John P. Stilwell was born in Philadelphia in 1860. It was said he was a direct descendant of Azariah Stilwell, a Revolutionary patriot and member of Morgan’s New Jersey Rifle Co. At age 17, John Stilwell moved to Doylestown and went to work for Thomas Hargrave.
Stilwell married Harriet L. Biffert. The couple had two children: Susanna and Samuel.
Stilwell bought the house and lot where Hargrave House B & B now stands in 1914. The price tag: $3,800. He had previously been living on Clinton Street with his family. Shortly after the purchase, Stilwell hired a surveyor to determine the property lines of his lot. Interestingly, the surveyor discovered that a portion of a wooden frame addition that had been added to the rear of the original stone house was actually located on the Donnelly property to the north. This was the second time the property line had been questioned. About 30 years earlier, Donnelly acquired a small triangle of land from the Hargraves that increased the frontage of his property. That transaction occurred because a portion of Donnelly’s store may actually have been built on Hargrave property. The price for the small triangle of land remained the same as it had years earlier – $10.
Following Thomas Hargrave’s death, Stilwell became the sole proprietor of the monument business. An advertisement for “John P. Stilwell Marble and Granite Cemetery Work” describes highlights of the business: “Our Designs are New, our Material First-class and our prices Right.” The company grew to be one of the best-known and largest establishments in Bucks County.
Stilwell kept a journal that now resides in Spruance Library. The book lists sales of his monuments from 1903 to 1924. Handwritten in pen and ink, entries show that a typical sale was between $30 and $80 for a marble monument and lettering. Some entries, though, show sales of higher than $500.
The monument maker became one of Doylestown’s most prominent citizens, fostering many progressive projects to improve social conditions. He held membership and board positions with several organizations, including the county board of health, borough council, Doylestown Building and Loan Association, Salem Reformed Church, the Freemasons and the local gas and electric company.
In 1928, Stilwell left his South Main Street home to go to the Strand Theatre uptown. As he was walking, he had a heart attack and died the next morning. He was 68 years old. He left a will instructing that his house and lot be left to his widow. He was buried in Doylestown Cemetery.
After Stilwell died, his widow moved out of the house. Two years later, she rented it to a family whose son eventually grew up to be a well-known journalistic figure around town.