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The Borough of Lansdowne Pennsylvania The Borough of Lansdowne Pennsylvania

Jacob Bonsall Mary Owen’s 1732 House History

(Reprint from Spring 1973 Borough News Letter)

By Donald E. West, Councilman

The Jacob Bonsall House at
12 Owen Ave. showing the
building date of 1732 marked
out in blackcappersin the
gable, and its present owner,
Mrs. Doris Robison.

Jacob Bonsall contemplated the numerals 1732 in the gable on his new brick home with a good deal of pride. The family had done well in fifty years. Old George Wood, Jacob’s maternal grandfather, had been a part of Master William Penn’s holy experiment from the beginning. The two men had arrived in the new world within months of each other in 1682. George came from Mouldridge in Derbyshire, and during the next year persuaded his daughter Mary and her husband Richard Bonsall to join him in America. In 1684, Jacob, their first native son, was born, and three years later, Wood turned over to his son-in-law 200 acres of the original 655 acre grant which stretched from the creek north, passed Marshall’s road, up the hill almost to old Garrett’s place. Wood could spare the land; he owned jointly with Joshua Fern a second large tract nearby to the southeast.

Jacob Willed Land
In 1699 when Richard died his sons and heirs, Jacob, Benjamin, and Enoch lived in the log homestead, worked the farm, attended Quaker Meeting in Darby, and dreamed no doubt of the day when they would have more modern homes of their own. Jacob’s younger brother, Enoch, built his in 1730 across the creek to the southwest on what is today Providence Road, and now Jacob was ready to move Martha, his wife, and their seven children into his new place.

The original structure, well built and with elegant touches like the cove cornices on the eaves, constitutes only the Owen Avenue portion of Mrs. Doris Robison’s present home. The larger section is the west end, done in the 1790’s of quarry or field stone, with walls twice as thick as those in the brick part. The addition of the dining room on the north side dates from the 1830’s, while the bay window attached to it, and the dormers and the open porch on the south side are relatively modern.

A view of the front of the house
showing the Flemish bond and,
if you look very closely, the
indentations in the brick on
either side of the doorway.

Picture Jacob’s house then without any of these excrescences, the grading reduced to the level of the corner property, a short pent roof fitted under the belt course on the south side to cover the doorway and help protect the handsome design of black cappers and stretchers known as Flemish bond. Indentations in the brick on either side of the entrance suggest that Jacob and his family enjoyed a stoop, railing, and front steps.

Inside, the first and second floors and fully excavated basement were all of one size: 29′ x 18′, the attic, somewhat smaller, connected at one time by a staircase positioned probably in the northeast corner of the lower floors. Of the original interior decoration only the wood trim over the fire boxes seems to have withstood the intensive renovations of 1891 when a local men’s social group, the Runnemede Club, completely oak-paneled the living room in fine late Victorian fashion and laid new hardwood over the original foot-wide oaken floor boards.

Jacob Dies
At Jacob’s death in 1739 the "New House" was left in equal shares to his grandchildren; it came finally into the possession of Mary Bonsall married to Jonathan Owen. The owners in this century whom some Lansdownians are likely to remember are Carl and Mary Altmaier, Katheryn Ellenberger and Laura Stevenson, and since Feb., 1968, Mrs. Robison.

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