The first buildings of Lower Merion were constructed when it was part of Philadelphia County and reflected the diverse origins of English, Welsh, and German settlers. A network of roads was focused on crossings of the Schuylkill River into Philadelphia, linking meetinghouses and the settlements around them. After 1792, the old Lancaster Road was upgraded as the Lancaster Turnpike complete with toll gates between villages. The roads have largely been overlaid by the denser car-centered street network, but a few of the early landmark buildings that were the focus of the roads survive. Local commerce is concentrated along the old Lancaster Turnpike on the west side of the railroad, while institutions are centered to the east along Montgomery Avenue. Town names represent the shifting tides of cultural allegiance. The earliest were those derived from the Welsh homelands; around the time of the Revolution, a number of villages celebrated the new nation and the antecedents of liberty in the classical world—Libertyville and Athensville. After the Civil War, the Pennsylvania Railroad directors, many of Welsh descent, shifted the identity of the region from a rough transportation district of stockyards and roadhouses to a new commuter suburb, renaming villages after towns of their heritage—Narberth, Bala Cynwyd, and Radnor. The railroad-centered villages with their concentrations of shops, churches, and institutions are still very much the backbone of the township.
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