West Point, PA
 William John's house

 
William John
The home of William John. Colorized 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 Century.
 
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 Matthews saw the house in 1907 and 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). It is near the toll house, confirming the Matthews account from 1907. Morris Road is at the bottom, the "Springhouse Turnpike" (Sumneytown Pike) is at the top, and the turnpike connecting the two (West Point Pike) is in the middle.
 
Thankfully, Matthews 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 "Springhouse Turnpike."
 

                                               The entire map of Gwynedd from 1871 is available here. (9 megabytes)
 
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 here. (3 megabytes)

We can clear up the confusion with an even older map. Here, George's name is "Denenhower." The lower Denenhower is Jacob, and he owns the saw mill.
 

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 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 Pike. Merck has bulldozed the Priest property, but the Smallwood property remains in the Smallwood family to this day (2013).
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 William John/George Dannehower house. It also agrees with Edward Morgan's statement about where the Stony Creek Rail Road was in relation to the barn.

Just to be clear, the Robert Priest residence was not the
William John/George Dannehower house, which had been razed over 40 years prior. The sharp bend in the pike on the 1877 map had been straightened and doesn't appear on the 1954 map. The entire map 1954 map can be found here.
 

We have this aerial view of the area taken in 1959.


 
Here is an aerial view of West Point Pike in the process of being moved.
Sumneytown Pike is through the middle of the photo, going from left to right. Church Road is upper-left..
 

With no real landmarks left, the pike realigned and then widened repeatedly, and the area completely bulldozed by
Merck, we can't derive the exact spot. We can say with certainty that William John lived in this immediate vicinity.
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, 2013.
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 had been. We'll never know where the depression was, but we guess it was right here or right nearby. It's all been bulldozed and landscaped. There's nothing left. It would be futile to even search with a metal detector.
 

William John owned the largest tract of land in Gwynedd, consisting of 2,866 acres. He settled a few feet from his southern property line, close to the border of his nearest neighbor, Evan Ap Hugh, and near the Maxatawney Trail. (The Maxatawney Trail, created by the Lenape Indians, evolved into Sumneytown Pike. The border between the William John tract and the Evan Ap Hugh tract evolved into West Point Pike.) It's as though he reached the border, stepped off the trail, went into the forest a few feet and stopped. Why did he choose this spot when he owned so much land? (See this map.)

Perhaps after the arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the labor involved in purchasing the township, and then by wagon or horseback from Philadelphia, he had finally arrived at the boundary to his tract 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. (The Wissahickon creek was a few hundred yards to the south but was on Evan Ap Hugh's land.) The proximity to the trail obviously 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 carve out a homestead. We'll never know. To add to the mystery, William John also owned 322 acres in the lower part of Gwynedd, south-west of what is called Springhouse.

William John and his wife Jane raised six children here. In addition to the original log cabin and the stone house and barn, they had fields of wheat, rye and oats. They had 21 head of cattle, as well as sheep, chickens, five horses and "one old mare, with her brood, in the woods." In the house were two tables, eight chairs, spinning wheels, rugs, sheets, blankets, pillow cases and table cloths. The dishes and pans were of pewter, wood and clay. Naturally, they would have had all the implements and tools needed for building a house and barn and running a farm. Amazingly, only 14 years had elapsed from the day William John entered Pennsylvania and the day he died.

Though he has gone down in history, all physical evidence of William John's life and his home have been eradicated. If you visit the (now closed) 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.