Among the books in the Andalusia archives, a number contain the Minutes of the Farmers’ Club of Pennsylvania. This small club was an auxiliary to the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA), one of the first agriculture societies in the United States, but all members of the Farmers Club were also members of PSPA. Nicholas Biddle had served for many years as President of the PSPA, but was no longer living when the Farmers Club was established in 1849. His son, Judge Craig Biddle, however, was a member and, for a time, President. In 1907, due to age and health, was made an honorary member. Craig also served as a President of the PSPA.
The twelve members took turns hosting the monthly Club at their respective farms where they would dine, sometimes elaborately, and admire the crops and livestock of the host farm. Reading the descriptive minutes gives a look at what the host farmer was most proud of, the mode of travel used by club members, and even their use of a modern form of communication.
In 1871, the Annual meeting of the Club was held at Andalusia on June 15. Members assembled at the Arch Street Wharf and after a sail of one and a half hours on the Edwin Forrest arrived at the Andalusia wharf. The Minutes thus record the meeting:
For some time we strolled upon the lawn, made so beautiful by the choice selection of trees, . .the fine herd of Guernseys were there at pasture, adding their full quota to the attraction of the scene. The Club was pleased to see three young heifers growing up to take the place of those who had well performed their part in life . . . On our usual tour of inspection we visited the graperies, filled with healthy vines, and the promise of a large yield of fruit. They were kept in most excellent order, as well as the garden adjoining, thence to the stables and barn, all well cared for.
A portion of the Club then visited the herd of Guernseys of Dr. Charles King, some sixteen in number. They are choice animals showing much care in their breeding and management. They have their origin from the Andalusian herd. [Dr. King’s home was Chelwood, the estate adjacent to Andalusia.]
At 3 1/2 P.M. we dined in the library, a cool and pleasant room . . . After a social gay dinner, we returned to the city at 7 1/2 P.M.
By 1884, when the club met on July 3rd, another steamboat served as transportation to Judge Craig Biddle’s Andalusia. The minutes again describe the setting of the day:
As for many years past, we assembled on board the steamboat “Columbia” at 2 P.M., and shortly after 3 o’clock were welcomed by our host. The weather was clear and most propitious for a country entertainment; the old homestead never appeared more attractive as we walked under the shade of the time-honored trees, enjoying the breezes from the river.
Judge Biddle’s herd of Guernsey cattle were carefully inspected and their fine appearance gave great pleasure to the advocates of this valued herd, especially his young bull, which, for his high qualities and excellent points, was justly admired. Dinner was served at 4 o’clock in the library, after the old-fashioned style.
We lingered over the hospitable board until it was time to take the train. At 7.40 we returned to the city in the New York Express which, by telegraph, was stopped at Borie’s Station for our convenience.
Borie Station was near where Tennis Avenue crosses the tracks in Andalusia, Bensalem Township and about a mile Southwest of Andalusia. The property of George Fox surrounded the station, close to summer houses along the Delaware River.
Judge Craig Biddle died in 1910 having carried on the legacy of his father's interest in agriculture and farming, overseeing care of the grapes and Guernsey cows. The herd continued at Andalusia until sold in 1950.
The Farmer’s Club continued into the 20th century; Charles J. Biddle (1890-1972) of Andalusia was a member and recording secretary in later years. Train travel was still a way to travel to Andalusia in the earlier years of the 1900s giving way to the automobile as time progressed. Interestingly, the tenor of the reporting also changed, turning more to politics and happenings in Philadelphia with scarcely a mention of crops or livestock—the way of life and interests of the “farmers” had changed. The last edition in the Andalusia archives ends at 1961. All make interesting and informative reading about an agriculture-based social club of the 19th and 20th century.
Connie S. Griffith Houchins, Executive Director
Craig Biddle portrait, gift of Charlotte Biddle. Acc# 2021.01.01
Photographs: The Andalusia Archives and Atlas of Properties Along Trenton R.R. from Frankford to Trenton
Other sources used: Minutes of the Farmers’ Club of Pennsylvania 1849-1919; Minutes of the Farmers’ Club of Pennsylvania 1947-1961