“Willow Grove” had it’s beginnings as part of a land grant from King Charles II of England to William Penn in 1681, as payback for a debt owed to Admiral William Penn, his father. This was the same land grant that brought us Pennsylvania. William granted a warrant for 9.815 acres north of the city of Philadelphia to Nicholas More, a local physician. This land became known as the Manor of Moreland (later becoming Moreland Township).
Roughly one day’s ride by carriage from Philadelphia, and soon developed into a prospering colonial crossroads, with inns, stables, blacksmiths, and wheelwrights. In 1711, the Old York Road was laid out from Philadelphia to New Hope where the Delaware River was crossed by Ferry. Although this is the date used for the founding of the village, the name “Willow Grove” was not associated with this village until 1792 when mapmaker Reading Howell marked the village due to the high number of willow trees in the area. Prior to that, the area was called Round Meadow, named after the tributary of the Pennypack Creek which ran through the village and under the Old York Road at the center of town.
Undoubtedly the most important milestone in the development of Willow Grove was the establishment in 1896 of Willow Grove Park by the owners of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. Willow grove being a central meeting-place for regional trolley lines, combined with the opening of a Pennsylvania & Reading Railroad station nearby, the Park provided an excellent meetingplace for many – a great weekend retreat for all ages that was easy to get to.
Popular band leaders such as Arthur Pryor, Victor Herbert, and John Phillip Sousa would book two-week engagements every year, drawing as many as 50,000 people each day to witness the concerts. In following years, the park owners added amusement rides and attractions to increase attendance. For nearly half a century, Willow Grove was known as the Music Capital of the World.
As the car and the TV came to prominence, the park faced dwindling attendance, and after several changes of ownership, was finally closed in 1976 to make was for a multi-level regional shopping mall of the same name.
Through the years, Willow Grove has served as a crossroads meeting-place for travelers, a world-class summer retreat and concert center, a suburban community for commuters to nearby Philadelphia, and a regional shopping area. Willow Grove today is rich in history and historic sites as well as a center of commerce in the area.
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