chapter II: HISTORICAL AND ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE
One of the worlds most perfect small towns was how The Philadelphia Inquirer characterized West Chester in 2001. How did a crossroads tavern, The Turks Head, become the West Chester of today? Who were the people, what were the institutions, what were the streets and buildings of the community as it grew in size and beauty?
The Borough of West Chester was established on land that was originally part of three contiguous land grants from William Penn. Thomas Lloyd purchased 2,215 acres in Goshen Township, Chester County, in 1702. Richard Thomas purchased 1,065 acres in 1703. In 1704, Nathaniel Puckle, mariner, purchased 630 acres from William Penn. The southeastern corner of this tract was located in what would become the northwest corner of High and Gay Streets. In 1702, John Haines purchased that portion of the Thomas Lloyd estate adjoining the Puckle and Thomas tracts, and this consisted of 965 acres. The Puckle tract passed through several owners until 1728, when Daniel Hoopes purchased the tract. His family was the first to settle on this land.
Initially, there were no major roads through these tracts
of land, but in 1735 the east-west Philadelphia road was laid out, followed
by the north-south Wilmington road in 1745. All of the area around the
crossing of the Wilmington and Philadelphia roads (present-day High and
Gay Streets, respectively) remained farmland until 1760, when a log schoolhouse
was erected at the northwest corner of the intersection. Two years later,
Phineas Eachus erected the log Turks Head Tavern on a plot to the
south and east of the intersection. The tavern was moved in 1769 by John
Hoopes to a brick structure built on a plot south of the original establishment.
The location of the new tavern was the northeast corner of present-day
High and Market Streets. These were the only improvements up until the
American Revolution. But the tavern gave its name to the locality; farmers
of the vicinity, when asked where they lived would answer, Near
the Turks Head Tavern.
No doubt it was felt that the dignity of a county seat was compromised by being named for a tavern, and the facts of geography and history dictated the new name. In 1789 West Chester was adopted as the name of the new county seat.
The establishment of the court in West Chester led to the erection of several new inns and taverns. Those erected before 1799 include: The Green Tree (1786), The White Hall (1786), The Washington Hotel (1787), and the Black Bear (1789). In addition, the community began to grow after John Hannum purchased the southern portion of the old Hoopes Tract in 1786 and began to sell lots on the north side of the present Gay Street. In 1793, Hannum provided a lot on West Gay Street for a Catholic Chapel, and Christs Church was erected that year. This was the first church established within the present limits of West Chester.
The community continued to grow, and Gay Street became the commercial center of the town. In 1799 the citizens applied to the Commonwealth to establish a new borough, which was approved by the legislature on March 28, 1799. The boundaries of the borough, encompassing 1.8 square miles from Goshen Township, remain unchanged to this day.
The Nineteenth Century
The land south of the Everhart tract was owned by the Sharples family and was slowly developed beginning in 1839 with the erection of the home of Philip Price Sharples at the southwest corner of Church and Dean Streets. Much of the Sharples land remained farmland until after the Civil War. In 1860, the built-up section of the borough ended at the northeast corner of Union and Darlington Streets. Southwest of that point was open countryside.
A noteworthy event occurred on July 26, 1825 when General Lafayette visited the borough. A record crowd gathered in West Chester to see Lafayette and to take part in the festivities, which included a banquet at the courthouse.
West Chester earned the reputation of the Athens of Pennsylvania during the first half of the nineteenth century because of her educational institutions, her Greek Revival architecture, and her many learned societies. The first of many private schools to be established here was the West Chester Academy, founded in 1813. Among the other early private schools were Prices Boarding School for Girls (1830), Almira Lincoln Phelps Young Ladies Seminary (1837), and Bolmars Academy (1840).
The learned societies included the West Chester Library Company (1819), the Chester County Cabinet of Natural History (1826), the Chester County Athenaeum (1827), the Chester County Medical Society (1828), and the Chester County Horticultural Society (1846). All these groups flourished with the support of Dr. William Darlington, David Townsend, Dr. Wilmer Worthington, and other prominent residents.
By 1860, the population of West Chester had grown to 4,757. Of that population, the Directory of 1857 lists 443 African-American residents, ten percent of the total population of the borough at that time. The first African-American church in the borough was Bethel A.M.E. Church, established in 1816.
In 1860 West Chester supported many weekly newspapers including The Jeffersonian, The Village Record, The Chester County Times, and The American Republican (Figure 7). These newspapers served the county as well as the borough residents.
The Civil War had its effect on the borough, with many men serving in the Union Army. Two regiments were raised in this section of Chester County. The 97th Regiment and the 124th Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers were made up mostly of local citizens. A monument to the 97th Regiment was erected in Marshall Square Park in 1887.
The many tracts of land in the southeastern and northwestern sections of the borough were developed after the Civil War. By the time the Normal School was founded in 1870, South Church and South High Streets had been built-up to the schools site.
While most of the new buildings were built of locally made brick, and the borough supported two brickyards during this period, some structures were erected using the locally quarried serpentine stone. The green stone is unique to Chester County, and a few buildings in the Historic District employed it, including Thomas U. Walters Horticultural Hall (1848).
West Chesters economic base was dependent on county government and the court system, from 1870 onward on the Normal School (which eventually became the present West Chester University), and on private commercial enterprises. While not known for heavy industry, West Chester did develop a flourishing nursery business during the second half of the nineteenth century. Morris Nursery was founded in 1849, and Hoopes Brothers and Thomas was established in 1855. Both thrived until after the turn of the twentieth century. Hoopes Brothers and Thomas alone sold nearly 900,000 seedlings of various fruit trees yearly in the 1890s. Two other locally operated businesses had a wide market. The Sharples Separator Works, established in 1881, manufacturer of centrifugal cream separators, and the Hoopes Brothers and Darlington Wheel Works, founded in 1866, were important to the local economy.
The railroad also has played its role in local development. When the citizens of West Chester were informed that the Pennsylvania Main Line Railroad would pass north of the borough in the Chester Valley, they financed a branch line that reached the main line in 1832 before that line had even been opened. The charter is believed to be the first granted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is dated July 18, 1831. A second line was needed for commuters to Philadelphia, and a direct line through Media, Delaware County, was completed in 1858. The two lines were joined shortly thereafter.
The Twentieth Century
By the middle of the century, the land within the borough limits had filled up with homes, commercial establishments, and some industries. Suburban development spread east, north, and south of the borough. West Chester was a regional shopping destination at mid-century. In 1949, as an example, there were five shoe stores, three department stores, two five-and-dime stores, and eight clothing stores (Figure 8). But only one town newspaper survived, The Daily Local News, founded in 1872.
The second half of the century saw many changes. By the
close of the century, the retail trade in West Chester was hard pressed
by the nearby shopping malls. Today there is one shoe store, no department
stores, and no five-and-dime stores located in the borough. Several clothing
stores remain. The number of banks has greatly increased in the past half
century, and all have changed their names. The population of the borough
reached 18,041 in 1990 but fell to 17,861 in 2000.
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