the creek bed which the children call "the whales." Gulley Run Park, at Bryn Mawr Avenue and Manayunk Road, is a small picnic area with the creek running through the middle.
A men's bridge club, the Hamilton Club, founded in 1887 in West Philadelphia, moved to Bala-Cynwyd in 1956. The Neighborhood Club of Bala-Cynwyd, organized in 1907, serves the community. A pamphlet, Your Bala-Cynwyd, published about 1937, stated that the group "promoted more frequent trolley service to Bala; improved train service; originated action for mail delivery; investigated purity of water supply, with the result that the state Department of Health ordered changes; underwrote half the cost of ninety-five candlepower lamps for streets; obtained the local telephone exchange; obtained over one hundred new street signs; obtained improved garbage ordinances; obtained many highway and sidewalk improvements; cleaned up vacant lots; opposed increased assessment rates; and secured the building of a new Cynwyd bridge over the railroad." The Neighborhood Club arranges Fourth of July festivities that include a parade, band concert, children's races, and an award to the "Bala-Cynwyd Citizen of the Year."
The fire company was begun in 1900 by Algernon Roberts and Emanuel Reyenthaler. It was chartered as the Union Fire Association in 1903, and located at 149 Montgomery Avenue.
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