MONDAY, MARCH 07, 2005

History of Speedwell

In 1760, ironmaster James Old and his partner, David Caldwell, purchased land along Hammer Creek and built Speedwell Forge. James Old also built a modest stone house for his family, as well as several smaller homes for his employees, nearby.

Robert Coleman married Anne Old, James’ eldest daughter, and became ironmaster at Speedwell Forge in 1784. Although they did not live there, they expanded the house c. 1795, adding the east wing in the popular Georgian style. The property remained in the Coleman family until 1941.

The forge closed around 1854, just before the Civil War, as anthracite coal and hot blast furnace technology moved west. Today, there is nothing left of the forge. The property, meanwhile, became “Speedwell Stock Farm” where they raised Standardbred horses for sulkey (harness) races. The quarter-mile training track is now used as the driveway, and the half-mile race track is still visible at the top of the hill. Unfortunately, the beautiful stone-end bank barn (once the largest barn in Lancaster County) burned in 1952, and a contemporary barn stands in its place.

The stock farm closed in 1898, and Speedwell became a dairy and corn farm. In 1941, Dawn’s grandparents purchased the mansion and about 1,000 acres. In the 50’s, the state bought half of that and created Speedwell Forge Lake, which is now a popular fishing and recreation area.

In the 70’s, the high cost of pasteurization forced the Darlingtons to sell the dairy cows, and the cornfield was leased to a nearby farmer. In the 80’s, some of the property was sold to a real estate developer.

In 1983, the Darlingtons enclosed 22 acres and started a wolf sanctuary, a non-profit, educational facility. Today, thousands of people each year enjoy the one-hour tour and the opportunity to see wolves in their natural habitat. (Click here for more information.)

In 1991, the county again bought half of the remaining property to create Speedwell Forge Park, a natural (undeveloped) area along Hammer Creek. To read about forge operations — where the trip hammer ran 24 hours a day, and could be heard a mile away, and the furnace glow lit up the sky — it must have been very exciting. Today, nestled in its own valley and bounded by a lake, a park, farmland, and the Hammer Creek watershed, it is a very quiet area, but you can still get a sense of how vast the forge operations once were.

In 2003, Dawn Darlington – third-generation caretaker of Speedwell Forge – and her fiance, Gregg Hesling, began the process of converting the historic buildings into a B&B. With a scheduled opening of Spring 2006, the public will be invited in for the first time since 1961 (when Speedwell Forge was on the Lititz open house tour).