Friends of Strode's Mill Historic District in West Chester are busily planning details to celebrate the area's 300th anniversary. While September is currently the targeted month for observing this milestone, the group remains flexible based on COVID-19-related factors concerning public gatherings, so possibly could honor the event during a late summer event instead.
Strode's Mill, also sometimes referenced as Etter's Mill in aged documents, is a historic grist mill built in 1721. It's a 3 1/2-story, banked fieldstone structure that measures approximately 30 feet by 58 feet. The building houses a private residence. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
Located in East Bradford Township, the historic district encompasses 11 contributing buildings in the crossroads village of Strode's Mill. The buildings were erected between about 1721 and 1880. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The district includes the Strode's Mill, East Bradford Boarding School for Boys, Strode Farm, a miller's house, Strode's Pork Products plant, a blacksmith/tenant house, blacksmith/wheelwright shop and a tenant house.
Current admirers have a single Quaker family to thank for building thriving businesses at the intersection of Lenape and Birmingham Roads. The mill across the street ground corn, pressed cider, and turned trees into usable lumber. As the family prospered, they added a pork-processing barn, which led to Strode's becoming nationally known for its quality sausage and Scrapple -- a meatloaf of pork scraps and corn meal that led to the reputation of being Pennsylvania's most famous 'I can't believe you actually eat that stuff' food.
John C. Strode was the Quaker farmer who acquired the mill in 1737. Others reportedly called him “our scientific neighbor” but he started a second career when he became headmaster of the boys’ school.
Back then, the mill was a marvel of engineering, with hand-hewn posts, timbers and girders, according to historians representing the Friends of Strode's Mill Historic District. And it was the first operation in the area to use a belt-driven system, designed by Oliver Evans, a Philadelphia millwright who was at first ridiculed for what became largely recognized as his innovative and labor-saving ideas and inventions.
John's son, A. Darlington Strode, was frequently in the news regarding his constant improvements to a creamery he owned. Darlington took over the site's butchering operations in the 1870s, and rented a market stall in West Chester to sell his sausage and Scrapple. One admirer wrote that Strode’s Scrapple was made of “everything but the squeal.”
At its pinnacle, the family sold 5,000 pounds of Scrapple a week at its Reading Terminal stall in Philadelphia. The fat-larded Strode’s Scrapple brand business actually lasted until 1987.
The Strodes operated the mill until 1878, when it was sold to the first of a clutch of owners who tried to keep it going with different mill-related businesses.
Across Route 52 – or Lenape Road, as it's commonly known – is the former East Bradford School for Boys, a place that educated boys for more than 40 years. Students lived in the imposing serpentine stone building, and then it became a private residence.
Now the home of Bob and Anne Powers, the neighborhood’s so-called “house on the hill” has been the site for Friends of Strode’s Mill fundraising endeavors to raise money to preserve and enhance the structures.
Local preservationist Linda Kaat is president of the 200-plus member Friends of Strode's Mill nonprofit group, which was formed in 2015. She says donors who contribute $1,000 or more toward saving this historic community will receive a permanent memorial plaque at the site. Strode's Mill T-shirts also are being sold for $20 each.
"We're proud partners with East Bradford Township in implementing the Plum Run Master Plan. The site is part of a critical section of the Plum Run watershed. Restoration of the stream banks and surrounding habitat improvements are part of this comprehensive plan," says Linda. "The Plum Run Greenway is a critical component of East Bradford’s preservation strategy. A trail network will be established which will allow pedestrians and bikes to safely travel along the greenway. Everyone will be able to connect with nature and learn about our community's rich history."
The mill structure houses frame shop Strode’s Mill Gallery, which has been in the private care of Carolee and now deceased Harry Waite, along with the studio/showroom of artist Rachel Altschuler.
For 300th anniversary plans and updates, visit FriendsOfStrodesMill.com.
Editor's Note: Detailed historic points, as gathered and shared by Friends of Strode's Mill, are tremendously appreciated.