West Point was known as
Lukens Station from 1873 to 1876 and owes
its existence almost exclusively to the construction of
the Stony Creek Railroad.
In a corner of
Upper Gwynedd Township in southeastern Pennsylvania, about 15
miles from Philadelphia, the village of West Point has existed since 1877.
Very small by today's standards, it was the largest village in
Gwynedd Township. The population of the entire township (now
split into Upper and Lower Gwynedd) was about 2000 at that time.
Isolated by farmland and forest from other towns such as North Wales
and Lansdale, it was
accessible by rail, trolley car and horseback. West
Point is "West" of a certain building in North Wales, and its name is derived from
that fact. (The location of the building is explored in more
detail on this website.)
West Point once had a grist mill, a planing mill, a saw mill, a brick yard
and a lumber yard. There were two feed houses which supplied
feed, coal, hay, cement, lumber and fertilizer. Portable steam engines were
manufactured here. There was a fine hotel, a general store,
tavern and a post office. There were stables behind the hotel
and a blacksmith on Garfield Avenue.
Passengers and freight arrived at the train station, and the
trolley went through the village, stopping at Zieber's Park.
Wagonloads of hay came here to be processed, then shipped out by
train. There was an
elementary school on Main Street, and later the Upper Gwynedd high school
was built next to it. Shoes and hosiery were made
here, cows were sold, and almost every house had a chicken coop
and a "truck patch" (vegetable garden). There was a wheelwright
shop which added a gasoline pump when the automobile appeared on
the scene. The telegraph office could be found at the train station.
The station agent delivered the mail, which arrived at the post
office in the general store.
|This aerial photo of a
section of Upper Gwynedd shows that as late as
1942 the village was still isolated by farmland.
After WWII the farms in Upper
Gwynedd began to be bought up and converted to
housing. The very last bit of farmland adjoining
west Point disappeared in 1999 when Merck built an office
building on Broad Street near Garfield Avenue on
what had been a corn field.
The dark rectangle surrounded by the bright area
is the beginning of Merck, Sharpe and Dohme,
formerly the Kellet Aircraft Company.
Click here for a full size
An example of the population
growth can be found in "A History of the Church
of the Messiah, Gwynedd, PA." This is a small
Episcopalian church which was built in the
center of Gwynedd.
In 1878 (a year after the creation of the West
Point village) the church had forty members and
the Sunday School had 63 pupils.
In 1921 the church had 204 members and the
Sunday School had 112 pupils.
In 1947 the church had 239 members and 80 pupils
in the Sunday School.
In 1957 the church had 1,855 members and 350
enrolled in Sunday School.
It had taken 79 years for the congregation to
grow by 50 percent, and then just 10 years to
grow by 800 percent!
From 1947 to 1957 there were 39 million births
in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the
membership in the church doubled after 1965.
As rural farmland was replaced by urban sprawl, West Point was
surrounded by and encroached upon by late 20th century
America. The "village" practically disappeared,
swallowed by the new growth. In 2005 signs were placed at the four corners of the
village so people could tell where it once started and ended.
Every weekday morning an unending stream of automobile traffic
flows through West Point, many of the cars going to the enormous
pharmaceutical complex of Merck and Co which employs 11,000
workers at the site. Indeed, the location of the Amos Jones farm
which was so significant to the formation of the village is now
part of Merck’s property. Still, in spite of many of the parts being forever lost, the village
survives somewhat intact.
Today no lumber, bricks or
engines are produced in West Point. Almost all manufacturing in
the village itself has disappeared, leaving the repurposed buildings
behind. Feed for livestock is no
longer available for purchase, hay is not baled and the talk of
fun at Zieber's Park is no longer heard at the tavern. You can't get a hotel
room, there is no general store and the schools have vanished.
Coal, chickens and cows are no longer for sale. There is no
trolley service and if you need a ride on the train you'll have
to drive to a train station.
Although the train station and trolley tracks are gone,
the Stony Creek rail line still operates on rare occasion. Residents find comfort late at night hearing the train coming
through, the sound softened almost into melody as it fades into
the distance. Few know where it has come from or what its
destination will be, but that train was an
important part of West Point history.
Freight train crossing West Point Pike
on the Stony Creek Line.
West Point still has the Post Office which made the
village name official. It is also is the home of the Upper Gwynedd Fire
House. It is home to Gwyndale auto
repair shop, Grace Church and a park with a playground. West
Point Radio is heard on 91.3 FM.
Also in West Point is a business center,
the Village Tea House, a machine shop, a tree
surgeon, a garden center, contractors, landscapers, lawyers and other professional and home based
businesses, not to mention the headquarters and manufacturing
plants for Colorcon and Merck & Co.
There is also the (in)famous Pizza Time Saloon, housed
in what had once been the West Point Grove Hotel. If you need directions to West
point, just ask how to get to Pizza Time.
West Point is also home to some of the nicest people you'll find anywhere.
This website will showcase some of the sights and
history of West Point Pennsylvania.
Enjoy your visit.