For thousands of years prior to the arrival of the first European settlers, this area was the home to the Lenni Lenape Indians, in whose native language “Lenni Lenape” means “original people.” At the time the colonies were being settled, there were more than 8,000 Lenni Lenape from southeastern New York through eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, down to the coast of Delaware. The local tribe hunted the virgin forests and cultivated the rich lands along the Delaware, Tohickon and other local rivers and streams, with a thriving settlement at Nockamixon.
After William Penn received the land that was to become Pennsylvania from King Charles II in 1681, he set about establishing 3 major sub-divisions: Philadelphia to the south, Bucks County to the north, and Chester County to the west. Upon settlement of his estate in 1732, ownership passed to his sons and to the newly formed Commonwealth of PA in 1776. Throughout this period, tracts of land were sold to settlers and investors. Original purchasers bought blocks of 5,000 acres, location unspecified, which were surveyed later at the request of the purchaser or buyers to whom the purchaser had sold his rights. Often times there were already settlers squatting on the lands, farming and running businesses, prior to surveys and deeds establishing rights of ownership. Many early settlers believed that if they worked and farmed the land, they’d eventually gain title to it.
Logging, mining and farming
Taking in the rolling hills and verdant open spaces of this area today, it might be surprising to learn that early farmers weren’t the first European settlers. The first European settlers were woodsmen. In 1700, Franklin and Charles Richard were sent from Philadelphia to the wilderness of what would later become Williams Township by the Company of Free Traders. They established the earliest logging operations to supply wood for the housing boom in Philadelphia, using the Delaware River to float the logs to their destination. Sawmills were rare in the early part of the 18th century, which supplies an important clue when dating homes like Stone Cottage Woods. The rocky fields of the area supplied field stones hand gathered and mortared with lime and clay, a caustic mixture providing far greater elasticity than today’s Portland-cement based mortars. Homes constructed of wood at this time were either constructed of unsawn logs, or pit-sawn logs. Pit sawing was an extremely labor intensive process in which men standing in a pit and those standing above sawed lengths of boards from felled trees by hand. It was not until the late 1700’s that the first local, water-powered sawmill was established in Coffeetown along Fry’s Run by George Kleinhans. A second followed in 1833, and many more were established in the township thereafter.
Other settlers in the early 1700’s were drawn by a nascent mining industry. As early as 1698, settlers became aware of the value the native Indians placed on a crude iron ore called magnetite, found in the Durham Hills. Recognizing its commercial value, William Penn’s secretary James Logan began to search for wealthy investors to commercialize these iron ore deposits. The Durham Company was established 1727 to develop an iron furnace just southeast of here. The Durham furnace and mine provided work for many local farmers, who sold wagon loads of low grade iron ore to the furnace to supplement their incomes.
A 1,472 acre tract, that contains the land of Stone Cottage Woods, was purchased by The Durham Company from Penn’s heirs in 1749. The Company eventually owned some 8,500 acres of land, including today’s Durham Township (now Bucks County) and the southern part of Williams Township (now Northampton County). By 1750, Durham was a thriving community.
Farmers also began working the land in the early part of the 18th century. Prior to the first official Penn land-grants following the infamous Walking Purchase of 1737, scattered settlers farmed and set up shop throughout the area, essentially squatting on land to which they had no legal claim.
The Walking Purchase
As the City of Philadelphia began growing, the Penn’s began looking for ways to expand. In the 1730’s, the Penn’s began talking to the Lenni Lenapi about an old treaty, supposedly signed in 1686, in which the Indians agreed to sell the lands north of present day Wrightstown into the woods as far as a man could walk in a day and a half. There was no proof of the treaty or of money exchanged, but the Penn’s, needing money to pay their creditors, persisted with the help of attorney James Logan. Logan tried various tricks – deceptive maps, a reproduction of a falsified treaty and finally an agreement in 1737 to reproduce the terms by sending a man out to walk the land as supposedly stipulated. Logan proceeded to hire the three strongest and fittest woodsmen he could find, trained them, chose, cleared and marked a path, and had pack horses and supplies accompany the men as they sprinted the distance. Two collapsed en route and the third covered 60 miles from Wrightown to Lehighton – claiming 330,000 acres for Penn and opening up the area for official land grants and settlement.
The earliest official landowners in the area are memorialized in the naming of streets, rivers and villages: William Fry received a land grant in 1740 and is memorialized as Fry’s Run; George Raub received his land grants in 1748 and became the namesake of the thriving village of Raubsville; large Penn land grants and improved roads soon brought Unangsts, Deemers, Stouts and Bachmans to farm the land.
Between 1752 and 1770 a narrow trail between Williams Township and Durham was widened and improved to handle stage coaches and wagons and became known as the Old Philadelphia Pike. Travelers changing their horses at the inn run by the Transue family on Durham and County Line Road would have had easy access to their blacksmith shop on Stouts Valley Road, just over the hill.
The Beginning of Stone Cottage Woods
The process of back-dating the oldest of homes and buildings is complicated by the fact that the early deeds seldom mention the exact nature of buildings, simply referring to an early structures as a “messuage,” because it was the land that was of prime importance. Many of the landmarks referred to in property descriptions are impermanent by nature – an old chestnut tree, for example, or the corner of a neighbor’s property. While it isn’t possible to precisely date the structure itself, building clues from renovations in the 1940’s and 1980’s point to an early 18th century origin, making it one of the older surviving structures in the area.
The house is comprised of two parts – the main building perpendicular to the slope of the bank, and a the northern part which fronts the road. The wall between the two halves of the house is the same as the exterior walls that is, built with field stone, and over one foot thick. A doorway, with a wooden sill, existed at the center of the wall connecting the two halves. Evidence supports the main building as predating the street frontage, which may have originally been a one story summer kitchen subsequently joined to the main house later in the 18th century.
The most telling clue as to the dating of the house is its primitive architectural design. The main structure is long and narrow, with floor joists that ran perpendicular to the front door in a single run, thus constraining the width of the house to the length of the logs and ability to support the weight of the structure without a center beam. This style of architecture can be found in surviving medieval buildings in England and Scotland; it predates the style of stone houses which appeared in this area with the German settlers who predominated in the mid 1700’s. Most of these later century stone homes of German origin have a central door and, in the case of two story structures, a central staircase. The off- center door and winder staircase to the left of the fireplace point to a more primitive origin, and further supports dating the building to the time between 1717 and the American Revolution, when the Scotch-Irish first immigrated to Pennsylvania as a result of severe hardship in Ireland.
In the late 1980’s, Peter Thompson undertook a massive restoration, taking the building down to a shell to rebuild as a period home. When he removed what he could salvage of the original white pine flooring in the process of renovating the house, he noted that the size of the boards and lack of knots would indicate a first growth harvest. The width of the planks (nearly 3 ft wide at the widest part, and tapering down to 30 inches or so) also support this theory. The hand-hewn, hand-planed, tongue and groove planks were placed alternately – the wider end of one board against the narrower end of the next board so the floor came out even. The flooring was pit sawn, with the rounded edges slightly planed. This could imply that the construction pre-dated the advent of the sawmills established in the late 1700’s, because there was no other way to square off the boards at that time. Other historic stone farmhouses in Williams Township dating from the 1750’s and later have 12-16 inch floorboards that are more even, indicating they were squared at a sawmill.
When Peter removed the plaster covering the stone fireplace wall, he found hand-split oak lathing. Like pit sawing, this was a labor-intensive manual process, and is another clue that either sawmills were not affordable or else unavailable to the laborers who constructed the house.
Across the street from the house was a blacksmith shop. References to the shop exist in some of the deeds, as well as 19th century maps of the township. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the shop today. However, the property has a long history of ownership by blacksmiths, beginning with the first recorded deed holder in 1800, who came to the area in 1756.