A Narrative History ©
Written by: Christine M. Buzzatto
What is the "Three Arches" building, and what fascination does it hold for the Falls Township community? What is its history, and how does it relate to Falls' heritage? These and other questions may be answered by a brief description of the former owners of this significant Fairless Hills landmark.
The historical impact of this home, known affectionately as "Three Arches", dates back to the owners, John and Mary Sotcher, who built the first stone section around 1712. The Sotchers were trusted friends of William Penn, and worked as steward and housekeeper for him at Penn's estate in Pennsbury in the early 1700's. Penn attended the Sotcher marriage in 1701 at the Falls Meeting, his wife Hannah and daughter Letitia also attended. Penn signed the marriage certificate, as well as Phineas Pemberton and James Logan and other notable Bucks County figures. The original certificate is now kept at the Morristown National Historic Park.
The grounds and property of the Three Arches date still farther back in Bucks County history. The first actual owner of record was Thomas Atkinson and his wife Jane. They were granted the land from William Penn's Commissioners in 1684. It is believed that a log cabin was built, and it may have served as the foundation of the existing stone building. Atkinson was a large land owner in early Bucks, and his wife Jane was a recognized Minister among Friends. Upon his death, the estate of over 300 acres went to his widow, Jane. She eventually married another prominent Falls resident, William Biles, who helped raise her three sons.
William Biles was granted a deed of sales in 1696 for the estate. His prominent status in Falls included a term as Clerk of Falls Monthly Meeting in 1702, and Sheriff of the County of Bucks in 1703. Biles was an early member of the public court held at "Crewcorne" near Morrisville in the 1680's.
The estate's next owner was George Biles, son of William Biles. The land still totaled 300 acres and it sold for 90 pounds silver. Other owners then were: Solomon Warder in 1702, and William Paxson in 1704. John Sotcher purchased the property in 1712.
The Sotcher family probably lived in the original stone section of the farm house. Their son, Robert, inherited the estate from his father in 1729. It is generally thought that he was responsible for the addition to the original one room stone house. When Robert Sotcher died, his nine children petitioned the courts for a distribution. The land value was divided amongst them, and John, the eldest son, in turn purchased the estate after paying a just sum to each of his brothers and sisters. John Sotcher Jr. then sold the 300 acre farm on the same day that he purchased it for the sum of 1,547 pounds silver to the new owner, John Brown, in 1762.
The Brown family owned the property for a considerable length of years, through the Revolutionary War. During his ownership the three-arched addition was probably built. In 1806 John Brown deeded a portion of his land, as did Moses Moon and other land owners, to be used as land for a public burial place. Some of this same cemetery can still be seen today along Oxford Valley Road in Fairless Hills. John Brown's son, Abraham, inherited the farm property in 1820, and when he died the estate was not fully accounted for financially. An indenture was made in 1837 that allowed Isaiah Vansant Williamson to assume the mortgage. His was the highest bid at $63.00 per acre. Due to past partitioning, the estate was now 171 acres and 46 perches in size. Williamson, with his Fallsington roots, was a financial wizard in Philadelphia, and a great philanthropist to his community. He was the founder of the Williamson Trade School in Philadelphia. Isaiah Vansant Williamson may have more than just financial reasons for buying the old estate. A more personal reason could have been because of his own family ties to the Sotcher family and to this estate, for he was a descendant of John and Mary Sotcher.
Later owners of the estate were Peter Williamson and his daughter, Anna. Peter, a relation of the older Williamson, bought the property in 1849. His daughter sold the property in 1881 to William Hibbs. However, as in its past history, events took an ironic twist for Three Arches. The property was sold at sheriff's sale in 1899 to Miss Emily Baily. In 1912 Miss Baily sold the land to her sister, Anna Baily Carver. Later owners of the estate were all members of the Baily-Carver family. One of them was Miss Rachel Carver, a teacher and known painter in Bucks County. Her painting of the Arches beautifully depicts her love for the home. Rachel's family has graciously donated the picture to Three Arches.
After World War II, Lower Bucks farmlands were prime targets for land development. The Arches' lands were no exception, with their rolling green hills, natural woodlands and streams. In 1951 the Danherst Corporation purchased the estate, now 152 acres in size, for further development of its Fairless community of homes. The manor house, or Three Arches building, was used for the corporation's office. Time was still treating this building well, and its stately trees were still surrounding its stone frame to lend a sight of historic beauty to the landscape of homes along its border.
Ownership changed again in 1967, when the Danherst Corporation deeded the property to the County of Bucks, with the covenant that a free, public library be maintained in the Three Arches. However, this idea never became a reality. In 1970 another agreement was made between the same two parties. On March 31, 1971 the County of Bucks granted the property, now about 2 acres in size, to the Township of Falls. At the outset Falls realized the historic significance of this building to the heritage of Falls. A new roof was given to the aging building to stop the process of decay. In 1974 the Falls Township Bicentennial group was formed, and its heritage project was the renovation and use of the Three Arches building. After the celebration years, this same group became the impetus towards professional restoration and official recognition of the building.
In 1977 the original group developed into Three Arches, Inc., a non-profit group dedicated to the revitalization and use of the building as a Community-Cultural center for Falls. In 1977, the Three Arches building was registered on the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places, and the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing its significant history and architectural merit of structure. With the assistance of Federal Community Development funding, the Township officials of Falls embarked on a professional restoration of the historic building. Exterior work began in the spring of 1980, and by the winter of 1982 the interior work had been completed.
The original dignity of the Three Arches building has been recaptured, and it now stands for use by its community as a center for many activities. Situated at the top of a grassy knoll, Three Arches contently awaits a new generation of residents to entrance and beguile, her beauty and architectural design a treat for all who make her acquaintance.
“there is a certain tract of land within the said County of Bucks Beginning at a corner tree standing by the land sometime of John Rowland and running thence by a line of trees southeast by the said Rowland’s land 400 perches thence northeast by Anthony Burton’s land 160 perches thence by ye land of William Biles southeast 40 perches thence north northeast by Randall Blackshaw’s land 200 perches thence west by the land formerly of William Duncan 520 perches thence southwest by west to ye first place of beginning, 72 perches … with all ye messages, tenements, houses, barns, stables, orchards, gardens meadows ways water courses”
1702 deed to the Three Arches property
Three Arches Historic Site
335 Trenton Road
Fairless Hills, PA 19030