A New County?

Working through a box of correspondence, I found what appears to be the draft of a letter to the Chester County Historical Society. The letter is unsigned, but it was probably written by George F. P. Wanger, the Treasurer of the Pennsylvania Association of Fire Insurance Agents and long time member of the Historical Society of Montgomery County.

As the undated letter explains, Wanger was sending the Chester County Historical Society two reproductions of maps showing the location of a proposed county, called variously St.Clair County or Madison County, which would be made up of parts of Chester, Berks, and Montgomery Counties.

GFPW letter

Wanger goes on to give the statistics of the county in 1848.

stats

The seat of the new county would have been Pottstown, and the idea was particularly popular there.  As Wanger writes in his letter, a bill to create the county came up in the legislature more than ten times in the 18th and 19th centuries.  An article from the Pottstown News (April 28, 1896) mentions Wanger’s search for more about the movement for a new county in the journals of the state legislature.  He found that in 1798, a group in the legislature proposed a county called St. Clair with borders reaching to East Vincent and East Nantmeal in Chester County, Union and Hereford townships in Berks County, and Limerick and Marlborough in Montgomery County.

The movement for St. Clair or Madison County waxed and waned through the early 19th century, reaching a fever pitch in 1852.  In Bean’s History of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, I found a brief biography of a Pottstown merchant named John C. Smith who ran for state senator in that year.  He had for sometime advocated for the creation of Madison County, and the senate election became a referendum on the new county.  Bean writes, “after a most exciting struggle, in which politics was almost lost of and the friends and enemies of “Madison County” were arraigned against each other in the contest, Mr. Smith was defeated by thirty-two votes.”  If not for those thirty-two votes, Montgomery County might have very different borders.

John Smith

According to Bean, Madison County failed “through the purely selfish and political motives among the peoples of the opposing county towns.”  Wanger’s letter says that the movement for the new county didn’t really die until Pennsylvania adopted the 1874 constitution.

While digging though the collection for more on the story, I found out that there was another movement to produce a new county out of part of Montgomery County.  Edward Hocker wrote about an article about it for the Times-Herald (December 3, 1925).  This county would have been called “Penn County” and was to be made up of Northwest Philadelphia and the townships of Moreland, Abington, Cheltenham, Springfield, and Lower Merion. This plan dates to 1836, and doesn’t seem to have gained the traction the St. Clair/Madison County plan did.  When Philadelphia consolidated in 1854, the Penn County idea was revived, but this time by the people of Frankford and would have included Bristol Township in Bucks County.

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