Residents of Media Throughout History: John M. Broomall

John M. Broomall’s Home- Photo by Matthew Brady

John M. Broomall was already a lawyer of significant renown when he moved from Chester to Media in 1860. He speculated on a lot of land in Media, but settled on property at the west end of town. During his first year of residence in Media he went out to Chicago as a Lincoln delegate in the Republican National Convention. When General Robert E. Lee and his forces entered Maryland in 1862, John M. Broomall joined an emergency regiment as company captain when Governor Andrew Curtin called out the militia to protect Pennsylvania. After Lee was defeated at Gettysburg in 1863, these auxiliary troops were discharged, but meanwhile, in the midst of his military service, John M. Broomall was elected U.S. Representative for the 7th District of Pennsylvania. He was re-elected twice and was an outspoken Republican legislator during the remaining years of the Civil War and the early period of Reconstruction, from 1863 to 1869.  He gave an impassioned speech on the House floor in support of the Civil Rights Bill of 1866. It was designed to protect the civil rights of African Americans and was the first to define U.S. citizenship. It anticipated the language of the Fourteenth Amendment providing equal protection before the law. It passed when Congress overrode President Andrew Johnson’s veto.

John M. Broomall did not run again after his third term and went back to practicing law in Media. Six years after moving into the farmhouse he dubbed “Scrogie,” he built a large Victorian estate overlooking the other side of the Scroggie valley (now Glen Providence Park) in 1873, which continues as a dominant landmark on Media’s West Street. He was a delegate to Pennsylvania’s state constitutional convention in 1874, where he proposed a women’s suffrage amendment. He boldly and eloquently defended it in the face of strong opposition and ridicule before it was finally voted down after the second reading. The year 1874 was also when Governor John Hartranft appointed Broomall as the first President Judge of the newly created judicial district comprising Delaware County. He only served as judge from March 1874 until January 1875. He was defeated for re-election by Thomas J. Clayton after a bitter campaign. John M. Broomall was accused by his rival of profiting from the construction of a bridge built on Front Street in Chester over Chester Creek at public expense. This bridge joined one of John M. Broomall’s many real estate and infrastructure investments, the Chester & Delaware River Railroad, with a spur of the Reading Railroad. When the bridge was completed, the Reading bought the smaller railroad.  Clayton and his supporters used the seeming impropriety of the “Front Street Bridge Affair” as a way of wresting control of the party from Broomall and the old-line Republicans who had held sway in Delaware County since the origin of the party in 1856.

Another wedge that his opponents used successfully to defeat him emerged from the fact that the reformer Broomall was a temperance advocate. He did not approve any liquor licenses in the county during his term as judge. Liquor merchants and hotel owners led by William McClure of Chester supported Thomas J. Clayton, who subsequently rewarded them by approving over a hundred liquor licenses during his twenty five years in office. The liquor interests and their patrons formed a steadily growing foundation of support for the Clayton faction of the Republican Party within the county. This “Liquor License Ring” was the root of the powerful Republican machine that held power in Delaware County politics under the bosses William McClure and his son John J. McClure from 1875 until 1965.

After his defeat, John M. Broomall once again returned to law practice in Media. He was also a man of science, and served as the president of the Delaware County Institute of Science from the death of its first president George Smith in 1882, until his own death in 1894. During her address to the Institute in remembrance of John M. Broomall, Graceanna Lewis said that in the process of “understanding his own rights keenly, and demanding freedom for himself, he made the same plea for others without distinction of sex, or color, or clime, or religious belief.”