BATTLE OF BARREN HILL - 1787

1787 Battle of Barren Hill Map

This map was produced during the American Revolution and is a visual guide to the Battle of Barren Hill, fought from May 18 - 20, 1778. General Lafayette's American forces retreated during this battle through an area that is now part of the borough of Conshohocken (not incorporated until 1850) across the Schuylkill River and back to General Washington's camp at Valley Forge.

This map was originally produced for George Washington by Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy who was a geographical engineer on Lafayette’s staff. It became part of the public domain after the American Revolution in 1794 when it was published in London as part of a book entitled “Stedman’s History of the American War."  The author, Charles Stedman, was a British loyalist during the American Revolution who retired to London after the war. The book seems to be a history of the American Revolution from the British point of view.

 

For those of you familiar with Conshohocken and the surrounding townships, the roads and waterways shown on this map will look familiar. The Schuylkill River is on left side of this map while the Wissahickon Creek is towards the bottom. In reading the references at the top of the map, "Reference A" is the location of an area known as Barren Hill. The exaction location indicated is the intersection of today’s Ridge Pike, Church Road and Germantown Pike. It was (and still is) the site of St Peter’s Lutheran Church which was founded in 1752.

Historical marker for St. Peter's  Lutheran Church.

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On May 19, 1778 this church was abandoned and the wall outside of this church formed Lafayette’s defensive line. Lafayette was expecting that the British would be marching west bound out of Philadelphia toward his position at Barren Hill.

 

"Reference C" on the map is today the intersection of Ridge Pike and Butler Pike. On May 19, 1778 this was the position from which British troops under the command of General Grant were marching eastbound on Ridge Pike toward Lafayette at Barren Hill. Lafayette was not expecting an attack from the east.

 

"Reference G" is today Ridge Pike. British troops under General Clinton were marching westward from Philadelphia toward Barren Hill. Also, a third British force under the comment of General Grey (who is mentioned in this reference) was marching westward via Germantown Pike from Philadelphia toward Barren Hill.

 

The bottom line was that on the morning of May 20, 1778 the British thought they had Lafayette caught between three armies all converging on Lafayette at the intersection of today’s Ridge Pike, Church Road, and Germantown Pike. They also thought Lafayette had no route back out to any Schuylkill river crossing (which would allow him to return to George Washington’s camp at Valley Forge) so therefore retreat was impossible. They were so confident of victory that they had made plans to dine with Lafayette that evening in Philadelphia.

 

What the British did not know and which Lafayette did was the existence of what we know today as Barren Hill Road or map "Reference E." Lafayette skillfully fought a rear-guard action which allowed all of his troops to successfully retreat down Barren Hill road thru what today is known as Spring Mill and eventually crossing the Schuylkill River at Matson’s Ford or map "Reference D." Matson’s Ford was a ford of stones and planks built by Peter Matson across the Schuylkill River near his farm in the 18th century. Eventually Lafayette returned to George Washington’s camp at Valley Forge via Gulf road (map "Reference F").

 

Echoes of this battle can still be found today. At the current site of St Peters Church which is at the intersection of Ridge Pike, Church Road, and Germantown Pike you can find the following two historical markers:

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Lutheran Church Barren Hill historical marker.

Historical marker of Lafayette Encampment, 1778.

Barren Hill was renamed Lafayette Hill in 1900 to honor the French general but today both place names are in general usage. In Conshohocken the main street is known as “Fayette Street."

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Sign marking the location of Lafayette's headquarters during the Battle of Barren Hill.

And last but not least one of the main roads in the Borough of West Conshohocken is named Matsonford Road after Peter Matson’s 18th century Schuylkill River crossing. This crossing was located roughly in the area of today’s road bridge which connects Conshohocken and West Conshohocken.

 

GRID MAP CIRCA 1890

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Above you will find a historical grid map of Conshohocken circa 1890. Although the street grid and street names have remained almost unchanged since 1890 many of the buildings have been either greatly modified or totally replaced.

Following are some general observations:

 

  • The “lower” part of Conshohocken (roughly the area between Elm Street and the Schuylkill River) is depicted on this map as highly industrial. Today this area has completely changed with factories being mostly replaced with office buildings and apartment buildings. The Schuylkill canal has long been filled in and the bridge over the Schuylkill has been replaced twice since 1890.

 

  • The “middle” part of Conshohocken (roughly the area between Elm Street and West Seventh Avenue on the west side of Fayette Street and roughly the area between Elm Street and East Ninth Avenue on the east side of Fayette Street) is somewhat recognizable today when walking the streets of Conshohocken. St Mark’s Lutheran Church and the current Mary Wood Park house are noted on this map in their current locations on East Fifth Avenue. Other buildings noted on this map have long since vanished.

 

  • The “upper” part of Conshohocken (above West Seventh Avenue on the west side of Fayette Street and above East Ninth Avenue on the east side of Fayette Street) was completely undeveloped in 1890. Rumor has it that there was a golf course on the upper west side of Conshohocken (probably for the private use of a few) but we have not been able to totally verify this rumor.

 

BIRD'S EYE VIEW IN 1898

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Above you will find a Bird’s Eye View Historical Map of Conshohocken in 1898. This map displays information from the same time period as this web site’s historical grid map but with more attention to the buildings and businesses of Conshohocken. A legend at the bottom of this map indicates where on this map many of the 1898 institutions (private and public) were located along with many individuals associated with these institutions. A wall-sized, colorized version of this map is on display at the Mary Wood Park House.

Along the edge of this map you will see enlargements of some of the more important 1898 Conshohocken institutions. Below is a description of the fate of these pictured institutions starting at the upper left side of this map and moving clockwise:

 

  • Residence of James Tracy – Residence was sold in 1956 and demolished. Property was entire block bordered by Fayette and Harry Streets and East 7th and East 8th Avenues. Block has been sub-divided for business and residential uses.

 

  • Residence of J Elwood Lee – Residence is currently standing. Is located at the corner of Fayette Street and West 8th Avenue. During the 20th century this building was used as a private club and later as the Conshohocken Town Hall and police station. Currently being used as offices for private businesses.

  • St Marks Lutheran Church – Building is currently standing and is located at the corner of Harry Street and East 5th avenue. This building is still the home of an active Lutheran congregation.

  • Calvary Episcopal Church – Building is currently standing and is located at the corner of Fayette Street and East 4th Avenue. Building is currently being jointly used by both an Episcopal congregation and a Presbyterian congregation.

 

  • Conshohocken Primary, High, and Manual Training Schools – Buildings are no longer standing. They were located at the corner of Harry Street and East 3rd Avenue. Conshohocken Elementary School is presently at this location.

  • Presbyterian Church – Building is no longer standing. Was located at the corner of Fayette Street and West 3rd Avenue. Marshall Lee Towers is presently at this location.

  • Catholic Church – Building is no longer standing. Was located at the corner of Hector and Harry Streets. A parking lot is presently at this location. This building was the home of St Matthews parish. In 1919 parish moved to a new church at its current location which is the corner of Fayette Street and East 3rd Avenue.  

  • Tradesman National Bank – Building is no longer standing. Was located at the corner of Fayette and East Hector Streets. A parking lot is presently at this location.

  • Homestead of John Wood Sr – Building is currently standing. Is located behind St Mary’s Catholic Church at West Elm and Maple Streets. Is currently being used as the rectory for St Mary’s Catholic Church.

  • Schuylkill Woolen Mills H.C. Jones and Company – Buildings are no longer standing. Factory complex was located at the corner of Washington and Poplar Streets. Site is currently occupied by office buildings.

  • Factory and Laboratories of J Ellwood Lee Manufacturing Chemist – Factory is partially standing. Complex of buildings was located at 101 East 8th Avenue or at the corner of Harry Street and East 8th Avenue. Part of one of the main factory buildings is still standing at this location and is being used by private businesses.

 

There are also a number of presently standing structures that are not highlighted by enlargements. These structures are represented by this map either as part of the legend or as an unmarked building. Following are details concerning some of these structures:

 

  • First Baptist Church – Number 7 on the legend. Congregation is still worshiping at the same building at 100 Harry Street and East Fourth Avenue.

  • St Johns African American Episcopal Church – Congregation is still worshiping at building indicated at Harry Street and East 8th Avenue.

  • Farmhouse at intersection of West Elm Street, Colwell Lane, and current (in 2020) Wood Street – Structure indicated on the map at this location is the oldest building in Conshohocken built in 1794 by William and Elizabeth Shepherd. Building is still in use as a private residence.

  • Structure at intersection of Colwell Lane and West 6th Avenue – Property constructed in 1887. Current address is 499 West 6th Avenue. Building is still in use as a private residence.

  • Structure at corner of Wood Street and current (in 2020) West 2nd Avenue – Property constructed in 1880. Current address is 200 Wood Street. Building is still in use as a private residence.

 

FUN MAP 1985

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The above 1985 map is more of a Conshohocken “Fun Map” rather than a historical map. It was produced as a way of drawing attention to Conshohocken as the river redevelopment process started. Note the Native American at the bottom of the map saying “You Got’em Big Plans for My Town." There are a many real businesses, places, and institutions which appear in this map. For example, Sutcliffe Park, DelBuenos Roofing, Lee Towers, and St Matthews Church are real businesses and institutions which are still in existence in 2020. However, in this map you will find the Lock Ness Monster in the Schuylkill River near the Delaware River, Santa making an appearance, and King Kong on top of the courthouse building in Norristown with a damsel in distress. Somehow, I think all of these items fit into the realm of someone's very active imagination.

The Conshohocken Bakery, Pete’s Deli, and Edward Freemans are among the businesses which appear on this map that are still in existence in 2020. However, Frank and Eddies Cold Cuts, Wally’s, Light Parker, and Archbishop Kennedy High School (closed in 1993) are among the businesses and institutions that no longer exist in 2020.

 

LOCAL BUSINESSES OF 1999

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Above you will find a "Historical Map" of some of the businesses in Conshohocken in 1999. This map is not a true historical map  in that it does not claim to be an exact representation of the Conshohocken street grid. Rather this map is a snapshot in time of some of the more prominent businesses in the Conshohocken area at the end of the 20th century.

Some of these businesses may look familiar. John Brothers is still in business after 100 years, Flocco Shoes is still located on Fayette Street along with Tony and Joe’s Pizza. However Light Parker, Ted’s Place, Ralph’s Pharmacy, and Baldwin Flowers are just some of the businesses that are no longer with us.

 

This map also displays some of the more prominent institutions in Conshohocken in 1999. Some of these institutions are still in their current location. For example, the Conshohocken Free Library. Some have disappeared. For example, the Recorder Newspaper at Fayette Street and West 7th Avenue. While others have only moved. For example, the Conshohocken Borough Hall has moved from the old J. Elwood Lee Mansion at Fayette Street and West 8th Avenue to its current location at Fayette Street and West 4th Avenue.

 

LOCAL BUSINESSES OF 2006

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Above you will find a “Historical Map” of some of the businesses in Conshohocken in 2006. A similar version of this map was produced in 1999, but the 2006 map included many more Conshohocken businesses plus business in Whitmarsh and Plymouth Townships. This map does not claim to be an exact representation of the Conshohocken street grid but rather a portrayal of some of the more prominent businesses in the Conshohocken area in 2006.

Some of these businesses may look familiar. Both John Brothers and A. Piermani are still in business after 7 decades on east second avenue. Flocco Shoes is still located on Fayette Street along with Tony and Joe’s Pizza and the Great American Pub. However, Clemens Market, Ralph’s Pharmacy, the Conshohocken Barber Shop, and the Outbound Station are just some of the businesses that are no longer with us.

 

As compared to the 1999 version of this map the above 2006 version displays more activity along the Schuylkill river front. This is because between 1999 and 2006 many of the long-planned Conshohocken redevelopment projects were completed. This includes the Grande Condominiums, Riverwalk Apartments, and the Residence Inn Hotel.