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Historic timeline at Hallowell Elementary School by Justine Musick
Historic timeline at Hallowell Elementary School by Justine Musick

John Welsh

John Welsh

John Welsh

Welsh Strawbridge's maternal grandfather was John Welsh, a very successful Philadelphia merchant and Minister to the Court of St. James under President Rutherford B Hayes. The portrait to the left is of John Welsh as painted by his son Herbert Welsh who was known as an earnest advocate of the rights of Indians, and was later prominent in Pennsylvania state politics as a reformer.

Alice Welsh Strawbridge, the mother of Welsh Strawbridge, was the fourth of seven children of John Welsh and his second wife Mary Lowber. Mr Welsh also had a daughter from his first marriage to Rebecca Miller, who died young. (66 p 151)

Mr. Welsh's father, also named John, moved from Delaware to Philadelphia in 1786 and became a prominent merchant. He taught his sons, Samuel, William, and John the business. The three brothers, working together as S & W Welsh and later S & J Welsh, were among the leading commission houses in Philadelphia, and familiarly known all over the country. (69)

Mr. Welsh also became very interested in the civic and charitable affairs in the city. He oversaw the $330,000 fund, to which he personally donated $41,000, for building Episcopal Hospital; and was a founder and president of a group that helped merchants who had fell on hard times. (69)

In 1864, Mr Welsh was elected chairman of the executive committee of the great sanitary fair (71) held in Logan Square, Philadelphia, which raised $1,500,000 in money and supplies for the promotion of the health and comfort of soldiers and sailors in the United States Army and Navy. (72)

The success of the Sanitary Fair led to Mr. Welsh's selection as Chairman of the Board of Finances of the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 held in Fairmount Park. Mr. Welsh also recognized that a large part of what made the Sanitary Fair so successful was the large number of women volunteers, so a "Women's Centennial Executive Committee" was formed with Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a descendant of Benjamin Franklin, as president.(69)

'"...the Centennial Exhibition took place on more than 285 acres of land in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park May 10-November 10, 1876. Close to ten million visitors (9,910,966) went to the fair via railroad, steamboat, carriage, and on foot. Thirty-seven nations participated in the event, officially named the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures, and Products of the Soil and Mine. The grounds contained five major buildings: the Main Exhibition Building, Memorial Hall (Art Gallery), Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall. In addition to these buildings, approximately 250 smaller structures were constructed by states, countries, companies, and other Centennial bureaus that focused on particular displays or services." (73)

The Centennial was open for 159 days and over 8.2M people paid admission, "...a successful birthday party given by a proud people. " (74)

"After the exhibition closed, the board of directors, in recognition of his services, voted him a gold medal, and a number of prominent persons presented him $50,000 as "a perpetual commemoration of the sincere gratitude of the citizens of Philadelphia." With this fund, he founded the John Welsh chair of history and English literature in the University of Pennsylvania" (69)

President Ulysses S. Grant, who opened and closed the Centennial, was impressed with Welsh's management of the $11M budget of the exposition and offered him the position of Secretary of the Treasury, but he turned this down. (75 p263). Grant's successor, Rutherford B Hayes, appointed Welsh as Minister to Great Britain on October 30, 1877 a position he held until resigning on August 31, 1879. (69),

Welsh retired upon his return from England. He was a trustee of the University of PA for twenty years and contributed $80,000 to its endowment fund, gave $10,000 to the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, and was honored as Knight-Commander of the Order of St. Olaf by the king of Sweden, and Commander of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan, and Grand Officer of the Order of Nizan Iftakan by the bey of Tunis. He was also received honorary degrees from University of Pennsylvania in 1878, and by Washington and Lee University in 1880. He died in Philadelphia April 19, 1886. (69),

Spring Bank was the name of Mr. Welsh's country home near the banks of the Wissahickon Creek in Germantown. Parts of the home are thought to date back to at least 1738 when the property and buildings were purchased by William Rittenhouse. The Rittenhouses were paper makers. William's grandfather had built the first papermill in America in 1690 nearby on the Monoshone Creek, which was later called Paper Mill Run. The estate stayed in the Rittenhouse family until 1795, then passed through several owners until purchased by Samuel Mason. Mason was an Irish Friend, a founder and trustee of the Germantown Friends Meeting, and a steward of the Pennsylvania Hospital. An incident at Meeting where a Friend had a breakdown led Mason to establish a sanitarium (75 pp262-265) known as the Springbank Sanitorium, the second such psychiatric facility in the city of Philadelphia, after that of Friends Hospital. (76)

In 1840, John Welsh's father-in-law, Dr Edward Lowber became the master of Spring Bank. Upon his death it was left to his son and to his Welsh grandchildren. John Welsh bought out the heirs and established Spring Bank as his country home. (75 pp262-265)

The Asylum Project states that Mason ".... remained in residence on the grounds until 1888. It clinical purpose appears to shift in time, by 1900 it served "anemic and debilitated small girls". It was still in active use as a respite until the early 1960's." (76). It was also known as Dr Lowber's Sanatorium. (78)

Edgar Allan Poe often visited the Fairmount Park area during his stay in Philadelphia (1838-1844) and on one of these visits he saw an elk standing on what was probably Mom Rinker's Rock, (77) at that time part of the Spring Bank estate. Samuel Mason was known to have kept 'pets' on the grounds of his sanitarium, including elk.

Poe wrote an essay, “Morning on The Wissahiccon” (reprinted later as “The Elk”) that first appeared in The Opal: A Pure Gift for The Holy Days (1844) that contained the following appreciation:

"Now the Wissahickon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue, if, indeed, its banks were not parcelled off in lots, at an exorbitant price, as building-sites for the villas of the opulent. "

Welsh may have read these lines,. A Fairmount Park commissioner, he later donated "considerable" of his land to Philadelphia's new Fairmount Park. (75 p266)

"He was very fond of Sping Bank and gave considerable of his land to Fairmount Park, including Molly Rinker's Rock.where he erected a heroic statue of William Penn, called 'Toleration' which overlooks the valley of the Wissahickon. Back of the house is a walk leading to the brink of the hill where are two trees and a seat joined to them where he loved to sit and survey the view so much like Berkshire in old England with its forests and cleared fields. Perhaps there is no place so close to the city which preserves the wild conditions of the past so well as this one. Here the raccoons still steal the corn and foxes scamper across the lawns. All the old features of old days are evident - the smoke house, the spring house, and the fish pond at the base of the hill upon which the house stands. It was in such ponds as this that the early settlers preserved the fish, which they had caught, until a suitable time for eating. The stone plastered house has been added to many times and is on several levels. The big fireplace and the crane are still to be seen and while the architecture is not pretentious, it is quaint and interesting." (75 p266)

Next, Herbert Welsh...




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900 Governor Road
Horsham, PA 19044 USA
© 2000- Horsham Preservation and Historical Association
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