Even outside of the traditional sense of “father,” fathers to society come in various forms.
For instance, Hippocrates is the father of modern medicine and Socrates is considered the father of western philosophy.
Here in Delaware County, we have our own father of note. Gov. William C. Sproul, the namesake of Sproul Road itself and a resident of Chester, has been labeled the “father of good roads.”
Although Sproul was not originally from Delaware County, he is a graduate of Chester High School c 1887 and of Swarthmore College c 1891. He was born in Lancaster County and lived in Michigan before his family moved to the place where Sproul would have great impact.
For a time, Sproul lived in a mansion at Ninth and Kerlin streets in Chester. Eventually, he moved and lived in Lapidea Manor in Nether Providence. The home had been built in 1818 by mill owner Thomas Leiper for his son, James. Sproul added two wings to the home and converted the stables to a carriage house. It is said that he hid his cigars in a secret compartment behind a painting on the wall in the house.
In 1896, as a 26-year-old, Sproul was elected to the state senate and was re-elected five times. In 1918, he was endorsed by the Republican Party for governor, easily beating his opponents from the Democratic and Prohibition parties.
During his service as an elected official, he sponsored the Highway Act of 1911 that created the state road system. During this era in the United States, cars began to replace horses as methods of transportation.
Through Sproul’s efforts, state legislators appropriated $100 million for the building and improvement of roads. It was during his administration that state highways were constructed, a system of routes was established and roads were classified as state or local.
In 1920, he was one of the candidates considered for the Republican presidential nomination. The nod eventually went to Warren G. Harding, who offered him the position of vice president, which Sproul refused.
While noted for his political work, Sproul had interests in many fields from journalism to banking to rails and coal. He also was the inaugural chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission.
As governor, he led an effort to save the 1724 Courthouse in Chester, which had been targeted for redevelopment.
More about Gov. Sproul and others in the Sproul family is available at the home of Delaware County Historical Society at 408 Avenue of the States in Chester. It is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday; and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month. It is closed on Tuesdays. Appointments are also available upon request. Parking is free in the lot behind the building or across the street in the city’s municipal lot.
For more information, ways to get involved or to contribute items of historic significance, please call 610-359-0832.
Gov. William C. Sproul is known as the "Father of Good Roads" in Pennsylvania for his leadership and advocacy that lead to the construction of roads throughout the commonwealth.