The oldest house in Media still standing is Minshall House, located at the northwest corner of East Front Street and Providence Road.
Village of Providence
Far from grand, the Minshall House was originally a two-story log house built beside the “Providence Great Road.” The new highway was laid out in 1683 and connected Providence to Chester, then a major port and the seat of government. Traffic increased along the road, and other buildings were constructed nearby that formed the core of a village. As the village of Providence grew, so did the original log structure.
A slightly larger stone section was built in the mid-1700s, and then a one-and-a-half story frame addition was completed in the early 1800s. (The log and frame portions of the house were later removed, leaving the stone portion of the house that is seen today.)
The building was well situated on a corner between Providence Road (on the left in the drawing above) and the main road to Middletown. Providence was an active town center for over a hundred years, and several businesses occupied the Minshall House building during that time. The story has long been told locally that it was once a leather goods shop where General Lafayette purchased a saddle during the Revolutionary War.
When the Borough of Media was established to become the County Seat of Delaware County in 1850, businesses in Providence began to move closer to the center of the new town. A blacksmith continued to operate his forge on the Minshall House property due to its location on Providence Road, which was a main highway of the day, leading to the important City of Chester.
Birthplace of William H. Ridley
In 1866 the blacksmith too closed up shop, and Minshall House became a residence once more. It served as the first home for a formerly enslaved family that had recently been reunited in Media after separate daring escapes to freedom from plantations in Virginia.
The proximity of the Ridleys’ new home to Providence Friends Meeting, directly across Providence Road, was not coincidental. Members of that Meeting, Isaac and Elizabeth Yarnall, helped Cornelius Ridley settle in to the life of a free man when he first arrived via the Underground Railroad. And after Mary Jane and her children, George and Rachel Ann, made their escape, and the family was together in the Minshall House, the Yarnalls and other members of Providence Meeting could continue to look in on the Ridley family.
In just six years the Ridleys had prospered enough that they could purchase a home of their own in Media. The family now included two more children, William Henry and Rosa Ann, who were born in the Minshall House. William, the first person in his family to be born into freedom, went on to become the first African American attorney in Delaware County.
“Workmen, Spare That House”
The next 100 years were not kind to this historic property. As the Borough of Media thrived, the village of Providence ceased to exist. Once at the center of activity, the Minshall House fell into disrepair, and in the early 1970s there was a rumor that it would be demolished to construct a new office building.
Elinor Cadman and Laura Fetterman, teachers at Media Elementary School a few blocks to the west of Minshall House, recognized the value of the house to Media’s history. They launched a campaign to save the house. Many elementary school children wrote letters and marched on Borough Hall to “spare that house”!
The campaign was successful, and in 1975 the owner, Mrs. George Lewis, deeded the land to the Borough in memory of her husband.
Money for restoration was raised by donations from the Borough of Media and private individuals. As a result, renovation work began under the direction of John M. Dickey, AIA, a historic architect. Approximately four years after the campaign to save the house was launched, a celebration was held to dedicate the newly restored stone building.
Since that time Minshall House has served as the home of the Media Historical Society, welcoming residents and visitors to learn about the history of our community.
Dickey, J.M. (1975, December 18). Documentary and Architectural
Study of a House at the Corner of Front Street and
Providence Road, Media, Pennsylvania
Lemon, S.M. (2012). Go Stand Upon the Rock. Buckhorn Press
Lemon, S.M. (2005, October 17). William Henry Ridley, Esq.
Retrieved from http://www.oldchesterpa.com