Ask most people where the name Bryn Mawr (which means "high hill" in Welsh) came from, and they'd presume a dramatic tale of Welsh courage and spirit - with mist and thesound of stirring music in the background. The truth is less thrilling: it was aname given by Welsh Quaker Rowland Ellis in 1704 to the estate now known as HarritonHouse. And if there were fewer trees today around the house it would be possible toactually see the hill, rather than merely feel it.
He actually named his new estate after his ancestral farmstead, Bryn Mawr Farm. Itwas located in the county of Meirionethshire near the northwest coat of Wales, wherehe had been born in 1650.
Bruce Cooper Gill, executive director of the Harriton Association, knows a lot aboutthis house and its hill. The house and lot are actually owned by Lower MerionTownship, who took possession of it through eminent domain in 1969 using funds raisedby the Harriton Association, which bears the costs of the facility. The townshipactually pays nothing for its upkeep. The house is open to the public, but its smallsize limits groups inside to 15 at any one time.
The house was built in 1704 by Ellis, who was what's called "first purchaser" of theland in Pennsylvania. He received the land patent for 695 acres of a 5000-acre tractof land given to "Company #7," one of the nine Welsh companies receiving land. Theparcel was called "Meirion in the Welsh Tract" and was as part of a much larger 45,000or 50,000-acre tract known as the Welsh Barony.
This tract formed something of a ring around the City of Philadelphia and was settledby Welsh Quakers who wanted a Welsh-speaking self-governing township in Penn's colony. As a political entity it didn't work out, but the Welsh did settle here, speak theirown language and deal with each other out in the country.
Ellis was a significant member of his Welsh community, serving as a member of theAssembly and as an overseer of the Quaker schools in Philadelphia. In addition he wasa translator in the marketplace, a justice of the peace and a tax assessor. He builthimself a substantial house 10 miles from the town of Philadelphia.
Back then 10 miles was a long way to go, pretty much outside of civilization. "At thattime there's nothing here, no roads, no bridges, no neighbors, nothing," says Gill."But then Ellis goes bankrupt," he says. He mortgages the place with no income fromthe property, and has to sell it.
The name changes
The name change of the house and estate came in 1719 with Ellis' sale of the propertyto Maryland tobacco planter Richard Harrison. "It was Harrison for whom the house wasnamed," he says. From 1720 to about 1745, when he died, Ellis grew tobacco here withslaves. Much like Norriton, the name gave by Harrison's prominent Quakerfather-in-law, Isaac Norris, to his estates across the river. Harrison added theending to a shortened version of his own name, perhaps reminiscent of British townnames ending in "ton" for town or perhaps as a compliment to his father-in-law.
At that time the name of Bryn Mawr vanishes into obscurity until 150 years later whenthe Pennsylvania Railroad assigned Welsh names to most of its new stations along theMain Line. Since these stations also often included post offices, older communitiesoften changed their names to end confusion. The nearby village of Humphreysvillechanged its name to Bryn Mawr.
|Jacek Krankowski (X)|
PRO pts in pair: 15