The Freedom Valley Chronicles: The Dogleg At Germantown Pike And Butler Pike

 The intersection of Germantown Pike and Butler Pike has attracted renewed attention in the past two years as development plans have been proposed for a 10.45 acre tract of land at the intersection in the Freedom Valley.

Travelers – especially those that go through the area on a daily basis – are acquainted with traffic backups at this intersection.

Part of the problem is that both roadways were not designed for the traffic of 2018.

Many people may not realize that the dogleg that exists at this intersection – where Butler Pike ends at Germantown Pike and then starts back up at Germantown Pike – has not always been the reality.

As this area was settled by Europeans, the intersection was similar to most other intersections of roads in the area – the roads came together at the same place.

Germantown Pike – under a variety of names and a variety of ownerships – has remained in the same location through all these years.

What is called “Butler Pike” today was originally located on the township line between Plymouth Township and Whitemarsh Township.

There was no dogleg.

In 1813, though, the situation changed.  This, according to a news article dated September 8, 1968, in The Philadelphia Inquirer.  Government officials gave consent to a request from the Plymouth Monthly Meeting to move Butler Pike a short distance from the township line between Plymouth Township and Whitemarsh Township.

The reason?

Traffic was disturbing the members of the Plymouth Monthly Meeting as they attended religious services at the Plymouth Friends Meetinghouse.

The newspaper quoted Miss Alice Ambler of Plymouth Meeting regarding the change in the intersection in 1813:  “Miss Ambler has a document and maps verifying the action.”

Others have confirmed how the dogleg was created.  “In the early 1800’s, the meetinghouse was immediately adjacent to what we now call Butler Pike,” explained Mr. Tom Armstrong, a current member of the Plymouth Monthly Meeting.  “Traffic was a little dangerous.”

With the approval of the government, Butler Pike was moved to its current position.

Thus, the dogleg was created.

This map from 1871 shows the dogleg intersection of Germantown Pike (the main roadway that goes from the left-side of this map to the right-side of this map) and Butler Pike (the main roadway that is split in two as it goes from the top of this map to the bottom of this map).

You can see remnants of where Butler Pike existed by reviewing today’s records from Montgomery County that detail the properties at the intersection of Butler Pike and Germantown Pike.  The map above shows a wider area around this intersection;  the map below shows the same properties at this intersection, but with greater detail for viewing the likely remnant of Butler Pike.  The red portion of these maps is likely the portion of Butler Pike that was abandoned in the early 1800’s.  The area bordered in yellow in these maps encompasses the properties owned by the Friends, including a meetinghouse, school, and cemeteries.

Through the years, there have been a number of efforts to straighten the intersection of Germantown Pike and Butler Pike.

None of the efforts succeeded.

Fifty-four years ago – in 1964 – Plymouth Township prepared a plan to straighten Butler Pike and to widen Germantown Pike.  A news article dated June 4, 1964, in The Conshohocken Recorder stated that Plymouth had presented a proposal to the Commonwealth to improve traffic conditions in the area.  The concept was to have Butler Pike return to its original location through the campus of the Plymouth Monthly Meeting.

The newspaper quoted Mr. Robert Townsend, then the Secretary of the Plymouth Township Board of Commissioners:  “I believe the simplest way to avoid destruction of historic Abolition Hall on the northeast section of the crossing is to take the road through the existing boundary.”  Mr. Townsend was referring to the boundary between Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships.

A newspaper article of the same date in The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Mr. Townsend that this was not the first time that Plymouth requested that the dogleg be removed from the intersection.

At the time, the William Jeanes Memorial Library was located at a building within the stone walls on this campus.  The proposal from Plymouth would likely have seen the Library building demolished.  According to a news article dated December 29, 1964, in The Conshohocken Recorder, in response to plans to straighten Butler Pike, “The Jeanes Memorial Library board has approved a plan involving the relocation of the library.”

In 1964, officials indicated that traffic from the new high school – the then Plymouth-Whitemarsh Joint High School – and the new Pennsylvania Turnpikes – the main east-west route as well as the Northeast Extension – were impacting the intersection.  All three had been added to the landscape in the 1950’s.

To give you a perspective of the times, please note that this was before the opening of the Plymouth Meeting Mall, before the high-rise residential towers near the Mall, before the office complexes were opened near the Mall, and before the office developments at the intersection itself.  All of those properties were still either open space or rural developments.  The traffic congestion at the intersection was considered “bad” even before these and other developments – like the opening of the Blue Route – took shape in the area.

In May of 1965 – more than 50 years ago – The Philadelphia Inquirer indicated that traffic could back up for one mile in either direction of this intersection.  A news article dated May 23, 1965, indicated that with traffic, “radiator temperatures and drivers’ blood pressures hit new records.”

According to a news article dated November 28, 1968, in The Morning Call newspaper of Allentown, the Plymouth Meeting Historical Society and other groups were fighting efforts by the Commonwealth to widen the roadways and straighten Butler Pike at this intersection.  This newspaper article stated that “It was reported Whitemarsh is opposed to the widening and was concerned that Germantown Pike would become an expressway.”

Proposals were considered to create a Butler Pike Bypass as part of the construction of the Mid-County Expressway (the “Blue Route”) through Plymouth Township.  According to (hold on for the full name of the report) the Final Environmental Impact Statement for I-476, L.R. 1010, Mid-County Expressway, From Ridge Pike to Pennsylvania Turnpike, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, issued in 1983, a new road had been proposed by local residents that would have taken traffic from Butler Pike as it makes a curve in Cold Point directly to Plymouth Road alongside the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  This would have removed some of the traffic going through the existing intersection of Butler Pike and Germantown Pike.

As noted above, none of the proposals to alter the dogleg at this intersection succeeded.

The aerial map is courtesy of Bing, 2018.

The map from 1871 is a portion of a map from that year courtesy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The maps highlighting real estate properties are courtesy of Montgomery County, 2018.

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© 2018 Richard McDonough