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Gardenville-North Branch National Register Historic District

The following text was excerpted from a copy of the original nomination submitted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

The Gardenville-North Branch Rural Historic District, located in Plumstead Township, Bucks County is a locally significant example of agriculturally related farm and village architecture for central Bucks County. The district's architecture is a collection of representative 18th, 19th and 20th century rural buildings from the 1765 Isaac Brown stone cabin to the early 20th century round roofed barns and also village architecture of the mid-19th century hinting at more national styles primarily heralded by the Italianate influenced ca. 1875 Gardenville Hotel. Additionally, the vernacular farm houses demonstrate the merging of two major cultural groups for Bucks County, the English, primarily Quaker, and the German, primarily Mennonite. Through both the landscape and the buildings the district is also significant in the area of agriculture by representing the changing farming patterns and village development patterns from the 18th through the 20th centuries for Bucks county. The farm outbuildings are most illustrative of the changing types and methods of agriculture from the all encompassing bank barn of the early nineteenth century to the specialized poultry houses, corncribs, silos of the late 19th and early 20th century. The landscape reflects the grid pattern established in central Bucks County by the land grants of William Penn and his successors and represents the fence rows and field patterns created by early 20th century farming in central Bucks County.

Within the context of Bucks County the Gardenville-North Branch Rural Historic District is similar to other areas of the central part of the county in its initial patterns of land development, namely the grid pattern of land grants and tracts. It distinguishes itself from other areas, however, in that the initial patterns are still evident in the landscape, contrary to many parts of the county where these patterns have been significantly altered by suburban development. Also, in contrast to much of the central part of the county, the district is unusual for its bi-cultural settlement, namely the converging of two major colonial groups for the county, the English Quakers and the German Mennonites. Additionally, the district is not in a remote area, but contains two roads which were important transportation routes from the first half of the 18th century, influencing the area's early development. In spite of these major roads, the area has retained its rural character.

The district is able to convey a sense of historical and architectural cohesiveness through both its landscape and buildings. The landscape has retained integrity through conservative farming practices and owner occupied farming and represents agricultural patterns once common throughout the county, especially by the early 20th century. Furthermore, through the outbuildings in the district, the evolution of agriculture in central Bucks County is evident from subsistence and grain production of the 18th century to dairy and poultry farms of the 19th century with related industries and more modern specialized farming. The district also represents traditional types and methods of house construction through its well-preserved vernacular farmhouse stock from the evolutionary 'I' houses developed out of 18th century cabin sites to the single unit house built in the 19th century. Additionally, the district is exemplary in the county for having representative examples of rural houses from each half century from mid-18th to the turn of the 20th century.

As with many areas of central Bucks County, the earliest settlement of this section of Plumstead Township began in the first quarter of the 18th century with English, mostly Quaker families moving onto their large rectangular land grants. These tracts created a grid across the county with boundaries parallel and perpendicular to the county line and occurred where the topography is fairly level and not interrupted or influenced by major streams. This pattern was not followed for land bordering the Delaware River or Neshaminy Creek, nor in the northern and northwestern parts of the county where the terrain was more rugged and the land quality poor. One of the first families documented in the Gardenville vicinity is that of Thomas and Mary Brown, who received a 500 acre tract in 1717. Quaker meetings were said to have been held in the Brown's home until a log meetinghouse could be built in 1729 (MacReynolds, Place Names of Bucks County, 1942, p. 185). The land for the present meeting was compiled in 1730 out of three tracts of land owned by Thomas, Thomas, Jr. and Alexander Brown. Subsequent subdivisions of the Brown tract and others adjoining continued to be made in rectangles throughout the 18th century. A 20th century map drawn to show land holders in Plumstead Township c1759 illustrates the rectangular tracts and English names throughout the area. Current tax parcel maps and aerial photographs further document the tenacity of some of the early grid pattern boundaries.

While the first settlement appears to have come in from the Easton Road to the west of the district (the first Brown house reputed to be in this area), the official extension of the Durham Road beyond Buckingham Township through Plumstead and up to the Tohickon Creek in 1732 was a significant influence to the settlement of the Gardenville area for what was then the upper part of the county. Along the Durham Road, and roughly the eastern edge of the Brown tracts, a John Rich purchased 200 acres from a Francis Borden in 1741 and immediately applied for a tavern license, the first Plough Tavern, describing the importance of this early crossroads, 'one from Durham to Newtown and other from Plumstead Ferry towards the City of Philadelphia.' (Laquer notes) Joseph Brown's will of 1748 refers to 'the little house along the Durham Road situated near one John Rich' on a lot of 10 acres which was to be reserved for Brown's widow. Patrick Poe, a subsequent tavern keeper of the Plough, further attests to the commercial viability of the area in his sale advertisement of 1759 listing 'three good stone houses, besides barn and outhouses, one of which is very conveniently situated in the fork on two great roads, one leading from Philadelphia, the other from Newtown, fit for a store or any other public business,' in addition to the licensed tavern a 'small distance' away and 200 acres of orchards, fields, meadows and woods (Pennsylvania Gazette, March 17, 1759). Petitions for a tavern license by competitor William Reeder who built the second Plough Tavern c1761 on land purchased from Abraham Brown on the south corner of the intersection gives further insight into the value of this remote crossroads. Inhabitants of Tinicum, Nockamixon, Haycock and the upper parts of the Delaware describe in 1768 that 'there is no place more convenient' for 13 miles from John Wilson's at the Harrow in upper part of the county to Widow Jamison's (Buckingham) and that Reeder's large stone house and stables were 'Extraordinary'.

The Map of Pennsylvania published 1775 based on the late map of W. Scull of 1770, indicates both the Plumstead Meeting and the Plough as on an otherwise rather sparsely labeled map of the county. Both properties figured actively in the Revolution, due perhaps to their location. The second Plough Tavern, under proprietorship of Captain William McCalla was a foraging station with a picket for the Continental Army. McCalla was Assistant Forage Master for Bucks County and also held a contract to quarter horses for the army during the winter (Laquer Notes). He was in charge of the Plumstead Militia, 7th Company, 2nd Battalion, formed in 1775 (E. Matthews, Revolution Enrollments in Plumstead). A cast pewter coat button of one piece was found to the northwest of the tavernhouse and has recently been identified as belonging to the Pennsylvania Regiment #3, commissioned November 13, 1775 for the Continental Army (John Irwin, Laquer Notes). The meetinghouse was used as a hospital during the fall and winter of 1777 for the Continental Army. According to W. W. H. Davis 'A list of the sick and wounded in the hospital admitted November 25, 26, 27, 30 and December 19, 1777 were 40, died 2, discharged 10, remaining 28. Sometime that December Dr. Francis Allison, senior surgeon, Militia Department, Continental Army removed the wounded of the Battle of Germantown to Plumstead Meetinghouse but were removed thence to Litiz by order of Washington.' (History of Bucks County, 1905, p.386). Of interest in Bucks County Revolutionary legends are the graves of Levi and Abraham Doan, Tory outlaws, captured and killed in 1788 and buried outside the southeast wall of the graveyard.

While commercial development began along the Durham Road in the 18th century, it appears to have maintained a random, rural pattern, as is still seen along the Durham Road to the south of the village. The store suggested by Patrick Poe in 1759 was being operated by Smith Price by the last decade of the 18th century, Price being listed as a 'wheelwright' and later 'shopkeeper' in deeds. The blacksmith shop was located on the south corner, perhaps a part of the garage standing there today and the village saw gradual development into the 19th century. The traditional rural village pattern, seen in houses evenly spaced close to Point Pleasant Pike, came into being around the time of the opening of this turnpike in 1848 (Laquer Notes). The pike essentially took the path of the old Ferry Road from Danboro through Gardenville, diverging from the old road as it approached the new bridge location across river at Point Pleasant. While both Durham Road and the pike continued to be actively used roads, the relocation of the Bucks County courthouse from Newtown to Doylestown in 1813 diverted some of the traffic to the Easton Road to the west of Durham Road, alleviating subsequent development pressure and allowing for the land along the Durham Road to remain rural. An 1871 account of Gardenville describes it as 'a neat little village, situated on the Danborough and Point Pleasant Turnpike, and in the midst of a rich agriculture community; it has a hotel, a large store, several shops and about a dozen dwelling houses.' (Hersey, S. Business Directory', 1871, p.230). Among the businesses listed are auctioneer, blacksmiths, carpenters, clockmaker, drovers, hotel huckster, mason, merchants, painter, potter, tailor, weavers, and wheelwrights. One hundred farmers are listed under the post office for Gardenville, indicating the village to be the hub for a large surrounding agricultural community. An advertisement for the hotel placed by William F. Price in 1866 describes its important community role, 'The township elections are held at this place, and early all the township business is done there'' (Doylestown Democrat, January 9, 1866).

The converging of two major cultural groups in one area, while not entirely unique in the county, is very well illustrated within the Gardenville-North Branch Rural District. The strongest physical evidence of the early settlement of the area by the Society of Friends is the meetinghouse and associated graveyard on Point Pleasant Pike near Valley Park Road. According to the datestone, the current building was rebuilt from a c1752 stone meetinghouse in 1875. Its small scale, with the appearance of a country schoolhouse, in contrast with the large sister meetinghouses of Buckingham and Solebury only several miles to the south and east, attests to the diminutive congregation which had by 1869 voted to discontinue and attach themselves to the Buckingham Meeting (Plumstead Friends Meeting, 1953). The building helps to illustrate the fact that this was the 'extreme limit of the tidal-wave of civilization that swept upward from the Delaware' (Davis, History of Bucks County, 1975, p. 379), namely the northernmost extent of comprehensive Quaker settlement in the county (small pockets of Quakers could be found further north in Richland and Springfield). Edward Matthews, writing around the turn of the century further describes the settlement groups of the area, 'Within Plumstead was the upper line of the compact settlements of the Friends, extending along the Delaware northward from Bristol. In the upper portion they were met by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in considerable numbers, and also by German Mennonites' Being thrown so much in contact with English speaking people, they (Mennonites) became Anglacized earlier in Plumstead, and in fact all along the Delaware side of the county, than in the townships lying further westward. Since the Revolution the descendants of the German settlers have much increased in Plumstead, now forming a majority of the people. This has partly been because of the addiction of the Mennonites to agriculture rather than to mercantile and professional pursuits and Plumstead has remained an agricultural township, with no large villages.' (E.M., p.163)

Deed and tax records of the 18th century show the predominance of English names in the area, including Brown, Shaw, Michner, Chestnut, Walton, Price, Smith, Preston, Rich, Doan and Meredith. By the first quarter of the 19th century the names Overholt, Kraut, Bewighouse, Wismer, Shaddinger and Fretz appear throughout the district. This change of cultural inhabitants coincided with general rebuilding and expanding activities in the county, particularly to farm buildings. The district shows in its architecture a mix of 18th century English influenced houses and larger, 19th century farmhouses with German cultural traits.

Architecturally, the district contains representative examples of central Bucks County rural buildings and structures, showing the evolution of architectural form and style over three centuries. Most noteworthy is that the district retains excellent examples of houses from the second half of the 18th century in settings which have changed little since then. The Isaac Brown House is representative of the 1 1/2 story, 3 bay stone cabins built by the English settlers throughout this area. Set close to the Durham Road, facing southeast, its primary facade is nearly unchanged from its construction in 1765 and exhibits an open cornice and period paneled shutters for 9/6 windows. The second Plough Tavern, built by William Reeder c1761, was substantial for its time and retains its 18th century sections near to their original forms. The main section is 2 1/2 stories, 3 bays wide and 2 piles deep with an interior 3-room plan similar to the Samuel Merrick House of similar vintage in Upper Makefield Township. It has an attached stone kitchen and segmental relieving arches in the stonework over the basement windows. The Smith Price House built in 1794 across the Durham Road from the Brown Cabin shows a fully developed post-Revolutionary house form of 4 bays wide and 2 piles deep with a rear 2 story attached kitchen 'L.' The Price House form may also show some influence from the newly arriving German population in its large, square form.

Most of the properties established as farms or located further away from the Durham Road in the 18th century began as one story stone or log cabins. In the cases where the English retained ownership into the 19th century these houses evolved through lateral additions into the 'I' type of farmhouse. Examples of such a pattern are the Ewing-Michener Farmhouse, the Schaffer-Long House and the William Angany Farmhouse. In some cases farmhouses with subsequent German ownership also demonstrate this additive feature, the John Fretz, Tobias Fretz and Asha Foulk Farmhouses.

Several 18th century farmsteads in the district demonstrate the early tendency to place the farm buildings near the center of the property, rather than near the road. Such is the case with the Ewing-Michener Farm, the Asha Foulke Farm, and the Wismer-Myers Farm. All of these farmhouses are oriented to the southeast and are set well back off of the road down long lanes.

While most of the above houses in some way incorporate the early cabins or their foundations into the later buildings, many of the farmhouses in the district appear to be wholly new products of the early 19th century and products of the second generation of settlers, the German Mennonites. Characteristic of the early 19th century German farmhouses are the large, box-like form, quite often a broad 3 bays or 4 bays wide and 1+ or 2 piles deep, very often with double front doors, angled plastered cornices and smaller end chimneys to service stoves rather than fireplaces. The Bewighouse, Michener-Pfeiffer and Andrew Shaddinger Farmhouses are good examples of the 4 bay form built 1826, 1845 and 1819 respectively. Other examples of the 4 bay form are the Kraut house of 1842 construction and the Wismer-Myers Farmhouse which appears to be of earlier vintage with a Germanic three-room plan. Demonstrating the broad 3 bay width with side-by-side double front doors and angled cornices are the Overholt-Myers and Leidy Myers Farmhouses, the latter farmhouse dating possibly as late as 1860.

While most of the above farmhouses adhere to the 'Colonial' style with nearly even fenestration and steep gable roofs and cultural traits of their builders, the second half of the 19th century saw an introduction of styles popular throughout the nation and a variety of building materials. The Preston-Michener House of the mid-century shows the Federal influence in its nearly flat roof and third floor windows and is of stuccoed adobe or sand-brick construction. The Durham Crest Farmhouse, added to the Isaac Brown cabin property, while conservative of style is built of brick. The two Victorian farmhouses belong to properties with agricultural industries on the Durham Road, the Berger Poultry Farm and the Moldovany Butcher Shop on. They are both frame with front and side porches and, particularly the latter, with complex plan.

In the village the houses along the pike are of mid-late 19th century vintage and architecturally show the influence of more national styles, such as lower pitched roofs and heavy cornice overhangs of the Federal and Italianate periods and Victorian influenced projecting frame bays. Perhaps the most dramatic 19th century change to the streetscape of the village was the rebuilding of the Gardenville Hotel in the late 19th century. The tavern property underwent numerous ownership changes throughout the century and reputedly had a fire in 1871 (Laquer Notes). By 1879 the hotel was purchased by Nathan Fretz (although an 1876 atlas lists him as owner). The striking similarity between Fretz's farmhouse on the opposite corner and the hotel, both with Italianate influenced broad cross gables and arched attic windows suggests that he is to credit for making architectural advances to the village.

The agricultural outbuildings in the district demonstrate not only stylistic changes over the century, but also changes in farming practices and types. The earliest settlers were involved primarily in subsistence and grain farming. The needs of these operations were almost entirely handled by the bank barns, with stabling for cows, horses and other animals on the first level and a threshing bay with flanking hay mows and granaries on the upper level. The 1798 tax list describes the majority of barns as 1 story log, with a few 2 story stone or frame barns. The early log barns were possibly fashioned like English barns, without the stabling level, and were found insufficient for the colder Pennsylvania climate. By the early 19th century, the influence of the German population, and their experience with farming in colder areas, became evident with the bank barns. Two stone barns in the district are exemplary of this early 19th century form, the 1817 Ewing-Michener Barn and the John Fretz Barn.

By the mid-19th century, the majority of barns in the district were the fully developed frame-over-stone bank barns, large in overall plan and in storage capacity and show the expansion of farming operations with larger herds and more tillable acreage. A number of fine examples exist in the district, namely those barns on the Overholt-Myers Farm, Leidy-Myers Farm, Kraut-Chittick Farm, Asha Foulk Farm, Tobias Fretz Farm, William Angany Farm and the Reeder-Plough Tavern Farm.

Enlarged operations and specializations further evident in the additions to the barns and the separate outbuildings. Most common are the haybarn 'L' additions to the older barns to provide additional storage and stabling for the growing herds. Corncribs appear on a number of farms in different forms, some attached to a section of the barn or carriage house, others as single, free-standing cribs or the most popular double-drive-through, which provided storage for wagons as well. Good examples of the latter varieties occur on the Overholdt-Myers Farm and the A. Shaddinger Farm.

In 1871 the agriculture was described with 'considerable attention is given to grazing and dairying.' (Hersey, p. 229) The growing dairy and livestock herds were due in part to the substantial area of meadowland along the creek suitable for this kind of farming. By the end of the 19th century more specialization took place with chicken and egg operations. Most of the farms have chickenhouses of varying sizes, the largest occurring on the Overholt-Myers Farm. The Berger Poultry Farm along Durham Road appears to have adapted its barn to the primary production of poultry products. In addition, there are non-animal associated outbuildings such as springhouses, washhouses, carriagehouses on many of the farms including the Leidy Myers, Overholt-Myers and Asha Foulk Farms.

In the early 20th century advancements in feed storage produced the silo, of which there are several of both wood and concrete in the district. A new design for barns, more economical in construction and maintenance was developed allowing the entire upper level to be encased by a large curved or gambrel roof. Due to fires, three barns in the district demonstrate this newer design concept, the Wismer-Myers, A. Shaddinger and Bewighouse Barns.

A variety of small 18th century home industries are indicated in the 1798 tax lists and occur along the Durham Road. These include Widow Gross's Weave Shop. Very little evidence remains of these buildings today. In addition to farming, the Kraut family were watchmakers and in the 19th century had a shop by the road on the Kraut-Chittick Farm for a number of years, later moving the business to Doylestown and the shop to the side of the house (John Chittick, June 26, 1989).

In addition to the poultry/egg business, 19th and early 20th century agricultural industry within the district include a creamery and two butcher establishments. The stone creamery building was built by Asher Lear's grandfather c1860 and later became a co-operative (Whitenack, interview). It is small compared to others of the time and has since been converted into a residence. The butcher establishments are also along the Durham Road, the older one of Joseph D. Michener with its large frame barn and smokehouse and a turn of the century business with a large Victorian house which was run by the Moldovany family. The latter has a building in the rear with a large capacity for smoking meats, the butcher barn which still houses the old freezer compartments cooled by spring water and further in the rear the pig barns.

The rural landscape around the village still reflects its early heritage and subsequent farming practices. It echoes the grid system established by the first land grants and subdivisions. Most noteworthy of this landscape is the area northwest of Point Pleasant Pike, flanked by Durham and Valley Park Roads, in particular the large Kraut-Rarig Farm. Views down into the valley from the Pike and from the north along Curly Hill Road exhibit rectangular farm fields of approximately 5 acres, divided by fence rows of trees and wild bushes. Records from the early 1940s indicate previous farming practices, especially early 20th century land usage and rotation of crops from wheat, oats, timothy, hay, corn and barley with some fields being left fallow for a season (Rarig Farm plan). The Kraut-Rarig farm had also been subdivided in a grid pattern by fence rows created by the 1920s. In the 1940s the landscape was described as 'North Branch of Neshaminy Creek and Pine Run, flanked by gently sloping hills, traverse the township from the northeast to southwest and provide charming valley views of farmland and forest dotting the broad slopes.' (MacReynolds, p. 310) Mechanized farming has opened some of the tilled areas of the district into larger fields, as on the Kraut-Chittick Farm. Currently there is a mix of active agriculture in the district, including hay and grain farming, dairy herds, sheep grazing and nursery. Wooded spots occur in areas less arable or on properties not actively farmed.

The rural landscape in this district is enhanced by the proximity of a number of the farm building groups near the roads. In addition, several farms occur in clusters, in near visual distance from one another, creating a physical relationship among themselves and the landscape. While in the lower and central parts of Bucks County clusters of historic buildings near the road usually signals the beginnings of a village, in the upper, Germanic settled parts of the county, the location of farmsteads by roads is much more common. The grouping of buildings in the south end of the district, along the Durham Road, is of English origin and strongly coincides with the earliest vestiges of Gardenville village, namely being near the first Plough Tavern site. Likewise the collection of historic buildings in the vicinity of the meetinghouse again relates to it as an early focal point of development. Two clusters of farms, one along Valley Park Road and the other at the intersection of Bradshaw Road and Curly Hill Road with Durham Road, however, represent the German settlement pattern. Along Valley Park Road the three farms in close proximity are the Kraut-Chittick Farm, the Overholt-Myers Farm and the Leidy Myers Farm, with the first and last being dominant architectural elements along this roadscape. The grouping of farms along Durham Road at the north end of the district provide a similar visual statement, with nearly all of their farm buildings seen from the road, the Andrew Shaddinger Farm, the John Fretz Farm, the Michener-Pfeiffer Farm and the Bewighouse Farm. This visual closeness and proximity to the work centers of the farm enhances the district's ability to convey its representation of rural lifestyle to the passerby.

Perhaps the most subtle but eloquent connection of the district to its past can be found in the very center of the village. Over the years Gardenville took on several names, first references appear to be the Sign of the Plough, after the tavern. Later notations on deeds and maps through the mid-19th century call the area Brownsville, after the early settler family Brown. The name Gardenville, according to tradition, was in recognition to an outstanding flower and vegetable garden which was noticed in the village, the Post Office accepting the name in 1857 (MacReynolds, p. 185). Even today, a large, attractive garden is kept in the center of the village on the Lear property, the south corner of Point Pleasant Pike and Durham Road.

School District: Central Bucks

Gardenville Map

Street Names
Durham Road • Point Pleasant Pike

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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