Yardley Historic District
The Yardley Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Yardley is a small borough located in Lower Bucks County along the west bank of the Delaware River. Yardley had a 2000 Census population of 2,498 people. The Delaware River forms the eastern boundary of Yardley, with Lower Makefield Township bordering the remaining sides. Yardley Historic District is primarily urban in character with single houses spaced close to each other with a few twins or double houses. The northern end of the Yardley Historic District is dominated by Lake Afton, a man-made millpond (c.1705) that creates a park-like setting. The Delaware Canal (c.1830) runs through Yardley parallel to the Delaware River, resulting in a linear, rectangular pattern of development. Buildings in the Yardley Historic District are typically three bays wide, one to two rooms deep and two to two and one-half stories tall. Several buildings in the Yardley Historic District were constructed in the 18th century and are Georgian or Federal in style. However, most buildings date from the mid 19th century and are Gothic Revival, Carpenter Gothic, Federal and Queen Anne in style. Several other architectural styles from the 19th century are also present including, Greek Revival, Stick, Italianate and Second Empire. Early 20th century styles include Foursquare, Romanesque Revival, Colonial Revival and Bungalow/Craftsman. A few roofs are covered with slate, but most are covered with asphalt shingles. Wood siding is the predominant wall material, with a few buildings constructed of stone or brick, or covered with stucco. Outbuildings typically are wood sided carriage houses and garages. Within the Yardley Historic District there are a total of 215 resources, 202 of which are contributing. (The Delaware Canal, a National Historic Landmark that runs through Yardley, is excluded from the present resource count as being previously counted.) The Yardley Historic District has a high proportion of contributing resources (93.9%). It has an overwhelming number of contributing buildings (202), one contributing structure (Lake Afton) and one contributing site (the cemetery at St. Andrews Episcopal Church). There are only 13 noncontributing buildings. The Yardley Historic District preserves its historical integrity through retention of location, setting, materials, design, workmanship, feeling and association.
The Yardley Historic District includes Main Street, which runs north to south parallel to the Delaware Canal. Main Street is intersected by east to west streets of Afton Avenue, College Avenue and Letchworth Avenue. Canal Street is immediately adjacent to, and runs north to south along the west side with the Delaware Canal. Canal Street has an upper and lower section. The upper section runs between Afton Avenue and College Avenue and is then interrupted. The lower section of Canal Street begins again at Letchworth Avenue and ends near the railroad tracks of the Bound Brook line. A small part of S. Edgewater Ave, which runs along the east side of the Delaware Canal is also included in the Yardley Historic District.
The Yardley Historic District includes the commercial district of Yardley with shops, restaurants and offices as well as adjacent residential neighborhoods. In the commercial district, which is located primarily along Main Street between Afton and College Avenues, there are various size buildings spaced close together and positioned close to the street. Adjacent residential neighborhoods are located along W. Afton Avenue, S. Main Street, part of S. Edgewater Avenue, and along Canal Street. W. Afton Avenue consists of large houses spaced far apart and set back from the street. Many residences located along S. Main Street are large, located close to the street and spaced relatively close to each other. Residences along S. Main Street near the commercial district have been converted to offices and shops. Canal Street contains modest, small houses set close to the street and close to each other.
Eighteenth century buildings in the Yardley Historic District include Lakeside, which was the home of Thomas Yardley. The building, located at 20 N. Main Street is Georgian in style. Its date of construction is c.1728. It is three bays wide, two rooms deep, and two and one-half stories tall. It has a wood shingle roof with step gable ends. The windows are six over six double hung sashes. Walls are stucco over stone. In addition to the house, a barn, privy, smokehouse, chicken house, springhouse and carriage house are also on the property.
Other more modest versions of Georgian architecture also exist in Yardley Historic District. They are small, vernacular versions of the style, typically three to four bays wide, one room deep, and two stories tall. They have symmetrical fenestrations sometimes with pent roofs or transoms over the doors. Several of these small Georgian style houses were constructed in the early 19th century and are found along the upper section of Canal Street.
The Yardley Grist Mill, located at 20 N. Main Street adjacent to Lakeside, was constructed c.1769. It is a large industrial building constructed of wood and stone. The mill office is also extant. The Yardley Grist Mill and its former office building have been converted to retail shops and offices.
An example of a Federal style building constructed in the 18th century is the c.1795 Joshua Van Horn House. It is located at 24 South Main Street and is three bays wide, one room deep and two and one-half stories tall. Its roof is covered with wood shingles and it is wood sided. It has interior gable end chimneys. The roof has two dormers with segmental arches, typical of Federal architecture.
Federal style buildings were also constructed in the early to mid 19th century in Yardley. An example is found at 53 S. Main Street. It was constructed c.1835 and has segmental arched dormer windows and a cornice decorated with modillions, typical of Federal architecture.
The Yardley Public Library located at 46 West Afton Avenue on the edge of Lake Afton is an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture. It was built c.1878. The building is small with a steep pitched gable roof that is slate covered. Walls are covered with narrow wood siding. Windows are two over two double hung sashes with pointed arches, flanked by shutters. A hood over the entrance door has decorative cross bracing. The Yardley Historical Association currently uses the building as their headquarters and a small museum.
Many buildings in Yardley, including the Yardley Public Library are examples of "Carpenter Gothic" architecture, a derivation of Gothic Revival. The style is characterized by decorative woodwork that is skillfully crafted. Another example of the style is located at 55 W. Afton Avenue. A highlight of the building is its decorative window in the front facing gable. The window has a double pointed arch, an arched label molding above, and a balconet. Saint Andrews Episcopal Church, adjacent to the Yardley Public Library is also an excellent example of Carpenter Gothic architecture. The church was constructed of stone ca. 1890 and it retains a slate covered roof that is steeply pitched. Saint Andrews also features a gable roof porch with decorative posts and brackets and a quatrefoil cut in the main facing panel of the gable. Immediately adjacent to St. Andrews Church is its cemetery. It has burials from the mid 19th century to the present with modest grave markers made of limestone typical of the period. The Yardley-Bethel AME Church at 188 S. Canal Street is also an example of Carpenter Gothic style. It has a steeply pitched roof, tall pointed arch windows and board and batten siding.
Queen Anne Victorian architecture of the late 19th century is also prevalent in the Yardley Historic District. An excellent example is found at 70 S. Main Street. Typical of Queen Anne architecture, the building is irregular in shape with a projecting attic gable creating a recessed balcony. It also has a large wrap-around porch with turned posts and curved brackets. The building has a turret that is square rather than the typical round turret found on most Queen Anne buildings. The walls are covered with wooden fish scale shingles on the upper floor and horizontal wood siding on the lower floors. Windows are one-over-one double-hung sashes with a small, bracketed hood above.
Colonial Revival style buildings from the early 20th century include the c.1916 Yardley Borough Hall located at 56 S. Main Street. A. Oscar Martin designed Borough Hall. The c.1900 Yardley National Bank Building located at 10 S. Main Street is also an excellent example of Colonial Revival architecture.
A few Bungalow/Craftsman style houses constructed in the early to mid-20th century are extant along Canal Street.
Buildings in Yardley have been subject to minor alterations and adapted to contemporary uses. Most of the alterations are minor and involve replacing windows, enclosing porches, and replacing wall or roof material. These changes do not reduce the overall historic integrity of the district. In the process of the reuse of some buildings near the commercial center, storefronts have been placed on the facades of earlier residential buildings. These storefronts have some architectural value of their own and generally do not infringe on the historic integrity of the district. Some earlier buildings have also been seamlessly converted to offices or retail uses with the exterior appearance of the building unaltered by the conversion. One example of a creative reuse of a historic building is the conversion of the Yardley Friends Meetinghouse to a bank. The building is located at 95 S. Main Street.
The noncontributing buildings primarily include new construction resulting from fires and in-fill development of vacant parcels of land. Examples of buildings newly constructed as a result of fires include Yardley Jewelers at 2 S. Main Street and the Canal Street Grill at 27 E. Afton Avenue. Newly constructed in-fill buildings include a Wawa convenience store located at 44 S. Main Street, a small shopping center at 40 S. Main Street and a bank office building at 91 S. Main Street. These buildings, typically Colonial Revival in style fit in with the architecture of adjacent historic buildings. One older building, the c.1900 Yardley Power Generating Plant is noncontributing due to the addition of a modern commercial storefront. There are also a few noncontributing outbuildings, typically modern garages.
Yardley has a historic district ordinance and a Historic Architectural Review Board that assists in the regulation of the architectural compatibility of new construction and alterations of existing building. The ordinance and the review board have helped to ensure the retention of historic integrity and preservation of resources in the historic district. As a result, the Yardley Historic District retains its historic integrity. Changes to historic resources have been minor and sensitive to the existing buildings. New construction is compatible with the architecture of the district.
Yardley began as an 18th century ferry crossing on the Delaware River and developed rapidly after the construction of the Delaware Canal through the village. The canal was built through Yardley from c.1830 to c.1832. The primary significance of the Yardley Historic District relating to transportation is due to the presence of the Delaware Canal in the district and the major impact the canal had on the economic development of Yardley. The Bound Brook Branch of the North Penn Railroad was built to the southern part of Yardley in 1876 and in the early 20th century, interurban trolley lines were constructed that connected Yardley to Morrisville, Newtown, and Trenton, New Jersey. Rather than having a major impact on development within the Yardley Historic District, the railroad and the trolley eras reinforced the prosperity brought by the Delaware Canal. The Yardley Historic District is also locally significant for its excellent examples of architecture ranging from the early 18th century to the early 20th century. This includes Gothic Revival, Federal and Queen Anne architecture, as well as Georgian, Greek Revival, Stick, Italianate, Second Empire, Four Square, Colonial Revival and Bungalow/Craftsman styles. The period of significance for Yardley spans the early 18th to the early 20th century (c.1728 to c.1925). This represents the date of the construction of the Thomas Yardley House, also known as Lakeside, through the construction of the early 20th century buildings in the historic district. It includes the time period in which Yardley evolved as a transportation center spurred by the Delaware Canal and the time period when the architecturally significant buildings were constructed.
William Yardley and his family came to the United States from Staffordshire, England in 1682 and settled in the vicinity of Yardley on a 500 acre parcel of land. His family was killed by a small pox epidemic in 1693. Thomas Yardley, William's nephew traveled from England to settle his uncle's estate. Thomas took possession of William's property and stayed in America. He began a ferry operation at Yardley in 1722. The ferry provided a vital crossing of the Delaware River allowing for easier access between Philadelphia and northern New Jersey and New York. By 1728, Thomas Yardley had gained considerable wealth and had constructed a large Georgian style residence and named it Lakeside. Lakeside is located at 20 N. Main Street. In 1835 a bridge was built across the Delaware River and eventually the ferry stopped operating.
Thomas Yardley also purchased a gristmill in 1732 that was started by John Brock in the late 17th century. The mill included a millpond (c.1705), today known as Lake Afton. The early mill was demolished and replaced c.1769 by Yardley Grist Mill, located at 20 N. Main Street.
By 1807 a small settlement began to take shape at Yardley and land began to be subdivided into smaller building lots. However, the town did not grow very quickly until the construction of the Delaware Canal through Yardley from 1830 to 1832.
The Delaware Canal was a major catalyst to the development of Yardley. The canal connected the Lehigh Canal in Easton to Bristol in southern Bucks County. It primarily carried anthracite coal. The canal was most active from 1830 to the mid-19th century when the North Penn Railroad was built from Bethlehem to Philadelphia resulting in major competition. Despite the competition from the railroad, the canal continued to operate through the late 19th century and early 20th century officially closing in 1931. The canal continued to be used for recreation by boaters and fisherman. By 1940 the Delaware Canal was purchased by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, its entire length turned into a park and its towpath used as a hiking trail.
As a result of the construction of the canal through Yardley in the early 1830s, industries were established and its population grew. Industries and commercial enterprises were established along with residential development. Various types of mills that used the water from the canal as a power source were constructed. Coal yards, boatyards and lumberyards were set up. Stores, taverns and hotels were constructed to accommodate canal boatmen. Homes were also constructed to house canal workers and their families.
Coal yards, lumberyards, boatyards and related buildings no longer exist in Yardley. The site of the Yardley Power Generating plant at 16 E. Afton Avenue was once a sawmill, barrel factory and spoke and felloe factory powered by water from the canal. The site of Yardley Jewelers at 2 W. Main Street was at one time a coal and lumberyard office.
Examples of some of the residences constructed during the heyday of the Delaware Canal in Yardley include those that line the upper end of Canal Street, along South Main Street and along East Afton Avenue. They consist of Georgian and Federal style houses constructed from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s. Commercial buildings associated with the canal era in Yardley also exist.
The Aaron LaRue House at 34 E. Afton Avenue was a general store for canal boatmen. It was constructed ca. 1831 and is situated very close to the Delaware Canal. Its architectural style is Georgian.
The LaFarge House located at 33 E. Afton Avenue is also an example of a building related to the economic impact of the canal. The building was constructed next to the canal as a hotel for canal boatmen and related workers. It was built ca. 1840 and is Italianate in style.
According to The History of Bucks County Pennsylvania by W.W.H. Davis, Yardley contained a population of about 1,000 people in 1876. It also had "several industrial establishments, consisting of a steam spoke and handle factory, steam saw, slate and plaster mills, steam felloe works and two merchant flour mills, several dry goods and grocery stores, coal and lumber yards, four public houses, a graded school, Episcopal, Methodist, and Advent churches, a Friends meetinghouse and a Catholic congregation worshipping in the Odd Fellows Hall." (Davis, 1876)
In 1876 the Bound Brook branch of the North Penn Railroad was constructed. The Bound Brook branch began at a junction with the North Penn Railroad at Jenkintown, Montgomery County. The branch ran through Yardley and across the Delaware River into New Jersey. The station was constructed at the southern end of Yardley at Reading Avenue and South Main Street (outside of the Yardley Historic District boundary). The railroad station was demolished in 1993 and a new one constructed in its place. Prior to 1876 Yardley was known as Yardleyville, but the newly constructed railroad station was named Yardley and the town was incorporated under that name in 1895.
As a result of the railroad and the prosperity it brought to Yardley, buildings from the late 19th century including Gothic Revival and Queen Anne styles were built as infill along South Main Street. In addition, these styles also occurred along previously undeveloped sections of West Afton Avenue.
Other buildings related to the railroad period in Yardley include a series of twins or double-houses along the lower section of Canal Street. The area was at one time referred to as Eastburn Row. These houses are very small vernacular versions of Italianate architecture. They were constructed to house railroad workers and were built at the site of a former canal boat yard.
The Trenton Street Railway Company constructed interurban trolley lines through Yardley in the early 20th century. The lines ran to Morrisville, New Hope, Doylestown, Newtown and Langhorne, as well as to Trenton and Lambertville, New Jersey. The trolley company purchased the Yardley Power Generating Plant at 16 E. Afton Avenue c.1904 and used the building to generate power for the trolley line. The trolleys stopped running in 1931.
According to the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings web site, A. Oscar Martin, an important early 20th century architect did work in Yardley. Specifically, he designed the Borough Hall building. Martin was based in 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 primarily in the Colonial Revival style.
There are a few buildings constructed in the early 20th century during the time that the trolley operated. Yardley Borough Hall, Yardley National Bank, the Yardley Fire Company No. 2 and a few Bungalows were also built during the trolley era.
During the mid to late 20th century Yardley Historic District evolved into a revitalized downtown area with shops and offices locating in former residential, industrial and commercial buildings. Parking areas have been constructed to accommodate the automobile and the tourists and shoppers they bring to Yardley. Automobile related suburban style development has occurred adjacent to the Yardley Historic District with wide streets and Ranch style houses. The Delaware Canal, which was the catalyst for most of the residential, industrial and commercial development in the community is now a recreational hiking trail, part of the Delaware Canal State Park, and is more of a scenic asset than functional transportation system.
The Yardley Historic District is significant as a center for transportation owing primarily to the impact of the Delaware Canal. Buildings in the Yardley Historic District including stores, hotels, and residences, represent the economic impact of the Delaware Canal. Yardley is also significant for architecture with excellent examples of early 18th to early 20th century styles including an outstanding collection of Carpenter Gothic style buildings as well as a variety of other styles from the period.
Yardley Historic District is very similar to the New Hope Historic District, which is located in Central Bucks County. Both historic districts evolved similarly, have similar architectural styles and similar areas of significance. New Hope is significant for architecture, commerce and transportation. Like Yardley, New Hope was an early ferry crossing of the Delaware River subsequently stimulated by the economic impact of the Delaware Canal. Buildings in New Hope reflect the impact of the Delaware Canal including various commercial and industrial buildings. There is also a lock tender's house in New Hope, which is directly related to the canal and its operations. Yardley has a lock tenders house, however it is altered and located south of the historic district outside of the boundaries. The train station in New Hope is also still standing and is directly associated with that period of transportation. In Yardley the rail station has been demolished and only indirect impacts of the railroad era can be observed, such as rail related housing and late 19th century architectural styles. New Hope has examples of late 18th and early 19th century architecture along with excellent examples of mid to late 19th centuries styles including Italianate, Second Empire and Queen Anne Victorian architecture. New Hope also has a few Bungalow style residences, similar to Yardley. New Hope has some Gothic Revival style buildings, but Gothic Revivals and Carpenter Gothic styles are more prevalent in Yardley. New Hope and Yardley also evolved similarly through the 20th century. In New Hope, many buildings that were formerly residences, stores and industrial buildings now contain offices or commercial retail use. Today New Hope is a focal point of Bucks County tourism attracting many to its shops, restaurants and cultural venues. New Hope Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Bristol Historic District in Lower Bucks County also has characteristics similar to Yardley Historic District. Bristol is significant for architecture, commerce and transportation and is architecturally and historically similar to both Yardley and New Hope. Bristol started as a ferry crossing of the Delaware River and had the added advantage of being the southern terminus of the Delaware Canal. As a result Bristol had a boat basin at the terminus where canal cargo was transferred to larger vessels for shipment to Philadelphia and other locations along the Delaware River and the eastern seaboard. Bristol therefore grew to be a considerably larger town than either New Hope or Yardley. Buildings from all periods of Bristol's transportation and commercial eras are extant including residences, hotels, mills, stores, and large industrial buildings. Buildings in Bristol are representative of styles from the late 18th through early 20th centuries. Georgian, Federal, Gothic Revival, and Late Victorian Era architecture is prevalent in Bristol. Early 20th century Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival architecture predominates in Bristol Historic District. Bristol, due to its more strategic location and greater wealth of its citizens has some high style versions of late 19th and early 20th century architecture, while comparatively Yardley has more vernacular versions of styles from that period. Bristol Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Some smaller villages along the Delaware Canal, such as Point Pleasant, Erwinna and Uhlerstown historic districts, all in Tinicum Township, Bucks County have characteristics similar to Yardley. While these are smaller and unincorporated, they have developed and evolved very much like Yardley. They have linear patterns of development and their existence is directly related to the canal. An exception to this is that these villages did not begin as ferry crossings and they became important as summer vacation communities in the early 20th century, a trait that is not strongly evident in Yardley. All three of the villages have architectural styles similar to Yardley ranging from the early 19th century to the early 20th century. These include examples of Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, Late Victorian, and Bungalow styles. The Bungalow style buildings in the villages reflecting the summer vacation home context. Yardley does have a small neighborhood of Bungalows nearby called Rivermawr. This neighborhood is to the north of the Yardley Historic District and geographically separated from it.
Yardley Historic District fits into a historic context of Bucks County river towns that evolved from the early 18th to early 20th century and affected by transportation development, particularly the construction and use of the Delaware Canal.
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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. 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.
Marshall, Jeffrey I. Yardley Historic District National Register Nomination. 1992.
McClellan, Robert J. The Delaware Canal: A Picture Story. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. 1967.
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Yoder, C.P. "Bill". Delaware Canal Journal: A Definitive History. Bethlehem, PA: Canal Press. Inc.
School District: Pennsbury