History of Fitzwater Station
Fitzwater Station, a stop on the anti slavery underground
railroad which flourished before and during the Civil War. The
station was part of the sprawling Fitzwater farm which lay along the
Schuylkill River. Our building is named for Abel Fitzwater, a noted
land-owner and churchman of Upper Providence Township.
Abel Fitzwater was a fifth-generation descendant of Thomas
Fitzwater, who came to America with William Penn on the ship
"Welcome" from Middlesex, England. While in his infancy and
following his mother's death, Abel Fitzwater went to live with an
uncle, Moses Hobson, another well-known resident of Upper Providence
After his marriage to Isabella Umstead in 1825, Fitzwater purchased
his large farm along the river. His father-in-law, Jonas Umstead,
owned a nearby farm in the village of Green Tree, where the present
Egypt and Green Tree Roads intersect.
Abel Fitzwater is also remembered for his role in the aftermath of
one of the great floods of the Schuykill River in January 1839. The
new village of Lumberville, which had sprung up shortly before on
the Fitzwater farm, was submerged by flood waters and huge, lethal
floating chunks of ice. Many bridges and structures along the river
banks were swept away or destroyed by the force of the current.
aside all thoughts of personal safety, he entered the water time and
time again among the ice floes to rescue inhabitants of homes who
were cut off from food, drinking water, and heat. The heroic feats
performed by Fitzwater during that flood were to extract a heavy
toll. He was left with a lingering disease which claim his life a
little more than a year later.
Eventually, the little village of Lumberville was renamed Port
Providence and the Schuylkill River gained a sister waterway called
the Schuylkill Canal. The village thrived and prospered as the
coal-hauling barges made their way from central Pennsylvania to the
bustling commercial facilities of Philadelphia. The tavern on the
canal did a brisk business as the hard working, hard drinking
bargemen made it one of their favorite hostelries on the long trip
to and from Philadelphia.
Abel Fitzwater's son Joseph continued operation of the family farm
following his father's death. He also opened a hardware business in
Phoenixville, which specialized in equipment for steam-powered well
drilling. Joseph became a prominent member of the Phoenixville
business and social communities, serving as a director of the
National Bank of Phoenixville and as president of the Phoenix Bridge
Co., a firm which erected bridges worldwide.
Welcome, then, to the spirit of Joseph and Abel Fitzwater, and to
the Fitzwater Station!