History of Lower Makefield
History of Lower Makefield Township
Bucks County was one of William Penn’s three original counties. William and Jane Yardley were among the first settlers on the land to be known later as Makefield. The Yardley’s were friends of William Penn and were in his “inner circle” since Jane (Heath) Yardley’s brother-in-law James Harrison was an advisor to William Penn. William and Jane Yardley and sons surveyed their land in September 1682 and named it “Prospect Farm” on December 1682. In the winter of 1702-03 William Yardley and some of his sons died of smallpox. Some of the Yardley widows remarried; but an heir from England, Thomas Yardley II took over the Pennsylvania properties of the family. Thomas Yardley’s wife Hester was later remarried to Richard Hough.
Richard Hough is credited with naming Makefield Township. He was a provincial councilor and may have chosen the name Makefield as an Americanization of the name “Macclesfield”, his native home in Cheshire, England. The Township of Makefield was founded in 1692 when Buck County appointed a grand jury to divide the county into townships. The original five townships were: Bensalem, Bristol, Falls, Makefield and Middletown. In 1737, a realignment of Makefield boundaries divided it into Upper and Lower Makefield. All land ownership citations in Lower Makefield go back to Penn’s original grants and patents. Penn and his heirs ordered re-surveys and issued patents on land until the 1770s. Most of the first settlers of Makefield Township arrived to survey and take up their allocations from 1682-1690. Most grants totaled about 500 acres. Many of these Quakers subdivided their estates among family members and allotted surplus lands for servants’ headrights. This allowed them to retain familial ownership or custodial control of substantial parts of their grants until the 19th century. The original surveys oriented most land grants on an east-west axis in Makefield, and main roads followed these boundaries.
The 1696 census recorded a population of about 100 persons and was essentially devoted to farming. By 1810 the population had grown to 1089 persons and small villages were forming. The Township remained largely rural. In the 18th century the farms averaged about 150 acres and the farmers harvested wheat, corn, rye, oats, hay, and some flax. They owned few horses, or cattle, but pigs and chickens were plentiful. Most farms boasted substantial orchards. In the 19th century agriculture practices changed. Wheat, corn and hay were still the principal field crops, but urban growth fostered a dairy revolution on Pennsylvania farms. Lower Makefield farms became “specialized” in crops for the urban market, producing exotic vegetables, flowers, prize horses, other livestock and milk.
These activities fostered minor commercial activities that concentrated at important crossroads. A major north-south route, Stony Hill Road traversed the western part of the Township from the county seat, located at Newtown until 1810, to the King’s Highway and the Falls Meeting to the south. Stony Hill Road crossed a major east west stagecoach road from Philadelphia to Yardley’s ferry and on to New York City. Now known as the Yardley–Langhorne Road, the “Flying Machine” route ran from Langhorne, then known as Attleboro or Four Lanes End, to the Delaware River ferry crossing at Yardley’s ferry. At the crossroad of Route 432 and Stony Hill Road, a small village developed in the middle of the 19th century (presently called Edgewood Village). This village comprised a tavern, some tenant houses, a blacksmith shop and livery, and it shared a development pattern common to many other crossroad villages of Bucks County. It expanded in the early part of the 20th century with resident handicraft shops and other artisan operations that supported the surrounding farming community. Notable among these home-occupations was a tailor shop tenanted by the “free Negro Ishmael” who appeared on the 1798 Federal Direct Tax List. In the 19th century, a minor tourism industry developed that allowed local farmers to supplement their incomes by taking in boarders. First by stage and horse traffic, then after 1876, by the nearby Reading railroad, city dwellers arrived to vacation in the healthful farm air. They enjoyed Edgewood Village’s rural society in the crossroads shops, church, Grange Hall, and dancehall. One local farmer, Mark Palmer ran a boardinghouse and advertised a boardwalk to “Lizette,” his railroad whistle stop nearby. Most successful during the 1890s, the village declined and faded to a commercial backwater by the middle of the 20th century. In its heyday it included a blacksmith shop and livery, two competing country stores, a tavern, a post office, a Grange Hall, a public school, an orphanage, a Presbyterian Church, a dance hall, some other retail shops, employee tenant housing for Joseph Heacock’s rose nursery enterprises, and a tailor shop.
As transportation and communications networks extended from Trenton and Philadelphia into suburban Bucks County areas in the 20th century, Lower Makefield farms turned into suburban housing developments for workers at nearby industries. This trend became particularly intense after the arrival of U.S. Steel’s Fairless Works and the expansion of Route 1 corridor south of the Township. Interstate 95 bisected the Township in the 1970s, and Lower Makefield’s central location in the Washington, D.C. to New York City corridor made the development of residential housing the Township’s principal economic activity in the waning decades of the century. Most family-operated 19th century farming enterprises are gone. In the 1970s, the crossroads village faced destruction by the construction of I-95. The Township’s government working with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the National Trust for Historic Preservation helped preserve the crossroads village by seeking its designation as a National Register Historic District, granted in 1979. In the 1980’s the Edgewood Village area attracted modern commercial development and two shopping centers adjacent to the southern edge of the Historic District. Since then owners have adapted many of the village buildings into commercial space. Developers have transformed Heston Hall and the Grange Hall for commercial purposes and more development is progressing within Edgewood Village presently.
Lower Makefield’s Past Names for Edgewood
The village was first called “Stradlington” for Thomas Stradling, the village smithy from 1745 through the 1790s. A “Tavern license application,” dated 1798 disclosed this information. The tavern license applicant Doctor Thomas Biles, also known as Professor Biles, opened his tavern at the crossroads in the first two decades of the 19th century. He renamed the village “Biles Corner.” By 1830, deeds of the area indicated it became known as “Summerville.” The name “Summerville” appeared on the Kennedy Map of 1848. However, the Hughes Map of 1858, the Scott Atlas Map of 1876 and the Noll Atlas Map of 1898 designated it as “Edgewood.” To further confuse the issue, the Geological Survey maps of 1905-1911 listed the name of the crossroads as “Woodside,” and this name persisted with the former name until the 1970s. The United States Post Offices used the two names in succession. They operated out of the politically competing area, switching back and forth; the name did as well. At the time of the village’s nomination for the National Register, local historians chose the name “Edgewood” to represent its most significant commercial period.