How did Chalfont, Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Chalfont, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.
Borough in central southwestern New Britain Township at the junction of three streams, North and West Branches of Neshaminy Creek and Pine Run. Early names of the old village came from its mill and tavern.
Butler, or Butlers Mill
Chalfont was first called Butler or Butlers Mill. From Edward Mathew’s historical notes on New Britain Township homesteads it is learned that Simon Butler and Simon Mathew (later spelled Mathews), brothers-in-law, came to America from Wales in 1710, settled in the Welsh Tract of Delaware County, and at the close of the next decade came to New Britain Township, which had just been opened for settlement. The same year (1720) Butler bought 454 acres of land covering the present site of Chalfont and extending southward to the Warrington Township line. Through this tract he opened a road running southward, known later as Butler Road (Route 373) and much more recently as Limekiln or Whitehall Pike, although he called it Philadelphia Road, as shown on a land draft of his tract, dated 1768, and now deposited in the Library of The Bucks County Historical Society. Mathew, the brother-in-law, also bought 283 acres of land in two tracts, one of them 127 acres adjoining Butler’s land. It is said that Butler was a miller and Mathew a millwright. Jointly they built on Butler’s land, close to the dividing line between their properties, the first grist mill in that part of the county. This was very soon after they settled there in 1720. A few years later, probably in 1725, this mill was burned and the excavations and ruins of foundation walls were visible for many years afterward. Butler immediately rebuilt the mill on a site farther down stream just below the junction of Pine Run and North Branch. This mill in turn was burned in 1835 during the ownership of George Eckhart, who reconstructed it upon a much larger plan. Again destroyed by fire in 1885 while Philip B. Grove, a Philadelphia wholesale hardware dealer, owned it and Valentine B. Clymer and Matthew S. Cogan were lessees, it was never rebuilt. 1
Simon Butler became a prominent man. He was a Justice of the Peace and many of the early legal documents of New Britain bear his signature. He left several children at his death in 1764, and one of them, Abiah, held the land on which Chalfont is built for some time, but the family soon thereafter disappeared from the county, while the descendants of Simon Mathew retained possession of their land for several generations.
It is quite likely that soon after the death of Simon Butler and his land was cut up and sold in smaller tracts, the hamlet ceased to be known as Butler and was Kungles Tavern from the village landlord, George Kungle. The massive stone colonial hotel had been built by Kungle’s father-in-law, Henry Lewis, about 1761, but Kungle was the owner or lessee all through the Revolutionary period. Three successive landlords following Kungle were James, Lewis and Abner Morris.
In 1815, John Barndt, who had come from Tylersport, purchased the tavern. From him the village was known as Barndtsville until 1845.
William Stevens meanwhile had set up a store on the south side of the West Branch of the Neshaminy, a rival to a store conducted by David Barndt on the other side of the creek. Stevens in 1845 was successful in having a post office located in his store under the name of Whitehallville and the village soon came to be known by the same name.
In 1869 the North Pennsylvania Railroad Company changed the name of their station from Whitehallville to Chalfont, which thereafter also became the village name. In the early ’70’s one of the company’s locomotives plying between Doylestown and Philadelphia bore the word Chalfont on the name-panel of its cab. This name comes from the ancient village of Chalfont St. Giles, England, where in 1672 William Penn found his wife, Gulielma Springett. Not far away and within a few feet of the celebrated Friend’s Meeting House at Jordans, twenty miles west of London, is Penn’s grave. Chalfont people, while not averse to honoring Penn, thought it passing strange that a name so closely associated with Quakers should be chosen for a village in which no Quaker had ever lived.
The old land draft of 1768, already mentioned, shows that the road from Chalfont to Doylestown (Route 202) was called Society Road, no doubt because it passed through the Free Society of Traders tract. Instead of meeting the bridge site over North Branch of Neshaminy, as at present, this road passed down the east side of the creek for several hundred yards before crossing it by a ford. Bristol Road is shown, but with an angle, since eliminated, which joined it with the old Ferry Road. Over the fords of the West and North Branches of Neshaminy detachments of Washington’s army passed on June 20, 1778, on the way from Valley Forge to Monmouth.
Besides Butler’s mill another grist mill contributed largely to the prosperity of Chalfont. It was built in 1793 and operated for some years jointly by men named Miller and Evans. It was only a short distance from the Butler mill. Its third owner was Francis D. Hartzel, who did a very large business. Two of his sons succeeded him. The mill was burned in 1878, then rebuilt and equipped with the latest mill machinery. This plant was again destroyed by fire and rebuilt.
The population of Chalfont has grown fast within the last seventy years. Latest census figures show an increase from 550 in 1930 to 670 in 1940. The need for incorporation became so urgent in 1901 that no difficulty was experienced in securing a borough charter that year. There are now a Chalfont National Bank, a Chalfont Fire Company, a Chalfont Grange, one of the strongest in the county; a Chalfont Floral Club, various women’s organizations, Lutheran and Methodist Churches, and two Homes maintained by fraternal and charitable organizations. Forest Park, an amusement resort, was established in 1885 by Isaac Funk in a woods of oak trees, long known before that date as Eckhart’s Grove.
The “grand opening” of Funk’s Park, Isaac Funk, proprietor, took place on Saturday evening, June 27, 1885. A large crowd was addressed by John D. James and J. Freeman Hendricks, Doylestown lawyers. Music was furnished by the Chalfont Cornet Band.
In 1835 the site of Forest Park was owned by George Eckhart, a wealthy farmer and miller, who at that time also owned the old Butler Mill nearby, built about the year 1720. At George Eckhart’s death the mill was inherited by his son Martin, while the farm of which Forest Park is a part, went to his son Charles. Isaac Funk was a later purchaser.
The Old Ferry Road was before and during Revolutionary days a main artery of travel across the county from Lower Black Eddy on the Delaware River to what is now Route 202 at Chalfont. The Ferry road in early days ran through the western edge of the Park, but after the highway bridge was built over the North Branch of Neshaminy Creek, the part of the road traversing the Park was abandoned. Prior to Funk’s purchase it had long been known as Eckhart’s Grove and in summers was used for old-time open-air dance parties, Sunday School picnics, religious camp meetings and family gatherings. The town is clean and thrifty in appearance and well might be cited as a model of a live and growing borough.
Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.Footnotes:
- A method of conducting the old-time grist milling business a century ago is illustrated by a story about the Butler mill when it was in possession of George Eckhart. The owner was not a practical miller and he therefore entered into an arrangement with a resident of Hilltown Township to operate the mill, which at that time did a lucrative business. Every Saturday night after the mill was shut down for the week the money chest was brought out from its hiding place, and owner and miller by candle light would count its contents and divide it between them 50-50. Then with his gold and silver coins in one end of a double pouched meal sack and a week’s supply of flour in the other end to balance it, the miller would swing the sack over his shoulder and with lantern in hand set out on his walk of six miles to his Hilltown home, to return also on foot the following Monday morning. This arrangement continued for a number of years and both men died wealthy as wealth was accounted in those days.