Lower Providence Historical Society

Lower Providence Historical Society

The Derrick Casselberry Farmstead

Evansburg 1734

 

This is a Historic Structures Report for the Derrick Casselberry House, located in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County, Pa.  The report provides an architectural survey of the property’s resources, a condition report, a brief history of the property, and interpretive recommendations.

 

The key resources on the property are the Derrick Casselberry House, an underground well house/root cellar, and a smokehouse.  The property also contains a dilapidated springhouse, a modern masonry outbuilding, and a stone wall.  The latter was once associated with the property’s barn, now demolished.  These resources are the remaining elements of the former 62-acre Casselberry farm, now undergoing residential development just west of the house.  Although the property has lost its integrity as a farm, the large and highly visible Derrick Casselberry House stands as tangible evidence to the family that occupied the property for over 150 years.  The core of the house itself is nearly 270 years old.

 

The house is in fair condition, despite its abandonment for over five years.  Major areas of concern are the condition of its roof and the failure of its flashing, eave and cornice systems.  There are at least two major leaks visible in the interior and several areas experiencing plaster failure due to moisture within the walls.  Structurally, the house appears to be in good to excellent condition. The well house/root cellar and smokehouse are in good condition, with no major problems other than the need for general repair, cleaning, and maintenance.  As stated, the springhouse is in a dilapidated state, mainly due to a deteriorated roof.

 

The property is significant for several reasons and worthy of preservation.  Architecturally, the house, which is the largest, oldest, and most visible feature on the property, is a fine example of the blending of early eighteenth century vernacular building traditions - beginning with the “Penn Plan” Core, c. 1734 - with the more stylized concepts of the late nineteenth century.  Its many stages of development mirror the growth and desires of the Casselberry family and present a tangible and highly visible architectural record (the Core plus five additions) of the changing needs and desires of its inhabitants.  The Casselberry family was a locally prominent family throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Lower Providence Township.  Although there have been many alterations to the interior, most original architectural elements survive.  Several of these alterations occurred as the house was added to, creating an extremely interesting story that is backed by architectural evidence.  Historically, the house survives as a major cultural element within the still surviving rural landscape of Lower Providence Township and, as some contend, was a stop for George Washington.  The Washington connection, however, has never officially been documented.  Finally, the well house/root cellar is a rare type of utilitarian building construction that is highly intact, functional, and extremely interesting to experience.  It, along with the other outbuildings, enhances the historic setting of the property.

 

Regarding interpretation and/or reuse, the house offers large and usable rooms on all three floors. Windows provide ample natural light for just about any kind of use throughout the building.  Outbuildings would be best preserved for interpretive purposes.  The well house/root cellar, in particular, presents an opportunity for the citizens of Lower Providence to experience a rare but surviving building type and learn about the use and necessity of such structures.  The resource could be visited regardless of whether the house itself is open for public tours.  The property is adjacent to Evansburg State Park and thus could be an important destination should a trail system be established linking the park’s many historic and natural sites.  There is also sufficient room to incorporate a small playground and picnic area on the property, provided that any development of this sort would include a landscape plan buffering, and/or incorporating what some may regard as modern intrusions upon the historic landscape.

 

As an aside, the traditional name for the house, and for the purposes of this report, is the Derrick Casselberry House. While it has been known by that name locally for many years, the investigators found no concrete historical evidence that Derrick Casselberry actually built or ever lived in the house. Derrick Casselberry did live in Lower Providence Township, however. Throughout most of the existence of the house, the residents were members of the Casselberry family. The possibility of calling the house the Casselberry House seems appropriate until we recognize that the neighboring house to the south was built for Ann Casselberry and could also be called the Casselberry House. The house could also be named the Morgan Casselberry House.  D. Morgan Casselberry owned the house from 1857 to 1887 and was responsible for adding the large stone addition on the east end and the Mansard roofed third floor, both of which give the house its present, stately appearance. After considering the factors, it seems appropriate to use the historical name of the house, remembering the problematic nature of the name.

 

In conclusion, the Derrick Casselberry House (and property) is significant for its architectural and historical contribution to the history of Lower Providence and Montgomery County.  As a “contributing resource” in the Evansburg National Register Historic District, it is worthy of restoration, or at the very least, rehabilitation, and presents an opportunity for adaptive re-use, education, and visitation.

 

General Description

The Casselberry property is located at 243 Evansburg Road, approximately ¼ mile north of Germantown Pike, in Lower Providence Township, Montgomery County, Pa.  The Casselberry house is located approximately one mile west of the village of Evansburg, Pa., which is located between Collegeville and Norristown.  The resource is a contributing resource in the Evansburg National Register Historic District (listed 6/19/1972).

 

The 3.975-acre property is the remaining tract of the once 62-acre Casselberry Farm.  The farm was last subdivided in 1999, with the greater portion being developed for single unit residences.  The development is occurring on a gradual hill rising north and west of the property.  With little vegetation in between, the new development is highly visible from the property. The property sits adjacent to Evansburg Road, with the road actually curving around the east end of the Casselberry House.  Evansburg State Park occupies the land east of Evansburg Road, and is an area of mature woodland.  The Ann Casselberry House, constructed in 1795, is located south of the property.  Together, the Casselberry houses form a historic nucleus on the north side of the Evansburg Historic District.

The property itself is an irregularly shaped parcel running parallel to Evansburg Road.  The terrain falls gently to the south.  Vegetation is mainly overgrown lawn, however there is woodland on the southwest corner of the property, where the springhouse is located.  The house cuts perpendicular through the property.  Its main façade faces south, thus perpendicular to Evansburg Road.  However, because of the curve of the road and the hill rising to the north, the main façade of the house is highly visible while driving north on the road.  Its massive stonewalls and three-story height makes it a dominant landscape feature along Evansburg Road.  Its T-shaped footprint occupies a significant portion of the property.  The entrance to the property is via a short gravel driveway north of the house.  The smokehouse is immediately west of the house.  The well house/ root cellar is immediately north of the house.  The stone wall is located northwest of the house and the modern outbuilding is just north of the driveway.

 

Brief Overview

The Casselberry Farm has been in existence for over 260 years. Most of the history of the property centers on the Casselberry family, which operated a farm and/or managed a tannery business there for over 150 years. Following World War I, the family sold the farm. The farmhouse was converted into offices, and in recent years the land was sold for development. Now standing empty at 275 Evansburg Road, the Casselberry farmhouse (as well as several outbuildings) is the surviving testament to the long lineage of Casselberrys who once occupied it.

 

Settlement:  Eighteenth Century

The Casselberry family had settled in Providence Township by 1725. In that year, a petition by inhabitants of lands along the “Perquomin Creek” asked for the creation of a new township to be created in their area. One of the names listed was “----- Casselberry” (the first name is illegible). Their request was not granted until they forwarded a second petition for a new township in 1729.

 

Henry Casselberry was the immigrant ancestor of the Casselberry family. He was born Heinrich Kasselberg in Bakersdorf, Germany and emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1683. In 1691, Henry Kasselberg initiated naturalization proceedings in a group of sixty-two Germans including Francis Daniel Pastorius; their request was denied at the time because they did not own land. The German men were finally naturalized in 1709. Henry Casselberry was a bachelor in 1695 but was married by 1698. He and his wife Katrin were Mennonites and attended services in the log Meeting House at Germantown. By the time of his death in 1729, Henry Casselberry had moved to the region now known as Providence Township. In his will (signed Henry Casselberry) he left half of his property to his wife and the other half to their son Derrick Casselberry.

 

The Casselberry family seems to have left the Mennonite faith during the early part of the eighteenth century. One historian found evidence that the family attended Mennonite services at Methacton. Henry Casselberry’s son Paul, however, was associated with the Great Valley Baptist Church near Paoli and later with the St. James Episcopal Church at Evansburg. The Casselberry family was associated with St. James for two centuries after the first evidence of their affiliation in 1736, when Paul Casselberry signed a petition to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (an Anglican missionary society) asking for a change in the ministry at St. James. Jacob Casselberry was a pew holder at St. James in a 1788 list.[3]

 

The chain of ownership is not entirely clear for the eighteenth century and thus the original builder of the house is uncertain. When Montgomery County was established, George and Sophia Kreissman of Chester County owned the Casselberry farm in Evansburg. The Kreissmans sold the farm to Jacob Casselberry in 1768 according to a later deed; the 1768 deed was not recorded in Philadelphia, Bucks, or Chester Counties. [4]  The Kreissmans also did not file a deed when they bought this property, although they did file deeds for other properties they owned in Franconia. It is possible that the Kreissman family built the original house, since there is no indication how or when they obtained the title. A second possibility is that the house was built on land owned by Henry Casselberry which later fell into the hands of the Kreissman family. In his will, Henry Casselberry gave half of his possessions to his son Derrick and half to another son, John. Derrick, however, conveyed his rights to a third brother, Paul. If the house stood on land owned by Henry Casselberry, it became part of Paul Casselberry’s holdings. Interestingly enough, the only apparent connection between the Casselberrys and the Kreissmans is through Paul, who was a member of the Baptist Church in Paoli, Chester County during his early years. It may be that Paul sold the land to the Kreissmans during these years. A third possibility is that the house stood on land that Derrick Casselberry owned before his father’s death. In 1734, Derrick Casselberry paid taxes on 98 acres of land with a house near Evansburg; if this is the same house as the subject of this report, there is no evidence to explain how the farm moved into the hands of the Kreissman family before they sold it to Jacob Casselberry in 1768.

There is a local tradition that George Washington spent one night in the Casselberry house during the American Revolution. In September of 1777, the American army passed through the vicinity of the house, according to military records. The army crossed the Schuylkill on September 19, 1777 and encamped at the intersection of Ridge and Germantown Pikes. There is a gap in Washington’s financial accounts from the 19th until the 26th, and Washington is said to have spent the night of the 20th in the Casselberry house. Edward W. Hocker, a historian, researched the family tradition and concluded that there is no documentary evidence for the Washington visit but that it was possible.[1]  In any event, Jacob Casselberry, who owned the house in 1777, probably constructed the Middle Addition some ten years before.

 

Development:  Nineteenth Century

Jacob Casselberry died in 1795. In his will dated 9/22/1795, Jacob directed his wife Ann to sell the farm to their son William, keep £300 for herself, and distribute the remainder to their other children. Ann Casselberry did not carry out the sale of the farm to William Casselberry until 6/2/1803, when William paid £1,500 for the land. Ann must have been living in the house because the deed states, “the tenants in possession have agreed to sell the same.” In 1804, Ann bought the adjacent property south of the farm from John Fronfield, who had built a house for her. At the turn of the eighteenth century, the Casselberry farm had an operating tannery, a business that remained through much of the nineteenth century.  Jacob Casselberry was listed as a tanner in the Lower Providence Township tax records. Jacob was taxed £80 for his tannery in 1779; his tax increased to £200 in 1782, which would suggest that he had built a new tannery building. After the death of Jacob Casselberry, his son Richard (also a tanner) paid the taxes on the tanyard, and the occupation of Jacob’s son William Casselberry was also listed as tanner in the tax records.

 

William Casselberry married Catherine Wentz on August 28, 1794, and they had six children: Richard, John, Joseph, Charlotte, Barbara Ann, and Rebecca. William and Catherine Casselberry are probably the owners who constructed the Kitchen Addition to the rear of the house around 1800. After reaching the age of sixty, William and Catherine Casselberry sold the farm to their second son, John, for the consideration of $6,365. This transaction included the tract of land upon which the house stood and five other tracts of land as well.

 

John Casselberry married Rebecca Morgan on February 3, 1824; they had four children: D. Morgan, D. Hearn, Melville L., and Catharine Casselberry. John Casselberry moved off the Casselberry farm in his early years but returned to the farm in 1831 with his wife and children. Both John and Rebecca were raised in families that operated tanneries. John continued to operate the tannery until he died intestate. After the death of William Casselberry (father of John) in 1857, the Casselberry family sold the farm and tannery to John and Rebecca’s eldest son, D. Morgan Casselberry.

 

Morgan Casselberry was a man of many talents and capabilities and indeed the most colorful and locally significant of all the Casselberrys who lived on the property.  He is also responsible for the current appearance of the house.  Morgan attended a school sponsored by St. James’ Episcopal Church, where his family attended, and then attended Germantown Academy and Treemount Seminary. Morgan served as a director of the Perkiomen Railroad, as Secretary of the Lower Providence Like Stock Insurance Company, as a manager of the Perkiomen Valley Insurance Company, and Justice of the Peace. He was a vestryman at St. James’ for more than fifty years and served a senior warden. He was also active in the Republican Party. Morgan lived on the Casselberry farm for eighty-five years, his family having moved there in 1831 when he was six years old.  On March 25, 1852, Morgan Casselberry married Ann Eliza Heebner, a school teacher and daughter of John and Susanna Heebner. Ann died a few months after celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary. They had several children: John H., M. Alice, Ann Rebecca, C. Wigton, Catharine J., Theodore M., Hannah Amelia, Leonora Russel, and two others who died in infancy.

 

Morgan was best known locally for his tanning business, named the Evansburg Tannery. Morgan purchased steam-powered equipment for the tannery, built a new structure to house the equipment in 1863 (which was demolished in 1925), and supervised the business during a time period in which most of the tanneries in Montgomery County were closing. Around this time, Morgan Casselberry’s left arm was crushed inside a bark-grinding machine and was amputated. [Since his disability prevented him from serving in the Civil War, Morgan took a position supervising the local drafts for military service.

 

While the Evansburg Tannery was very profitable in the 1860s and 1870s, there is some evidence that it was beginning to decline in the 1880s. In 1887, Morgan Casselberry sold the farm to Christopher Heebner, a relative of his wife (perhaps her brother). Later the same day, Heebner sold the farm to Morgan Casselberry’s wife Ann Eliza. Ann Eliza Casselberry is listed as the owner of the Casselberry farm in the 1893 Atlas of Montgomery County. It was only four years after this sale of the land that Morgan Casselberry retired from the tannery business; the new owners operated the tannery for three years before it ceased operating due to the 1894 recession.

As stated, Morgan Casselberry made several alterations to the Casselberry house that defines its present appearance. During the winter of 1868-1869, he constructed the East Addition, which is described in his diaries as follows (spelling unchanged):

 

11/12/1868      Commenced digin cellar for house.

11/18/1868      Commenced hauling stone for building.

11/21/1868      Finished deging cellar.

11/25/1868      Carpenters commenced frameing House.

11/30/1868      Masons commenced walling at house.

12/5/1868        Raised frame of house.

12/14/1868      Carpenters commenced weather boarding house.

12/19/1868      Leveled off around house.

12/21/1868      Brought one Load board & Lath from A. Thomas.

3/11/1869        Finished putting first coat Plastering on house.

3/26/1869        Plasterers finished putting on second coat on house.

4/2/1869          Cleared up around house

 

In 1872, Morgan Casselberry added the third floor and its highly visible Mansard roof.  Mansard roofs were a major architectural element of the Second Empire style, a then popular style in urban areas and particularly in the nearby county seat of Norristown.  According to his diaries, carpenters removed the roof on August 29, 1872, then built the third floor across the entire main section of the house (Core, Middle Addition and East Addition) and finished the new roof on October 24, 1872.

 

Twentieth Century

The Casselberry farm changed hands many times in the twentieth century and left the possession of the Casselberry family. With the passage of time, the land associated with the Casselberry house also dwindled in acreage.

 

As the twentieth century dawned, Morgan Casselberry was no longer farming the land. His declining health was further heightened when he went blind in 1906 at the age of 82.  In 1911, Morgan and Ann Eliza sold the farm to Morgan’s younger brother Hearn, although they continued to live in the house. Eight years after going blind, at the age of ninety, Morgan underwent experimental eye surgery which restored his sight.  Unfortunately, he lived only two years after the surgery, dying in 1916. His obituary states “He prided himself on his fine farm and excellent crops, his wheat being usually the best in the Perkiomen valley and readily marketed at high prices for seed.

Hearn Casselberry, Morgan Casselberry’s brother, only lived two and a half years after purchasing the farm, dying intestate on October 30, 1913. Hearn’s next of kin were his brothers and sisters (including Morgan). The heirs sold the house and most of the land in 1917 to Lenora R. Casselberry, a daughter of Morgan Casselberry, but she later wrote that she did not live in the house during the years she owned it.

 

Lenora Casselberry was the last member of her family to own the Casselberry farm. She sold most of the property in 1923 to Joseph Slonaker and Carolina Gohn.  The sale ended 150 years of Casselberry ownership.

 

As making a living farming became harder and harder, the Casselberry farm changed hands several times in the early twentieth century. Slonaker and Gohn, who purchased the land from Lenora Casselberry in 1923, held the farm for three years before selling it to George E. Fulmer, a farmer. (It is possible that the tannery building was demolished during the ownership of Slonaker and Gohn.) In 1926, perhaps because Fulmer was unable to make the payments on the farm, he sold a moiety interest (or a half interest) in the farm to J.R. Care. After ten years, Fulmer and Care sold the Casselberry farm to George D. Horrocks, who farmed the land for nine years and sold it to Harry and Margaret Weaver.

 

The last chapter in the life of the Casselberry farmhouse was its service as the offices of Harry and Margaret Weaver’s construction company. (The Casselberry farmhouse was an interesting site for construction offices, since the farm had undergone so many construction campaigns in its history.) The Weavers probably installed the telephone system in the Middle Addition and the restrooms in the hall of the Kitchen Addition. Importantly, the Weavers maintained the house and the outbuildings that stood on the farm when they purchased it. The value of the land skyrocketed during their ownership; they paid $15,000 for the land in 1945 and sold it for $150,000 in 1972 to William E. Weaver and James C. Rees. Weaver and Rees owned the land for 22 years and sold it in 1994 to Vincent F. and Lillian Catagnus for $1,200,000. It is possible that the Casselberry barn was demolished during the ownership of the Catagnus family. The Catagnus family in turn sold the farm in 1999 for $2,600,000 to Nick and Les Inc., for development.

 

Derrick Casselberry Farmhouse (overview)

The Derrick Casselberry house is a large, multi-sectional complex built over a 170-year timeframe.  When the final section was added in the late 1800s, the result was a 3-story, T-shaped house with the main façade facing south.  Clad almost entirely in stucco, the house consisted of a four part (including the third floor Mansard roof section) main block and a smaller, two-part, two-story kitchen/utility wing (the tail of the “T”) attached to the rear or north of the main block. The house is, and no doubt was, a prominent feature of the (then) rural landscape of nineteenth century central Montgomery County.  Today the stucco has been removed from the south façade and the interior has undergone major alterations, yet it continues to exhibit its 270-year history, from its early eighteenth century traditional beginnings to its more stylized nineteenth century adaptations.

 

 The Derrick Casselberry house reflects a variety of styles of architecture. It was constructed in six stages. The Core, c. 1734, is a Penn Plan house built of stone. Typical of Penn Plan houses, it was two stories with two bays, an end gabled roof, and a pent roof on the main (south) façade.  However, the house did not have a kitchen fireplace, thus a summer kitchen must have existed elsewhere on the property.  Around 1760, the Casselberry family removed the eastern gable end wall and constructed a mirror image of the Core that doubled the size of the house.  Called the Middle Addition in this report, it had two stories, two bays, and was built of stone.

 

Soon after the Middle Addition was added, a large two-story masonry addition (the Kitchen Addition) was constructed to the rear of the house.  This rather unique section included a new kitchen hearth at the northeast corner.  Various details indicate that the addition may have been constructed to support the family tannery business. 

 

In 1868 the Casselberry family demolished the east end of the Middle Addition (including a fireplace and chimney) and added the stone, two-story, East Addition.   The East Addition greatly modernized the house by giving it a formal “center hall” plan.

 

The fifth stage of construction occurred in 1872 when carpenters removed the end gabled roof and added a Mansard roof and third floor across the entire length of the Core, Middle, and East Additions.  Mansard roofs were a main element of the then popular Second Empire style. The Third Floor Addition gave the main part of the house its near present appearance. 

 

The final addition occurred in the late 1800s, when a framed second floor extension (Rear Porch Addition) was added to the north end of the Kitchen Addition.  The addition added two small rooms to the rear of the house and served as a porch over the rear entrance of the house.

 

While the stone exterior of the Core, Middle and East Additions are now visible on the south side, throughout much of its history, the house was covered with stucco.

 

 As mentioned, the construction of the 1868 East Addition created a “center hall” plan house, although not in the strictest sense.  The East Addition included a hall, formal stairway, and parlor on the first floor and a hall, stairway and bedroom on the second floor.  While most formal center hall plan houses were two rooms deep with two rooms on each side of the hall, the Casselberry house, due to its numerous additions, varied this concept.  The main section of the house was just one room deep yet the East Addition and Third Floor Addition attempted to display the symmetry of an earlier center hall plans. In any event, the house became more formal in plan, appearance and size.

 

 

 

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