The History of Knapp Farm
The property on which Knapp Farm is located was part a 5000 acre tract sold by William Penn to William Stanley, an English Quaker in 1682. Stanley had 2,500 acres of the property surveyed and then sold that parcel to Isaac Jacobs in 1698. The following year, Jacobs divided the land again and deeded 1,100 acres to a Welshman, Alexander Edwards, who may have constructed a dwelling there. Alexander died in 1712, and in his will he gave his son, Thomas, 170 acres of the property which included a dwelling “...where Thomas Edwards house is situated,” although it is unclear what connection, if any, exists to the house standing today.
The 1718, the property passed to the Mills family, and in 1733 was sold again to another Welshman, John Roberts, Sr. In 1758, the property passed to his son, John Roberts, Jr., who owned it until 1768. It is the consensus of historians who have researched Knapp Farm that the current house was most likely built by John Roberts, Jr. “The oldest part of the house is presumed to date c. 1760, although there is some historical and physical evidence that an earlier (18th century) structure may have been present ....and portions could have been incorporated into the northeast corner of the building.”
In 1768, the property was seized and sold at a sheriff’s sale (presumably because of bankruptcy) and then sold again, in 1770, to Samuel Preston Moore. By then, according to the deed, the property contained “(sic) ...a stone dwelling house smith’s shop frame barn plantation and tract of land.” Samuel and his brother Mordecai were prominent landowners in Montgomery Square. A third brother, Charles, was a physician like their father, Dr. Richard Moore. Family lore, bolstered by a newspaper account from the North Wales Record (Sept. 1883) claims that George Washington visited the Moore farm in the autumn of 1777, following the Battle of Germantown. During the Revolutionary war, Charles Moore and his wife, Milcah, an accomplished Quaker writer and poet, left Philadelphia for the relative safety of Montgomery Township. After the war, they were instrumental in setting up the Montgomery Township Library Company in the 1790s.
In 1835, after a twelve-year period in which the property changed hands 6 times, the Knapp family–for whom the farm was ultimately named–moved in. The farm was purchased by a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, John R. Worrell for his daughter Mary and her husband, AbiramPhelps (A.P.) Knapp. The couple, who met in Frankford (now part of Philadelphia) were married in 1816. They had lived in Centre County, PA for 12 years before moving to Montgomery Township in 1836. The 1840 census identifies A.P. Knapp as a 60-year-old farmer who live with his wife Mary, children William, Mary, Moses and 11-year-old Ellen Meguffin. Another son, 12-year-old Charles S. Knapp, lived next door with the family of Joseph Bruner.
Abiram Knapp was a successful farmer and also a justice of the peace. His son, Charles (C.S.)followed in his father’s footsteps by also serving as a district judge. The parlor of the Knapp farmhouse doubled as their office. C.S. Knapp was also active in the Montgomery Square Methodist Church, local politics and as secretary of the Montgomery Township School Board.
When Mary Worrell Knapp died in 1895, the Knapp Farm was divided into 5 parcels. C.S.inherited the first tract, a 20-acre parcel containing the house, barn and outbuildings. In addition, Mary’s will granted her daughter, Mary A. Knapp, use of “the east room and the room immediately over it,” as well as part of the garden, cellar and garret (attic.)
Charles Knapp and his wife raised 9 children on the farm. When C.S. died in 1923, his son C. Howard Knapp inherited the property which he continued to farm. Sharing the house with Howard were his wife and two children as well as two of his sisters, Florence and Henrietta. Florence graduated from West Chester State Normal School (now West Chester University) in 1894 and dedicated her life to education. Knapp was honored by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living person in the world; she died in 1988 at age 114.
The Knapp Family’s ownership of the farm was interrupted in 1969 when the North Penn School District seized the property through eminent domain in order to build a new high school. The family fought back, in part by having the property added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The school district ultimately decided not to build the school, then attempted to sell the property to developers. However, as the result of community pressure and support, the school district agreed to return title to the family in the form of a trusteeship.
Prior to his death in early 2003, C. Howard “Bud” Knapp, Jr. arranged to sell the property to a developer with the provision that the house and 7 acres of land be preserved under Montgomery Township’s Historic Overlay District designation. That same year, the deed was transferred to the Montgomery Township Historical Society and the house now serves as the society’s headquarters.
According to the 1976 National Register nomination form, the Knapp house has remained essentially unchanged since the mid-19th century except for a kitchen wing added sometime before 1875, and the addition of electric and plumbing systems. Since MTHS assumed ownership of the property, the farmhouse has been stabilized and restored inside and out. It now houses an extensive collection of furniture, household items and Knapp Family memorabilia, as well as documents and photos related to the history of Montgomery Township.