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.
Time to get back to our long and varied history.
While Thomas Hargrave was one of the better-known owners of the property at 50 S. Main St., Thomas’s brother, John, was also an owner for a while. Thomas sold the house and lot to John in 1861 for $600. John made many improvements to the property. About eight years later, John sold it back to his brother’s family – this time with his sister-in-law, Mary, listed as the property owner. The deed was transferred to her in 1869. Payment was $4,500.
The Thomas Hargrave family lived in the house for several more years. The 1880 federal census shows the residents were Thomas (then 71), his much younger second wife Mary (46) and their three daughters: Kate (17), Annie (13), and Mary Jane (11). Both younger girls were in school. The eldest daughter was listed as an apprentice dressmaker. The family had a 29-year-old domestic servant, Jennie Kaisinger, living with them as well.
In the early 1880s, a property line problem arose. Neighbor John Donnelly was a tinsmith, and stove and heater dealer at the intersection of South Main and York (now West Oakland) streets. The Hargrave and Donnelly lots had a frontage on South Main of 50 feet. (Donnelly may have built his store too close to the Hargrave house, resulting in it being on Hargrave property.) The sale of land in 1883 was to clear up any confusion. The price for the small triangle of land: $10. After the sale, the frontage of the Hargrave lot was reduced to 44.8 feet while the frontage of the Donnelly lot was increased to 55.2 feet. It would not be the last time the property line was called into question.
After the death of her husband in 1894, Mary continued to live in her house along with two of her daughters, Kate and Annie. Annie worked as a clerk at a notions store at the turn of the century. Neither daughter married.
Mary was 80 years old at the start of 1914 and had been ill for several weeks. She died of bronchial pneumonia at the end of January and was buried next to her husband in Doylestown Cemetery. In her will, she declared that the house and lot should be sold and any profits be shared equally among her three daughters. Six weeks after the will was probated, the Hargrave sisters sold the property to the man who had been a partner in the monument business with their father – John P. Stilwell.
While in Philadelphia, Thomas Hargrave was in the marble and granite monument business with his brother, John. John would later become owner of the property. Thomas Hargrave’s son, William, also was in the business partnership with his father. William would continue in the marble business until his death in 1889. At that time, John P. Stillwell because a junior partner, and the firm operated under the name Hargrave & Stillwell.
While Thomas Hargrave owned the property, it is likely he added a two-story addition and porch to the rear of the main stone house. The stone cutting and monument pieces were located at the rear of the house.
Hargrave was 86 when he died in his home shortly before 10 p.m. on Aug. 8, 1894. Hargrave’s obituary notes that he was a staunch Democrat at the end of his life, even though when he came to Doylestown “he was just as strong an opponent of the Democratic party.” Hargrave’s allegiance to the Republican party was questioned just after the Civil War, when one of the leaders challenged his vote on grounds that Hargrave was not naturalized. “The unwarranted proceeding so angered Mr. Hargrave that he never afterward affiliated with that party not voted for any of its candidates. He always was the first man at the polls in the morning thereafter, and the first ballot that went into the box for many years was Mr. Hargrave’s straight Democratic vote.”
Hargrave was still active in the marble business until shortly before his death. For a man who was known for creating lovely and meaningful pieces of memorial sculptures, the monument that sits atop his own grave in Doylestown Cemetery is rather plain.
Visit our Facebook page, Hargrave House B & B, to see what it looks like.
On March 23, 1855, Philadelphian Thomas Hargrave bought the lot and house for $1,600. Hargrave, a marble mason by profession, had come to Doylestown two years earlier to open a second establishment of his large marble monument business. He later became one of Doylestown’s most prominent businessmen.
A native of Leeds in Yorkshire, England, Thomas Hargrave came to America as a young man. An expert marble cutter, Hargrave had no difficulty finding work. One of his first jobs was constructing ornaments for the building at Girard College in Philadelphia. He established his first marble business, said to be the largest in the city, at 13th Street and Ridge Avenue. Historical records indicate he displayed some of his marble sculptures in the 1847 Exhibition of American Manufactures at Franklin Institute. It featured a monument base and die with a figure of an infant in a sleeping pose. Two lambs were part of the piece, and the Italian marble headstone had a carved wreath of flowers, enclosing a name in raised letters. Documents of the exhibition describe the work as “well done” and worthy of the fine art label. Many of his most handsome monuments were erected in Laurel Hill Cemetery, a noted garden cemetery in the East Falls section of the city. Laurel Hill was also where a former owner of Hargrave House, Margaret Kripps, is buried.
Hargrave was married twice, with his second wife being much younger than he was. After their marriage in 1860, Mary Deschamps Hargrave gave birth to three daughters: Kate, Annie and Mary Jane. The federal census of 1870 notes that the Hargrave family lived on South Main Street in Doylestown. Hargrave was 60 years old and a marble mason by occupation.
More on Hargrave’s activities in our next installment.