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About a little over thirty miles northwest of the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a small town known as Schwenksville. In this town is where you will find Pennypacker Mills. Who is it named after? It was the home of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker who served as the governor of the state of Pennsylvania from 1903 to 1907. However, it was not named after the governor. It was named after the brother of his great-great-grandfather Peter Pennypacker who owned and operated the mill. Samuel bought the property from a cousin who was a descendant of Peter Pennypacker because he was interested in the family history, and it was a great was a great location in the country. (The land was also the site of an encampment for George Washington and his army during the American Revolutionary War.) When you visit Pennypacker Mills, you will see the home the way it was in the early part of the twentieth century. With the well landscaped grounds, you may find yourself going back in time when you visit this place.
Some of you are saying, “This is great. I am pretty sure that this is probably a very nice house. However, there are no railroads at this place. Therefore, I will not be campaigning for this place.”
You have a great point. There are no railroads at this site. So, what does this place have to do with the railroad?
As mentioned, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker lived at this home. While here, he traveling to Philadelphia where he also had a law office. How did he travel?
Some of you are saying, “Duh! He was chauffeured in his limousine.”
When it comes to those of great wealth, that would be a common answer. However, Mr. Pennypacker was not your average traveler. He traveled by train. How? If you were to visit Schwenksville today, you will not find any railroads, but you will find a rail trail. It is a short walk from Pennypacker Mills to where he boarded the train. When you visit the town, you will see a train depot that is now an ice cream shop, and a mural of a locomotive. Is this old depot where Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker boarded the train? Well, no. That depot was built in 1943 as a replacement of the original depot that burned down in 1942, and the original depot is what you will see in the mural. Maybe you will want to hike the trail as it runs along a creek. What other connection is there with the railroad? Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker is the grandson of Matthias Pennypacker, the president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.
Now you have a reason to visit Pennypacker Mills. It is owned and operated by Montgomery County Parks, Trails and Historic Sites who also own the rail trail. (The rail trail is part of the national rails-to-trails initiative.) It is located at 5 Haldeman Road in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania just off Pennsylvania Route 73. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm and Sunday 1:00pm to 4:00pm. (Closed Mondays and state holidays.) Admission is free. (Donations gladly accepted.) Parking is on site. Along with the mansion tour you can also walk the grounds. You can get more information and read more into the life of Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker at https://www.montcopa.org/928/Pennypacker-Mills.
There are two other historic homes you can visit while you are in the region that are part of the Montgomery County Parks system. The first is the Peter Wentz Farmstead in Worchester, Pennsylvania located on Pennsylvania Route 73 east of Pennypacker Mills. Unlike Pennypacker Mills, there is no railroad history or connections at this site. You can get information about the Peter Wentz Farmstead at https://www.montcopa.org/929/Peter-Wentz-Farmstead. The other site is Pottsgrove Manor in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the home of ironmaster John Potts. Does Pottsgrove Manor have a connection to the railroads. Yes, it does… in a not-so-good way. The Colebrookdale Railroad passes near the mansion. During one trip in 1877, a stray spark flew out from the train and landed on the roof of the grist mill causing it to burn to the ground. Do not worry. The railroad and the manor have long since reconciled with each other, but you can still visit the mansion, and you can watch trains from the front of the house. The Colebrookdale Railroad is in the process of building a stop in Pottstown that will be a short walk to the mansion. You can learn more about Pottsgrove Manor, when you can visit and more about its history at https://www.montcopa.org/930/Pottsgrove-Manor.
This article first appeared on johncowgillstoriesoftherailroad.com
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