Stories like the one below are why I still like local newspapers. I’m a history buff and this short article provided me with an excellent summary of the history of my community. I live a few miles from Harleysville and drive past this Inn a few times per week. I did not know how the name Harleysville came about. Now I do. There are mutliple roads with the name Clemens. There was a grocery chain named Clemens before they sold out to Giant. The Clemens family runs Hatfield Meats. These family names go back to the 1700s.
There are still many farms in this area, but it has been mostly suburbanized. Only 35 years ago, this area was still mostly farmland and woods. Now it is the home to thousands of McMansions, older houses, and townhomes. Sumneytown Pike is still the main road, as it was in 1735. The item that really caught my attention was the fact that there was trolley from Harleysville to Norristown that opened in 1912. The story said that it allowed people to easily get to all the new factories in Norristown.
Today there is no sign of a trolley line between Harleysville and Norristown. I have no idea where this trolley line existed. I found it fascinating that they described Norristown as a vibrant factory town. Today, there are NO factories in Norristown. It is a crime ridden cespool. The town is completely inhabited by poor black people. You DO NOT drive through Norristown after dark.
I believe that Jim Kunstler’s vision of the future will come true. When Peak Oil brings a halt to our sprawling suburban lifestyle, we will be forced to localize. Harleysville started out as a farming community with a trolley line. In order to survive The Long Emergency, local farming and local travel will be the only option. I wish that trolley line still existed. I think it would come in handy in the next 20 years. What goes around, comes around.
A walk down memory lane in Harleysville
Along with churches, inns and taverns were the main gathering places in Montgomery County in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Virtually every town had at least one popular tavern. And all the taverns, in addition to serving beer, wine and liquor, provided rooms for weary travelers.
One such establishment was the still existing, still popular Harleysville Hotel, built in 1848 and located at the corner of Route 63 and Maple Avenue in Harleysville. There was an earlier tavern on the same site, built way back in 1750 by John Isaac Klein.
According to historical documents provided by the present owner of the Harleysville Hotel, Leon Florentino, Lower Salford was just countryside, with virtually no dwellings, when the original tavern was built.
There was a mill, built in 1726, owned by Gerhard Clemens. But there was little else. In fact, as the historical documents further point out, “Lower Salford was just farmland without any real geographic focus for the first 100 years of its history.”
For a long time the only other visible change in the Harleysville area other than the tavern was the construction of a few more mills.
According to Bean’s History of Montgomery County, stagecoaches stopped at the tavern and delivered passengers as well as mail. Next to the tavern, Bean’s history continues, was a stable where travelers could rent horses. Weddings and other social functions were held at the tavern. Also popular there were greased pig chases, which spawned stories that were told in Harleysville for many years.
Klein’s tavern was sold in 1768 to Nicholas Schwenk, a blacksmith and wealthy landowner.
Samuel Harley, for whom Harleysville is named, bought the tavern, the historical documents say, in 1795 and kept it until 1835.
The main catalyst to the actual beginning and eventual growth of Harleysville and the surrounding area, according to the documents, was the construction of the Maxatawny Road (now Sumneytown Pike) in 1735.
Being an enterprising individual, John Isaac Klein saw the great opportunity afforded by the increased traffic that would come to the area and consequently built a two-story inn and tavern.
Interestingly, Maxatawny Road continued to have a significant impact on the growth of the area for many more years. For instance, as Bean’s History states, in 1848 the “road was taken over by a private company, graded and covered with stones.” Of course, the improved road conditions increased traffic once again.
That same year a man named James Price bought the inn, tore it down and put up a new building: a three-story hotel that had 19 guest rooms.
Soon a general store was built across the street. In short order other businesses and private dwellings sprang up on Maxatawny Road, and it naturally became the main artery of what would become Harleysville.
By the late 1880s, according to Bean’s History, “Harleysville had a population of 250 people, who lived in about 45 houses.”
The Harleysville area was energized even more in 1912 with the arrival of the trolley from Norristown, which, according to the documents, gave “residents in the village an opportunity to travel to work in the many factories of Norristown.”
Many different families owned the hotel over its many years of existence
Somewhere along the way an owner plastered over the fieldstone walls of the hotel. One of the first things Florentino did when he bought the hotel was chip away all the plaster, inside and out, restoring the building to its 18th century appearance.
He also made other changes. He enclosed the front porch and made it into a dining room; exposed a hidden open-hearth fireplace and opened a sealed chimney. He also put in walk-in refrigerators, and remodeled the bar and surrounding dining area.