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West Chester And Vicinity

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West Chester, the county seat since the resolution of the removal controversy in 1786, is the principal architectural heart of Chester County. Like so many early Pennsylvania towns it was centered on a tavern, the Turks Head, near which the first courthouse and jail were constructed. Unlike Philadelphia, Lancaster, and other Pennsylvania county towns, it was not laid out with a central town square; instead, space was reserved for the courthouse and jail at the principal intersection of Market and High streets.

Market Street continues the general line of West Chester Pike (PA 3) that in turn continues Philadelphia's Market Street, while High Street continues as PA 100 connecting to Wilmington, Delaware, to the south and to Pottstown on the north. Their names describe their purpose. Market and the parallel Gay Street contain most of the retail of the town, while High Street is the site of the courthouse and many of the institutions. Like so many other towns of southern Chester County, West Chester's buildings are primarily of brick.

West Chester's development reflects key events, beginning with its establishment as the county seat at the end of the eighteenth century followed by the arrival of railroads in the 1830s, which led to the county's rise as an industrial center after the Civil War. Designers of its principal institutions were largely drawn from interlocking circles of Philadelphia patronage: Thomas Ustick Walter for Presbyterian churches and, later, for public buildings; William Strickland (Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 1838, demolished, and Chester County Hotel, 1832, demolished); and after the Civil War, Addison Hutton for Quaker-related commissions and Frank Furness for the industrial elite. Most who commissioned Philadelphia architects had connections to core Philadelphia industries—railroads, heavy manufacturing, and banking. By the 1880s, West Chester had enough economic weight to become the home base of its own architect, T. Roney Williamson, whose idiosyncratic style fused Wilson Eyre Jr.'s aesthetic sense with Furness's drama. Williamson's career reached as far north as Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe; CA6) and he had significant commissions in Philadelphia. His early death (at age forty-four) opened the field to such early-twentieth-century architects as Charles B. Keen, who designed “Greystone” (1907; Phoenixville Pike opposite Saunders Lane) for the Sharples family, inventors of a successful cream separator. By the twentieth century, West Chester had become provincial, with most of its architects drawn from the second and third tier of regional practitioners.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas

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