Spring Valley Historic District
The Spring Valley Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2006, The Gombach Group.
In 1878, a post office was established with the name of the village was changed to Mechanics Valley. But Spring Valley remained as the popular reference to the area for many years thereafter.
The Spring Valley Historic District is significant in the areas of architecture and commerce. The village is of local significance as a good representation of a commercial service village that developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries around a milling area and along a major nineteenth century transportation route. The architecture in the Spring Valley Historic District is representative of central Bucks County vernacular eighteenth and nineteenth century construction. The Spring Valley Mill (aka Upper Mill), the major impetus for village development, is a rare example in central Bucks County of an eighteenth century mill form with excellent integrity. The period of significance for the District began with the construction of the Spring Valley Mill and ended with the cessation of its operation along with that of the Lower Mill (aka Walker's Mill; Rice's Mill) in the 1920's.
The village initially developed due to advantages of location and physical features that promoted early commercial activity. Early Bucks County villages typically developed at millseats or along transportation routes. Commercial activities at these sites attracted additional development to provide other services, i.e., blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and other artisans. Spring Valley developed along Watson Creek, which runs north and south through the district, which provided water power for five mill sites in the immediate area. Two of these mills lie within the district and were the catalyst for settlement. A second period of growth in the mid nineteenth century followed the opening of the Buckingham to Doylestown Road which crossed the path of Mill Road. Mill Road, an eighteenth century road runs between the two mills, north to south through the district.
The Spring Valley Mill, which was erected in the 1740's, is the earliest extant building in the Spring Valley Historic District. In 1756, a road petition was made for a road to run from the Delaware River and past the Spring Valley Mill to provide access to the mill. This road became a fairly direct route to the York Road, located approximately a mile to the southeast of the mill. The York Road connected Philadelphia and New York. The section of this 1756 road that runs through the district, now called Mill Road, opened up the area for eighteenth century residential settlement. By 1763, there were several additional commercial buildings including a still house and dry goods shop in addition to the mill. However, the location of these buildings is unknown.
Development within the district was sporadic through the remainder of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth century until the Lower Mill was built to the southeast of Spring Valley Mill along Mill Road. With the establishment of the Lower Mill (c. 1820), the area's commercial and residential viability was strengthened. The exact date of construction for the Lower Mill has not been determined. Tax records for Buckingham Township are missing for the years 1807 through 1827; however, the mention of rent for this mill in 1822 estate records, establishes its construction by that date. There was probably not more than a small collection of buildings in the village until the second quarter of the nineteenth century. In 1827, the Spring Valley mill property was purchased by Jonathan Hough who also purchased several adjoining tracts of land. By Hough's death in 1838 the property had a Temperance House, joiner's shop, and other buildings in addition to the mill.
Much of the growth in the village occurred when the Doylestown to Buckingham State Road was opened through the valley in 1838, making the village an important crossroads. The strategic position of the village is revealed in a Spring Valley tavern license petition written by Oliver Hough in 1838 for the Temperance House. In this petition, Hough stated that he wanted to "afford accommodations to persons who travel to the river, mills, lumberyards, and...being in the immediate vicinity of the Buckingham lime kilns and having a large supply of good spring water it is a place at which travelers stop to water." Spring Valley's two mills, the road to the river, the location along the State Road to Buckingham, and the village's proximity to the Buckingham limekilns were all factors that contributed to growth.
With the increased traffic through Spring Valley along Mill Road and the State road, more craftsmen established businesses in this area near the mill and earned for it the name, Mechanic's Valley, by the late nineteenth century. During the remainder of the century, the village became a rural service center offering the usual and necessary services: general stores (at various times); a blacksmith shop; a post office (housed in two buildings; and two inns, "Neff's Tavern" and the Temperance House. The Temperance House was recorded in the local tax records as early as 1838. By 1843, the Lower Mill was advertised for sale as a grist and clover mill. Along the State Road, to the south of the Spring Valley Mill tract, Joseph Hough constructed a hotel circa 1845-50. He had previously purchased the Spring Valley Store and adjacent blacksmith shop; advertised as nearly new in 1857. The hotel was apparently enlarged by the subsequent owner, John Neff. The store when advertised for sale in 1877, was listed as a three story dwelling and store with a tailor shop above the store.
With the advance of industrialization and the introduction of railroad lines to Doylestown, the number of artisan shops in Spring Valley declined. The two mills closed around 1920. Spring Valley became an increasingly residential area with some in-home, owner-operated antique shops to serve the increase of auto touring in rural Bucks.
Spring Valley served milling and other commercial needs of the surrounding area. The nearest commercial areas in competition with Spring Valley were Mechanicsville to the north, Bushington (now Furlong) to the south, Buckingham village to the east and Doylestown to the west. Bushington was the closest village, approximately one mile away. In the nineteenth century, it was a crossroads hamlet with a cluster of buildings and a tavern. The concentration of buildings in Bushington was much lower than in Spring Valley. Bushington (Furlong) retains little architectural integrity and fails to evince an impression of a nineteenth century crossroads, Buckingham village, approximately two miles away, grew up around the intersection of three important roads; Durham Road (Route 413), "Doylestown-Buckingham Turnpike" (Route 202) and the Old York Road (Route 263). For this reason, Buckingham was a service area for these major transportation routes with a tavern and associated services. However, due to its use in the twentieth century as a major highway transportation center, Buckingham village has undergone substantial modification. Mechanicsville, approximately 1.25 miles from Spring Valley, was a small crossroads village that became important in the late nineteenth century, as the location of the Wilson Seed Company. Doylestown was another crossroads village located at the intersection of Easton Road (Route 611) and Coryell's Ferry Road (Route 202). Doylestown was a tavern-centered, small village in the eighteenth century. When Doylestown became the county seat in 1813, it grew tremendously in the commercial vein. Doylestown became a large town and a strong commercial competitor to Spring Valley. However, Doylestown, like all the above cited villages, did not develop around a mill. The presence of the mills and the topography of the Watson Creek valley serves to differentiate Spring Valley from surrounding villages.
Spring Valley Mill was the first grist mill to service the central Buckingham Township area, an area of approximately 5 square miles. The nearest locations for milling services that were in operation as early as Spring Valley are Dyerstown in Plumstead Township, Lingohocken (present day Wycombe) in Buckingham and Wrightstown Townships and Carversville in Solebury Township. Dyerstown is 2.5 miles to the northwest of Spring Valley, Lingohocken lies to the southeast 3.5 miles and Carversville to the north 5.5 miles. These villages all developed around 18th century mills as did Spring Valley.
Of all these villages, Spring Valley is the only one with a mill that has retained excellent architectural integrity and reflects the eighteenth and nineteenth century commercial purpose of the area. The unique integrity of the Spring Valley Mill cannot be claimed for the other mills. Lingohocken Mill (c. 1743) in what is now Wycombe was considerably altered in the early twentieth century. The village of Wycombe primarily developed after the opening of the North Pennsylvania Railroad Line in 1891. Neither Lingohocken Mill or its encompassing village reflects its eighteenth century origin. Carversville developed around Barcroft's mill which as been tentatively dated to c. 1730. This mill was reputed to have been rebuilt at least once. The last rebuilding, c. 1965, changed the mill considerably. The most noticeable alteration is the mansard roof which was added in the late nineteenth century. The building now has a strong late nineteenth century appearance. Dyer's Mill in Dyerstown was originally constructed c. 1714, rebuilt in 1804 and converted into a restaurant in the early 1920's. With these major alterations and modern additions, the building has undergone substantial modifications. The Spring Valley Mill has never been subject to adaptive reuse. Due to the maintenance of the mill in its early commercial form, it has retained its architectural integrity and some of its milling machinery. Despite the flood damage of 1955 to the Spring Valley Mill, the architectural form, a wooden overshot wheel, and remnants of the gears and hoists all remain. On the property, the mill dam, pond, race and sluice gates have also survived. The Spring Valley Mill is a significant contribution to the eighteenth century atmosphere of Mill Road and a rare survival of an early eighteenth century mill building in a central Bucks County village.
Like the Dyerstown Historic District and other area villages, Spring Valley shows no pattern in the plan of its individual buildings. With the exception of the commercial buildings, Spring Valley's buildings are representative of the vernacular Georgian and Federal forms of construction for central Bucks County rural dwellings. The majority of the houses are stuccoed stone, two and a half stories tall, with gable roofs, one pile in depth and vary in number of bays. Generally, the dwellings are three or five bays; however, often a side addition of one or two bays has been added that alters the earlier appearance of the building. The dwellings exhibit few ornamental details. The village was traditionally a collection of artisan's residences and shops with a small number of larger commercial and public buildings. Therefore, for the most part, none of the individual buildings are noteworthy architectural specimens, but collectively the district's architecture still presents a distinct nineteenth century, working class, appearance.
The Temperance House is an example of additive architecture. The stucco was removed sometime in the twentieth century and reveals a three bay plus one bay building. Presumably, the changes in scale and ornament, Greek Revival window hoods and small decorative cross gables, were made to update the building as a public house. The two, full, three story, stuccoed, stone buildings in the center of Spring Valley are not of unusual scale for commercial buildings. Point Pleasant has two three story public buildings at its crossroads. Dyerstown has a two and 3/4 story building that served as a store. Often, as in the case of Spring Valley, these buildings were originally two and a half stories, three bay residences that were expanded both laterally and vertically in the mid nineteenth century to meet public needs for taverns, stores, and inns. Spring Valley's dwellings and commercial buildings follow the vernacular construction pattern of central Bucks County buildings.
School District: Central Bucks