The Story of Castle Rock

The story of Castle Rock begins a billion years ago, which is the date given by the scientists as they tested the radioactive materials found in the rocks. Many millions of years ago before the appearance of animals or man, when there was great volcanic activity on our planet, a very hot liquid containing the elements of oxygen, silicon, magnesium, and iron slowly cooled and solidified deep beneath the surface of the earth. Then, as it was forced to the surface, it probably was changed by the heat, water, and pressure it encountered. Erosion enables us, at present, to see the rock, which is called by geologists, a pyrexnite chiefly containing enstatite, hypersthene and elevine.

The first known humans in our historical past were the Lenni-Lenape Indians, who hunted in the woods and fished Crum Creek. William Penn bought the land from them and gave land grants to fellow Englishmen, many of them Quakers. The township of Edgmont was named by Joseph Baker, one of the earliest settlers, who came from the royal manor of Edgmond in Shrepshire. In 1862 Samuel Bradshaw was given 240 acres, mostly farmland, in the Castle Rock area.

The land in the immediate vicinity of the “Rocks” is sparse, but it is aptly named, for it resembles a forest fortress. About the time of the Revolutionary War, Sandy Flash used it for one of his lairs. The crags provided an excellent lookout and the cavesshelter.

James Fitzpatrick was the real name of the bandit. Because he was a romantic Robin Hood figure, many stories are told about him. “Captain Fitz”, as he was also known, was born in Chester County. As a young boy, he was indentured to a blacksmith by his Irish father, who was in financial difficulties. This work gave him his great body strength. He was pictured as being tall with luxurious sandy-colored hair. He joined the Revolutionary Army and was flogged for some breach of discipline. He ran away, but was captured in Philadelphia. He greatly resented the ‘unjust’ beating and deserted to join the British forces. He took part in the Battle of Brandywine.

His mother lived in a log cabin along the Crum Creek, near the present-day Springton Reservoir. Chased there by American soldiers, he eluded his pursuers and went to Castle Rock, which became a base for his robberies. The house at the corner of Newtown Street Road and Goshen Road was a tavern in those days and also served, at times, as a hideout. Sandy’s prime victims were Whig tax collectors, but he did not overlook wealthy land owners and merchants. He also had a talent for knocking over a tavern when the till was filled with cash. Once, a tale has it, he held up the old President Inn, West Chester Pike and Providence Road. Particularly abashed, as Sandy cowed them with drawn pistols, were members of a posse, who had been out searching for him had dropped in for a quick drink. He came in, ordered a drink, drank it and left before anyone recovered from astonishment.

He reportedly gave some of his ‘loot’ to the people in need.He also lavished gifts on young women as he fancied. Men, whom he caught and imprisoned, sometimes felt his whip. A local ditty went like this:

“Some he did rob, then he let them go free,
Bold Capt. McGowan he tied to a tree.
Some he did whip and some he did spare,
He caught Capt. MeGowan and cut off his hair.”

One of the women Sandy may have fancied proved his undoing. He relaxed his guard while robbing a farmhouse, now owned by the Widings, and was overpowered by the owner and his servant girl. They shared the $1,000 reward. So, James Fitzpatrick was hung in Chester in 1778 to the relief of citizens for miles around. For many years people would come to search the ‘Rocks” for his cache of gold. Finally, in the 1930’s, the caves were blasted shut for safety’s sake.

In 1807 a saw mill was started just below Castle Rock on Crum Creek. By 1812 two distilleries and a grist mill were added. These were built and maintained by the people who lived in eight tenant houses and by the owner who lived in a mansion. In 1896 fire destroyed the operations. North of West Chester Pike across from Castle Rock where Mrs. Thayer now lives at the end of Shimmer Lane on Crum Creek, lived John Shimer. He operated a cotton lap factory in 1885. Wagons loaded with bales of raw cotton would come up Providence Road from the Chester docks to the small factories located mostly along the creeks in the area. There, the raw cotton was made into a
roll preparatory to carding.

There were many anti-slavery activities in this area. Many residents still were Quakers. It is reported that run-away slaves were sometimes concealed in the bales of cotton, and the slave hunters would thrust long rods into the bales to detect them. The former hideout of Sandy Flash, in the tavern at Goshen Road, was a station in the underground railroad. The Civil War ended the source of cotton and the factories closed. Many burned down due to its combustibility of the cotton material.

Thirty-three acres of Castle Rock were purchased in 1895 by the Philadelphia Chester Traction Company. In 1899 an amusement park was opened to popularize the trolley line. The ‘Rocks’ resounded with music and merriment. The summer open-air trolleys brought many people drawn by the shooting galleries, a balloon ascension ride, and a dance pavilion. On weekends a cornetist, playing from the top of the rocks, was a featured attraction. In the vicinity of 3 Rock Ridge Road was a carousel. A roller coaster may have gone down the slope into the cow field.

In 1905 a stone crusher was set up to crush the rocks to use as a ballast for the trolley line, but the rocks proved too hard to crush. Remains of the crusher at 13 Chestnut Road were buried in 1961, when the Pike was being rebuilt. The open-air trolleys were stopped about 1620. In 1923 Governor Pinchot instituted his “Good Roads Program” and the Pike, which had been a dirt road until then, was paved.

From about 1918 on, picnics were held at Castle Rock by the Sunday School of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia and by groups from the Boys’ and Girls’ Guilds. Because of the trolley line, which provided an excellent ride in the pre-automobile days, Castle Rock was an ideal spot for picnics. The feeling grew that it would also be ideal for summer weekend camping. Veterans from World War 1, who needed rehabilitation, found this environment beneficial. According to a record in 1924, the weekend camp was fairly established, but had not been named. That summer, it became “Camp Venture” and was held on the property called “ The Davis Farm”. This actually was below the fence, parallel to Spruce Road, in the cow field belonging to the Cochranes. Families from the Baptist Church came bringing their own tents, but there was communal cooking.

The Sanctuary at 12 Spruce Road, remodeled by the Kaizar’s was built with the help of World War 1 veterans and was dedicated to Mary Hansell, who was in charge of the Community Center at the church. Tent camping gradually outgrew the weekend type, and in 1924, it became a week-bag camp for the children from the Center. Permanent buildings were erected. The pool was built in 1937 bringing added recreation and relief from the very hot weather. Previously, swimming had been in Crum Creek, at the dam across from the West Chester power station and for two summers at Ellis College School. In addition to the groups from the Community Center, the Philadelphia Chinese Community kept the camp full in the two weeks allotted to them.

When the Davis farm was sold, it was necessary to move the more permanent camp buildings. Then, what is now Oak Circle, was purchased from the bank, which held the property. The buildings were moved in 1943. There were about eight cabins, an arts and crafts cabin, and a large mess hall. Gradually with the changing economy in center city, the need for the camp lessened and in 1961 it seemed impossible to continue. More people owned cars and travel, especially to seashore resorts, lured them away. From the beginning the guiding light of Camp Venture was Florence Scott, who directed the worthwhile work. The property was sold in 1963 to a builder.

In the twenties the Traction Company sold most of the area William Bricker, a real estate developer, who had farsighted ideas about a model community here. The Methodists owned the rock summit and would hold Sunday services and Easter Sunrise Services there. The artesian well was dug, streets laid out and paved, and the lots surveyed. Summer cottages slowly were built. The Sanford’s , 4 Chestnut Road, was the first. The old bus stop building at the pump house was originally the real estate office. A pamphlet, printed to publicize the area in that time, advertised a woodland vacation cottage with electricity and running water for $1,800. The homes of the Blackmores, 6 Chestnut Road, McCombs, 8 Chestnut Road, Matters, 10 Chestnut Road, Johnsons 6 Spruce Road, Adams/Korleski, 1 Spruce Road, Zimmermans, 3 Spruce Road, Barbara Moore, 12 Spruce Road, Ron and Mary Jones, 14 Walnut Road, and the Hirsts, 11 Walnut Road, were built at this time. A public pavilion, standing where the Yorks, 5 Castle Rock Road, now live, was a general store and refreshment stand.

Mr. Bricker was very particular about the park-like atmosphere. He had wooden signs placed on the trees naming the species. The property owners had to get permission to cut down a tree. “Jim”, a Negro gentleman, was hired for $2.00 a week to be a general caretaker and to look after the water system. He was the son of a former slave. He was a kindly soul and is remembered fondly by the old-timers. He lived in a shack at the pump. He didn’t know his age, didn’t talk much, smoked an old pipe upside down, and managed to look after everyone here. When Mr. and Mrs. Edward Claypoole, 6 Walnut Road, moved to Castle Rock as newlyweds, they found a basket of firewood at their door. Jim would bring the mail up to the people living at the top of the hill. Doing odd jobs for small sums of money, he managed to live here about 10 years. When illness came, he moved away.

1935 Mr. Schepens became the first full-time resident. He kept the water system running through the winter. Prior to that, water was only pumped from April to October. The people living here in the summer formed the Castle Rock Cottagers’ Association and would meet in each other’s homes in the winter. Henry Hirst’s father was secretary-treasurer until his death in 1944. The park-like atmosphere attracted picnickers galore,who were somewhat of a nuisance to the homeowners. One of the residents returned to find some picnickers cooling off in his gold fish pond. Occasionally hunters, on horses, would come up Chestnut Road with hounds chasing a fox that would head for the safety of the rocks.

The Depression came, bringing bankruptcy and disillusionment to Mr. Bricker. The Blithe’s bought his home, when the Department of Closed Banks of the State took over his holdings. This is now the DiBonnaventura’s home. This agency allowed money made from the public dances at the pavilion to be kept by the Association. Mr. Schepens and Cassie Matters supervised these affairs. She would reminisce about the coal she shoveled to keep the customers warm and happy. Raising money has always been necessary in the community to maintain the pump and roads. Mr. Bricker’s paved roads were destroyed by frost and they were in terrible shape. In 1945 it was decided to organize into an Association charging dues yearly to the members. Certificates of $25 and $50 also sold and later redeemed. In 1947 a new and larger water tank had to be built. The wood for this tank was delivered to a spot next to the road near the Peters’. The women then got together and carried to the top of the rocks, so men could put it together the next day. There were many card parties, cake sales, white elephant sales and yearly prizes for Christmas decorations. Many experiences are told about failure of the water pump, the electricity going off, fire-fighting, and times in winter on the roads. By working together, and having good times together, the people have made Castle Rock what it is today. The pump house was rebuilt in the 40’s and the area surrounding it has been enhanced by the memorials there. Trees were planted in memory of Ira Shay in 12946 and Miriam Grubb in 1956. The bird bath and bench were placed in memory of Jane E. Shay in 1957 and an azalea planted for Irma Collins in 1960.

When the highway was widened in 1961, The State paid $2,750 for the 8,400 feet of ground taken. This paid for the new water pipe along Chestnut Road. The playground land was given to the Association by Mrs. Blithe in 1962 as a memorial to her husband. Some swings were bought from Camp Venture and the other equipment was bought with money raised from Attic Treasure Sales.

The Castle Rock Association was incorporated in 1963. As the membership increases may there always be a community striving for progress and good living!

Many thanks to Clarissa Smith, N. Bartran Hipple, Mrs. Joyce Wilcox, The Department of Geology of Bryn Marw and West Chester State College, Charles Craig, Harold Arndt of the Delaware County Institute of Science, The Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, and Castle Rock neighbors. A special note of thanks to Mrs. June Tartala for her time in the research of this project.

Download the map of Castle Rock.

First Printing – 1967
Second Printing – 1972
Revised – 1987
Revised – 1989
Revised – 2000