Rev. John Ayers Cass

John A Cass Picture

Rev. John Ayers Cass

Published: February 12, 1915

The death of Rev. John A. Cass, on Saturday, January 30, 1915, at his home in Lansdowne closed the life of a man who was greatly interested in the early development of Swarthmore. When Mr. Cass came to Swarthmore in 1889 there was only a group of houses on the hill near the College and a few scattered homes in other parts of what now constitutes the Borough of Swarthmore.

There was no school and no place of worship except the Friends’ Meeting. As people, who were not Friends, gradually moved into the place, there grew up a feeling that some other form of worship was needed.


Circa 1900. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Bill Thomas

As a result, a Sunday School was formed and Sunday services held, first in one house and then in another, and finally in a house that had not yet been rented. In all this work Mr. Cass was a leader, as he was in the movement for the erection of a school house. This was the original school house built, to which additions were afterward made, forming the present old school house, and was built by the School Board of Springfield Township, of which board William J. Hall was a member.

While this building was under consideration, Mr. Cass and others interested in church work, decided to form a Union Church and offered to contribute $2,500 toward the school building, if the school board would build it two stories and make the second story a hall for the use of the church and Sunday School and for other public purposes. This was agreed to by the board with the understanding that whenever the entire building was needed for school purposes, it could be taken over and the money contributed should be returned to the Union Church.

Mr. Cass gave an unswerving loyalty and an unstinted service to the church, which he served most acceptably as pastor for two years or more.

He was greatly interested in anything that stood for the building up of Swarthmore and was one of those directly responsible for the building of the present Borough Hall, for which there was great need at the time.

Swarthmore Borough Hall, 1894. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Bill Thomas

Swarthmore Borough Hall, 1894. Photo courtesy of Sgt. Bill Thomas

Soon after it was built the school house was needed for school work, and the hall was seated with chairs and used as a meeting place for Union Church.

This organization grew as others came to Swarthmore to live, and built the present Methodist Church. From this church, which deserves the name of Mother of the Swarthmore Churches, there went out first the Episcopal Church, later the Presbyterian Church and afterward, since new members of these denominations would naturally attend their own churches, it became evident that the best interests would be served by turning the building over to the Methodist Church, and this was done.

In all of this church work Mr. Cass put that energy and enthusiasm which had formerly served to place him in charge of some of the largest and most influential churches in Massachusetts. It was on account of his over-working himself in the service of these churches that his physicians warned him that he must give up the active ministry. Complying with the demands of his friends, he abandoned his chosen profession and turned his energies into business channels.

The habits of a life-time and his love for the work for his fellow men, however, formed too strong a magnet to permit him to abandon the work altogether, and during the entire time of his residence in Swarthmore his sympathies were always with the work of the church.

In his business relations he was interested in developing what was known as the College Tract, since it had been owned by Swarthmore College. This tract was what is included between Chester Road from the station to Harvard Avenue, along Princeton to Dartmouth and along Dartmouth to the station.

On this tract he built his own home, where Mr. Marr [Park Avenue] now lives and had the heart-breaking experience of having it completely destroyed by fire [September, 1893] almost as soon as he had moved into it. This did not break down his courage, however, and he soon had it re-built.

His interest in public affairs is shown by his establishing, editing and publishing the Swarthmore, of which the Swarthmore News is a successor, by his maintaining it as a paper of high aims and purposes. The first publication came out on June 1, 1893.

In September of 1894, he asked to be relieved of his pastoral duties at the Methodist Church. His last sermon there was on October 4, 1894.

In September of 1898, he sold his home on Park Avenue to George Marr for the sum of $8,500 and moved to a new residence on the corner of Cornell and Rutgers avenues.

On leaving Swarthmore in May of 1899, Mr. Cass and his family moved to Germantown, where he became for a time the efficient assistant pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church. Later he move to Lansdowne, where he spent the last four years as a partial invalid.

Mr. Cass was a man of high purpose, unswerving loyalty to his friends — what he conceived to be the best things, and has left his mark on the work of the world to its betterment.

I well remember his saying to me one day, “If anyone can say at my funeral service, “Here is a man who did the best he knew, I shall feel that my life has been well spent.” I cannot only say that, but also that what he “knew” was what counted for the greatest things in life, and he did his best to bring these things into the lives of those about him.

At the service, which was held at his home on Tuesday afternoon, the Rev. J.I. Lansing of Ridgewood, N.J., his friend from boyhood, spoke with a direct and beautiful simplicity of the rare type of friendship that had always existed between them, and showed how such a friendship had sweetened the lives of both.

— George A. Hoadley


Rev. John A. Cass, pastor of the Union Evangelical Church at Swarthmore, editor of The Swarthmore, the only newspaper published in the borough, and secretary and treasurer of the College Tract Residence Company, is a worthy representative of a fine New England family that traces its trans-atlantic origin to old England. He was born at Cornville, Maine, October 3, 1842, and is the eldest son of Enoch C. and Sarah (Williams) Cass.

His great-grandfather was born and reared in England, but came to America during the Colonial period, and settled in New Hampshire, where he married and reared a large family. His son, Moses Cass (grandfather), was born in that colony, and while yet a young man served as captain in the war of the Revolution. He lived for many years in New Hampshire, but died in Maine, where his last days were spent. He married and had a family of children, one of whom was Enoch C. Cass (father), who was born in the State of New Hampshire in 1804. There he grew to manhood, but soon afterward removed to Maine, where he continued to reside until called away by death in 1870, at the age of sixty-six. He was a contractor and builder by occupation, an old-line whig in politics, and was called to fill a number of county and township offices. He married Sarah Williams, a native of New Hampshire, who died in 1890. aged 84. She was of English extraction and a direct descendant of Oliver Cromwell, the great Protector.

John A. Cass was reared in Maine, and obtained his primary education in the public schools of that State. His academic studies were pursued at a leading Massachusetts academy, and later he entered the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Connecticut, from which institution he was graduated with honor in June 1872. Soon after graduation he entered the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and for 11 years he had charge of the churches in and around Boston. During this time Rev. Mr. Cass had the financial management of several large churches, and won quite a reputation by his success in cancelling church debts, and building and repairing church edifices. After 11 years continuous service his health failed, and in hope of regaining it he went to Europe, where he traveled extensively in England and on the continent.

Returning to the United States is 1873, he became officially connected with the Fidelity Life Insurance Company of Philadelphia, with which he remained until 1892 as the superintendent of agents. In that year, Mr. Cass severed his connection with the life insurance business to organize the College Tract Residence Company, a real estate and improvement organization of Swarthmore, Delaware County. He is now secretary and treasurer of this company, and a member of the Borough Council of Swarthmore.

Rev. Mr. Cass has also been pastor of the Union Evangelical Church, the only church in the borough, and he founded The Swarthmore, an eight-page, four-column weekly newspaper, of which he is editor and proprietor. It is ably edited, and being the only paper in Swarthmore, and neither sectarian nor partisan, has become very popular, having already secured a circulation of more than one thousand copies. Mr. Cass has fine literary taste, and being well educated and master of a pleasing style, has done a great deal of literary work for the different magazines of this country. [First issue, June 1, 1893. Mr. Cass sold The Swarthmore to Eugene L. Pratt in May of 1895.]

When he came to Swarthmore to reside, in May 1892, it was with the intention of only staying one year, but he found this such a delightful place to live that he has made it his permanent home. In politics he is a Republican, but has never taken any very active part in political affairs.

In 1872, Rev. Mr. Cass was united in the holy bonds of matrimony with Lucy E. Packard, youngest daughter of Samuel Packard of Readville, Maine. To their union has been born a family of four children, two sons and two daughters; Alfred C., now (1893) in his nineteenth year; Ella L., aged sixteen; Florence H., in her thirteenth year; and Albert K, aged ten — all living at home with their parents, in their beautiful and finely appointed residence at Swarthmore.

Online Library – Winfield Scott Garner – Biographical and historical cyclopedia of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, comprising a historical sketch of the county.

Cass college tract map

Published in The Swarthmore, October 28, 1893

The Natural Scenery About Swarthmore
Published in The Swarthmore, August 5, 1893

The following article is from the pen of Rev. John A. Cass, former editor and proprietor of The Swarthmore, and was published in that paper on August 5, 1893:

A recent visitor to our borough, who, judging from his acquaintance with the surrounding country, must have explored this part of Delaware County pretty thoroughly, declared that in point of natural scenery we have very maked advantages over any other suburb of Philadelphia, and, in his enthusiasm, pronounced Crum Creek to be a least equal, if not superior, to the Wissahickon. We did not, and do not agree with him fully, though we do in part. Crum Creek, in our opinion, is not as picturesque a stream as the Wissahickon. It seems to us idle and harmful to make such a claim. And yet ours is a beautiful stream, and can be made a great attraction, as we will show later on.

But on the general statement that the natural scenery of Swarthmore and its immediate surroundings is more beautiful than that of most suburban towns, we quite agree with our friend, and are prepared to furnish reasons for our opinion.

The idea that we live in a flat country (an idea held by some Philadelphians even) is totally erroneous. No one thinks so who has ever visited and driven about the place. It is equally a mistake to suppose ours is a low lying region. As you alight from the train at Swarthmore, you are more than 130 feet above tide water. This surprises you, for the distance from Philadelphia is so short that you did not expect it, and the ascent was so gradual that you did not notice it till nearly here.

As the train moves on you look around to get the lay of the land. You notice that the extensive lands of Swarthmore College are cut into quarters by the railroad running east and west, and Chester Avenue extending to the north and south. You perceive that one of these quarters is now in the hands of a company who have opened College Avenue, and are improving the so called college tract for building purposes, but that, with this exception, the college properties still flank the railroad and the pike. This fact made it necessary that the town itself should be built up out side of, and beyond the college lands. Consequently, the town is laid out on a broad scale, with this immense breathing space — equivalent to an extensive park — lying between the several sections. It will be a long time before we lose this tremendous advantage, and perhaps it will never be lost.

Having taken in this fact, you begin … north rises College Hill, on the crest of which stand the college buildings with a greensward reaching to the railroad. Where is there a prettier picture? It cannot be surpassed in America or elsewhere. A little to the eastward on the extended ridge are some as fine residences as any suburban place can show. Here and further north, just out of view from the station, but easily accessible, are some thirty-five such homes. No two are alike, and the grounds lie so differently that the whole region is picturesquely beautiful. While northward still from these are hills and valleys in almost endless succession. Then turning your back on this, you behold, stretching away eastward and southward, a magnificent stretch of country, where some sixty fine houses stand on large well-shaded and well-kept grounds, from most of which the view to be had to the northward is surprisingly fine. These residences extend nearly to the limits of the borough,beyond which the grounds begin to drop off toward the Delaware River. It is a beautiful region as seen from a distance — it become more beautiful as you drive over it on good stone roads.

To the westward is Crum Creek, already spoken of. While not equal to the Wissahickon, it is yet a stream to be proud of. Below the dam its waters tumble along a rocky bed with perpetual laughter; over the dam they pour in a sheet of silver; above the dam they form a lake just under the walls of Strath-Haven Inn; going northward still your boat moves against a gentle current, along a winding way between banks on which stand grand old trees up which the wild grape loves to climb, on beneath the railroad bridge, which can properly be called “High Bridge,” and when you pause in your journey you hear the ripple of waters still coming southward from the forest beyond. It is, indeed, a picturesque stream. If a road could be built close along its banks from Avondale to Lewis’ Mills (as might easily be done), it would form one of the most shady, picturesque and beautiful drives, and if made a toll road even, it would pay the toll builders as an investment.

Taken all in all, it is a conservative statement that no suburb of our great city has finer natural scenery than Swarthmore.