Finding History Hidden In Plain Sight

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The Robert Evans house as it looked in 1926

Note: The locations of the areas in this narrative are Upper Gwynedd and Lower Gwynedd townships in Pennsylvania. (Formerly Gwynedd Township before it was split in two in 1891)

Our search for two old Welsh houses.


Thomas and Robert Evans were two of four Welsh brothers who, along with several other families, settled Gwynedd Township in 1698. Thomas and his cousin William John were sent to Philadelphia ahead of "The Gwynedd Company of Friends" to purchase a tract of land for the group to settle. They bought 7280 acres from a Philadelphia Quaker named John Gee and it was deeded to them by none other than William Penn. They named the township "Gwynedd" after their homeland. In the summer of that same year the company arrived in Philadelphia and the entire township was divided and settled.

Thomas and William had purchased a forest. One can only imagine the anxiety they were going through, knowing their brethren were on their way somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean, and trusting in them to do the right thing. At the same time, the company had no way of knowing if Thomas and William even survived the voyage. They were too busy throwing dead bodies overboard the Robert and Elizabeth as an outbreak of the bloody flux (dysentery) culled their numbers, including William John's sister, Margaret.

Gwynedd in Wales, UK is a mountainous region with a rich history, a place where castles dominate the high ground and the landscape is breathtaking. Whether the company approved of the purchase of a forest or not, there was no going back. A forest was preferable to prison for a Welsh Quaker in 1698. Ironically, after losing 45 people on the journey to America, there were only two Quaker families left in the company. Everyone else was Episcopalian! (Two years later most of the Episcopalians would become Quakers.)

About a dozen families settled Gwynedd, PA. Do any of their homes still exist? Where were they located?

In the book "Historical Collections Relating to Gwynedd" Howard Jenkins writes, "Thomas's house, where Heist kept tavern ninety years ago, is on the turnpike just above Evans's Run... and now owned by Fritz Hartman."  The next sentence states, "Robert's house was where Silas White now lives..."

This most excellent and informative book presents a problem for the modern reader. It was written in 1884 for a contemporary audience when Gwynedd was 98 percent farmland.

The locations for the other two brothers' homes, Owen and Cadwallader, are even more ambiguous. The book states, "Owen Evan's place was that now occupied by Ellen H. Evans." and "Cadwallader's house... is now the residence of M. L. Bellows." Apparently, in 1884 everyone knew where Heist had kept his tavern, where Fritz Hartman and Silas White lived, and knew Ellen Evans and M. L. Bellows.

The only modern clue we have was the word "turnpike," which in 1884 was "The Sumneytown and Springhouse Turnpike," now called Sumneytown Pike. The turnpike went from Sumneytown to Springhouse. What are the odds? Springhouse is in the lower part of Gwynedd  and the pike goes through the center of the township, having evolved from the Maxatawney Indian trail. Therefore, Thomas Evans' house is on Sumneytown Pike. If we can figure out what "Evans Run" is (or was) we can find the house.

Chapter 1. (Not) Locating the home of Thomas Evans.

One definition of "run" is "a route taken by a vehicle, aircraft or boat, especially on a regular basis." Could Evans's Run be a path leading to Thomas Evans' house? Maybe it was where his sheep grazed. We had no idea. Then we found the sign below. It was in the William Penn Inn, located at the corner of the Sumneytown and Springhouse Turnpike and the State Road. (Now Sumneytown Pike and Route 202). We eat there from time to time, but you hafta get dressed up.
Well, there you have it. Thomas Evans house became Heist's Tavern and then the William Penn Inn. The house, if it still exists, must be buried deep in the bowels of the restaurant. We might not know what "Evans Run" was, but it doesn't make any difference now.
More proof. Look at the date. 16 years after Thomas Evans arrived from Wales.
The William Penn Inn. Photo from their website.
The William Penn Inn as it looks from the Gwynedd Friends Meeting House.

There is a conflict here involving the big green sign. The photo above was taken from the Gwynedd Friends burial ground. All the land around the meeting house was owned by Robert Evans. Thomas couldn't have had a house where the William Penn Inn is located because the land belonged to his brother, Robert.

William Penn did stay at the home of Thomas Evans, but it wasn't at this location. The last sentence on the sign is incorrect.

The sign should read, "They stopped at the home of Thomas Evans which later became known as Heist's Tavern." Then the sign wouldn't even exist, and rightfully so!

Jacob Acuff, not Heist, was the name of the man who kept the tavern that evolved into the William Penn Inn. An old map shows Acuff owned 108 acres of land at the intersection of Sumneytown Pike and 202 at the time Silas White was living in the residence built by Robert Evans.

Now that we were done our mental wild goose chase at the William Penn Inn, we still needed to find Heist's tavern and whatever "Evans's Run" is. In the meantime we went looking for Robert Evans house.

Chapter 2. (Not) Locating the home of Robert Evans.

An article on the 1926 restoration of Robert Evans home and some of the history of the house appeared in the January 1927 issue of House Beautiful. You may read the article here.  LOOK!