Remembering Donovan's Quarry and Samuel Miles - By Jack Coll
Remembering Donovan’s Quarry
And Samuel Miles
The following article is an excerpt taken from the book
“Tales of Conshohocken and Beyond”
Authored by Jack and Brian Coll
Miles Park in Whitemarsh Township was named after Samuel Miles, who lived on a farm in the Spring Mill area of the township. Miles purchased the farm in 1774 and lived in the house built by Anthony Morris in 1735. After a decade of living on the farm Miles sold the farm to Peter Legaux and moved to Philadelphia before purchasing a 175 acre farm in Cheltenham Township.
Samuel Miles fought in the French and Indian War where he rose to the rank of Captain. Miles organized a company of militia in Whitemarsh Township in the mid 1770’s and was made a Colonel of the Regiment of Riflemen. By 1778, he was promoted to Brigadier General in the American Army.
General Miles held a number of civil offices including Judge of High Court of Errors and Appeals. In 1784 he was alderman and was later elected Mayor of the city of Philadelphia. Samuel Miles became ill while attending a session of the Assembly in Lancaster, Pa. and passed away at his Cheltenham farm in 1805.
Miles Park is a beautiful twenty five acre park at the corner of Germantown Pike and Joshua Road. The property was originally owned by Daniel Hitner and consisted of four hundred acres including property on both sides of Germantown Pike. In 1880, Hitner built a large mansion on the soft hill sitting above Germantown Pike. The Hitner home was at one time described as a twenty one room mansion with fourteen foot ceilings with marble fireplaces and doorways. The impressive hand-carved marble staircase was edged with black marble railings. The property had beautiful landscaped gardens with several fountains.
When Hitner passed away in 1841, his two sons inherited the property. Henry S. inherited the mansion known as “Marble Hall,” and Daniel O. inherited the smaller mansion located just across Germantown Pike. Daniel’s mansion later became the clubhouse of the Marble Hall Golf Course.
The marble slabs from Hitner’s Quarry, which were used as the Pennsylvania State stone in the construction of the Washington Monument, were a rare blue-mottled marble. The quarry met its fate like many other quarries when the hole filled with spring water faster than it could be pumped out.
In 1888, most of Hitner’s property was purchased by Henry Houston of Chestnut Hill. In 1924, Houston sold 150 acres to the Marble Hall Golf Club, currently the Green Valley Country Club. Hitner’s smaller mansion at the corner of Germantown Pike and Joshua Road, owned by the country club, was demolished leaving the barn. The Hitner farmland with the larger of the two mansions was purchased by the Cook and Staley families in the early 1920s. A decade later, in the mid 1930s, the mansion and shallow quarry became home to Timothy Donovan and his family.
Timothy and wife Bertha had seven children. Bertha was a midwife and known throughout Montgomery County. For more than two decades their children and grandchildren enjoyed growing up and playing on the farm, around the mansion and old swimming hole. The couple’s daughter, Mary, married Harold “Doc,” Zimmerling. Mary and Harold had several children, including Lenore, who married Murray Stone, and Margaret, who married Billy Apel. Lenore tells wonderful stories about growing up in and around the old mansion, about family, friends, swimming and the animals and wildlife on and around the grounds.
Several generations of local residents used the old quarry hole as a private swim club and spent many relaxing summer days in the water and relaxing on the make-shift beach. The five acre hole with water levels 15-25 feet deep near the intersection of Germantown Pike and Joshua Road was used as a swimming center for nearly half-a-century.
On July 27, 1951 Robert P. Orler, a 20 year old West Conshohocken resident drowned at the quarry and was the third known drowning over the years. Whitemarsh supervisors announced the closing of the swimming hole following Orler’s drowning. In the summer of 1952 it was decided to fill the quarry with clean fill and extend the Miles Park play area.
In 1949, the once famed “Marble Hall Mansion” was demolished. In 1954, eleven acres of what had been the Donovan farm were given to Whitemarsh Township as a recreation area by radio station WFIL of Triangle Publications, which had purchased 215 acres, including the farm. The site of the mansion was turned into basketball courts. The swimming hole known to several generations as Donovan’s Quarry was filled in and is a beautiful baseball field.
June Behrman, Margie Parker, Dot Wiggins & Kids swimming at Donovan’s Quarry early 1950’s
Donovan’s Quarry early 1950’s, current site of ballfields along Germantown Pike, Miles Park
The Parker’s, Behrman’s & Wiggins families picnicking at Donovan’s Quarry the early 1950’s
Lenore Zimmerling seen swimming in Donovan’s Quarry late 1940’s
These photos had us thinking of swimming at Plymouth Swim Club this upcoming season, now it just needs to stop snowing! Maybe we’ll see you there.