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Chalfont Historic District



The Chalfont Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Portions of the text, below, were selected and adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.

Description

Chalfont Historic District is located in Central Bucks County near the confluence of the west and north branches of the Neshaminy Creek. Chalfont initially developed as a small village at the intersection of the Limekiln Pike (North Main Street/State Route 152) and the road from Norristown to Doylestown (Butler Avenue/U.S. Route 202). The Doylestown Branch of the North Pennsylvania Railroad was constructed through the village in 1856, further stimulating development in the district. The streets in the Chalfont Historic District do not conform to a grid pattern, rather the pattern of development is best described as linear development along Main Street extending from Butler Avenue towards Hamilton Street. Early vernacular examples of Georgian and Federal architecture are prevalent near the intersection of North Main Street and Butler Avenue, while mid to late 19th century styles, including Gothic Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Queen Anne, and Greek Revival, are found along North Main Street near the railroad and as infill development. The Chalfont Historic District is primarily urban in character with single detached houses spaced relatively far apart with very few twin or double houses. A majority of buildings are residential with a small commercial core of buildings located near the intersection. Some residential buildings have been converted to commercial or office use. There are also some multi-family apartments. The buildings in the Chalfont Historic District are mostly three to four bays wide, three rooms deep and two stories tall. Many buildings retain slate roofs, however asphalt shingles have replaced many original slate roofs. Likewise, many houses retain original wood siding, but vinyl and aluminum are prevalent. There are a few houses constructed of brick or stone, however wood frame buildings with siding are the most prevalent. Overall, Chalfont Historic District has 122 contributing resources versus 22 noncontributing resources, with a ratio of 85 percent contributing. The contributing resources include one contributing site, the burial grounds at St. James Lutheran Church (14 Park Ave). Noncontributing resources consist of 21 buildings. Most of the buildings are noncontributing because of age. Outbuildings consist of carriage houses, all 17 of which are contributing. In fact, the district retains an excellent collection of carriage houses, typically constructed of frame and often with interesting architectural elements, they are a preponderance of the contributing outbuildings in the district. There are 21 garages, 12 of them are contributing. There are also a few shops, sheds and tenant houses. Overall, the Chalfont Historic District retains its historic integrity by retention of location, design, workmanship, feeling and association.

Chalfont started as a small village at the intersection of two roads and early development remained clustered near the intersection. After the North Penn Railroad was constructed north of the intersection, development spread in a northerly direction along Limekiln Pike, also called Main Street. A few intervening streets were built running roughly perpendicular to Main Street. These are Sunset Avenue, Maple Avenue, Swartz Avenue, Wisler Street, Hamilton Street and Church Street. However these intervening streets run one to two blocks, at the most, on either side of Main Street resulting in a linear pattern of development. There are distinct differences between the early part of the village and the railroad influenced section. Obviously the houses are older near the intersection, and the houses and lots are larger near to the railroad. Single detached houses dominate in both sections, with very few attached house or twins, and there are no row houses in the district.

Since the Chalfont Historic District developed initially at the intersection of two roads, the earliest buildings are found near the intersection. Built from the late 18th to early 19th century, these earliest buildings include good examples of Georgian and Federal styles such as those at 13 W. Butler Avenue, 24 W. Butler Avenue, and 8 E. Butler Avenue. These houses are modest, vernacular versions of Georgian and Federal style with simple lines and balanced fenestration, but with distinctive features of the styles including pediments, pent roofs, transoms and fanlights. Kungle's Tavern also displays Georgian and Federal characteristics. The tavern however was redesigned in 1903 and is also Colonial Revival in style.

After construction of the railroad through the village in the mid 1850s, new architectural styles were introduced. The styles from the mid to late 19th century are found near the railroad and the railroad station, and as infill development throughout the district. Many buildings from the mid to late 19th century in Chalfont Historic District are Gothic Revival in style. There are a total of 23 buildings, out of the 122 contributing buildings in the district that are either Gothic Revival or Carpenter Gothic style. Carpenter Gothic style is a derivation of Gothic Revival that is typically constructed of wood and feature elaborate scroll cut trim on the gables, eaves, and porches. The style was popularized in the early through mid-19th century in pattern books written by Alexander Jackson Davis and Andrew Jackson Downing. Good examples of the Carpenter Gothic style in Chalfont Historic District include the Thomas MacReynolds House at 6 E. Butler Avenue and the house at 26 E.Butler Avenue. The Thomas MacReynolds house is multi-gabled with intricate scroll work trim, a steeply pitched slate roof and wood siding. It has arched second floor windows. Gothic Revival buildings are also prevalent in the district including excellent examples constructed of brick at 53 and 45 N. Main Street.These both have a centered, or cross gable roof, with an arched window in the gable, typical of the style. Another good example of the Gothic Revival style constructed of wood is found at 118 N. Main Street. This house features a slate roof and wood siding. It has a cross gable featuring an ogee arch over the window. Other windows of the house feature decorative crown lintels. The Chalfont United Methodist Church located at 227 N. Main Street is also a good example of Gothic Revival architecture with tall pointed arch windows with tracery.

Other mid to late 19th century architectural styles in Chalfont include several Second Empire style buildings. One is the Detweiler Hotel, also known as the Railroad House, at 58 N. Main Street and another is a house at 130 N. Main Street. The Detweiler Hotel is rectangular in shape and features a mansard roof with bracketed cornice. The house 130 N. Main Street has a centered, square, tower along with a mansard roof and bracketed cornice. The Patriotic Sons of America Home located at 131 N. Main Street is a good example of Second Empire architecture as well. There are also several Queen Anne style houses in the district including two unique examples of the style located at 169 N. Main Street and 203 N. Main Street. These residences both have a large, layered, central turret, which differs from the typical Queen Anne style which have turrets on the corners.

St. James Lutheran Church located at Park Avenue and North Main Street is a good example of an Italianate style church with Greek Revival influences. It has a steeple shaped like a cupola, which is a feature typical of Italianate architecture. In addition, the bracketed cornice and hooded window lintels are evidence of Italianate style. The building also has a large pediment on the gable end with a lunette window, which are features representative of Greek Revival design. The church also has a burial ground. Early 20th century architecture in Chalfont Historic District includes Colonial Revival style with some Prairie style Foursquares and Bungalow/Craftsman styles. Good examples of Colonial Revival buildings included the Charles W. Baum House (153 N. Main Street) and the Dr. Wesley Massinger House (145 N. Main Street). These two houses both were designed by locally prominent architect A. Oscar Martin and have basic characteristics of Prairie style Foursquare design. They are square in shape with hipped or pyramidal roofs with projecting dormers. The Charles Baum House has clipped gable dormers on the roof and pediment portico with courting benches. The Dr. Wesley Massinger House has pediment gable dormers, windows with cornice lintels and a transom over the door. The Chalfont School located at 239 N. Main Street is also a good example of Colonial Revival style. It is constructed of stone and has a pediment gable facing the street with a lunette window, rounded arch entrance, and windows with jack arches and keystones, all characteristics typical of the style. The school has an International Style addition that was constructed on the rear of the building in the late 1950s. The building was constructed c.1916 and was also designed by A. Oscar Martin. The former school serving the borough was a small one room school located on Limekiln Pike south of Route 202. In May of 1915 a special meeting of the Chalfont School Board was held and on a motion by Dr. Wesley Massinger a special tax was passed to purchase ground and to construct a new school. In 1930 A. Oscar Martin designed a small addition on the back of the building and in 1958 an International style addition was constructed onto the school. In 1966 a few more classrooms were added.

A. Oscar Martin also designed other buildings in Chalfont Historic District. The Kelly Apartments was designed by Martin in 1930 and constructed soon thereafter. It is located at 12 N. Main Street. It is located adjacent to the Kelly Hotel (Kungle's Tavern) and is Colonial Revival in style. A. Oscar Martin was a locally important early 20th Century architect with his office in Doylestown. He worked prolifically in a variety of styles, but many of his designs are Colonial Revival. In addition to designing private residences, commercial buildings, schools and apartment buildings he also designed bridges for Bucks County. He also was capable of redesigning historic colonial style buildings into Colonial Revival style.

Martin also designed one of the relatively rare styles of early 20th century architecture in Chalfont, the Chalfont National Bank building. The bank, now used as the borough hall is an excellent example of Classical Revival style architecture. It is constructed of brick, has rounded arch windows and a massive pediment entrance with scroll consoles.

Chalfont Train Station on Sunset Avenue is another relatively rare style in the Chalfont Historic District. The station is a good example of Stick style architecture. The basic form and shape of the station, which is rectangular, one story tall, with a hipped roof that has extended eaves, is not typical of Stick style. The Stick style characteristics are the application of the stick work on the exterior to form a rectangular grid pattern that is filled in with stucco.

Outbuildings in Chalfont consist of carriage houses, garages, sheds, shops, tenant houses and barns. There is a concentration of well preserved carriage houses behind the residences along the northern section of Main Street, specifically along alleys that run between Maple Avenue and Swartz Avenue, as well as along the alley known as North Street. The carriage houses are typically simple in style with gable roofs, wood siding and often with hay doors and other architectural features. The carriage houses were constructed in the mid to late 19th century contemporary with the construction of their associated houses. There are 17 total carriage houses in the Chalfont Historic District and while some have had garage additions made to them, they all are considered contributing resources to the district. There are 21 garages in the district, 12 of which are contributing. The contributing garages include those constructed at the same time as their early to mid 20th century house, or were built in the early to mid 20th century for a house that was constructed earlier. The contributing garages are typically constructed of frame with vertical wood siding and they add to the architectural significance of the district. The sheds, shops and tenant houses, for the most part, contribute to and enhance the architectural qualities of the district as well. There are also two small barns both of which are contributing. However, two modern tenant houses, one built c.1995 and one built c.1950 are noncontributing.

The historic integrity of the Chalfont Historic District has been somewhat impacted by the automobile which has compromised the historic setting of the area. Modern suburban residential development and automobile oriented shopping centers have been constructed adjacent to Chalfont's downtown. Heavy traffic passes through Chalfont due to the presence of well traveled U.S. 202 and State Route 152. Despite the new development and traffic congestion Chalfont's historic commercial downtown and residential neighborhoods have retained a good degree of its vitality due to creative and sympathetic adaptive reuse of historic buildings resulting in retention of historic integrity.

Overall, the buildings in Chalfont have been somewhat altered and some have had changes to their use such as conversions of residences to offices or retail use. However, former residences converted to other uses have been done with sensitivity with little or no alteration of exterior features. The alterations have been relatively minor and include replacement of roof and siding material and porches have been enclosed. Aluminum and vinyl siding have become prevalent in the historic district. These changes have little impact on the historic integrity of the district. Noncontributing resources in the district are relatively few in number, making up only 15 percent of the total resources. Most of the buildings that are noncontributing are newly constructed infill development. Demolition of buildings and construction of modern buildings has occurred in the historic district. At the intersection of Butler Avenue and Main Street a 19th century store known as Bartleson's was demolished in 1968 and a gas station was built in its place. The gas station was designed in the Colonial Revival style and has since been converted to a restaurant. Its architecture fits in well with the existing architecture of the district. Overall the historic integrity of Chalfont Historic District has been retained. The changes that have occurred are minor and the noncontributing buildings fit in with the other buildings in the district in terms of their size, scale, massing, materials, design and shape.

Significance

Chalfont Historic District is locally significant as a settlement at the confluence of the North and West Branches of the Neshaminy Creek. There were two grist mills that were important early industries established along the creeks in the early to mid 18th century. Subsequently, the construction of roads to serve the mills was a factor in the early settlement of the village. Taverns and various businesses were set up in the vicinity of the intersection of the roads during Chalfont's early settlement. The village did not change greatly until the middle of the 19th century when the Doylestown Branch of the North Pennsylvania Railroad was constructed nearby in 1856. The economic impact of the railroad resulted in the establishment of additional businesses, as well as construction of residences. The Chalfont Historic District is significant for its architecture due to the presence of vernacular versions of Georgian and Federal styles of the late 18th through early 19th centuries. In addition, the district has styles from the mid 19th through mid 20th centuries. These include Gothic Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, Prairie style Foursquares, and Bungalow/Craftsman styles. The period of significance for Chalfont is c.1775 to c.1935 to include the dates of construction of the residential and commercial buildings in the historic district and includes the time period in which Chalfont evolved from a small horse and wagon and mill oriented village through its establishment as a railroad oriented commercial and residential center. Significant dates are c.1856, when the Doylestown Branch of the North Pennsylvania Railroad was built through the settlement and c.1901, the year that the community was incorporated as Chalfont Borough.

Simon Butler and Simon Mathews settled in in the vicinity of the Borough of Chalfont around 1720. Butler and Simon were related, either cousins or brothers-in-law. They emigrated from Wales to America in 1710 and initially settled in Delaware County. Butler was a miller and Mathews was a millwright. Butler constructed, or had constructed, a house and a grist mill on the east bank of the North Branch of the Neshaminy Creek at 116 E. Butler Avenue (outside the historic district boundaries.) The original mill owned by Simon Butler burned down in 1885 and was not rebuilt. Another grist mill was constructed in Chalfont in 1793 by, or for, John Miller and it became known as Hartzel's Mill after a prominent owner, Francis D. Hartzel, who acquired the mill c.1860. Like Simon Butler's mill, the Hartzel's Mill was also destroyed by fire in 1930, but was rebuilt. Hartzel's Mill still stands at 74 Park Ave. (outside of the historic district boundary) and is now used as a commercial and industrial center.

After Simon Butler settled in the area in 1720 and constructed his house and grist mill he opened a road through the area. The road became known as Butler's Road and later Butler Pike, and subsequently Limekiln Pike, as it ran to the limekilns located in the southeastern section of Montgomery County. The Butler Road also intersected Bethlehem Pike at Ambler and Germantown Pike at Plymouth Meeting providing access to Philadelphia. Limekiln Pike today is known as State Route 152 and is also N. Main Street through the Chalfont Historic District. Two other important roads impacted Chalfont's early development as a commercial center. Ferry Road connected Chalfont to the ferry crossing of the Delaware River at Point Pleasant. U.S. 202, connected Swede's Ford which crossed the Schuylkill River near Norristown to Coryell's Ferry which crossed the Delaware River at New Hope. As a result of its location on these strategic early roads combined with the mill industry in the area, Chalfont grew into a small village.

A tavern was soon established at the intersection of the Limekiln Pike (Route 152) and the road from Swede's Ford to Coryell's Ferry (Route 202, Butler Avenue). During the late 18th and early 19th century, the village consisted of the tavern, two mills and several residences. The tavern was originally known as Kungle's Tavern after the tavern's keeper, George Kungle. Kungle purchased the land in 1761 from his father-in-law Henry Lewis and the tavern was constructed soon afterward. According to History of Chalfont Borough published in 1977, the tavern was a popular place for troops of the Revolutionary War to stay and be entertained. In 1815 the tavern was purchased by John Barndt and the village became known as Barndtsville. In 1903 when the tavern was owned by Joseph Fretz and known as the Eagle Hotel, it caught fire. Fretz hired prominent local architect A. Oscar Martin to redesign the building. Kungle's Tavern now has a Colonial Revival appearance.

According to the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site, A. Oscar Martin had his office in nearby Doylestown and was a prolific local architect having designed a variety of buildings including churches and residences, as well as industrial, commercial, and government buildings. He worked in a variety of styles including Colonial Revival style. A. Oscar Martin was the son of carpenter/contractor Jonas and Mary Catharine Martin. He pursued his architectural education at Drexel Institute, followed by several years as a draftsman with Hazelhurst & Huckel in Philadelphia, Green & Wicks of , NY, and Milton Bean of Lansdale, PA. Martin also became an engineer and designed bridges for Bucks County. Fred F. Martin joined his father's office in 1928 and Oscar S. Leidy was hired as well. The firm was renamed A. Oscar Martin & Son. This office continued in operation in Doylestown through 1942, when A. Oscar Martin died. A collection of A. Oscar Martin drawings at the Spruance Library in Doylestown also indicates that he worked on the restoration and revival of late 18th and early 19th century buildings as well.

The first post office was established in the Chalfont around 1845 in a store on the south side of the West Branch of the Neshaminy Creek (outside of the historic district boundary). The post office was initially owned by William Stevens. The village had already gone through several name changes including Butlers Mill, Kungle's, and Barndtsville. However in 1845 the post office and the village were named Whitehallville.

In 1856 the Doylestown Branch of the North Pennsylvania Railroad was constructed through the village. The Doylestown Branch ran from the main line of the North Pennsylvania Railroad at Lansdale in Montgomery County to Doylestown. Its construction had a significant impact on industrial, commercial and residential development in Chalfont. A small frame passenger station was constructed that was later replaced with the Stick style station (c.1909) that currently stands on Sunset Avenue. The station was originally named Whitehallville, however in 1869 the railroad renamed the station Chalfont and the post office subsequently was renamed as well. The North Penn Railroad chose the name Chalfont from the village of Chalfont St. Giles in England. After the railroad was constructed various industries, including coal and lumber yards, as well as businesses and residences were constructed. The railroad related coal and lumber yards were located along the railroad west of the station owned by Kratz and Sons, and east of the station owned by Charles Brunner & Sons. Neither of these industries or related are extant and both are outside of the historic district boundary. A good example of the direct impact of the railroad on commercial development in Chalfont is the Detweiler Hotel (c.1860) at 58 N. Main Street. The hotel was initially called the Railroad House and was specifically constructed as a stopover for travelers using the railroad.

Commercial establishments were also constructed in Chalfont after the railroad was built. Around 1875 a store, which was named the Centennial Store was constructed at 202 N. Main Street. The store was operated by the Moyer family for many years. It currently is used as a doctor's office. William Bruner owned and operated a hardware store and iron works at 4-6 W Butler Ave. It was built c.1870 and includes the hardware store and an attached residence.

By the beginning of the 20th century Chalfont had grown into a small town and in 1901 it was officially incorporated as a borough. The first borough hall was constructed at 101 N. Main Street. The building also contained the Chalfont Chemical Fire Company and today it still houses the fire company. The Chalfont Borough Hall is currently located in the former Chalfont National Bank building at 40 N. Main Street.

The Chalfont National Bank was formed in 1925 with capital assets of $50,000. The bank building was constructed shortly thereafter and, like several other buildings in the historic district, was designed by A. Oscar Martin. In 1967 the Chalfont National Bank merged with Bucks County Bank and Trust Company and in 1973 the bank at 40 N. Main Street was closed in favor of more modern, suburban, automobile oriented facilities at other locations nearby. The former bank building was subsequently sold and has been used as a book store, insurance agency, and, for a time, the public library was located in the basement. In 1984 the building was obtained by Chalfont Borough and converted into the borough hall. An addition was constructed onto the rear of the building in 1997, but the building retains most of its original features including the old vault. The bank building is a good example of Classical Revival architecture.

During the mid to late 20th century Chalfont Historic District evolved into a revitalized downtown area with shops and offices locating in historic residential, industrial and commercial buildings. In 1995 Chalfont Borough took steps to protect its historic resources and encourage adaptive reuse of historic buildings by adopting a historic preservation ordinance and establishing a historic architectural review board. Chalfont continues to be a stop on the Doylestown Branch of the North Penn Railroad, now operated as Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's (SEPTA'S) R5 line providing daily service to Philadelphia and Doylestown. The Chalfont Historic District has restaurants, boutiques, real estate offices, doctor's offices and continues to be a center of commerce.

The Chalfont Historic District has evolved similarly to other Bucks County historic districts starting out as a cross roads village, influenced by improvements in transportation technology (canal, railroad or interurban trolley) and developing into an auto oriented, somewhat gentrified downtown area, with shops and offices in former residences, industries and businesses. Architectural styles in the towns reflect the impact of changing transportation technology on the economic development of the community.

Therefore, Chalfont Historic District is comparable to the Yardley Historic District, which is located in Lower Bucks County. Yardley Historic District differs somewhat from Chalfont in that it is significant for transportation and architecture, where as Chalfont is significant for its architecture. The reason for this is that in Yardley there was the impact of an early ferry operation, the construction of the Delaware Canal through the community, as well the impact of a railroad and an interurban trolley line. Yardley has a better continuum of transportation development. Chalfont's commercial development was strongly influenced by transportation, but other factors, such as the early mills played a role in its commercial development. Yardley, like Chalfont is well represented by Gothic Revival and Carpenter Gothic styles. In fact these two historic districts have a remarkable collection of Carpenter Gothic style buildings.

Chalfont and Yardley have similar architectural evolutions both with early Georgian and Federal architecture evolving through mid 19th to early 20th century styles. Yardley however has some canal era influenced styles, such as Italianate and late Federal style, that are not as well represented in Chalfont. This difference is due to Chalfont not having been economically impacted by a canal, or similar economic stimulus, during the period of popularity of these styles (1830 to 1860). Like Chalfont, Yardley also has a prominent building, its borough hall, that was designed by A. Oscar Martin. Chalfont has six A. Oscar Martin designed buildings, because Martin's office was located in nearby Doylestown.

Another historic district similar to Chalfont in Bucks County is the Langhorne Historic District. Langhorne is significant for transportation, commerce and architecture. Langhorne has a good continuum of transportation development, through and into, the interurban trolley era. Like Chalfont, Langhorne began as a village settlement oriented towards early roads and related to the horse and wagon era and developed through the railroad era. Unlike commercial development in Chalfont, commerce in Langhorne was almost completely affected by early roads. No other influences, such as early mills or other industries had an impact on Langhorne. Styles of architecture and the evolutionary range of architecture in both historic districts are similar. Langhorne has early Georgian and Federal Styles, through 19th century styles, as well as Bungalow/Craftsman styles and Prairie style Four Squares of the early to mid 20th century. Gothic Revival and Carpenter Gothic style however, appear to be nonexistent in Langhorne. Langhorne's Borough Hall was also designed by A. Oscar Martin.

The Chalfont Historic District retains its historic integrity and is significant for its architecture. Early Georgian and Federal architecture is located near the intersection of the early roads and 19th century styles are centered primarily near the train station. Chalfont Historic District fits into a context with other Bucks County historic districts that are significant for their architecture. Chalfont is unique among these by having an excellent collection of Gothic Revival and Carpenter Gothic style buildings, and a good number of buildings designed by A. Oscar Martin, a locally significant and prolific local architect.

References

Battle, J. H. editor. History of Bucks County. Philadelphia: A. Warner. 1887 Reprinted Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company. 1985.

Becker, Marilyn, editor. Historic Chalfont Pennsylvania: Celebrating a Century 1901-2001. Chalfont, PA: 2001 Committee.

Bucks County Historical Society. Spruance Library. Martin Drawings. c.1885 to c.1942.

Clemens, Mary Jane, editor. History of Chalfont Borough, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Chalfont PA: Chalfont Borough Bicentennial Committee. 1977.

Combined Atlases of Bucks County. Reprint of J.D. Scott Combination Atlas Map of Bucks County, 1876 and E.P. Noll & Company Atlas of Bucks County Pennsylvania, 1891. Mount Vernon In: Windmill Publications, Inc. 1992.

Davis, W.W.H. The History of Bucks County. Doylestown PA: Democrat Book and Job Office Print Co. 1876. Revised 2nd edition. New York: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1905.

MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania. Doylestown, PA: Bucks County Historical Society. 1976 reprint of original 1942 and 1955 editions.

McNealy, Terry. Historic Chalfont. Bucks County Town and Country Living. Fall 2005.

Mathews, Edward. Mathews' history of seven central Bucks County townships. 1946.

Mummert, Jennifer A. & John P. Wood. Chalfont Historic District. Pennsylvania Historic Resource Survey Form. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. May 1993.

Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site. www.philadelphiabuildings.org. A. Oscar Martin biography and projects, Chalfont Borough. Accessed 2006.

  1. Kimmerly, David, Heritage Conservancy, Chalfont Historic District, nomination document, 2006, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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Street Names: Butler Avenue, Chestnut Street, Main Street, Park Avenue, Sunset Avenue

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