History and Landmarks


As the name indicates, Bala Cynwyd was originally settled in 1682 by Welsh colonists of the same group that settled and developed Lower Merion. These sturdy pioneers came into this splendid rolling country, lying west of the Schuylkill River, very early in the development of Pennsylvania. The sterling qualities of these men and women have been perpetuated in the home loving, civic minded communities that have grown up in the region where their scattered farms, mills and hamlets were established. These colonists were Quakers, from the lake region of northern Wales, and they came here to freely practice their faith and to live in peace with their neighbors. These goals are evidenced when they established the landmarks of the Merion Friends Meetinghouse and the Lower Merion Academy.

engraving

Engraving of the Merion Friends Meetinghouse from the Welsh Settlement in Pennsylvania
by Charles H Browning (1912)

Academy

Engraving of the Lower Merion Academy as shown in John Leverings's 1851 map

Two hundred years after these earliest settlements there was little change in their population and less in their general characteristics. As late as a hundred and twenty-five years ago there were no railroads, no trolleys, no buses, no community water supply, not many of the comforts and conveniences that we enjoy.

The community was strictly a rural one. In winter, cut off by snow from the city, the people had to make their own amusements, sleigh rides, skating parties, barbecues, and other types of country pleasures. It seems hard for us, who run into the heart of Philadelphia in fifteen minutes, to realize that a trip to the city was a momentous event three generation ago. Then, at the place where Cynwyd Station is now there was only a blacksmith shop. At what is now sometimes referred to as the Four Corners, Montgomery Avenue and Levering Mill Road, was another smithy, a little brick building used as a general store, and three or four houses. This hamlet was known as Merionville. It was not until the coming of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Schuylkill Valley Division through this section that any of the modern developments we know began to take shape.

Train

The Cynwyd Train Station about 1912

Civic pride, social pressure and the safety of its executives who lived nearby encouraged the Pennsylvania Railroad to build good stations and eliminate grade crossings. It was the railroad company that used the old Welsh names, Bala and Cynwyd for their stations and so really named our community by bringing into daily use the names of the ancestral towns of the pioneers.

From these small beginnings came the beautiful suburban community in which we are proud to live. While most of the residents today are originally from other sections of the country and cannot boast of Welsh pioneer ancestors, still the sturdy honest, industrious spirit of the original settlers seems to pervade our town and make “Bala Cynwyd is our Home” no less a pleasant dwelling place than their Merionville and Academyville.


This booklet celebrates the Neighborhood Club's 100 years of service in our community. It provides a wealth of information, both historical and current, about Bala Cynwyd and the role of the Neighborhood Club in "Protecting Bala Cynwyd's residential character, Promoting vital commercial districts, and Fostering civic pride."

You can view a PDF version of the booklet (3 MB) by clicking on this image.