Historic resources generally comprise those sites and
structures that exhibit particular historical, and cultural significance. A
number of these are shown on Map 5: Historic Resources; however, the map is not
an exhaustive depiction of all such resources. This map is based on the
1979-1981 “West Chester Historic Sites Survey,” prepared by Alice Kent Schooler
and associates. It includes those sites and structures for which individual
survey sheets were completed, along with structures mentioned in the survey
sections on potential historic districts. In addition, buildings that have been
placed in, or determined to be eligible for, the National Register of Historic
Places are shown together with the boundaries of other recognized Historic
Districts. This map should be considered the starting point from which to
update and further refine the list of Historic Resources of the Borough.
The 1981 Survey included “ten points that forth the
historic setting and character of West Chester.” These statements include the
While conceived essentially as a public town, West Chester grew because
of private enterprise and the investment of groups of two or three men. The
town, therefore, exhibits images that exemplify both governmental and
An inland town established at a time when water was the basic industrial
power source, West Chester stressed politics, cultural activities, and support
trades and crafts in its early years, rather than industry.
The railroad corridors encouraged the location of industries to the east
part of town. Little commerce or industry encroached on residential
“Avant-garde” public and institutional building types punctuate an
otherwise architecturally conservative scene. Streets are dominated by row
housing and duplexes.
Although established in the eighteenth century, West Chester is
predominately a product of the nineteenth century.
For the most part, scale has been attended to with all new construction.
Few structures are more than four stories high; most are two or three. A
six-story office building, built in the town center in 1905 and set at property
limits, is the only visual intrusion on the otherwise “human” scale.”
The Survey divided the Borough into twenty-six study zones;
two related to private open space (West Chester Country Club and the North
Campus of West Chester University), two to public open space (Marshall Square
and Everhart parks) and six (located mostly at the edges of the Borough) which
included buildings not applicable to the Survey, i.e. having been erected since
1935. The cutoff date of 1935 was used because the Depression did not lessen
large-scale building in West Chester, and because the era prior to 1935
evidenced some of the last great architectural efforts in the Borough. Of the
roughly 3,650 principal buildings existing at the time, nearly eighty-five
percent were built prior to 1935.
The twenty-six (26) zones related to one or more of eight
cultural phases of the Borough’s development; 1) the first-period town; 2) the
craftsman neighborhoods begun within two generations of the first building
effort; 3) neighborhoods relating workingmen’s housing for the first industries;
4) neighborhoods deliberately planned for more elaborate housing; 5)
neighborhoods containing the late blue-collar housing; 6) the more mixed
neighborhoods of singles and duplexes built from 1876 on; 7) the industrial
fringe; and, 8) tract housing which has taken over the last vestiges of open
space in the corners of each quadrant.
Sites and structures were evaluated for their contribution
to one or more of the following categories: Architecture, History, Town
Planning, Structural Technology and/or Industrial Technology. Properties were
further categorized from 1 to 4, as to their relative significance in terms of
National Register criteria. Category 1 properties are those of great importance
which contribute to the culture of the unified States; Category 2 properties are
those of importance, which contribute significantly to the cultural heritage or
visual beauty of West Chester; Category 3 properties are those of architectural
value which contribute in a more limited way to West Chester; and, Category 4
properties are those which suggest an architectural significance, but about
which little was known, and require more research. Altogether, nearly 150
sites and structures were identified, comprising over 200 individual
The Survey also examined the Borough on the basis of
potential National Register Historic Districts, which are geographically defined
areas that possess a significant concentration or linkage of sites, buildings,
or objects unified by past events or deliberate development. This investigation
identified ten potential historic districts covering a significant portion of
the Borough. Since the completion of the Survey, two districts have been
nominated to the Register (Town Center and WCU Historic Quadrangle) and one has
been determined eligible (Everhart Tract).
An early 1990s plan to modestly expand the boundaries of
the Town Center Historic District was not implemented after it received comments
from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that indicated the PMHC
would prefer a larger expansion covering all of the Borough be deemed to be
eligible, rather than, piecemeal nominations.
1981 Survey Recommendations
The final Survey report included recommendations for future
preservation activities, most of which are still applicable in 2000. These
included: 1) education of the general public and owners of historic properties;
2) development of nomination programs for public recognition of notable
resources; and perhaps most importantly, 3) the integration of preservation with
planning in general. An official preservation plan could integrate survey
information with other planning data and provide a most important document to
guide West Chester’s historic resource preservation.
The 1981 Survey did not cover auxiliary buildings in the
Borough, such as carriage houses, stables, garages, etc.; only a few were
mentioned that retained individual architectural significance. Over the past
several decades these structures have become threatened by a combination of
needs/desires for additional parking, development pressures, maintenance costs,
and zoning restrictions limiting possible alternative uses. In addition, the
usual locations, in the Borough’s alleys, have kept them from public view, and
Map 6, Carriage Houses, shows the results of a recent
survey of the Borough’s carriage houses and stables as indicated on a 1909
Sanborn Insurance Map, which specifically identified carriage houses and
stables. The 1909 Sanborn Map was used as a reference point for it roughly
corresponds to the period when automobiles began to replace horse drawn
vehicles, rendering carriage houses and stable obsolete. The 1909 map was
compared to the most recent Borough property maps and any concurrence between
the two was noted. A field investigation then determined whether or not the
existing building a) dated from 1909 or earlier and was in a decent state of
preservation, b) dated from 1909 or earlier, but had been architecturally
compromised, or c) had been replaced with new construction since 1909. In
addition, other auxiliary buildings of architectural merit were recorded as were
notable structures constructed later than 1909.
The 1909 Sanborn map identified over 250 carriage houses
and stables. In 2000, only about 160 remain and a little over 100 retain most
of their original architectural fabric. About one-third of these have been
converted into residential properties and are in excellent condition. Nearly
half are used for garages and/or storage and tend to be in reasonably good
condition. It is the latter group that needs the most attention. In addition,
some auxiliary buildings (mostly garages) constructed after 1909 have
architectural merit that should also be preserved.
Map 7, Environmental Resources, delineates wooded areas,
waterways, topographic features, floodplains, hydric or wet soils and watershed
boundaries. Limited environmental resources remain, and are either of little
value, subjected to heavy use, or are under strong development pressure.
Stream corridors and floodplains are found in three
principle areas, in the northeast and the southwest at a tributary to Taylor
Run, at the headwaters of Plum Run, and along Goose Creek, a tributary to the
east branch of Chester Creek. Wetlands may be generally regarded as
approximately coincident with floodplain areas and hydric soils areas.
The Borough contains four watersheds. The northern half of
the Borough flows into Taylor Run, the southeast quadrant flows into Goose
Creek, the southwest corner drains directly into Plum Run, and a smaller area
roughly bounded by Market, Church and Price Streets drains into Blackhorse Run,
a tributary to Plum Run.
West Chester Borough contains primarily soils from the
Glenelg series. Much of the Borough has Glenelg channery silt loam, ranging
from 3% to 8% in slope and moderately eroded. The depth to bedrock in this
soils series is generally three to five feet, and is underlain by schist, gneiss
and gabbro. Hydric soils are found along the Borough’s streams. Three stream
valleys in the northwest, northeast and southwest corners of the Borough contain
significant steep slope areas.
The most significant environmental feature effecting future
land use in the Borough is the extensive floodplain of Goose Creek. Goose Creek
frequently overflows its banks during storms, flooding much of the area in the
southeast quadrant – particularly areas adjacent to the west side of South Adams
Street and south of East Union Street.
The 1981 Historic Resources Survey provides a basis upon which to prepare
a Historic Preservation Plan.
Carriage houses are unique and significant historic resources worthy of
protection and preservation.
The floodplain of the Goose Creek and flooding associated with Goose
Creek affects local land uses. There is a need to better quantify the effects
of flooding in these areas in order to provide flood protection.