By Phyllis Byrne, North Wales Historic Commission
Stroll Our Streets and Listen to the Whispers of the Past.
Our inviting front porches promise a warm welcome. North Wales treasures its independence and uniqueness, reflected in our history and architectural charm. North Wales is the oldest of the boroughs in the North Penn Valley, an area that links historic Montgomery County and Bucks County in Pennsylvania. In 1869, North Wales was the first borough to be incorporated by Montgomery County courts, not the state.
Part of a 1702 William Penn land grant, this rich farming country was given the name “Gwynedd” for the homeland of the earliest settlers. Mostly Quakers, they came from the Gwynedd area in northwestern Wales, once an ancient kingdom, and now a county in North Wales. Germans soon added their heritage to the mix.
Before 1850, a cluster of farms, plus a 1776 shared Lutheran and Reformed Church, dotted the present borough’s landscape. Today’s Main Street, an old Indian trail, was laid out as the Great Road in 1728. By 1828, it had become today’s Sumneytown Pike, a toll road until 1914, and always an important route to Philadelphia.
When the North Penn Railroad extended tracks to the rural settlements north of Philadelphia in the 1850’s, “North Wales” became a station stop and prospered. Hotels, services, and businesses flourished, and change was in the air.
Farmland fronting a short portion of Sumneytown Pike was gradually sold off for home sites, and many buildings survive. Some of the large homes at the turn of the 20th century catered to summer guests from the city. “Idlewilde”, still on Main Street, hosted the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, when he was visiting Philadelphia to open the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exhibition with President Ulysses S. Grant.
The talented artist with paralyzed hands, Willian T. Trego (1858-1909), had his home and studio in North Wales, and costumed residents often posed as his models. His realistic historical paintings are displayed at venues such as Valley Forge National Park.
In 2000, the North Wales Historic Preservation District was established by Borough Council and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to protect the architecture that is a visual reminder of the borough’s past. It is the first Historic District in the North Penn boroughs. Explore our past… and enjoy our small town.