William Penn's original settlement zone in Pennsylvania extended from the lower counties, now the state of Delaware, to the first great bend of the Delaware River north of Philadelphia where Penn's own estate of Pennsbury ( BU16) was established. The principal transportation resource, the Delaware River, was apportioned relatively equally to three counties, Chester to the south, Philadelphia in the center, and Bucks to the north. Because waterways were central to transportation, the larger interior waterways such as the Schuylkill River or Neshaminy Creek were not used as borders but rather were entirely controlled by the separate counties, avoiding jurisdictional conflict in the process. The counties share the common topography of the coastal plain with modest hills and well-watered valleys offering both farmland and the opportunity for water-powered mills. After the American Revolution, democratizing forces led to the separation of Montgomery County from Philadelphia and Delaware County from Chester County, creating the present four suburban counties.
Each of these counties has a distinct character that represents their historical relation to Philadelphia while reflecting subtle variations in their settlement cultures. Thus Montgomery County in large measure continues the pattern of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River development in mixing industry and transportation with suburban living. Delaware County's proximity to Philadelphia and the Delaware River with its parallel roads and railroads made it the industrial portion of Chester County, and remains more densely settled today while the more remote Chester and Bucks counties retain their rural character. Though the latter both remained rural, there were clear cultural separations represented in early building forms, notably the distinctly different two-story Quaker meetinghouses of Bucks County ( BU27) and the one-story meetinghouses of Chester County ( CH23). Today the counties carry on their separate identities. The most interesting modern buildings are largely concentrated in lower Montgomery County where important colleges and suburban development support contemporary design. Bucks and Chester counties still celebrate their rural charms while Delaware County, now bisected by I-476, is the region in miniature with Chester city in decline as Radnor Township thrives.
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