The village of Landenberg has seen many enterprising characters settling in the region once inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians. William Penn directed surveyor Henry Hollingsworth to lay out a plot of land for Penn’s children in 1699. From an original plan of 35,000 acres, William Penn, Jr. received a patent for his land in May 1706. Approximately 8,913 acres of this plot became New Garden Township. A lovely area with abundant wildlife, it lies within the drainage of two watersheds—White Clay Creek and Red Clay Creek. The slope of the land led settlers to build dams and later mills along the creeks and smaller streams. White Clay Creek supported sawmills and gristmills, a woolen mill, a cotton processing factory, and many other establishments.
New Garden Township attracted many settlers from Europe. James McClurg of Stranraer, Scotland, had at least two sons who came to America in the early 1700s. According to family historian William T. McClurg, one of James’s grandsons, Dr. James McClurg, was born in Hampton, VA, in 1746, graduated at the age of 16 from William & Mary College, and later earned his M.D. at the University of Edinburgh. He was urged to move to London, but didn’t due to his strong sympathies for the American colonists. Instead, he was appointed a member of the Federal convention meeting in Philadelphia to frame the Constitution, and though he died before its final adoption, his family received a grant of land for his services during the American Revolution. Another of James McClurg’s grandsons, John Russell McClurg, graduated from Jefferson Medical College, practiced medicine in Landenberg until 1858, and then was commissioned during the Civil War as a surgeon in the U.S. Volunteers.
A large white structure just off of Route 41 was once the residence of a craftsman who helped tell time. Isaac Jackson—a premier clock maker—lived there for over 40 years, making tall “grandfather-style” clocks. Born near West Grove in 1734, Jackson was an apprentice of master clockmaker John Wood, Sr. of Philadelphia. In 1762, Isaac’s father William, deeded him 200 acres in New Garden Township. Isaac began producing elegant clocks that were sold throughout the region. A number of Jackson clocks are owned by Chester County families and, after more than 200 years, continue to tell time today.
As merchants increasingly utilized the potential of the nearby streams, the area gained importance due to its large woolen mills—notably one owned by Martin Landenberger. Landenberger emigrated from Germany in 1832 and settled in Philadelphia. Interested in the weaving industry, he later purchased the Chandlerville and Laurel Mills in 1864. He was quite successful, employing a total of 1,000 people. Due to his significant influence, the town was named after him. Jim Lund followed in his tracks, coming to the United States in 1868. Lund became an expert weaver for the Scheppers Brothers in Philadelphia. In 1878, he moved to Landenberg and worked in the woolen mills of Landenberg & Co. After the operation entered bankruptcy, Lund purchased the mills. Under his management, the Lund Woolen Mills became the most important manufacturing establishment in the area. Its worsted yarns were distributed in markets throughout the country.
Boyd’s Business Directory reported Landenberg’s population at 414 in 1882, growing to 1,000 by the year 1900. Hiram Hall Storey was a merchant who also served as the town’s postmaster. His dry goods store had a sign hanging out front proudly proclaiming “This is the place—best goods, lowest prices.” The establishment was so successful, Storey opened a second one in Hockessin, Delaware. He eventually turned the business over to his son-in-law William from another prosperous family, the Mendenhalls. The Storey homestead was near the Landenberg Hotel, which was built for Ezra Lund in 1874. The hotel saw an assortment of wild characters come through the doors. It was rumored to be operated as the town brothel and later was turned into a match factory. The hotel and the store still stand today, with the hotel now housing private businesses.
Due to its peaceful solitude, people enjoyed living in and around Landenberg. Rustic structures built back then blended with the bucolic countryside, including a covered bridge built over White Clay Creek in 1856 and later replaced in 1871 by an arched iron structure. In 1898, a Pratt Pony Truss Bridge manufactured by Phoenixville Iron Works was built over the creek. The new bridge included a unique cantilevered walkway, its 18-foot width allowing for teams of horses to pass, along with room for a newfound contraption—the automobile. The Landenberg Bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, but in March 2010, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission ruled that recent structural changes diminished its significance and removed it from the list.
Today, the town’s rich heritage still radiates through the streets as one of the most prosperous metropolises in the history of Chester County. Stop in the Landenberg General Store where you can see photographs from the past. Stand in front of the old hotel as the weathered sign still clings to the Victorian-era structure. The village of Landenberg was, and still is, home to a handful of innovative and cutting-edge characters and businesses.
Gene Pisasale is an author based in Kennett Square, Pa. He’s written five books and conducts a lecture series based on local historical topics. “The Forgotten Star,” his latest work, focuses on the War of 1812 and true-life mysteries surrounding an American icon—the Star-Spangled Banner. Visit him at www.GenePisasale.com; contact him via email at Gene@GenePisasale.com.