West Caln Township History
The History of West Caln Township, (1994) by Joan M Lorenz and the West Caln Township Historical Committee, recounts the settlement of the Township and describes its development through three centuries. This account provides a permanent record of the history of the Township and lays the foundation for the historic preservation program that protects remaining historic resources.
As is true of all of the area within William Penn's original land grant, including West Caln, a rich history existed long before the Europeans arrived. Many remains of the native inhabitants and their culture were evident as the Township began to be settled.
According to the history, the first people in what is now West Caln Township were the Lenapes, which means "the people". The Lenapes first encountered Europeans during hunting and trapping expeditions in which furs were traded for other goods. When the Europeans, specifically the early English, Dutch and French settlers arrived permanently, they were required to co-exist with a culture that lived off the land and was unfamiliar with the concept of private land ownership.
In 1682, William Penn was awarded a land grant that consisted of the area to become Chester, Philadelphia and Bucks Counties. Other land was deed to William Penn by the Lenapes in 1685, with the Okehocking reservation, an area adjacent to the Brandywine Creek, reserved for the native people. Caln Township, whose name came from a community in England, was first designated in 1714: Caln was divided into East Caln and West Caln in 1728 and in 1733, shortly after this division, the land area of West Caln was surveyed for sale. The boundaries were then formalized, and West Caln was officially recognized as a Township in 1744.
An important physical feature that affected the development of West Caln Township was the Indian trail that became Old Peter's Road, named for Peter Bezellon, and is now known as Route 340. In the early 1700's, it was the main road between Philadelphia and Lancaster and named Kings Highway. Because it was frequently traveled, there were a number of inns and taverns that developed along this route, and several of these structures still exist.
Inns historically served as dining facilities, taverns, and shelter for travelers. Several of these enterprises located in West Caln Township functioned primarily as taverns, which were required to be licensed at that time. One of the oldest was constructed in 1736, and was first known as the Farmers' and Mechanic's Inn. In later years it was purchased and expanded by a member of the Way family, one of the first families to settle in West Caln. The name changed to "Sign of the Waggon" or "The Waggon". Caverns beneath the structure have led historians to believe that this building was once a stop on the under-ground railroad. Still standing, this building is one of the oldest structures in West Caln Township.
Caleb Way, one of the first owners of the Waggon, also became the eventual proprietor of the Sandy Hill Tavern, located near the intersection of North Sandy Hill Road and the Kings Highway. The Sandy Hill Tavern, also known as the Red Horse Tavern and the General Wolf, is one of three historic resources listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places; the Tavern was listed in 1980; the nomination form was prepared by Mark Waltz.
Under the County's ownership, the mansion and its environs became a park. The mansion has been restored and is a focal point of Chester County's public park system. The Hibernia mansion was listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975; the nomination form was prepared by Jane L. S. Davidson.
West Caln Township developed slowly throughout the early to mid 1900's. The industry that developed in the area eventually declined due to changes in technology. Automobiles allowed more mobility and residents were able to work outside the Township. The influence of the Amish in West Caln Township heightened the awareness of the prime agricultural lands and helped to moderate development.
West Caln Township slowly evolved into a bedroom community with the commercial and industrial focus on agriculture and recreation.
Historical Commission Meeting
Historical Commission meetings are held on the 2nd Tuesday of each month. The meetings are held at property adjacent to the Township Building. The address of the Historical Commission is 719 West Kings Highway.
West Caln Historical Society
The Society was formed in 1996 for the purpose (1) bringing together people interested in history, especially the history of West Caln (2) to discover and collect any material which may help to establish or illustrate the history of the area, its exploration, settlement, development and activities in peace and war, (3) to collect historical information of all nature, including documents, artifacts, photographs and the like for the purpose of preserving information of the past and collecting information for the future.
Historical Society Meeting
Historical Society Meetings are held on the 3rd Tuesday of each month.
Copies of the History of West Caln are still available, you may contact the Township Historical Society to obtain a copy, the cost is $30.00 (including tax). Checks made payable to West Caln Historical Society.
Historical Society Membership Application
Article #1 - The Dawson/Saalbach Farm
Article #2 - The St. Johns Church/Thomas Barton
Article #3 - Hibernia Mansion