A Journalist’s View

The following is an article which appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Chester County Town & Country Living. It was written by John Sheppard, a freelance journalist whose articles on travel, art, history, antiques and the outdoors appear in regional and national publications. 

A blue-shuttered window frames a rocking chair for sitting and doing nothing.

Weary stagecoach travelers in colonial times in southern Chester County often were impressed by one characteristic of Pennsylvania inns: most were of stone or brick, in contrast to the wooden inns typical of northern colonies. They felt the thick field stone walls, hand cut beams and timbers, wide board pine flooring and low windows gave the hostelries a great sense of place. 

Also appealing to travelers in the eighteenth century were the small farms and orchards that surrounded the typical country inns, allowing them to keep their larders stocked with fruit and vegetables. 

Most likely the inn or tavern was located in the crossroad villages, and served two important functions. First, it was a place of lodging and refreshment for travelers who could afford these amenities. In the so-called public rooms of Pennsylvania inns in those days, a patron could drink locally made beer, ale and cider, as well as a limited array of expensive wines and spirits. Second, it was the secular center of a neighborhood or community: sports, social gatherings and more serious community activities. In rural areas the innkeeper and his family were likely to be among the most influential citizens of their community. 

The community boasts of a variety of handsome old homes.

More often than not, villages sprung up around these inns, usually attracting such trades as a blacksmith, wheelwright, saddler, shoemaker and tailor. It was widely known that tradesmen and their families, among others, felt these parts of southern Chester County had exceptional visual appeal, especially during the spring when the gardens at brick-and-stone houses burst into color. Some of the same views of soft green meadows painted with wildflowers still exist and often create in visitors a feeling of wanting to relive the grandeur of rural days gone by. 

At one time many country inns flourished in the area, but now only the sturdy and beautiful Red Rose Inn at West Grove is the only one still used as a “public place.” In both look and feel, it retains much of the character of the earlier days when the public rooms of inns were doubtless scenes of high-spirited conviviality as recorded by the American painter John Greenwood. Guests today are pleased to discover an interesting slice of local history at Red Rose Inn. 

Gingerbread touches give house a picturesque look.

The legend became known in 1927 when the Conard-Pyle Company bought the Jennersville land to enlarge its operation. The old inn on the northwest corner of the crossroads was included in the sale. The owners discovered an interesting provision in an ancient deed. It provided for the annual payment of a red rose to the Penn family, if demanded, as part of this purchase. This provision is recorded on an historical marker the Chester County Historical Society erected in 1947 in front of the Red Rose Inn. It reads, “In 1731, John, Thomas, and Richard Penn, proprietaries, granted 5000 acres to William Penn, grandson of the Founder of Pennsylvania, subject to the rental of ‘one red rose on the twenty-fourth day of June if demanded.’ In 1742 William Penn granted his tract to William Allen subject to his ‘paying the red rose aforesaid yearly.’ In 1748 William Allen sold 53 acres of this tract to Samuel Cross. Again the rental terms included one red rose. This marker is on the Samuel Cross property.” 

According to published reports, Robert Pyle revived this custom and paid the rental of the red rose to a descendant of William Penn in September, 1937. This payment has been made almost every year since. Usually a direct descendant of Penn had been present to receive the red rose. This is done in a public ceremony, generally on the Saturday following Labor Day, and attracts a large crowd. 

The community boasts of a variety of handsome old homes.

For the past 20 or so years, the hardworking Covata family has overseen the reputation of the inn’s long history and a restaurant that has been called a jewel. 

Let no one be surprised to find a rose or two on the table in front of you, summer or winter, at the Red Rose Inn. It’s taken some two hundred and fifty years to perfect the color of the brick -Red Rose- on the outside. The walks are the same brick, and so are those on a path through a low maze of hedges to the porch. 

The charm of the popular eatery seeps through the very boards of the floor. Five fireplaces often glow throughout the house. A tastefully done expansion includes a barroom carved as it was out of the old carriage house and installed with a bar out of a fine old Philadelphia mansion. 

Victorian presence felt in house with attractive steps, covered porch and windows with deep shutters.

Unless you were into roses or horticulture, chances of your hearing much about the Conard-Pyle Company, a wholesaler, are slim until you visited West Grove. Its success is entwined in a story involving an enterprising Quaker, a French family, international intrigue and a pale yellow rose with a delicate pink crown. It has found a way for gardeners to grow roses without spending hours pruning, feeding and spraying. 

The firms acreage now totals 725, with its oldest dating to 1897. Several generations of the same Quaker family were active in the company whose specialty is its prize-winning rose collection. Many of its old-style roses are being reintroduced. 

The company was one of the first to introduce easy-flowering, low-maintenance roses under the trade name of Star Roses. Today it is a leader in the production of tried and tested as well as new varieties. In 1939 the company introduced the Fairy rose which today is still an excellent choice for home landscapes.

Before the turn of the century, Alfred F. Conard, a rose grower and one of the company founders, hired a helper. He was Robert Pyle, a Quaker educated at Swarthmore College who had a flair for marketing and promotion. The Pyle’s, an old Chester County family that owned several general stores, acquired a controlling interest in the rose-growing firm just before World War I. Conard was from a prominent Philadelphia family and was the eldest son of Thomas Conard, who for years owned and ran a boarding school in West Grove. 

Attractive, wood structure contrasts with rural surroundings.

In 1932 Pyle, in search of a new-type rose, visited Tassin, France (near Lyon) to meet Francis Meilland, a young rose breeder. The American entrepreneur left for home, promising to market any new rose Meilland created. Unfortunately, acres of rose beds were turned into vegetable gardens during World War II. 

In 1939 Pyle received a parcel of cuttings from the American Consul in Lyons. Pyle worked diligently for five years and grew what he believed “will be the greatest rose of the century.” On the day Berlin fell, Pyle named the rose “Peace.” In 1951 the American Rose Society made Peace the first rose to receive its Gold Medal. Within a decade, 30 million Peace Roses bloomed worldwide. Today the Peace Rose remains one of the most popular roses in history. 

Conard-Pyle’s association with the world-famous House of Meillandcontinues withits 1995 introduction of such roses as Carefree Delight, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and Regatta. It is one of the major trial gardens, both here and in Wasco, California, for Meilland in its hunt for the perfect rose. Breeders say only three or four roses are likely to make it to market from an estimated 10,000 rose crosses in a given year. 

An example of how the town’s architecture varies.

Back in 1860 the coming of the Philadelphia & Baltimore Central Railroad spurred area growth. By the 1880’s, West Grove had three mills, and a casket factory. It also was home to the Dingee & Conard Co., a large rose-growing firm, now the Conard-Pyle Co., located in neighboring Penn Township.
The town and its environs today remain largely rural and there isn’t much in the way of businesses – a drugstore, barbershop, sub shop, and video store. But residents don’t seem to mind. They like the small-town flavor and the emphasis on family life with all of the recreation leagues and churches. 

Residents say much of the recent growth has occurred in the past two decades. One of the last frontiers for development in the county has been the southern end of the borough, where, officials note, a couple hundred new homes have been built.
A good many newcomers commute to their jobs in either Wilmington or Philadelphia. They like living in a community with neighbors whose roots run deep. 

Many old-time families turned out in 1993 when the borough marked its 100th anniversary. There was much talk at the celebration among newcomers about how the municipality covers less than a square mile, got its name. It came from the Friends Meeting House, built in 1787 on Harmony Road on the western edge of London Grove Township. Records indicate the Jacksons, Michners, Puseys, Prestons and other families were among the first settlers in the area. A citizens’ petition in incorporate West Grove as a borough was approved by the Chester County Court of Quarter Session on Nov. 29, 1893. 

Impressive reminder of the town’s past is solid, old building.

Those who have lived here for some time are proud of the community work done for the Avon Grove War Memorial. It honors the people who lived in the school district, went to its schools and served in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War. A different stone represents each of the wars. 

Most residents respect their neighbor’s privacy – one reason why it is not widely known a sports world celebrity lives in West Grove. Now that his baseball days are behind him, Dallas Green spends a good deal of time listening to the rumble of his tractor. The one time Phillies manager can be seen bouncing around his 30-acre farm. He managed the Phillies to their first-ever World Series title in 1980. Green also was general manager and vice-president of the Chicago Cubs. He managed the New York Mets from 1993 – 1996. 

Many years ago the bucolic countryside of her childhood continued to be a source of joy and comfort to one of West Grove’s most important early residents. Ann Preston, born in 1813, was the eldest daughter of a Quaker farm family with deep roots in the area. The eldest daughter of Amos and Margaret Smith, she spent the first 36 years of her life on a quiet, old rustic homestead where her grandfather lived, and where her father was born, lived and died. During much of her childhood, she attended school as time permitted and helped raise her six younger brothers, learning at an early age to attend to the bruises, bumps and daily needs of a rambunctious household. Her mother and a younger sister also often needed her nursing skills, and Ann grew up with a keen sense that her life’s work would be in helping others. 

Impressive brickwork adorns church known for glistening white steeple topped by cross.

Ann was strongly influenced throughout her life by her father’s ardent Quaker beliefs and his outspoken support of the abolition movement. She once wrote a moving poem based on a childhood experience when her home served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Left alone with a frightened runaway slave, Ann boldly led her to safety, outsmarting a band of slave hunters who were searching neighboring properties. She told of dressing the woman in her mother’s clothing, bonnet and gloves. The slave hunters were fooled and sneered at the young woman and her companion, heading off to a Quaker meeting.
She developed an early interest in poetry and literature and published Cousin Ann’s Stories in 1848, a small book of poetry for children, filled with gently stated moral instruction. Ann’s true life’s work, however, still waited. Her years of tending to her family’s ailments, along with her love of teaching and desire to help others, finally led her to the study and practice of medicine. 

Nearby Philadelphia offered many opportunities for young men interested in medicine. Admission to women was denied, however, until 1850 when the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania first opened its doors. Ann Preston was a member of its first graduating class and the following year accepted the professorship of the chair of Physiology and Hygiene, the first woman in the country to hold so prestigious a position. Her administrative leadership continued when she helped organize the Woman’s Hospital in Philadelphia and became dean of the faculty of the college in 1866. 

Acres of fragrant, large flowered roses abound in fields.

The young physician devoted her life to medical education for women, fighting barriers and prejudice at all levels. Once, when she accepted an invitation to bring her students to a Saturday morning clinical lecture at the University of Pennsylvania, young men in the same audience jeered, spat upon and pelted her students with all kinds of missiles. She led the women from the room, but continued to fight back until they gained acceptance, a battle that continued for many years. 

Ann Preston devoted her life to helping others. The medical college under her charge was the first ever chartered for its purposes. Not only did she help train young women as doctors, she also developed nursing courses to train women in the care of their families and neighbors, teaching them the skills that are so frequently needed in the home and community, as she herself had learned years before. She returned to her home in Chester County whenever she was in need of rest and solace, always citing its beauty and quiet as a source of personal inspiration.

A picket fence enhances the spirit of preservation, patriotism and beautification in many neighborhoods. A special glimpse of one of many carefully restored Victorian houses. All the charms of old Victorian dwelling reflect richness of West Grove’s past.

A special glimpse of one of many carefully restored Victorian houses. All the charms of old Victorian dwelling reflect richness of West Grove’s past.

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