Dolington Village Historic District
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The Dolington Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document [†]. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Dolington Historic District located in Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County, is locally significant as a well-preserved collection of buildings that represent early to mid-nineteenth century Federal influenced vernacular architecture in rural lower central Bucks County before 1850. It is also locally significant as a nineteenth century commercial center of artisans and shopkeepers serving surrounding farms, particularly with transportation related industries including blacksmithing, wheel-wrighting, and coach-making. The district contains representative examples of the single family homes of these artisans and, in some cases, surviving outbuildings which served as combined barns and workshops. Additionally, there are two well-preserved 19th century stores to help illustrate the town's role in local commerce. The period of significance for the Dolington Historic District spans approximately 100 years from circa 1790 through circa 1930. The village, with only limited infill and despite a circa 1929 road change at the central intersection, still maintains a strong sense of time and place.
The village of Dolington, like many eighteenth and nineteenth century rural towns, developed astride a crossroads. In the last decades of the eighteenth and first decades of the nineteenth centuries, homes and shops were built where the Road from Newtown to Baker's, later Taylor's Ferry, now known as Route 532, or the Washington Crossing Road, and the Road to the Makefield Meeting House and on to Yardley, known today as Mt. Eyre Road, separate. Many of the current dwellings replace the first structures. The village is called Dolington in honor of its first settler, Peter Dolin. Dolin apparently first occupied a log house, which no longer stands, on the south side of the intersection between 1765 and 1772. In 1770, a one acre lot adjoining Dolin's lot along the south side of the intersection was divided from surrounding land. Within two months, according to deed references, a building on the lot. The property includes the location of the frame building, portions of which may date to 1770.
The town did not develop until twenty years later with the arrival of Whitson Canby, a blacksmith with a keen eye for real estate. Canby built a house and shop for himself on the north side of the road to the Meeting House. From 1791 through 1801 Canby sold off individual lots ranging in size from less than an acre to almost forty acres. Of these lots, ten fall within the present district boundaries and vary from roughly one acre to 16 acres. All except one lot were sold by 1795.
The 1795-1796 Upper Makefield tax list provides the best clue as to what existed in the village at the end of the eighteenth century. There were five frame houses including those owned by hatter William Harvey, tanner Joseph Lownes, saddler Absalom Duberry (on the house portion of the current Balderston slaughterhouse property), and Joseph Stockdale (located on the current Balderston slaughterhouse property). Abigail Pearson had a "small frame house" on her lot. Six of the houses which appear to have been within or abutting the current historic district were log. They were owned by Negro Samuel Berdine, carpenter Isaiah Morgan, turner John Heath , turner Jesse Skelton, schoolmaster Paul Judge and weaver Joseph Clark. Clark's house was presumably Peter Dolin's since he had bought Dolin's lot. There were three stone houses in the village, of which only one survives. Joseph Knowles, a smith, had a stone house and a log barn which was undoubtedly Whitson Canby's. He bought the lot on the northeast corner of the intersection from Canby on April 1, 1795. The deed stated that it was the smith shop and dwelling where Canby lived. Negro Francis Delany had a "small stone house" (now gone, shopkeeper William Jackson had a stone house (demolished in road widening). William Jackson, who purchased a lot at the northwest corner of the intersection from Canby in 1792, is credited with building a combination store and hotel. He was described as a shopkeeper when he sold the property to Oliver Hough on April 25, 1796. Hough, who soon became one of the town's leading citizens, opened a post office at the store in 1826. A year later, the name of the post office was changed from Makefield to Dolington.
The last decade of the eighteenth century saw rapid growth in the community and by the first decade of the nineteenth century the village took on much of its present definition and size. By 1804 Dolington boasted 23 houses (tavern license petition #1893). Not only did the village expand outward and increase in density, but most of the oldest structures, especially the log houses which accounted for nearly half of the village in 1795-1796, were replaced by newer and grander stone ones.
A tavern petition filed by William Thornton soon after the purchase of his property in 1803, describes that "he has lately erected a House in Dolington town which has upward of 20 homes; the place is improving very fast and as much business (as) in as most villages of its size." Thornton's petition was unsuccessful and Thornton's tenant Lambert Longshore made a second attempt in May of 1806, stating that Dolington was a cross roads village of twenty three homes "through which there is considerable travelling." Although many original structures were rebuilt and others constructed throughout the 19th century, the actual size of the village grew only slightly with 27 dwellings being noted in an account of the village written in the Newtown Enterprise Newspaper of March 25, 1876.
The 1850 census shows Dolington as being an active business center. Blacksmiths John Alcutt and Joseph Lambert each employed four or more men at their respective shops. Isaac Randell employed a clerk to assist them with their business. Numerous tailors, carpenters, wheelrights, shoemakers, masons, harness makers, and even a painter were listed in the census. The 1876 newspaper article noted that there were two stores, two blacksmiths, a saloon, harness maker, wheelright, shoemaker, post office, tailors and seamstresses, two good schools, a butcher, and excellent library in the village at the time.
Dolington served the commercial needs of the surrounding countryside. Deed references through 1840 identify the occupations of the residents as storekeepers, merchant, innkeeper, joiner, carpenter, mason, weaver, tailor, cordwainer & tanner; and numerous wheelrights and blacksmiths. The latter occupations especially continued to thrive in Dolington through the 19th century and evolved into other transportation manufacturers such as coach makers, harness makers and trimmers cited in the 1850 business census. James Briggs and Oliver P. Ely established a large coach and wagon factory and became suppliers even beyond the immediate service area. Their properties were adjacent on parcels with nearly matching houses constructed circa 1830 - 1833. The Briggs house is a representative home of a coach maker and a large barn still stands behind the Ely house, the only apparent remnant of his business.
Buildings which reflect early commercial importance of Dolington include the Benjamin Featherby Store, attached to the John Harris House and the Chales Janney Store. The Featherby store dates to circa 1834. The Charles Janney store was built after the turn of the mid-century and contrasts with the Featherby store in that it was originally designed as a single detached unit with its gable end facing the street front. The older Featherby store appears as an addition to an existing dwelling, with little in its architectural design to indicate its commercial use. Dolington also retains a number of shops which reflect its commercial significance such as a modest 1 1/2 story harness shop on the William Lambert property.
Of particular note and significance to the latter part of the district's period of significance is the Balderston Slaughterhouse complex on. This collection of a dozen frame outbuildings represents Dolington's continued interrelationship to surrounding agrarian enterprises into the twentieth century. Primarily constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century, the buildings were built and designed for specific uses which relate to the slaughtering business, from grain storage and animal pens and houses, to pump-houses and the slaughterhouse itself. This complex contrasts with modern industries which strive to compile all operations under one roof.
Architecturally, Dolington is important in representing a basically even classed village of independent artisans and small businessmen, with the overwhelming majority of primary structures being comfortably sized homes for single families. In this sense it contrasts with other villages and towns, such as Brownsburg, New Hope, and Yardley where the milling, manufacturing and canal industries created a dichotomy between the wealthy business owner and the working class, housed in multi-family houses or tenements. There is no single house in Dolington that symbolizes through style or scale an individual well-to-do industrialist or entrepreneur. Its architecture reflects the village's commercial niche of a village of individual entrepreneurs and no central commercial force. Dolington never had the guiding hand of a single builder. There was no Stacy Brown or Bernard Taylor to push the growth of the village as was done in Upper Makefield's other two villages; Brownsburg and Taylorsville. The town reached a level of growth and prosperity necessary to fill the needs of the surrounding countryside.
Dolington, through its development history, business and size can be favorably compared to the Village of Edgewood (National Register Historic District) in Lower Makefield Township. Both are villages of individual artisans located on important crossroads. Dolington, however, architecturally presents a slightly more prosperous and visually unified community than Edgewood. Dolington contrasts with the villages of Brownsburg and Taylorsville in Upper Makefield by being an inland village, without the strategic advantages of the river and canal. The latter two villages have more of a primary owner-working class social history and arrangement of homes. Dolington contrasts also with the larger towns of Newtown and Yardley in the fact that it maintains its small rural village character and has not grown much since its first major developmental period.
Dolington is significant architecturally as representing the Federal period as interpreted in a rural, vernacular context. While vernacular Federal houses can be found in Newtown and Yardley, large towns in the vicinity, they have been absorbed into streetscapes which integrate many later architectural styles. Dolington consistently conveys in one village unit this specific Federal vernacular style. In this way, it is more like the village of Penns Park in neighboring Wrightstown.
In summary, Dolington Historic District is significant today in being a well-preserved rural village comprised of homes and buildings of independent craftspeople and presenting a predominant architectural style of vernacular Federal. Its growth significantly tapered off in the last half of the 19th century and was negligible in the 20th century, thereby presenting today a village with a specific sense of time and place. Dolington maintains its 19th century rural character and is useful for the understanding of the development of a rural service village in central Bucks County.
† Dolington Village Historic District, Bucks County, PA, nomination document, 1994, NR #94000444, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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