The Richard Wall House, at one time called “The Ivy” because of its ivy-covered walls, has been assigned the date of 1682. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places because it was the oldest house in Pennsylvania with continual family occupancy. The historical importance of the Wall House goes far beyond that, beginning with the meetings conducted by the Society of Friends in the Wall home. It arises mostly from the early families who lived here, their significance in the community, and how their marriages for generations connected many of the personalities who became prominent in American history. In addition, their family enterprises were important in the growth and wealth of Cheltenham Township.

For purposes of simplification, this history focuses on four men prominent in the Wall House's early history: William Penn, Tobias Leech, Richard Wall and George Shoemaker.

In 1650, George Fox was preaching Quakerism in England and Richard Wall was holding Society meetings in his home, just 15 miles from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England. When William Penn received his land grant from Charles II, he announced that if a certain number of purchasers agreed to have their lands adjoining and wished to form a small township, they could do so. It is interesting to note that with the exception of a few small pieces of land gained at a later date, the boundaries of Cheltenham Township are those conceived and executed by lawyers in London over 300 years ago.

One of the original purchasers of the Cheltenham Township land was Tobias Leech, who sailed up the Delaware in 1682 on the ship, “The Bristol Factor." It accompanied the ship “Welcome,” which carried William Penn. Leech named the Township "Cheltenham" after his hometown in England. In the new Cheltenham, he built several structures, one of which is still standing in the community. Leech was also a friend of Richard Wall. They both came from the same Quaker Meeting, “Stokes Orchard” near Cheltenham, England.

Although Richard Wall's specific emigration details are not known, he transferred out of his Society of Friends group in England in April 1682 and into a Philadelphia Society in October, so his arrival in America likely was with Toby Leech on the Bristol Factor. In America, Richard Wall’s home was the scene of Quaker weddings and services, making the house one of the original Quaker meetinghouses and is one of the oldest still standing in America. The Cheltenham Friends were originally attached to the Frankford and Byberry Meetings but because of distance, the Wall House was used as a meeting place. Cheltenham was also the parent Meeting of the Germantown Friends. Meetings continued in the Wall House until the Abington Meeting House was built in 1702. Unfortunately, Mr. Wall, who was active in the planning, died before the building was completed.

Also in 1682, William Penn heard of the plight of the Quakers in Germany, and therefore, he encouraged them to form a group that would settle on his land where a new “German Town” could offer them religious freedom. A Company was formed with an agent, F. Daniel Pastorius. George Shoemaker emigrated with the group. George married Sara Wall, Richard Wall’s granddaughter and heiress.

Shoemaker Mill Interested in universal freedom, Pastorius wrote a proclamation protesting slavery that had its reading from the Wall House in 1688. George Shoemaker, along with Tobias Leech and others, laid out York Road in 1711. The surrounding land became known as "Shoemakertown," then “Ogontz” after Jay Cooke's opulent estate, and then it was renamed "Elkins Park" by the railroad after the Elkins family constructed their Gilded Age estate. Later, George and Sarah’s son married the granddaughter of Tobias Leech, Dorothy Penrose. Thus the families of two of the original purchasers were united and lived under the roof of the Wall House. Of interesting historical note, another of the Leech granddaughters married a Reverend Ross of the Trinity Oxford Church where Leech worshipped, and one of their sons married “Betsy,” who then became Betsy Ross.

In 1746, Dorothy Penrose Shoemaker, with the help of John Mather and John Tyson of Jenkintown, founded a corn gristmill on a site opposite the former Yorktown Inn, where Walgreens now stands. There is a grinding wheel, which was never uncrated, still in the Wall House smoke house. Dorothy Shoemaker could check on the mill’s activities by looking out the Wall House window. John Tyson had a farm at West Avenue and York Road where he developed a pear called the “Tyson Pear”.

Of interest to local residents, the Tysons also married into the Shoemaker family. The Wall House exhibits Tyson Christening gowns, and therefore, probably Shoemaker gowns as well.

Subsequently, Dorothy Shoemaker became the sole owner of the mill, but sold it to the Boslers in 1847 when it became known as the Bosler Mill. She sold the house to them at the same time, ending the occupancy of the direct Wall descendants.

However, the Boslers were also a distinguished family and connected with other business enterprises. In 1905, Joseph Bosler was an Assistant Treasurer of the United States under Theodore Roosevelt and, for a short time, president of the Cheltenham Township Board of Commissioners.

So, from the days of the Leni Lenape who originally named the Tacony Creek, to the original Cheltenham settlers who phonetically spelled the name “Tookany,” to the industrialization of the area by means of numerous mills which owed their existence to its waters, the Wall House with its well and spring has seen not only the history of the Township, but Pennsylvania as well.

Old Mill According to present research, four families lived in the house before the Township purchased it in 1932. It became the residence for Township Manager Harold Pike in 1941. His stepchildren, the Flecks, left some toys and cards in the attic nursery. Mrs. Pike was the last resident. She left a widow in 1979. In 1980, the building was placed under the aegis of the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission.

Money was raised for rehabilitation through flea markets, antique and craft shows, tour donations, and contributions from generous clubs, organizations, and interested individuals, such as the Knauer Foundation, Questers International, and Rotary International. The largest grant by former State Representative Charles Nahill, enabled the house and carriage house to be opened to the public as a museum. There is also a research room, a colonial herb and flower garden conceived and maintained by the Old York Road Garden Club, a two-level springhouse, a gift shop, and an orientation center.

-- Dorothy Spruill