The Tookany Creek proved to be the lifeblood of Cheltenham’s early development. The creek provided industrial opportunities for early settlers and entrepreneurs. Many of the mills along the creek began as gristmills and were expanded to accommodate the changing needs of the local population as well as to reflect the changing technology of the times. As the mills prospered, small villages containing workers’ housing and supporting businesses grew up around them. By the early twentieth century, most of the mills had been abandoned and demolished and the Township began the process of reacquiring the land along the Tookany Creek as recreation and open space. However, the mills have left a permanent mark
on land use in the Township because the original villages developed around them.
In 1690 Richard Dungworth built the Township’s first gristmill. The ownership of this mill changed hands a few times and was eventually purchased by Benjamin Rowland Sr. This mill was then incorporated into the thriving shovel manufacturing business that had been developed by his nephew, Benjamin Rowland Jr. By the 1880s, T. Rowland and Sons was the second largest producer of shovels in the United States. The large number of employees that were employed at the Rowland complex precipitated the development of Milltown, which later became known as Cheltenham Village. The mill was abandoned and demolished in 1929, but the Shovel Shop at 300 Ashbourne Road remains as a testament to the village’s early history.
Areas of what is now Elkins Park developed around early mill establishments. Shoemakertown, later known as Ogontz, grew around a mill developed by Dorothy Shoemaker and her brother-in-law, Richard Mather, in 1746. At its peak productivity, the mill was known as Charles Bosler, Flour and Feed. The mill has since been demolished. Adjacent to Shoemakertown, the village of Ashbourne grew around a mill that had originally been built by Toby Leech in 1706. The mill reached its greatest prominence as the Meyer and Ervien Fork Factory in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Very few of the original mills along Tookany Creek, or branches thereof, remain in the Township. C. Hammond’s Tacony Edge Tool Works, which produced hammers and sledges, was eventually purchased for residential use. Knight’s Mill, also known as Paxson’s Mill and Rice’s Mill, no longer exists. Originally the mill produced flour, but in the twentieth century, it was converted to a carpentry mill that produced commodities such as window and doorframes, shutters and stairs. A few of the outbuildings were converted to residential use and some of the foundations were incorporated into new structures.