Tag Archives: Chester County Poorhouse

My new book: to be published in 2018

milfordmills-coverfrontandsideTo save time, I am cross-pollinating on my social media sites.

A link to my Twitter Account




My updated and expanded book will have 21 chapters, illustrated vintage maps, and early photographs.

Most people are intrigued with the “Bo Bo” Hoff connection – the famous Philadelphia gangster (and Al Capone’s partner-in-crime) spent five years in a mansion/hideout in Milford Mills.

Here is an excerpt from some of the “curious” landmarks

“Murder Hollow” and Other Tales

From 1836 to 1916, the miller and farmer Benjamin G. Nichols was held in high regard for his productive saw mill and a cider mill that used many varieties of apples from his farm on Creek Road.

In the 1930s, Nichols’ son, Oliver, was similarly well-known. His former store and gas station still stands at the corner of Creek and Crawford Roads, just north of the Struble trail at Dorlan’s. According to local legend and written accounts during the gangster “Bo Bo” Hoff’s residency in Milford Mills, this stretch of Creek Road was known as “Murder Hollow” after the body of an unidentified woman was found along Creek Road and a “severed head” found floating in the nearby East Branch.

Equally frightening was the area’s reputation for harboring the “Dorlan’s Devil,” an apparition that was described as “an oversized kangaroo with long black hair and eyes like large red saucers.”   One news notice in 1937, reported a sighting “after an absence of five years.” The “witnesses” included a Downingtown paper mill worker with the unusual name of Cydney Ladley as well as his “wife and Mrs. Chester Smith”who were with him in the family car, on the way to Milford Mills from Dorlan’s.   The sighting in 1932 was made by two nursery men who working in the heavily wooded area near Dorlan’s. One man, “Charles McCandless of Landsdowne” was asked, as was Ladley, if he did not mistake the “beast” for a deer – a stupid question, as the reporter suggests, knowing that deer were so common in “those parts.” The “apparition which crossed his path was no deer,” reported Ladley, who later organized a search party. “Armed with guns and accompanied by hunting dogs, the men tramped about that section for several hours without locating the menacing brute,” it was reported.

A few years later, in 1935, the myterious death of Evelyn Hoey seemed to seal the reputation of “Murder Hollow” although the “murder” took place some distance away, in what was described as a sprawling mansion on Indian Run Road in Glenmoore. Hoey, a Broadway theater torch singer and an aspiring actress who had a Paramount contract, was spending the week in the mansion, then the home of Henry Huddleston Rogers 3d, grandson of a deceased millionaire, “Col.” Henry Huddleston Rogers, who was co-founder, with John D. Rockfeller, of Standard Oil.

According to one account written decades after insident, police were called to the scene on the night of September 11th, and they found Hoey dead from a head wound in the master bedroom. Her body was taken to a mogue in Downingtown and later to the county seat of West Chester for an autopsy. A coroner’s jury returned an open verdict that Hoey killed herself, but still Rogers and a friend, William Kelly, were arrested on suspicion of homicide.[1]

[1] A Wikipedia entry for the incident presents a list of people at home in the mansion as though presenting characters in a Clue board game. In addition to Kelly, “a photographer,” there was “a Japanese cook, George Yamada, a butler, and Rogers’ chauffeur, Frank Catalano.”

A Chronicle Of Tales Of Paupers And Gypsies

As early as 1800, the poor in Chester County had a place in the community, in their own home.

The Chester County Poor House was built with county funds on a large tract on what was the former state police barracks at Embreeville in West Bradford Township, Chester County, Pa.(https://plus.google.com/101055308443833626364/about?gl=us&hl=en) There, the comings and goings of “our paupers” were closely monitored by a house steward who lived on the grounds and oversaw its farming operations.

When the paupers were not harvesting crops or making bread, they often received visits from the Directors of the Poor and were written about in the local newspapers.In fact, the life stories of not only poorhouse residents, but “picturesque local characters” sometimes called “gypsies” and “tramps,” occupied the public’s imagination well into the 1920s.

Until the Depression brought a kind of social democracy to the region, the poor were often looked upon as outsiders, or feeble-minded misfits.There are old newspaper accounts of “Old Dabbo,” for instance, a former slave who was given the opportunity to attend school but “didn’t learn much.”Another former slave, “Gango,” found work “bleaching linen” and working for various local farmers.”Old Black Phil” was described as the “Goliath of wood sawers,” wandering from job to job, living where he could.

Perhaps the most celebrated itinerant was “Indian Hannah,” who died in the poorhouse in 1803 at the age of 100. Typically described as the “last of her race,” Hannah was said to prefer the free life of her Leni-Lenape ancestors. She roamed the county and earned a living as an herbalist and basketmaker.

Gypsies generally received the most attention, in part because of their exotic attire and habit of traveling in “houses upon wheels,” complete with a “compliment of horses, colts, dogs and chickens,” as one newspaper described them in 1874.In 1900, a band of “either English or Scotch gypsies” traveled through West Chester on the way south from New England. Although they were depicted fairly favorably – the writer noted that they had the “best-looking horses” of any gypsy band – most accounts of the period describe a path of destruction whenever gypsies traveled through the county, with cellars raided, orchards stripped bare, and even laundry snatched from wash lines.

Aside from the almshouse, those who were not part of the county’s “roguish wanderers,” such as the working poor, could find a place on local farms, orchards and nurseries.Two of the largest employees of temporary workers were found in West Chester.The Hoopes Brother and Thomas nursery extended from Biddle Street to north of Ashbridge Street and employed “armies” of men to work what was known as the nursery’s “Forty Acres,” full of roses and perennials. There were also plants and produce to prepare for shipment in the nursery’s “packing sheds” on Maple Avenue.

By 1902, the workers’ housing that had stood nearby for nearly 25 years was deemed an eyesore and torn down. A newspaper reporter noted that the “bunk sheds” which faced a “public highway” were “not a beautiful sight,” especially on Sunday, when it was wash day for the workers. After new housing sheds were built along Goshen Road, the after-hour activities of the workers, such as their “cooking, washing and mending,” remained out of sight and out of mind for the public, the reporter noted.

In West Chester, some seasonal workers even hoped for a cold snap. At Uriah H. Painter’s icehouse (pictured here) most of the employees were black men who toiled round the clock packing “ice cakes” cut from two ice ponds, one on ground now occupied by Knox Equipment Rental on East Gay Street and the other in nearby West Goshen typically described as “Ganges Pond”  (The Ganges family is featured in another post).

They lived in temporary housing and spent their days “cutting, slashing, pushing, hauling, arranging and packing ice,” as one reporter summarized it. While Painter was known to purchase ice from as far away as Canada, much of the work involved preparing the local ice – keeping it clear of snow with hand-held scrapers and brooms, for instance.

At night, the workers created a scene that put them in a romantic light, their “lanterns flitting about over the crystal surface,” as one writer noted in 1891.Workers loading ice on Uriah H. Painter's Ice Wagons, West Goshe Uriah H. Painter's Ice House, West Chester, PA