The efforts to save the Peter Mott House came up unexpectedly for concerned citizens of Lawnside. One evening during a local meeting centered around Black History Month – Clarence Still, official historian of the Still Family and the town of Lawnside made a startling announcement.
According to journalist Hoag Levins for Historic Camden County, “So Clarence Still comes to our gathering, remembered [current President of the Lawnside Historical Society Linda P.] Waller.” And he gets up to speak and says ‘I can’t let this opportunity go by without telling you all about something that is very important. Everybody in Lawnside ought to be up in arms about it. The Peter Mott House is going to be destroyed.'”
“We adjourned to the hallway and my sister and a couple of her friends from school said we ought to form a Lawnside Historical Society and do something about this. We’ve got to focus on saving that house,” said Waller. “My sister turned to me and said ‘We’re going to have a meeting about this next Thursday and it’s going to be at your house.” And I said, ‘Can I come?’ And that’s how I got involved.”
Clarence Still was head of the Still Family Historical Committee, named for Philadelphia Abolitionist leader William Still, who, in 1871, wrote the first comprehensive account of the secret smuggling system that had helped escaped slaves find their way to freedom in the northern states and Canada. Clarence Still was the founding President of the Lawnside Historical Society.
“Mr. Still is the reason any of this happened,” Waller said. “He is the person who understood what the house meant and the one who stood up and said, ‘Builder, stay that backhoe.'”
Credit: This video was produced in partnership with Scribe Video Center, a non-profit community media center in West Philadelphia offering workshops, screenings and filmmaking resources. Visit their website at www.scribe.org to see all current programs.
The community was first named Free Haven because it served as a stop and way station along multiple routes of the Underground Railroad.Read Morec. 1840
Shortly after the Civil War, Free Haven’s name changed to Snow Hill, reportedly for the prominence of sugar sand atop the hill where early settlement formed.
According to Historian Paul Schopp, “Snow Hill became a settlement for free people of color sometime during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Despite claims that it takes its name from the town in Maryland, Snow Hill gained its moniker from the sugar sand on the hilltop that could be seen for some distance after sawyers had denuded the mount of trees and shrubs. A John Hills map from 1808 labels the area “Snow Hill.” The mount and the area surrounding it is considered a Pine Barrens outlier, due to the presence of sand and the trees and plants growing there. The area’s poor soil and marginality made it typical [of the quality of] land sold to African Americans.”c. 1867
The arrival of the Philadelphia and Atlantic Railroad (later the Reading Railroad) in 1876, the name of the stop changed from Denton to Lawnton.Read Morec. 1876
When Centre Township was about to be dissolved Lawnsiders faced a decision. Should they incorporate as an independent municipality or join with other predominantly white surrounding communities? The decision was made to incorporate and thus become a predominantly Black, self-governing borough.
Governor Harry A. Moore signed a law incorporating Lawnside in March 1926, First mayor and Council were elected in a special election held at the Lawnside Public School on Warwick Road on April 20, 1926.
Lawnside’s first Mayor was James Hemming. Horace J. Bryant , a member of City Council, later became the calendar clerk of the state Assembly in the 1930s. His son, Horace J. Bryant, Jr became the state Commissioner of Insurance, and the first Black person in a governor's cabinet. One of his grandsons, Wayne R. Bryant became a state senator, and another grandson Mark [Bryant] later became the mayor of Lawnside for 23 years. In the image here, the first Mayor, his cabinet and Council members are assembled on the lawn of the Lawnside Inn in April 1926 shortly after their first meeting.
Photo L-R: Horace J. Bryant, Sr., Borough Clerk; George Forten; Douglas Brown; Walter Miller, Sr.; Mayor James Hemming; John Brown; Charles Cooper; James Smith; and Thomas Rivers
Clarence Still - Founding LHS president presents award to “Aunt Doris” Scott, first Lawnside police woman and school matron, c. 1990