Langhorne Historic District
The Langhorne Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 0000. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document, NR# 87001993, approved, 1987. Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Langhorne Historic District is located in rolling terrain and comprises a major portion of Langhorne Borough. It is situated four miles south of Newtown and seven miles northeast of Bristol in southern Bucks County. Buildings in the district are centered along two crossroads that stretch through the district, with side streets laid in perpendicular directions to the crossroads. The contributing buildings are primarily two and one-half story residences built of frame or stone. These buildings were erected between 1738 and 1937, with the majority being constructed between 1850 and 1937. Most of the contributing buildings are vernacular; a minority exemplify a range of styles from early nineteenth century Federal homes to early twentieth century bungalows. Although they constitute one-sixth of the buildings in the district, non-contributing buildings are generally of the same scale and use as the contributing resources and do not detract greatly from the district's integrity. The nominated historic district contains 252 contributing buildings, one contributing site (a cemetery), and 51 non-contributing buildings. Three of the contributing buildings (the Joseph Richardson House, the Langhorne Library, and the Tomlinson-Huddleston House) have already been listed on the National Register.
The contributing buildings in the Langhorne Historic District are of fairly consistent size, construction and use. The great majority of buildings are two and one-half stories high, with a few three and one-half story Victorian homes and one and one-half story bungalows scattered throughout the district. Ninety-seven percent of the buildings are residential; only three percent are of commercial or public use. Just over one half of the buildings are frame, especially those dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. About one fourth are gneiss, a greenish crystalline rock that is found in Southern Bucks County. One tenth of the contributing buildings are built of a salmon-colored brick produced during the nineteenth century in a brick yard that stood just outside the district boundaries. Dark brown glazed masonry block is another construction material found in a few late 1920's houses.
The Langhorne Historic District began in the early eighteenth century as a crossroads settlement with subsequent development spreading along the crossroads and then into the quadrants formed by the two roads. The first houses, store, and inn in the district were built at the crossroads of Maple and Bellevue Avenues by the mid-eighteenth century. Houses were then built within fifty feet of the roadside along these two roads from the mid-eighteenth century into the nineteenth century. During the late eighteenth century the southeast quadrant along East Richardson Avenue was divided into small lots, and construction of houses set close to the road began. The southwest quadrant was sparsely developed until the mid-nineteenth century when the land was laid out in small plots. Most of the homes in this quadrant were erected close to curbsides between 1875 and 1937. Houses were laid out in the northeast quadrant during the nineteenth century close to roads branching off of Maple and Bellevue Avenues. The northwest quadrangle remained open farmsteads through the mid-nineteenth century. This area was divided for residential development in an irregular pattern during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reflecting these periods of development, eleven percent of the contributing buildings in the district were constructed during the eighteenth century, fourteen percent between 1800 and 1850, fifty-seven percent during the second half of the nineteenth century, and eighteen percent between 1900 and 1937.
The majority of buildings in the district are vernacular in design. These buildings are generally plain in appearance with simple ornamentation such as boxed cornices and flat faced window surrounds. The lack design features and ornamentation that can be associated with high styles. An outstanding example of these vernacular buildings is the oldest building in the district, the 1738 Joseph Richardson house at the southwest corner of Bellevue and Maple Avenues. This two and one-half story stone edifice features a three bay core with boxed cornice that wraps around the gable ends as pent eaves, 12/12 windows with plain surrounds, and a transformed front entrance. A small one story gambrel roofed wing projects off the west end gable end. Another fine vernacular building closely associated with the Quakers who settled Langhorne is the 1793 Middletown Monthly Meetinghouse at 435 West Maple Avenue. This stone, two story, six bay wide building is also framed by a boxed cornice that extends as gable end pent eaves. The Meetinghouse is pierced by plain 8/8 and 8/12 windows, with a first story wraparound porch roof supported by square timbers.
A minority of homes are constructed in a range of high styles, beginning with early nineteenth century Federal houses. The 1830 Jonathan Stackhouse Home at 139 West Maple Avenue is a fine brick example of the Federal style. The five bay, two and one-half story edifice features a panelled front door with elliptical fanlight and sidelights, paired end chimneys, and arched dormers. Other homes were built in styles popular during the mid-nineteenth century. The Allen Mitchell Residence, constructed in 1868 at 144 West Maple Avenue, is a massive brownstone example of the Italianate style. This three story mansion is surmounted by large paired brackets at the roofline, and a central square tower. One of the best examples of the Second Empire style is the 1870 Rachel Shaw residence at 243 West Maple Avenue. Its tall, stately appearance is highlighted by a mansard roof, arched and pedimented windows with molded surrounds, and various projections for bays and porches.
Queen Anne and bungalow style homes appear among the late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings in the district. The 1891 Henry Lovett House at 366 South Bellevue Avenue is a large, stone Queen Anne building. A porte-cochere covering the south entrance flanks the first floor level. An imposing turret dominates the southeast facade, and a veranda and one story conical tower project from the northeast facade. Two circa 1930 bungalows stand at 127 and 137 Winchester Avenue. These two story, three bay wide homes have gable roofs with centrally located dormers over front porches and large pane windows.
The fifty-one non-contributing buildings are scattered through the district. Eight of these buildings are pre-1937 edifices that have been altered greatly by such changes as large modern additions. The remaining non-contributing buildings are post 1937 buildings, almost all of which are homes. These houses are primarily two or two and one-half story frame structures, often built in ranch, Cape Cod, or split level designs. These post-1937 houses do not greatly intrude on the historic appearance of the district because they are similar in scale and use to the contributing buildings.
The Langhorne Historic District is important to transportation, commerce and architecture in southern Bucks County. The district was an important transportation center during the 18th and 19th centuries, serving major crossroads that connected Philadelphia with Trenton, and Bristol with northern Bucks County. Langhorne was also one of the principal eighteenth and nineteenth century commercial centers in southern Bucks County. The borough's varied businesses provided goods for farmers between Newtown to the north and Hulmeville to the southeast. In addition, Langhorne contains a collection of eighteenth to early twentieth century vernacular and high style architecture that is rivaled only by Newtown in southern Bucks County.
Langhorne was a major transportation crossroads and commercial village from the early eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries. The community began at the intersection of two Lenni-Lenape Indian paths. Three Dutch and English colonists settled on the north side of this intersection by the early eighteenth century. As the Indian paths developed into roads later known as Bellevue and Maple Avenues, Joseph Richardson arrived in the early 1720's and by 1730 had opened a store in a portion of the inn on the northwest corner of the crossroads. In 1738, Richardson erected his house on the southwest corner and the store was moved to the southeast room of that building. The store continued to operate until 1770 and the inn remained prominent through the later part of the nineteenth century. Richardson's store, the inn, and traffic along the two roads drew more settlers and small businesses to Langhorne during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Land in the southeast quadrant of the historic district was confiscated from Loyalist Gilbert Hicks during the American Revolution and divided into small plots. Re-named "Washington Village" after George Washington, this section was first settled during the late eighteenth century. More residents and businessmen erected buildings along Bellevue and Maple Avenues through the mid-nineteenth century. Houses also began to appear along side roads in the northeast quadrant of the historic district during the early nineteenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century Langhorne was a bustling village with homes and small stores and craftsmen's shops spread along Maple and Bellevue Avenues and several side streets.
The village of Langhorne was an important transportation center where two major roads through southern Bucks County met. Maple Avenue (present-day Route 213) extended from Philadelphia to Trenton and was the most direct route between these two cities. Bellevue Avenue (present day 413) was part of the Durham Road which stretched from Bristol northward through Bucks County to Easton. By 1760 regularly scheduled stage coaches began running between Philadelphia and Trenton with stops in Langhorne. By the early nineteenth century daily stage coaches carried passengers from Bristol through Langhorne to Easton. Passengers could stay overnight at the inn in Langhorne, or transfer from stages travelling north and south to coaches passing east and west. In 1828 passengers travelled on the Union Mail Line of Steamboats and Coaches which ferried them by steamboat from Philadelphia to Bristol, and then by stage from Bristol to Easton.
As a transfer point, Langhorne played a key role in stage coach travel in southern Bucks County. Langhorne was the only place in the county where stage passengers could change from the east-west Philadelphia to Trenton route to the north-south road between Bristol and Easton. Langhorne did not relinquish its leading role in regional overland transportation until the 1870's when railroads superseded stage coaches as the principal mode of transportation through southern Bucks County.
Langhorne was also important as a commercial center from the early eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. Joseph Richardson's store was one of the earliest general stores in southern Bucks County. No store existed in Newtown until 1772 or in Fallsington to the east until 1789. As the number of businesses in Langhorne grew during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the village became an important service center for farmers living between Newtown and Hulmeville. By the 1830's Langhorne boasted a wide variety of businesses, such as a dry goods store located at 119 West Maple Avenue, coach-making establishments at 109 West Maple Avenue and 201 South Bellevue Avenue, a cooper shop at 152 North Bellevue Avenue, and a silversmith at 146 North Bellevue Avenue. To the immediate north of Langhorne, only Newtown rivaled the village in terms of numbers and variety of businesses. To the east and south, Fallsington and Hulmeville contained smaller numbers of businesses that served farmers in their immediate vicinities. Langhorne continued to be an important service center for area farmers until the 1870's when suburbanization began to profoundly change Langhorne's development.
Langhorne grew rapidly from the 1870's to the early twentieth century as affluent Philadelphians moved into the borough and created a Philadelphia suburb out of an agricultural service center. Wealthy Philadelphia businessmen began to erect large high style homes along South Bellevue Avenue and West Maple Avenue during the 1870's. The Langhorne Improvement Company, established in 1888, capitalized on the newly constructed Philadelphia and Bound Brook Railroad to draw more Philadelphia residents to South Bellevue and West Maple Avenues. The first trolley in Bucks County, the Newtown, Langhorne and Bristol Trolley Street Railway Company, began transporting passengers in 1896 and brought more residents to Langhorne. By the early twentieth century the northeast and northwest quadrants of the historic district had been subdivided, rounding out the district's residential development. New businesses, including attorneys' and real estate offices, a movie theater and an ice cream parlor, replaced some of the earlier businesses to provide urban amenities for the new suburbanites. Development of the borough slowed after World War I. Scattered bungalows were built during the 1920's to house new residents who moved to Langhorne.
New residents also moved into Cape Cod, Ranch and Split-level homes sprinkled through the district after 1937. Suburban development mushroomed much more rapidly outside the district, particularly to the south and west. For example, areas in Middletown Township to the west and north as well as the Borough of Penndel to the south expanded after World War II as more people flocked to the suburbs of southern Bucks County.
Although surrounded by modern suburban developments, Langhorne retains an outstanding collection of vernacular and high style architecture from the early eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. Only Newtown rivals Langhorne in southern Bucks County in terms of both the number of vernacular buildings and the range and quality of high style buildings. Hulmeville Historic District (listed on the National Register in 1986) has a smaller number of vernacular homes constructed of stone or frame and has very few examples of high styles popular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historic Fallsington (listed on the National Register in 1972) includes a much smaller number of buildings. This historic district has fine examples of high styles popular during the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, including Federal, Georgian and Gothic Revival homes. Yet Fallsington lacks the later Queen Anne, Second Empire and Bungalow homes found in Langhorne. The Bristol Historic District (listed on the National Register in 1987) includes large numbers of vernacular and high style buildings. However, more of the vernacular buildings are commercial than in Langhorne. Also, the high style homes in Bristol are generally larger and more ostentatious than those found in Langhorne. In southern Bucks County, only the Newtown Historic District (listed on the National Register in 1979, with three extensions listed in 1986) has a similar number and mix of stone and frame vernacular buildings. Newtown is also the only other historic district in the region that includes similar examples of high style homes ranging from Georgian to Bungalow styles.