Cheltenham Township is a home rule municipality bordering North Philadelphia in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, United States. Although it retains the word "Township" in its official name, it has been governed by a home rule charter since 1977 and is therefore not subject to the Pennsylvania Township Code. Cheltenham's population is very diverse with over 80 races and ethnic cultures represented in a population density ranging from over 10,000 per square mile in rowhouses and high-rise apartments along Cheltenham Avenue to historic homes and neighborhoods in Wyncote and Elkins Park. It is the most densely populated township in Montgomery County. The population was 36,793 at the 2010 U.S. Census, making it the third most populous township in Montgomery County and the 27th most populous municipality in Pennsylvania. Originally part of Philadelphia County, Cheltenham is often noted as "Philadelphia's first suburb".
Located just 5 miles from Center City, Cheltenham houses the Cheltenham-Ogontz Loop, a major terminal for many SEPTA bus routes and access to the Cheltenham Square Mall. Cheltenham is home to five regional rail stations and is the key throughway for all trains heading to the northern suburbs via the SEPTA Main Line and the Fox Chase Line. The Jenkintown-Wyncote station is the busiest Regional Rail stop outside of Zone C, and by far the busiest in Montgomery County. Cheltenham also has easy access to the nearby Fern Rock Transportation Center and the Broad Street Line subway which terminates at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex. Cheltenham has over 127 miles of roads on just 9 square miles of land. Major roads include PA 309, PA 152, PA 611, PA 73, Old York Road, Cheltenham Avenue, and the northern terminus of Broad Street.
As one of the oldest communities in Pennsylvania, Cheltenham Township is rich in history. It is home to the oldest house of continuous residency in Pennsylvania, Wall House. It was home to the state's only training ground for Black troops during the Civil War, Camp William Penn. Cheltenham also served as a major stop on the Underground Railroad. The early development of Old York Road and the railroad connected Cheltenham with the rest of the Philadelphia area. Cheltenham also served as the home of some of the wealthiest people in the history of the United States, most notably, John Wanamaker, Peter Widener, William Lukens Elkins, John B. Stetson, Henry W. Breyer, Jr., Cyrus H.K. Curtis, George Horace Lorimer, among others.
Cheltenham was established in 1682 as part of Philadelphia County by 15 Quakers from Cheltenham, England, including Richard Wall and Tobias Leech, who purchased of land from William Penn. Upon creation of Montgomery County in 1784, Cheltenham became the smallest township in the new county.
The following is the list of the 15 original founders of Cheltenham Township
From early in its history, Cheltenham was fueled by the development of various mills along Tookany Creek. Communities and villages grew around these mills and formed what is now modern Cheltenham neighborhoods. The first gristmill was built by Richard Dungworth in 1690. After changing ownership several times, the Rowland family eventually made the mill the second largest producer of shovels in the United States. The site was demolished in 1929.
The La Mott section of the township was the site of Camp William Penn, the training grounds of the first African-American troops ever enlisted into the United States Army during the American Civil War. These soldiers were at General Lee's surrender, helped hunt down John Wilkes Booth and were the only African-American soldiers to carry President Lincoln's casket. The USCT (United States Colored Troops) 3rd Regiment were the first to be trained at Camp William Penn. It is tradition that soldiers have a grand parade before leaving for war, but Philadelphia was partially a racist community at that time and the government believed that a parade might cause a riot, so it was cancelled. The leader of the Camp (Colonel Louis Wagner) was furious and made sure the next regiment to come through would have a parade.
From the late 19th to early 20th century, Cheltenham established itself as one of the most prominent suburbs in the Philadelphia area. Railroad tycoon Jay Cooke was one of the first to build his mansion in Cheltenham. His 200 acre estate was eventually converted to a school in 1883 and was later demolished. John Wanamaker built his mansion Lindenhurst, which was destroyed by a fire in 1907. His second Lindenhurst was destroyed by another fire in 1944. Henry Breyer, Jr. eventually bought the land from Wanamaker. Other famous mansions built include Abraham Barker's "Lyndon," Cyrus H.K. Curtis's "Curtis Hall," George Horace Lorimer's "Belgrame," and John B. Stetson's "Idro." Perhaps the most famous mansions that still stand to this day are the prominent Widener family mansion Lynnewood Hall, the Elkins Estate which was home to William Elkins, and Grey Towers Castle which was home to William Welsh Harrison. The latter is a National Historic Landmark and was designed by famed architect Horace Trumbauer, who designed many buildings and homes in Cheltenham.
As the Gilded Age ended and the depression hit the country, many of the estates and mansions were destroyed and made way for the building of houses in their place. Many of the communities that were formed in the early stages of Cheltenham remained, and still exist to this day. As the 20th century progressed, many people moved out of the city and into the first suburb over the city line, Cheltenham. The township saw a drastic population increase in the 1960s and 70s. One of the major groups to come to Cheltenham was Koreans. The original Koreatown was located in the Olney section of Philadelphia, but eventually was moved north to Logan. Large pockets of Koreans were eventually established in Cheltenham, and also in Upper Darby and West Philadelphia. Many other races and ethnicities migrated to Cheltenham to make it one of the most diverse municipalities in the Delaware Valley. By the 2000 Census, Cheltenham was one of only two (the other being Norristown) municipalities in Montgomery County that was considered "diverse" (20-60% of the population is non-white). With the population increase, the township's identity changed from being a suburb of prominent Philadelphians and their mansions to a densely populated community of rowhouses, apartments, and townhouses that overflowed from neighboring North Philadelphia, while still maintaining some of the historic neighborhoods of the past.
There are many books about Cheltenham Township's prestigious history.
Cheltenham has been honored with many distinctions over its long history. It was named a Preserve America community, a US Government program established to preserve historic communities throughout the United States. It is also a Tree City USA member, a program dedicated to forestry management. Most recently in 2013, Cheltenham was named a "Classic Town of Greater Philadelphia," for being "one of the most diverse, unique, and livable communities in our region" and "truly at the center of it all."
The seal of Cheltenham was adopted from the seal of the namesake and sister city, Cheltenham, England. It appears on all formal documents, resolutions, proclamations, and all legal records or documents. The pigeon on top of a blue sphere represents the founding of the fountain spa which made Cheltenham famous. They are placed above a wreath of Oak leaves. The two books represent Education, in particular, the Pates Grammar School and the Cheltenham College. The silver cross in the middle represents religion. The two pigeons represent the flock that would gather at the spas. Finally, the Oak tree represents the many Oak trees that line the streets of Cheltenham and promenades.