Re­mem­ber­ing the ear­li­est names in Roxbor­ough’s his­tory

The Review - - OPINION - Jim Smart Of All Things Visit colum­nist Jim Smart’s web­site at jamess­mart­sphiladel­phia.com.

It’s good news that a Roxbor­ough His­toric District is be­ing planned. Wil­liam Penn sold the land here 337 years ago, and peo­ple, build­ings and events have been ebbing and flow­ing here ever since.

King Charles gave Penn his syl­va­nia in 1681 to set­tle an old debt. Penn be­gan ped­dling real es­tate right away. There were buy­ers im­me­di­ately for land in what would be­come Roxbor­ough.

The name goes back at least to Jo­hannes Kelpius, who led a re­li­gious group from Ger­many to a home in the Wis­sahickon wilder­ness. He used the name “Rocks-bur­row” in a let­ter dated May 26, 1706.

The orig­i­nal English own­ers of the area, who bought land from Wil­liam Penn in 1681, are mostly for­got­ten now. But a few left names be­hind that are fa­mil­iar to­day.

Penn’s plan­ners di­vided the north­west Philadel­phia land along the Schuylkill, east to about where Wis­sahickon Av­enue now runs, into 11 tracts.

Robert Turner was an Ir­ish Quaker friend of Penn’s. The day af­ter Penn got the deed to Penn­syl­va­nia on March 4, 1681, he wrote to Turner about it. Turner bought the south­ern­most 500-acre Roxbor­ough tract at the mouth of the Wis­sahickon.

Turner also bought 6,000 acres in other parts of Penn­syl­va­nia. And he in­vested in the Free So­ci­ety of Traders, formed in spring of 1682, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that bought So­ci­ety Hill in the city and Frank­ford in the sub­urbs.

Turner’s wife died in May 1683. In July, he came here to his land with his young daugh­ter, Martha, and 17 ser­vants. He was 48.

He named his Roxbor­ough land Shomack Park, prob­a­bly the name of trees on the prop­erty and the ori­gin of the name Sumac Street. He served as Penn­syl­va­nia trea­surer and a judge be­fore he died in 1700.

In 1686, Turner rented the land at the mouth of the Wis­sahickon to Joshua Tit­ter­mary and Richard Townsend, who built the first mill on the creek.

Richard Vi­caris, a Quaker mer­chant from Bris­tol, Eng­land, bought a tract but never came here. Some­how, his name did, on a street. Wil­liam Rit­ten­house, Amer­ica’s first pa­per­maker, and Peter Righter lived on what was orig­i­nally Vi­caris land.

Fran­cis Fincher, a glove maker from Worces­ter, Eng­land, bought a tract in 1684. His widow later sold 200 acres to Thomas Hill. In 1697, Hill and Mrs. Fincher sold it all to Wi­gard Lev­er­ing, whose name and de­scen­dants spread all over the neigh­bor­hood.

Wi­gard and his brother, Ger­hard, had come to Ger­man­town and bought land there in 1685. Wi­gard died in 1745, aged close to 100, and was buried on his farm, which later be­came the church­yard of Roxbor­ough Bap­tist Church, or­ga­nized in 1789, and the ad­ja­cent Lev­er­ing­ton Ceme­tery.

The Lev­er­ing name was later at­tached to a street, a school, a theater and a ho­tel, and for a time, the area was called Lev­er­ing­ton. Wil­liam Lev­er­ing, born in 1705, built the first school in 1748. It was re­built sev­eral times through the years. He also built a ho­tel in 1793.

Charles Hart­ford, a soap maker from Bris­tol, Eng­land, bought an­other tract from Penn. It was later sold to Thomas Wil­son.

Af­ter the Rev­o­lu­tion, that land was ac­quired by Thomas Livezy, who had a mill across the Wis­sahickon since 1747. His house is still there, and his name is on the Mt. Airy lane that leads to it

Not much is left of those ear­li­est days, but the spirit of the first pur­chasers from Wil­liam Penn surely hangs over Roxbor­ough.

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