Coatesville Historic District
The Coatesville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Coatesville is an industrial city, affiliated with the iron and steel industry, that serves as western Chester County's marketing and trading center. Located at the western terminus of the Great Valley near the western branch of the Brandywine Creek, the Coatesville Historic District is the city's commercial and residential core. The contributing buildings in the Coatesville Historic District were constructed from the mid-eighteenth century to 1937, with more than two-thirds of these buildings erected between 1850 and 1924. The buildings are predominantly two to three stories in height and are constructed mostly of brick. The historic district includes 97 commercial edifices, 360 residential buildings, and 29 buildings devoted to other uses. Of the 490 total buildings in the district, 461 are contributing and 29 are non-contributing.
The Coatesville Historic District is located on the floor and sides of a narrow valley that runs east and west between the steep North and South Valley Hills. The western boundary of the district is located near the west branch of the Brandywine Creek. East Lincoln Highway, the district's main thoroughfare, runs the length of the valley floor. Cross streets consisting of First to Sixth Avenues run perpendicular to the main street. Other streets running parallel to East Lincoln Highway create a grid pattern that extends up the sides of the narrow valley, especially up the southern side between Fifth and Sixth Avenues where the district ascends to Oak Street.
The overall scale of buildings is two or three stories with two or three bays. Brick accounts for the construction material of 70% of the buildings, stone for 5%, and frame and other construction materials for 25%. Buildings are predominantly rowhouses or duplexes. Most buildings are set close to the streets on small lots.
The first few buildings in the Coatesville Historic District were built in the mid-eighteenth century, with most of the buildings constructed in four sections within the district between 1850 and 1924. Two stone, vernacular farmhouses have survived from the second half of the eighteenth century: 544-546 Harmony Street, c. 1750; and 102 South First Avenue, c. 1750. After the mid-nineteenth century a commercial section developed along East Lincoln Highway between First and Third Avenues with commercial and mixed use buildings extending from Third to Sixth Avenues. During the mid- to late nineteenth century, mill owners constructed mansions in a second section of the district on South First Avenue. In a third section of the district, housing for middle management and business proprietors was erected along Chestnut Street from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, worker housing was built rapidly in a fourth section of the district bounded by Harmony Street, Sixth Avenue, Oak Street and Fifth Avenue. 1% of the buildings in the district were erected before 1850, 37% are from the 1850-1899 period, 47% were constructed between 1900 and 1924, and 15% have been built since 1925.
The city's largest concentration of commercial buildings is on East Lincoln Highway between First and Third Avenues. The Italianate style predominates in these commercial blocks with examples dating from c. 1850 to 1895. These buildings are three story structures containing a variety of Italianate decorative features such as paired brackets, applied moldings, embellished cornices, relieving arch and label lintels, and smooth facades. For instance, in 1858 Dr. William Blakeslee erected a brick Italianate building at 258-1260 East Lincoln Highway. Other examples of Italianate buildings can be found at 218-222 East Lincoln Highway, 1892; 136 East Lincoln Highway, 1889; and 309 East Lincoln Highway, c. 1875.
A small number of commercial buildings were constructed from 1893 and 1932 on East Lincoln Highway between First and Third Avenues. They present interpretations of such architectural styles as Richardsonian, Beaux Arts Classicism, Classic Revival, Late Gothic Revival and Second Renaissance Revival. The National Bank of Coatesville used sandstone to erect a two-story Richardsonian commercial building, 204-206 East Lincoln Highway in 1889. The style's bulkiness is reflected in the cornice, massive second story aperture, and arches and facade symmetry. Seventeen years later the same bank built a structure in the Second Renaissance Revival style at 235 East Lincoln Highway. This building, which was listed in the National Register in 1977, features paired windows and extensive ornamentation. In contrast, the National Bank of Chester Valley's Classic Revival building, 112-114 East Lincoln Highway, 1917 is highlighted by two massive Ionic columns on the Classic Greek facade.
The mansions erected on South First Avenue are examples of two styles popular during the mid- to late nineteenth century. "Terracina," 76 South First Avenue, is a Gothic Revival mansion erected in 1848. The interior plan radiates from the entrance hall on the first floor to include a parlor, dining room, library, sitting room, kitchen and stair hall. This mansion was listed on the National Register in 1978. In 1889 Cope and Stewardson designed the largest residence in the district, 53 South First Avenue, located across the street from "Terracina." The two and one-half story rectangular Collegiate Gothic stone house has a long rectangular wing off the northwest side. The interior centers around a reception hall in which a dramatic staircase enclosed in a screen of balusters ascends to the second floor. This home was listed on the National Register in 1977. The same firm used the Georgian Revival style to design Lukens Iron and Steel Company's Corporate Building on South First Avenue in 1902. This office building was listed on the National Register in 1976.
Buildings erected for middle management and proprietors on Chestnut Street typify a broad range of styles from the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. For instance, about 1870 Benjamin Miller built a brick Italianate duplex, 271 Chestnut Street which features three stories, two over two light windows, extended lintels and a shallow roof. In contrast to Miller's duplex. Dr. S. Horace Scott's home, 303 Chestnut Street, 1895 was built in the Queen Anne style. The two and one-half story single family dwelling is highlighted by a large two story turret and a cut stone facade. Eight years later Henry J. Branson built an eight unit rowhouse at 583-597 Chestnut Street in the Georgian Revival style. Pedimented dormers, elevated Tuscan columns, plus round and rectangular porticos are the rowhouse's outstanding components.
Carpenter Gothic is the predominant style for the worker housing located in the southeast quadrant of the district. For example, a long string of Carpenter Gothic duplexes stretch up the hillside on Woodland Avenue. A shared front cross gable repeated in the full width veranda highlights these duplexes. Located on large lots, these houses have side and front yards. Long rows of Carpenter Gothic duplexes also stretch up the hillside on Virginia Avenue. However, these duplexes are narrower and sit on narrower lots than the houses on Woodland Avenue do.
Less numerous examples of Italianate and Craftsman designs are also found among the worker housing in the southeast quadrant of the district. The townhouses at 160-164 Woodland Avenue, c. 1910 are excellent examples of the Italianate style. The two story brick units contain ornate corbelling and finely carved drape ornamentation above the cornice. The frame duplexes at 426-428 and 434-436 Maple Avenue were constructed c. 1892 in the Craftsman style. They share a dormer and a full width veranda.
Architects designed more ecclesiastical structures than any other building type in Coatesville. Built of stone and brick between 1870 and 1925, the seven churches, one meeting house and one synagogue, are primarily variations of late nineteenth and early twentieth century revival styles. For instance, Catholics built St. Cecilia's Church in 1870. Fashioned in the Swiss Gothic style, the serpentine stone edifice contains buttresses, narrow pointed arch apertures and a large, central rose window. Thomas P. Lansdale and George W. Nattress used the English Gothic style to plan the Presbyterian and Episcopalian Churches: 379 East Lincoln Highway, 1894; and 323 East Lincoln Highway, 1894. Their designs incorporate round arch windows, buttresses, stone facades, conical steeples, and steep gable roofs. In 1925 the Beth Israel congregation completed a Second Renaissance Revival synagogue at 35 South Fifth Avenue. The building features a three span arcade forming a portico entrance, a cut stone facade, and paired round arched windows.
Local contractors were responsible for building municipal buildings, and social and fraternal organization headquarters. For example, Coatesville High School, 535-539 East Lincoln Highway, 1915 is one of two Sullivanesque buildings in the district. The two story brick Italianate building at 264 Chestnut Street, 1882, which was originally a police headquarters, served as city hall until the town acquired "Greystone" in 1938. The Italianate style was also accepted by the Washington Hose Company for their station, 266 East Chestnut Street in 1873 before they moved to an enlarged station, 330 East Lincoln Highway, 1906, erected in the Classical Revival style.
Only a small proportion of buildings, approximately 6%, are non-contributing. Constructed since 1936, these non-contributing residential and commercial buildings are scattered on East Lincoln Highway, South First Avenue, North Fifth Avenue and Willow Alley. Beside a few retail stores, the non-contributing buildings include gas stations, an apartment house, a telephone company building, small warehouses, a grocery store and a bank. The contributing buildings in this district have remained largely intact. Although most first floor store fronts have been altered, several have been restored to their original appearance. In the 1960s a commission was established to guide historic preservation efforts. These efforts have intensified through the recently organized Main Street program. These efforts have increased preservation awareness and activity in restoring buildings.
The Coatesville Historic District is important as western Chester County's principal commercial center and a locally noteworthy collection of architecture. As a result of the growth of the iron and steel industry, Coatesville became one of the largest commercial centers in the county. Coatesville's significance in commerce is reflected in a large concentration of commercial buildings in the Coatesville Historic District. It is also important for its mid-nineteenth century to early twentieth century architecture. It has the largest collection of Italianate commercial buildings in western Chester County and the largest collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century worker housing in the county.
During the 18th century the area, later known as Coatesville, was a self-contained agrarian community for the Fleming and Coates families. Their family homesteads, the Fleming House circa 1750 (544-546 Harmony St) and Brandywine Mansion circa 1750 (102 South First Ave) are the oldest structures in the district. Construction of the former is attributed to James Fleming, son of the progenitor William, who was one of the first settlers. William's grandson Peter Fleming built the Brandywine Mansion and in 1787 conveyed the property to Moses Coates.
Commercial development of Coatesville began in the early nineteenth century. Soon after 1800 the hamlet of Bridgetown was established at the intersection of First Avenue and Lincoln Highway. The first businesses in the area were built in this small village. Businesses spread east along East Lincoln Highway to Third Avenue after construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in 1833 provided the village with improved access to markets.
Industrial growth in Coatesville strongly shaped the development of the historic district. In 1810 Isaac Pennock and his partner, Jesse Kersey, bought the Brandywine Mansion and farm from Moses Coates and founded the Brandywine Iron Works. These two men, and later Rebecca Lukens, operated the rolling mill west of the district. A few decades later in 1881 two iron furnaces employed about 100 men. Rebecca Lukens also constructed the first high style mansion in the historic district, the Gothic Revival "Terracina," as a wedding present for her daughter. Other entrepreneurs also established woolen and paper mills in the Coatesville area. These factories rivaled the iron industry in the Coatesville area through the 1870s, making Coatesville a center for iron, woolen and paper production. The town's industrial prosperity also influenced its commercial development and by 1890 Italianate commercial buildings lined East Lincoln Highway to Third Avenue.
Beginning in the 1880s one steel firm, the Lukens Iron and Steel Company, came to dominate Coatesville. The business once owned by Pennock, Kersey and Rebecca Lukens was incorporated as the Lukens Iron and Steel Company in 1890. During the next four decades this firm rapidly expanded their plant and work force on the west shore of the west branch of the Brandywine Creek. By 1832 Lukens Iron and Steel Company had constructed eleven open hearth furnaces. Their production capacity had grown to 450,000 tons per year, and their work force had swollen to a maximum of 2,700 men. Lukens Iron and Steel Company came to dwarf all other industrial employers in Coatesville.
The tremendous expansion of Lukens Iron and Steel Company spurred commercial growth along East Lincoln Highway in the historic district. Lukens Iron and Steel Company brought many more workers and their families to Coatesville, causing the town's population to explode from 3,680 in 1890 to 14,582 in 1930. This rapidly rising population needed more goods and services. Thus during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries businessmen constructed more commercial buildings in period revival styles, such as Late Gothic and Second Renaissance Revival, between Italianate commercial edifices already standing on East Lincoln Highway. Entrepreneurs also erected commercial and mixed use buildings from Third Avenue to Sixth Avenue along East Lincoln Highway. By 1932 the commercial section of the historic district had been completed.
The growth of the population and the iron and steel industry led Coatesville to become the largest commercial center in western and central Chester County during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The only comparable commercial center in this part of the county was Downingtown, a borough seven miles east of Coatesville. However, the commercial district in Downingtown was only one third the size of Coatesville's commercial section. Downingtown also contained a smaller variety of businesses than Coatesville. In the 1890s there were approximately 100 business establishments in Coatesville that included tobacconists, general stores, fruit vendors, grocers, confectioners, oyster dealers, dry goods, jewelers, drug stores, barbers, butchers, teamsters, boarding houses, blacksmiths, tinsmith, Chinese laundry, hotels, restaurants, pool halls, clothing stores and hardware stores. In the entire county the only other commercial centers that approached Coatesville in size were Phoenixville and West Chester.
The growth of Lukens Iron and Steel Company and the population also spurred rapid construction of housing for middle management, proprietors and workers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Housing for middle management and proprietors was built in a variety of styles along Chestnut Street. Excellent examples are Elias and Jacob W. Heck's Carpenter Gothic home, 1892 (523-525 Chestnut Street) and Dr. Erasmus Swing's home, 1890 (323 Chestnut Street) erected in the Queen Anne style. Developers, particularly C. W. Speakman, Charles Ash and W. A. P. Thompson, built worker housing in a section bounded by Harmony Street, Sixth Avenue, Oak Street and Fifth Avenue. Most of these subdivisions were rectangular plots constructed in the Carpenter Gothic style. A representative example is a subdivision known as the "Plan of Woodland Avenue" which encompasses the length of Woodland Avenue between Olive and Oak Streets. H. G. Rambo, a realtor, created the plot plan and W. A. P. Thompson erected the Carpenter Gothic duplexes.
The Coatesville Historic District contains the largest collection of worker housing in Chester County from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The only collection similar in size is Phoenixville's worker housing which was constructed during the mid-nineteenth century when Phoenixville Iron and Steel was expanding greatly. Coatesville's collection of worker housing was built around the turn of the twentieth century. In contrast to Phoenixville's worker housing which was constructed with a minimum of architectural styling, the worker housing in Coatesville Historic District was erected primarily in the Carpenter Gothic style, with a minority of homes built in the Italianate and Craftsman styles.
The Coatesville Historic District also has the largest collection of Italianate commercial buildings in western Chester County; most of these buildings are located on East Lincoln Highway between First and Third Avenues. Their Italianate elements feature paired vertical brackets, applied moldings and label lintels. Excellent examples include 141-147 East Lincoln Highway, 1899; 136 East Lincoln Highway, 1899; and 218-222 East Lincoln Highway, 1892. Other towns in western Chester County have far fewer Italianate commercial buildings. For instance, in Downingtown there are only four examples and these buildings are smaller in size and proportion. Downingtown's examples also have less ornamentation due to lack of label lintels and applied moldings. Other towns in western and central Chester County are much smaller than Coatesville and Downingtown and have one or two Italianate commercial buildings at most.
Lukens Iron and Steel Industry continued to dominate Coatesville until the 1950s. Since then this firm has gradually declined due to increased foreign imports and shrinking sales. The economy of Coatesville has begun to change in recent years from an industrial base to a service and retail-oriented economy. Despite these recent changes, the historic district still portrays the commercial vitality and architecture of the period when the iron and steel industry flourished in Coatesville.
Arbuckle, S. Leonard, History of Masonic Meeting Places 1867-1972. Privately printed.
Chester County (PA) Archives (West Chester PA), Tax Assessments, 1860.
Chester County PA) Prothonotary Office, Sheriff Deed Book.
Chester County PA) Recorder of Deeds, Deed Books.
Chester County (PA) Register of Wills Office.
Chester Valley Union (Coatesville, PA), 1892, 1894, 1897.
Coatesville Historical Commission and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. State Historical Marker Ceremony, July 25, 1985.
Coatesville (PA), Coatesville City Hall, Engineering map collection.
Coatesville Record (Coatesville, PA), 1927, 1930, 1937, 1938, 1945, 1946, 1948, 1951; 1957, 1958, 1962.
Coatesville Times (Coatesville, PA), 1892, 1894, 1897.
Coatesville Weekly Times (Coatesville, PA), 1889, 1891, 1892, 1893.
Daily Local News (West Chester, PA), 1885, 1894, 1893, 1888, 1906, 1907, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1917, 1927, 1943, 1945, 1948.
DiOrio, Eugene L., Chester County, A Traveler's Album. (Coatesville: DiOrio, 1980), pp 33-57.
Exton (PA) Chester County Library System. Coatesville Library Files.
First Baptist Church, "The Friendly Church" Diamond Jubilee, 1867-1942. (Coatesville: 1942).
H. G. Thomas diary.
Harrisburg (PA), Bureau for Historic Preservation; PHMC: Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places.
I. V. Pennegar with John Gilfillan. Agreement, May 14, 1900.
"One Hundredth Anniversary of the National Bank of Chester Valley", (Coatesville, PA).
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau for Historic Preservation. "Abram Huston House" National Register nomination.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau for Historic Preservation. "Lukens Main Office Building" National Register nomination.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau for Historic preservation. "Terracina" National Register nomination.
State College, (PA), Pennsylvania State University Library, Map Collection, (The Sanborn Map Collection - Coatesville).
Village Record (West Chester, PA), 1866, 1868.
West Chester (PA), Chester County Historical Society: Reid Title File #1551, #1126; Holton Collection; Clipping File; Church of the Trinity File.
West Chester (PA), Chester County Courthouse, Tax Assessment Records.