Springton Farm/Forge Daybook

Collection 3997

(0.25 Linear feet ; 1 volume)

Summary Information

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Springton Farm/Forge Daybook
Date [inclusive]
0.25 Linear feet ; 1 volume
Finding aid prepared by Weckea D. Lilly.
Mixed materials [Box]

Preferred citation

[Indicate cited item or series here], Springton Farm/Forge daybook (Collection 3997), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Scope and content note

The Springton Forge, which owned this daybook, was constructed in 1765 in Wallace Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. However, the use of the area for agriculture and industry dates back to 1711, when it was settled and worked by a number of Scotch-Irish immigrants, who eventually conflicted with William Penn in his efforts of establish a number of sections of Chester County by way of a collection of manors. (Note that prior to the arrival of the Scottish settlers; the area was inhabited by native people of the Lenape clans of Brandywine and Okehocking.) According to some histories, the settlers were able to petition for patents for their settled properties, thereby forcing Penn to remap and resettle elsewhere to what would formally become known as Springton Manor, named for his wife, Gulielma Springett. Other histories link the dissolution of the conflict to the changing political climate of the day: “As the eve of the American Revolution approached the proprietors left the settlers in this area alone” (Davidson 1977, p. 12).

The Springton Manor encompassed some 8,318 acres, which constituted almost all of what is today Wallace Township. From a 1752 survey of the property (see Penn family papers, Collection 485A – Box 1, Folder 12), there were some 52 property holders listed, noting therein tracts that had been patented prior to the survey. Then, in 1762, a Robert McConahee was patented a tract of land of 263 acres of the manor, which would become Springton Forge. He would also acquire adjacent tracts in 1763 (190 acres north of Springton Forge) and in 1774 (slightly southwest of Springton Manor, 101.5 acres). Of these properties, McConahee made fortunes in the development and use of iron ore, and is credited with building (along with his son, James) the saw and grist mill thereabouts in 1769, and the Miller’s log house along Brandywine Creek. Robert McConahee dies in 1777, after which his family maintained Springton Forge until 1797, which was then taken for Sheriff’s sale. However, there was public sale notice for the Forge published in The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1785. It was described as containing some 264 acres, 100 of which were cleared and “under good fence,” and about 15 acres of meadow. Further description noted that “[t]his place is furnished with the necessary buildings for a family, and for workmen, with out houses, all in good repair. On this place also is a large body of iron ore, thought to be good, and a valuable seat for a furnace; the country will afford ample supplies of wood for carrying the iron factory on extensively.” By 1817 it fell into the hands of a Methuselah Davis; but, was subsequently resold to James McIvaine in April of 1818. Here, the naming descriptor changed from forge to farm, known up to present the as The Springton Farm.

The owner of the property between 1797 and 1817 was one Isaac Van Leer. Of this period the dated inscriptions in the daybook volume here, the book belonged to a Mathew Stanly. The volume has two sections of which one is dated from 1802 to 1804 noted as being “[a] true ledger with debits and credits.” The other section of the volume is a diary – inclusive with related matters of business – which seems to have been composed by a member of the Dorlan family, dated from 1849 to 1866. The diary portion was recorded during the McIvaines’ governance: first by James McIlvaine from 1818 to 1830; and, then by Abraham McIvaine from 1830 (although Logan states that Abraham comes into possession of the Springton in 1856, in partnership with a neighbor, John Cornog) to 1863. And according to Antrim et al. (1977), a Dr. John B. Chrisman became Springton’s owner in 1839, and hired a John Irey as its forgemaster. The histories written about Springton are quite varied, and because of the many iterations of rupture (with new owners) and dislocation (of the workers) a proper and accurate rendering of history of this place might not be possible.

While the Forge was principally known for its production of iron, James McIvaine established there a sheep farm. And, when Abraham was principal owner he made dramatic improvements to the property, planting there “ornamental and fruit trees”, and introduced other farm stock and gardens. Natalie Logan’s (1992) A Brief History of Springton Manor Farm and Its Owners, describes some of the changes:

“In the years after the Congressman retired, he altered his plans for the farm and made changes in the stock and in his management of the land. The Census for 1860 shows no sheep on the farm, but the number of swine was now 20. The shift towards a diary farm seems to have begun about this time. 25 [sic] milk cows and 19 other cattle are shown on the Census. 150 pounds of butter were sold. In 1850, out of 255 acres, only 5 were unimproved. In 1860, out of 300 acres, 75 were unimproved. The land was now producing 400 bushels of wheat, 700 bushels of corn, 650 bushels of oats, 20 bushels of Irish potatoes, and five tons of hay. 20 gallons of wine were also produced.”

In this same period, though, there is a description of Springton noted in a public sale (cited in Antrim et al. chapter in Wallace Township: Born of controversy in 1852) that reads as follows:

“. . . the FORGE, in good running order, partly covered with sheet iron, having 3 fires, the bellows are of the best kind in use and in good order, a Frame Coal house, sufficiently large to contain a stock of coal for the winter season a Large STONE MANSION HOUSE, finished in modern style, with kitchen attaché, 2 stone Tenant houses, calculated for five families, a large Stone Barn and a new stone Smith Shop” (p. 26).

It appears then that Springton Farm was essentially a plantation-like construction upon which a number of families each managed and worked upon a portion of it. The property was also fitted with a sprawling apple orchard. Although hard to make out, the guess here is that among the residences, there were other shops and houses of industry. In the same sale notice discussed above, the mansion that sat on the property was later turned into a boarding house during the period as a result migrating workers during period of the industrial revolution.

In addition Abraham’s (and his wife, Ann) developments there was also, in 1833, a Manor House built which sits on the property today. As noted above, Abraham was quite involved in the fields of agriculture and politics, serving as Vice President of The Pennsylvania Agricultural Society, President of the Agriculture Society of Chester and Delaware Counties, and both the Pennsylvania legislature and the United States Congress. Perhaps these associations are what brought the McAlvines into contact with Mathew Stanly.

Mathew Stanly was, by some accounts (although briefly mentioned), an attorney in the county and also served in the Pennsylvania State legislature. In 1852 he was elected to the judiciary with 98 votes, and elected as one of six School Directors with 101 votes. There are only a few entries in the daybook that suggest that Stanly did engage in some business there at the farm. The extent to which he is mentioned there reads, “Matthew Stanley was here for supplies . . ..” A surname search throughout the volume will show possible relations of Stanly’s, including Frances, Sarah, and Sallie. However, in related volumes of another Springton Forge daybook (Book #4) and the  Accounts of Matthew Stanley (Book #5) – both housed in The Persifor Frazer Smith papers (Collection 1377) –, while they do not address his relationship to the McIlvaine family, they do show that Stanley had been appointed guardianship of a number of minors of several different families in the county, as well as several (loose) receipts in the volume addressed and paid to Stanly for work completed and/or livestock. This, then, seems to suggest that in addition to his legal affairs, Mathew Stanly managed some aspect of the farm on behalf of the owners, or some parts thereof.

Like the entries in the Persifor Frazer Smith collection, the daybook here contains a listing of work completed at the farm, and the names of persons who provided services or made deliveries of various items (sundries) to the forge. Here, it seems to support other accounts that make mention of the forge’s early history of commerce whereby many transactions between farmers, merchants, and customers were quite prolific, suggesting, then, that the forge was central to the development of the economy in Chester County. However, there is the history composed by Natalie Logan stating that it was during Abraham’s reign that the farm experienced a “decline” in business, and that the dam built there had been destroyed. To be clear, the entries of transactions in the daybook do not reveal any apparent decline in business, so if there were any failings, perhaps the origins of such affairs were begun when James decided to turn slightly away from the earlier ventures in iron and related economy. (Note: Other historians suggest that the decline of the forge/farm was the result of the depression that followed on the heels of the conclusion of the War of 1812.) It was believed, as a result of working to rebuild the property, Abraham experienced ill health and decline, suffering from congestion of the lungs, and dying there in 1863. His wife managed the farm until it was sold to a Washington Atlee (a surgeon from Philadelphia) in 1865.

Further, about this volume, one will find within that the popular items sold and bartered between the 1802 and 1804 period included coffee, lard, pickles, pork, soup, wheat flour, and whisky. The most notable labor engaged there on the farm, for which payments were dispensed (recorded), was hauling off large items from the farm. And, the “Cash Book” section of these years records the expenditures for items sold to locals. It reveals, in part, why the Springton Forge was indeed one of the most successful productive geopolitical spaces in Chester County’s history.

Of the latter diary portion, it appears that the Dolans’ management and operations at the forge included a company store, which also included an “Account of Work” showing work paid for, and the persons who provided those services. The work documented included mowing, cradling and binding wheat, building store fences, turning manure, ploughing, harrowing, rolling and spreading lime, mending fences, blowing rocks, and hauling stones. Other significant entries document the people coming to and leaving the homestead (family and visitors), discussions of the weather, marriages, and deaths and funerals. Interspersed between sections of the diary are poems and songs, that seem to be original compositions. Titles include “God’s Eternity and Man’s Frailty,” and “The Star of Bethlehem.” The volume closes with an account of “Sewing in 1867” that included items sewn and the patron’s name and amounts paid. The clothing items made there included dresses, shirts, coats, and “jacques.” Of this account here and the general tone of the entries in the diary, one might conclude that the diary portion was recorded by a female member of the Dolan family.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 Historical Society of Pennsylvania , July 2016.

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107


This collection is available for research.


Purchased, 2005.

Accession number 2005.023.

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Related Materials

Related materials

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Persifor Frazer Smith Papers (Collection 1377)

Early Charcoal Iron Forges, Furnaces and Slitting Mills in Chester County, Pennsylvania 1718-1830: Including Sketches On the Works and a Finding Aid for the Original Forge and Furnace Books At the Chester County Historical Society. (call number UPA/Ch TS 229.5 .P4 G73 2006).

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Controlled Access Headings

Geographic Name(s)

  • Chester County (Pa.)
  • Wallace Township (Pa.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Penn, William, 1644-1718. -- History


  • Farm life--19th century.
  • Farming--Pennsylvania--19th century.
  • Forges and Furnaces--Pennsylvania--19th century.
  • Manors--Pennsylvania--19th century.

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________. “To Be Sold,” The Pennsylvania Gazette, 1785.

________. “The City,” The Press, 1861.

Antrim, M. P., S. S. Brannan, R. D. Brewster, and J. L. S .Davidson. “Wallace: The Roads, Homes, and People [sections of Chapter 4],” Wallace Township: Born of Controversy in 1852. Downingtown, PA: Commission, 1977.

Blank, Jsabelle. “Wallace Township: A History,” Chester County Ledger, 2008.

Cadbury, Olive C. “A History of Wallace Township Which was Founded in Argument.” Wallace Township: Born of Controversy in 1852. Downington, PA: Commission, 1977.

Davidson, Jane L. S. “’In Ye Manor of Springtown’: Springton Manor,” Wallace Township: Born of Controversy in 1852. Downington, PA: Commission, 1977.

Davidson, Jane L. S. “Hi! Ho! Come to the Farm,” Chester County Ledger, 2008.

Gregg, Jay. “A Brief History of Springton Manor Farm,” Chester County Ledger, 2008.

Logan, Natalie A. A Brief History of Springton Manor Farm and Its Owners. West chester, Pa.: Chester County Department of Parks and Recreation, 1988.

Wallace Township Historic Commission. 2012. A Brief History of Wallace Township. www.wallacetwp.org/commissions/historical-commission, downloaded: accessed, June 10, 2016.

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