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Buckmanville Historic District

Home in the Buckmanville Historic District, Upper Makefield, Bucks County, PA, National Register

Photo: Home in the Buckmanville Historic District, Upper Makefield, Bucks County, PA. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Photographed by User:Shuvaev (own work), 2012, [cc-by-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed May, 2014.

The Buckmanville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.

The Buckmanville Historic District, located in Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County is a well-preserved 19th century rural hamlet. It is a visually distinct collection of vernacular buildings typically found in the region between the 1825 and 1875. The buildings in the district include examples of vernacular Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival and Italianate styles of architecture, and a collection of secondary outbuildings with no discernible style. Today the buildings' similar form, fenestration and placement along the road provide an overall identity that forms a distinct district. The period of significance spans from 1820, when the land was first developed as a farmstead, to 1875, which marked the decline of development of the village. Buckmanville developed on land that in the 18th century was a 200-acre farm owned by John Atkinson. The house and a portion of the original farm, consisting of 68 acres and 61 perches, were acquired by William H. Ellis on April 3, 1840. Over the next 20 years, Ellis divided and sold small lots along his frontage on Street Road. The development of the village appears to have been spearheaded only by Ellis. Adjoining landowners did not sell lots, but retained their property for farm use. Since the Ellis property was found on only one side of Street Road, the village grew in an unusual fashion, only along the road's west side. Ellis most likely thought the location of a village at the site was ideal due to its proximity to Windy Bush Road, located several hundred feet north of Ellis' farm. Windy Bush Road, established in 1720, was the area's major thoroughfare, leading to the larger towns of New Hope about two miles north, Wrightstown approximately four miles to the south, and to Newtown, the original county seat, another two miles south. Street Road, laid out in 1771, was a local roadway separating properties and running between the fertile farming areas extending approximately eight miles north, and forming the boundary between Buckingham and Solebury Townships. Street Road continues south about a mile farther into Upper Makefield Township.

Although William Ellis envisioned a town and promoted it by selling lots, he was not a developer by profession. Records indicate that William H. Ellis (1816-1893), along with brothers George B. Ellis (1801-1863) and Edwin M. Ellis (1809-1882), achieved acclaim as engravers, most notably for illustration work for Godey's Lady's Book.1 One of the first purchasers of Ellis's lots was George Buckman. According to 19th century historian Josiah B. Smith, George Buckman built a blacksmith shop in 1842. A mechanic's lien filed on February 21, 1843, indicates that Buckman also built a stone house in the fall of 1842 measuring 32 feet by 19 feet. George Buckman's blacksmith shop and house were followed by a plow manufactory where he built plows designed by Upper Makefield resident Benjamin Wiggins. It is unknown if the whole or a portion of the present buildings were used for Buckman's blacksmith shop and plow manufactory, or if these businesses were found in outbuildings no longer standing.2 Buckman called his operation the Buckmanville Plough Manufactory—one of the earliest documented manufacturing facilities in the township. An 1859 illustration of the facility shows the present house and several sheds that no longer stand. The name of the business soon became interchangeable with the village itself. Josiah B. Smith, who owned several lots in the village, stated that William Ellis wanted the village he established to be called Ellisville, and at least one newspaper advertisement with that name has been discovered.

Buckman's commercial enterprise was able to expand with the purchase of a lot adjoining his original purchase. His second lot was purchased in 1848, and contained John Dubree's wheelwright shop. Dubree had bought the property from Josiah B. Smith in 1846. Smith had bought 80 square perches from William Ellis in 1844 and a small lot in 1846, four months before the sale to Dubree. Smith wrote that: "In 1845, at the request of John Dubre [sic], I bought a lot of ground at Buckmanville and built him a wheelwright shop. John subsequently bought the shop and lot and carried on a very satisfactory business." No description of the building could be found. The shop may have stood on a foundation now part of a small 20th century frame shed found on the south side of the present house.

In 1854, Buckman sold his village property and opened a new shop in nearby Wrightstown Township. According to an 1854 advertisement, farmers could buy a Wiggins plow at George Buckman's old stand in Buckmanville or his new stand at the Anchor (located several miles away in Wrightstown Township at the region's major intersection, that of Second Street Pike and Durham Road). Deed records indicate that the old property included a dwelling, and plough and blacksmith shops. The two Buckman lots were purchased by Silas L. Atkinson who conveyed them to his son Samuel Atkinson in 1856. Samuel Atkinson had built a stone house overlooking the town in 1853. After Samuel Atkinson's death in 1858, his estate advertised the property for sale. A newspaper advertisement that year noted the presence of the original two-story stone George Buckman house and the George Buckman/Silas L. Atkinson house that was described as a "nearly new." The estate sold the two lots separately in 1859.

That same year the original Buckman property was re-combined by George Buckman, who held them for three years. The 1859 illustration of the buildings, labeled Buckmanville Plough Manufactory, indicates his business presence at the site at this time. Perhaps due to its location below the crossroads, George Buckman moved his entire operation to his new more visible location in Wrightstown in 1862.

By 1863 the property came into the possession of Barclay J. Smith. Smith sold the lots separately in 1864 and 1865 respectively.

Barclay J. Smith, who purchased the Buckman lots in 1863, began to speculate in Buckmanville lots in 1857 with the purchase of the store lot. Smith, a cousin of Josiah B. Smith, was an active businessman, with a real estate firm in central Bucks County. He purchased several lots directly from Ellis and other subsequent owners. At one time or another, he owned every one of the small lots that comprise the village, and built the majority of village buildings. Smith operated a store in which the Buckmanville Post Office was found. His residence was attached to the store (not a separate building) and also is illustrated on the 1859 map of the township. The 1859 lithograph, entitled "B. J. Smith General Store and Residence" indicates that the building was a frame, L-shaped building that rose 2-1/2 stories with front porches. The building is also captured in an early 20th century postcard produced by the Arnold Brothers. Barclay Smith built an addition to the store in 1861. The store and dwelling, which had been constructed by Jesse Hunter in 1845, burned in the twentieth century and there is now a tennis court on the site.

Barclay J. Smith offered all of his Buckmanville property for sale as five lots in the Bucks County Intelligencer on December 1, 1863. In that advertisement the property that now includes the house at 545 Street Road, was called the "Blacksmith Stand," and the building was then described as a three-story frame house.

In addition to owning the building at 545 Street Road, it appears Barclay J. Smith constructed the house at 521 Street Road, circa 1860 (the Barclay J. Smith/Alice Leedom House. The house at 521 Street Road was situated on a quarter acre lot that Barclay J. Smith bought from William H. Ellis on May 3, 1858 for the sum of $75.00. Just under two years later, on April 4, 1861, Smith sold the same property to Alice Leedom for the sum of $1,250; indicating that the house was constructed during this time period. This date is at least partially confirmed by the fact that the house is not shown on the 1859 Matthew Hughes Farm Map of Upper Makefield Township. On that map there are no buildings shown between Smith's Store [on the site of the tennis courts at 533 Street Road] and Buckmanville Road.

According to the 1863 newspaper advertisement, Barclay J. Smith also constructed the Barclay J. Smith Double House. It was described as a "new house built this season" in the "modern style" and measuring 32' by 20' suitable for two families. The advertisement noted that the house could be rented for 8 to 10% of its purchase price making it a good investment for a "monied man, or could be purchased by a shoe maker or harness maker, both of which are badly needed in the village." By the 1870s, Buckmanville's commercial growth came to a sudden halt. Without Smith, its builder/real estate promoter and the Buckmanville Plough Manufactory, commerce activity dwindled, and the need for additional buildings diminished. By the 1870s the hamlet had seen its heyday, and survived on with its post office and general store.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Buckmanville continued to serve the population of the immediate farming community as a post office and store. Further growth and development was overshadowed by larger towns. New Hope to the north, and Newtown to the south, were railroad stops where train service concentrated and stimulated the county's commercial growth. In addition, the town never grew to the nearby crossroad-where major automobile traffic now could be found. Its location slightly south of Windy Bush Road on the minor Street Road probably played a role in the village's demise. A major blow to the village occurred with the burning of the general store and post office sometime between 1924 and 1931. With its destruction, the village lost its commercial heart. For the past 70 years the village served as a residential community for those who worked elsewhere in the nearby towns of New Hope, Doylestown, and Newtown. Since the early 1990s, this residential role has expanded with the construction of suburban homes on nearby farmland.

From an architectural standpoint, Buckmanville contains a collection of commercial and residential buildings that reflect styles and building methods in the county between 1820 and 1875. These resources employ local building traditions, such as the use of clapboard and field stone and stucco, single pile plans, internal end chimneys, and gable roofs.

The earliest building in the district is the William Atkinson/William H. Ellis House constructed circa 1820. The house is a representative example of vernacular residential architecture of the Federal period. In 1827, when Atkinson offered the house for sale it was noted as being a two story stone house with log kitchen. When the W. S. Ellis house was advertised for sale in 1865, it was described as a five room stone house with no mention of a log section. This fits into the pattern of early settlement in the part of Upper Makefield. Many of the original houses in this region were constructed of log. After the construction of a more permanent stone house, the log house was generally relegated to use as a kitchen; and eventually replaced by a new stone section during the 19th century. The resource is also typical of farmhouses of the period in Bucks County. Other historic districts in the township, such as the Brownsburg Historic District, which developed in the early 19th century, have buildings with vernacular Federal characteristics. The Beaumont Tavern, on the edge of Brownsburg Historic District, built between 1760 and 1840, has several lateral sections, one pile deep and constructed of stone like the Atkinson Farmhouse.

The earliest buildings in the village center are typical Bucks County buildings of the 1840 -1870 period. The stone building constructed by Buckman in 1842 is typical of both residential and commercial buildings. The use of paired, centered doors provided access to residential and commercial areas of the building.

The building at 515-517 Street Road is a frame version of the Buckman house with paired doorways. This building however was constructed 20 years after the Buckman house suggesting the form continued for many years. Its builder, Barclay J. Smith advertised it as a double house, or ideal for a family and commercial enterprise. The house also employs typical mid-century Italianate elements, such as a bracketed cornice found in vernacular village buildings. Constructing a double house as an investment, or to provide low income housing for tradesman deemed an asset to the community, was fairly typical in many small towns in Bucks County during the nineteenth century. In the nearby Brownsburg Historic District similar buildings can be found. The Sarah B. Agnew House dates from the first half of the 19th century. Unlike the resources in the Buckmanville Historic District, this paired-door house is a true double house in that the building although attached together is an individual two-bay wide building designed to house two families or a family and a shop. Such buildings, built prior to 1840, most likely served as the prototype for the single pile, paired door buildings of later years. In the Dolington Historic District also in Upper Makefield Township, the John and Susan Boyd House, and the Joseph Moon House have the same single pile plan with four bay wide facades and paired and centered doors.

A common architectural style of the mid 19th century in Bucks County is the vernacular Greek Revival buildings such as the Buckmanville Plough Manufactory/Silas L. Atkinson House, the Samuel Atkinson farmhouse and the William Worthington/Lewis Worstall House. The Greek Revival elements—namely the heightened elevation between the top of the second floor and roof line, with eyebrow windows—are found in most villages that developed in the county during this period. Similar examples are found in Dolington, including the Mary Ann, Hannah and Elizabeth Balderstone House.

Unlike the earlier Brownsburg and Dolington historic districts, Buckmanville also has examples of eclectic modes, namely vernacular Gothic Revival and Italianate buildings, seen in the Barclay J. Smith/Alice Leedom House and the Barclay J. Smith Double House respectively. The elements that make these buildings vernacular examples of their style include round-arched or pointed arch windows and cross gabled peaks. The Ivyland Historic District, in nearby Ivyland Borough, contains numerous examples of houses with similar plans and elements of various eclectic modes. Two of Ivyland's earliest buildings, constructed in the 1870s employ steep cross-gabled roofs and pointed arch window like the Barclay J. Smith/Alice Leedom House. The houses also have similar rear additions and the use of rear sheds, probably due to the narrow lots on which the buildings were constructed.

Today, (written 2002), Buckmanville remains a well-defined historic example of a mid 19th century small village containing a variety of architectural styles typical of Bucks County communities of the 1820 to 1875 period.

End Notes

  1. William H. Ellis named one of his sons Godey Ellis (born in 1844) in honor of his work for that publication. A partial list of William H. Ellis' engravings are included in "Memories of the Early 19th Century Engravers". The oldest of the three brothers, George B. Ellis had already become widely recognized for his artistic ability by the time the family moved to the Buckmanville area in the late 1830s. George B. Ellis married Amy Atkinson, the daughter of local farmer John L. Atkinson, in 1840. All three brothers were notable illustrators in their day, but George was ranked as one of the three best of his time in America.
  2. The Wiggins Plow sold by Buckman had a mathematically designed curved metal mold board that turned the soil over much more efficiently than straight mold boards then in common use. The plow was a significant improvement in technology for the period. It won a medal at the Exhibition of the Franklin Institute in 1847, and awards from the Philadelphia Agricultural Society, the Bucks County Agricultural Society as well as various other agricultural societies in southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
  3. When Smith sold the property he established a bank and an insurance company in the village of Newtown. He was a key investor in the initial effort to bring a railroad to Newtown. The bank eventually failed, Smith was personally ruined, and fled to Montana.

Buckmanville Historic District, Bucks County, PA, nomination document, 2002, National Register of Historic Places, NR #02000224, National Park Service, Washington, D.C.

School District: Council Rock

Buckmanville Historic District Map

Street Names
Buckmanville Road • Street Road

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