Thomas J. Wieckowski
Research in Progress:
Wharton Barker

Research and writing are currently underway on a book about the life and times of Wharton Barker. Barker is virtually unknown today, but careful observers might recognize the Wharton name from the prestigious business school at the University of Pennsylvania. The founder, Joseph Wharton, was Wharton Barker's uncle and namesake. Some local residents may remember the name of the Wharton Switch works, once the main manufacturer of railroad switches for the booming late-nineteenth century railroad industry. The SPS Technologies factory now occupies the old switchworks site in Abington Township, between Jenkintown and Wyncote. The adjoining neighborhood of "Switchville" is the only concrete reminder of the era. Barker was president of the company.

Barker was a late-nineteenth century banker in Philadelphia and lived in Wyncote for the last thirty years of the century. His estate on Church Road lent its name to the new village of Wyncote when the post office was established in 1887. He was one of the most influential bankers of his day, helping to fuel the great expansion of railroads throughout the continent. Barker also cultivated trade with czarist Russia, constructing four warships for Czar Alexander II at the Cramp shipyards in Philadelphia in 1878. Several trips to Russia followed and he was knighted by the czar in St. Petersburg for his efforts.

Barker was also an author, publisher, and national authority on monetary policy and taxation. Politically, he engineered the 1880 election of James Garfield to the presidency of the United States and, with cronies from the famous Union League of Philadelphia, was influential in local and national politics. He is the only resident of Wyncote to have run for the office of president of the United States.

Long forgotten, there is a "Barker Road" in Wyncote, although no one knows whether it was named for Wharton or his father, Abraham, also a long-time Wyncote resident. 

The Search for Edward Heacock

The Heacock name may be one of the most familiar to long-time residents of Wyncote. The land that comprised the Heacock farm was settled in 1749 by William Webster who constructed a farmhouse on the hillside next to the Road from Abington to Germantown, today's Washington Lane. Joseph Heacock purchased the farm in 1857 and four generations of Heacocks lived there until the property was subdivided in 1962. 

Joseph the junior was a state senator and world famous florist and plantsman whose greenhouses lined Maple Avenue in Wyncote, At the turn of the century, the greenhouses comprised the largest expanse under glass in the United States.

Joseph's son, Edward, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1906 with a degree in Biology and embarked on a career as a botanist. As part of his work, he spent the summers in the wilds of then-unexplored British Columbia and in the summer of 1907, embarked on an expedition with several Penn friends to climb Mount Sir Sandford in the Selkirk range.

The expedition quickly turned to into a disaster. The expedition was described by expedition member Herbert Ives in a article published in the 1908 edition of the Alumni Register of the University of Pennsylvania. It is one of the most compelling real-life adventure stories in print. Ives himself went on to work for the Bell Laboratories and was the inventor of the fax system and an early version of television.

One of the party, Edward's friend and colleague, Merkel Jacobs, in an early part of the climb, was crushed by a boulder and suffered a severely fractured leg. Heacock placed Jacobs on a rock, covered him with a tarp, cooked a supply of food and set out on a four day journey to their base camp for help. Returning with a rescue party, they set Jacob's leg and tended to him as he lay on the rock for the entire summer. Needing food and supplies, Edward and Merkel's brother Robert set out for a food cache placed in the foothills along the Gold river.

A couple of days into the food mission, the canoe capsized. Robert made it to shore and his last view of Edward was as he rounded a bend in the river as the canoe disintegrated in the rapids. A search party failed to find any sign of Edward as did a later search mounted by Joseph when he came out to the area in August of that year.

Merkel was carried down from the mountains at the end of the summer as the first snows fell in a life-challenging and exhausting journey of survival. He later went on to a distinguished career as a biologist and director of the Woods Hole Marine Laboratory in Cape Cod.

The author is planning a trip for the summer of 2010 to Revelstoke, British Columbia and the Selkirk mountains to retrace that epic expedition of 1907.


Interested in local history?
The most comprehensive collection of documentation of local history is maintained by the Old York Road Historical Society located in Jenkintown. The Cheltenham Township Historical Commission identifies and tracks properties and structures of historical interest. It also maintains the historic Wall House Museum.


Wyncote, Wyoming

As part of the research for the book, Making Marathon, the number of appearances of the word "Wyncote" in the United States was enumerated. They are very few and amounted to several streets in various locations such as Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey, Cleveland, Ohio, and Lingle, Wyoming. The book offers the statement that "there are no other towns in the United States with that name." True enough, but since publication it has been discovered that there used to be a town and post office in Wyoming by the name of "Wyncote". Located in the southeast corner of the state, the post office was established at a railhead of the Burlington railroad in 1903, but, due to lack of growth of the outpost, was merged with the village of Lingle in 1909. 

The name "Wyncote" is of such rare usage and uncommon etymology that it seems that its appearance in Wyoming cannot be a coincidence, but must be somehow related to Wyncote, Pennsylvania. Research in the Casper Library, the nearest cultural institution to the site of Wyncote and the town of Lingle, yields an old monograph entitled "History of Old Wyncote" which offers the fanciful explanation that "an old coat was found at the spot with a bottle of wine in the pocket."

The 1906 postcard shown on the left may be the only tangible evidence remaining of the existence of Wyncote, Wyoming, but the search for a plausible connection goes on.

The Heacock Farmhouse about 1890, off Heacock Lane, Wyncote. Photo courtesy of Nancy Wood, Wyncote.

Mount Sir Sandford in British Columbia.

From the New York Times, August 14, 1907

Header Photograph: The gazebo at Robinson Park, Wyncote. The estate was constructed in 1896 for banker H.K. Walt by famed architect  Horace Trumbauer. 
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