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The roots of the local community

Lower Salford Township, which includes the village of Harleysville, was born in Pennsylvania’s early years shortly after William Penn came from England to set up his colony. Lower Salford was part of the land along the Perkiomen Creek that Lenape Indian chief Manghousin deeded to Penn in 1684. Little more than a trading post, it lay in the great farm heartland, outside Philadelphia, about 15 miles from Valley Forge, where the tired soldiers under the command of General George Washington assembled to prepare for the successful battle with the British for land and liberty.

Harleysville was settled by deeply religious immigrants, mostly members of the "plain" sects-the Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, Dunkards and Quakers—who fled persecution in Germany, Holland and other parts of Europe to find peace and hard work in the soil of the new world. The Mennonites made up the largest group of religious settlers, many of whom arrived in a large wave in 1717.

After Sumneytown Pike (then called Maxatawney Road) was carved out of the forests around 1735, a man named John Isaac Kline built a tavern along the right of way. It was used regularly by travelers to and from Philadelphia. Kline soon transferred the business to Nicholas Schwenk, who sold out shortly afterward to Samuel Harley, the man who gave his name to the village that sprang up around the tavern.

Harley’s grandfather, Rudolph, left Germany in 1719. Thirteen years later, the Harleys were followed by Friedrich Altdorfer (Americanized to Alderfer), who married the widow of the man to whom he had been indentured. Friedrich was the head of the big Alderfer clan that included Alvin C. Alderfer, who would become one of Harleysville’s 20th century entrepreneurs.

Through the 1800s, the community continued to grow with the influx of more people and the ensuing addition of new businesses and church meeting houses. The first physician opened a practice in Harleysville in 1829, while the Harleysville post office opened in 1844. The Sumneytown-Spring House turnpike (roughly today’s Route 63) was opened four years later and Samuel Delp built the Mainland Inn in 1890.

The early 1900s brought the founding of the town’s two most prominent businesses of today—Harleysville National Bank and Trust Company (1909) and Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company (1915)—both the brain children of Alvin C. Alderfer.

The first automobile in Harleysville—a 1903 Locomobile Steamer—was owned by G. Henry Hildebrand, publisher of the village newspaper. He used to boast years later that the first passenger in his car was I.T. Haldeman, who later became president of Harleysville Insurance.

Like its natural predecessor, the horse, the automobile quickly became an object of envy, forcing Alderfer and Harleysville’s town leaders to find a solution to a wave of theft spawned by the automobile’s rising popularity. That they did on November 15, 1915, when they formed an "association" (to be officially chartered as an insurance company in 1917) and issued cards to "members," who mutually agreed to pay a fee of up to $5 (depending upon the car’s value) for protection against the theft of their automobiles.

 

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