The home of William John. Photo taken in 1897.
William John, along
with his cousin Thomas Evan, purchased Gwynedd
Township on March 10, 1698, acting as agents for
"The Gwynedd Company of Friends" who arrived in
July. He owned the upper portion of the township and
lived near the Wissahickon Creek, carving a farm out
of the forest. The house he finished building
in 1712 stood along West Point Pike until the 20th
Where was his house located?
There is no "William John house" on West point Pike. All evidence of it has been obliterated!
Local historian Edward
the house in 1907
stated, "It was on the North West side of the turnpike
connecting Morris Road with the Springhouse
Turnpike, a few hundred yards from the toll gate."
The turnpikes mentioned are known today as West Point Pike
and Sumneytown Pike. There
is no longer a toll gate.
He also said that to
the north was a stone barn, and behind the barn, the
Stony Creek railroad tracks. In front was a
springhouse. The spring in all likelihood was the
reason John selected this particular location to settle. A
depression in the ground to the south was the site
of John's log cabin, built around 1700. Matthews
referred to the property as "the former Dannehower
residence". At the time Edwards wrote the
account, the land was owned by J. Wesley Klair.
William John died in
1712, the year the house was completed. In 1747 his
son John Jones sold the area to David Cummings. In
1762 Cummings sold 142 acres to Abraham Dannehower,
a German immigrant. The land stayed in the
Dannehower family for over 100 years, passing to
Abraham's son Henry in 1798, then to Henry's son (also named Henry) in 1825. In 1831 it passed to
Henry's son George Dannehower. George sold it to J.
Wesley Klair in 1897.
According to historian Phil Johnson Ruth, the
William John house was demolished around 1900. Since
Edward Matthews saw the house still standing, it
must have been torn down some time after 1907.
As luck would have it, this map from
1871 shows the George Dannehower residence!
(spelled Danenhouer on the map).
near the toll house, confirming the Matthews
account from 1907. Morris Road is at the bottom, the
Turnpike" (Sumneytown Pike) is at the top,
and the turnpike connecting the two (West Point
Pike) is in the middle.
specified which turnpike the house was
on. On this map there is a Geo Danenhouer
and a Geo Danenhower. Matthews spelled the name as
Danenhower, but described the location where
Danenhouer is shown on the map. The Toll House is shown
in blue. The road from left to right is the
The entire map of Gwynedd from 1871 is available here.
Here's a map from 1877. To add to the
confusion, George's name is now spelled "Donerhower."
There is another Donerhower below the first one,
across from the saw mill ("SM" on the map.)
The entire map of Gwynedd from 1877 is available
Using a modern Google map,
let's try to find where the sharp bend in West Point Pike was
located. This is where George Dannehower lived, in the
William John house. NOTE: The Pike was moved some time
after 1960 to align it with Church Road.
Taking a piece of the 1871 map, it is copied onto
the modern Google map.
...which gives us this location. We could have done
that with our eyeballs but we're trying to be precise.
The approximate location, now part
of Merck, Sharpe and Dohme. (2013)
In 1712 part of the dashed lines would
represent a path going from William John's
house to the Maxatawney Trail.
The comments on this map show how the area
looked in 1960, courtesy of one time resident
Stan Welsh. Stan says the bend
in the Pike
wasn't there in 1960, and that the
Priest residence was a three story building
about 100 yards from West Point
bulldozed the Priest property, but the Smallwood
property remains in the Smallwood family to this
This map from 1954 corroborates
what Stan Welsh wrote about the location of the Robert
Priest property. It seems to be near the same spot
as the Wm John / Geo Dannehouer house. It also
agrees with Edward Morgan's statement about
where the Stony Creek RR was in relation to the
entire map may be found
And finally, we
have this aerial view of the area taken in 1959.
With no real landmarks left, the pike
realigned and then widened repeatedly, and the area completely
Merck, we can't
derive the exact spot. We can say with
William John lived in this immediate
Time for a field trip!
Our field trip takes us to the area.
It's a nice day, it's actually the 4th of July,
We walk around and notice this is where West Point Pike ran before
it was moved.
...and somewhere in this scene is the place
where William John lived. It is currently
"Entrance 4" of Merck & Co.
Back here is where the barn would have
been. This view is west, toward West Point.
Looking north, toward the Stony Creek
railroad tracks. (not seen in this picture).
We don't see any cattle or wheat. Or a barn.
Site of the log cabin and spring house??
Edward Matthews said there was a depression
in the ground where the cabin
We'll never know where the depression was,
but we guess it was right here. It's all
been landscaped with heavy equipment.
owned the largest tract of land in Gwynedd, yet he
settled a few feet from his southern property line,
close to his nearest neighbor, Evan Ap Hugh, and
near the Maxatawney Trail. Why this spot when he
owned so much land?
the arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean and
then by foot or horseback from Philadelphia he had
finally arrived at his land and decided to go no
farther. Maybe it was knowing that his family was the
farthest human outpost in the township and there was
nothing to be gained by going farther into the woods
that he chose this spot. Perhaps it was the supply of shale to use
as building material. The
spring was certainly a factor, as Matthews stated.
creek was a few hundred yards to the south but was on Evan Ap Hugh's land.)
The proximity to the trail certainly made travel
easier. It's also possible
there was a meadow here, and the combination of all
these factors made this a good location to start a new
and his wife Jane raised six children on this spot.
fields of wheat, rye and oats, and 21 head of
cattle. Though he has gone down in history, all
physical evidence of his life and his home have been
eradicated. If you visit the Sumneytown Tavern or walk along West
Point Pike near the tavern, or drive into "Entrance
4" of Merck, you are where William John once lived.