Strodes Mill Historic District
The Strode's Mill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The rural crossroads village of Strode's Mill lies two and a half miles south of West Chester at the intersection of Lenape and Birmingham-Sconnelltown Roads. Despite the proximity to nearby county seat West Chester, Strode's Mill thrived as a small crossroads village, providing a variety of services for the surrounding community and for people traveling toward Kennett and Concord. Each corner of the crossroads is occupied by a building significant to its history — Strode's Mill, East Bradford Boarding School for Boys, the miller's house, and the Strode's Pork Products plant. Southeast of the crossroads, yet still oriented to the core of the village is the Strode Farm, located on Birmingham Road. A few smaller buildings, the blacksmith/tenant house, the blacksmith/wheelwright shop, and a tenant house, lie south of the intersection along Lenape Road, and another tenement is found on Birmingham Road, across from Strode Farm. Completing the village, two barns and a wagon shed are situated on Strode Farm, and a carriage house, is located on the boarding school property. Ranging in date from c.1721-1880, the village is characteristically vernacular. The buildings generally share a common size and scale, are constructed of material indigenous to the area, and they all contribute to the architectural, educational or commercial significance of the district.
Because of the geography, the village of Strode's Mill has sustained a historical appearance that should remain constant in the future. Much of it lies within the flood plain of Plum Run Creek which originates in West Chester and flows in a southwesterly direction entering the Brandywine at Lenape. Paralleling Lenape Road on the east, the creek flows by the southeast wall of the 1721 banked stone mill. Before 1908, Plum Run fed into a dam located northeast of the Strode's Pork Products plant. Here, a century ago people of the community enjoyed fishing and bathing. Today, the land exists as flood plain.
Adjoining the flood plain is a hilly and rocky landscape especially evident where Birmingham and Lenape Roads join. The two houses on the intersection's westerly corners are significantly elevated above other buildings in the village, atop steep rocky banks that slope down to the road. The Strode farm house also stands on top of a sloping bank, enjoying a broad view of the Strode's Mill Historic District. Remaining buildings are nestled close to the roadside and help create a feeling of a close-knit community.
All of the Strode's Mill Historic District's buildings except for the East Bradford Boarding School for Boys, are examples of 18th and 19th century vernacular architecture. Strode's Mill, the Strode farm, and the boarding school are the oldest and best preserved buildings in the district. Although of different date and style, they are of stone construction, the masonry work of which is consistently superb. The mill is a fine example of an early 18th century first period or pre-Oliver Evans mill and is one of the oldest surviving mills in the area. Built in the mid 18th century, the original section of the Strode farm follows the two-story, four-bay wide, double-door Georgian vernacular tradition. The kitchen addition is in keeping with the original block, but is built of serpentine stone instead of fieldstone. The boarding school, also constructed of serpentine stone, has the grandest appearance and location of the buildings in the district. Of late Georgian/early Federal styling, it features chimneys with recessed panels and corbelled caps, dentilled cornice, and centered entrance with fanlight and pilasters supporting a pedimented frontispiece.
As the Strode's slaughtering/pork processing business grew, so did the size of the building. The original two-story banked, stucco over coarse field and serpentine stone core, has a datestone that reads "MF STRODE 1875." Additions off its southwest and east sides depict the growth and success of the business. The blacksmith/wheelwright shop was built around 1850, quite possibly replacing the original blacksmith shop. Architecturally nondescript, the frame wheelwright shop is two stories with its gable end facing the road. The frame blacksmith shop forms an ell along the eastern wall. Both are covered with asbestos siding. A one-story addition extends off the back of the building. A stucco over stone banked one-and-a-half story tenement located across the street from the smith and wheelwright shop may have served as the storehouse in the early 1800s, although in more recent times it has served as a tenant house to the farm.
The miller's house, like the boarding school, sits on the crest of the bank. It is a two-and-a-half story vernacular dwelling with nearly central double doors and a stuccoed front. A one-and-a-half story kitchen ell extends from the southeast corner.
Concerning the remaining buildings, the Strode barns are mid-nineteenth century frame banked barns with stone foundations and stabling on the ground floor. Both were associated with the pork processing business. The large one was also used for dairy operations, while the smaller one housed the swine. They survive in very good condition. The wagon shed is of frame construction and is in good condition.
The carriage house on the old boarding school property was constructed around 1880. It is half stone and half shingle, with a moderately steep hipped roof with a dormer on all four sides. It is in good condition.
While the outlying area of the Strode's Mill Historic District has experienced recent development, Strode's Mill remains intact, appearing much as it did through the 19th century. Excepting the additions to the mill and slaughterhouse, the remaining buildings lack major 20th century exterior alterations. As the pork processing business grew, the slaughterhouse expanded, but the additions are in scale with the core, and they continue to convey a sense of original purpose. The dominance of the Strode family for the past two centuries has helped preserve the integrity of the buildings in the district. Today, most of the buildings are private residences. The mill, however, is used as a decoy carving workshop, and a huntsman store. The slaughterhouse has stood vacant since 1985 when the Daniel Weaver Company ceased operations at this location, and the blacksmith/wheelwright shop is used for storage by the Cactus Growers Ltd.
Strode's Mill is an exemplary crossroads village of south central Chester County that provided services for a surrounding farming community. Of the dozens of small villages in this area which grew up at important 18th century intersections, Strode's Mill is one of the last to retain its 18th century configuration. Through the course of more than 200 years it has witnessed important developments in local commercial activity which included a mill, a general store, and a blacksmith/wheelwright shop. Established in the early 19th century, during a period of important educational growth in Chester County the very reputable East Bradford Boarding School for Boys operated for nearly 40 years in the center of the village. Strode's Mill however, is perhaps best remembered for the manufacture and selling of pork products. For over a century, the Strode family was highly regarded throughout the region for producing the finest quality sausage and scrapple. The collection of 18th and 19th-century vernacular architecture at Strode's Mill merits mention for its high quality construction (using materials indigenous to the area) and for its excellent examples of regionally significant styles, used as commercial and domestic buildings. The preservation of the village is explained both by its limiting geography which discouraged its expansion and by the Strode family who have lived in the village since the mid 18th century.
Settlement at Strode's Mill began around 1721 when a local resident, John Willis, and his two neighbors, George Carter and Samuel Scott, erected on Willis' land, what would become the most historic grist mill in East Bradford Township. The mill was well located along a strong flowing tributary of the Brandywine Creek — Plum Run — and at the intersection of two well established roads. Surrounding the mill were hundreds of acres of farmland dedicated to the growing of wheat, the principal crop produced by the farmers in southeastern Pennsylvania in the 18th century. Not only did it grow well here, but there was an excellent market for it in the colonies and abroad.
At the time the mill was established, the first period of settlements in southern Chester County was nearing completion; about half a dozen mills were in operation in the immediate locale, among them the Francis Chads' corn mill (1707) in Birmingham Township (now Delaware County), James Huston's (1719) in Birmingham Township (Chester County), and Abiah Taylor's grist and saw mill (1719) in East Bradford Township. Another grist and saw mill was established by Abiah's brother, Joseph Taylor, in 1724, and was located at what is known today as Lenape. Of these earliest of mills, only Strode's survives, making it one of the oldest extant Brandywine mills in Chester County. It is a first period, or pre-Oliver Evans mill which, with its asymmetrical fenestration and pent roof, has more of a domestic appearance than later period mills. Brinton's Mill of 1764, located on the Brandywine in Birmingham Township (Chester County), is also a first period mill and of similar style. Strode's Mill was listed in the National Register in 1971.
Despite the fact that the mill and settlement in the immediate vicinity had been completed by c.1730, a village did not develop at the crossroads until the end of the 18th century. Although small it offered the surrounding rural community essential services like a store, school, blacksmith and wheelwright; it was always identified with the Strode family. In 1784, Richard Strode purchased the mill. He may have been operating the mill several years before he purchased it, since it was known as Strode's Mill during the Battle of Brandywine. Richard had built the handsome stone dwelling, situated on Birmingham Road east of the mill on land he inherited from his father in 1772. Prior to buying the mill, Richard's occupation was a blacksmith; his shop was situated on the west side of Lenape Road known then as the "road to Kennett." Near the smith shop, Richard also owned a "store house." Although the original blacksmith shop no longer exists, a blacksmith/wheelwright shop, erected in the 1850s, suggests that this crossroads village functioned as a local service center through the 19th century.
Richard Strode died in 1814. By will, he divided his estate between his only two surviving children, Joseph and Richard. Joseph received the mill property and three adjoining acres. Prior to inheriting his father's milling business, Joseph had purchased a small property on the northwest corner of the crossroads in 1796. By 1798, he had erected the magnificent serpentine stone mansion house, that would eventually become the East Bradford Boarding School for Boys. Richard inherited the main house and plantation containing about 160 acres. The plantation then included the smith shop and other tenements.
Two of Joseph and wife Esther Strode's six children, Joseph C. and Caleb, resided in the village and contributed to its development. Caleb took over the grist mill operation from his father. He also managed a general store at Strode's Mill. In 1831, Caleb incorporated a saw mill designed by his brother, Joseph C., into his grist mill operation. Joseph C. Strode's new machinery was described in local papers as less of a liability, cheaper to build, and — most important — able to operate on less water than the earlier type saw mill. In the 1850 census, Joseph C. was listed as a hydraulic engineer, an indication, perhaps, of his continued interest in the mill.
An important educational institution was located at Strode's Mill for forty years, between 1816-56 which, like the mill, was closely linked with the Strode family. Joseph C. Strode, who never married, converted his father's mansion house (which he inherited) into the East Bradford Boarding School for Boys in 1816 and in 1818 became the teacher and principal. Joseph had a reputation for being a proficient mathematician, experienced in all areas of education. He maintained this profession until 1846 at which time, his brother-in-law, Lewis Levis, took over the management of the school. In 1856, Joseph sold the property to Caleb Brinton, and the boarding school closed. A number of distinguished Chester Countians were educated there by Joseph. The East Bradford Boarding School for Boys was listed in the National Register in 1973.
While his nephews ran the mill and boarding school, Richard II operated the Strode farm. His son Marshall inherited the 160-acre farm in 1852. With the departure of Joseph C. to West Chester in 1856 and sale of the mill property by Caleb in 1853, his was the only Strode family remaining at Strode's Mill. In 1868, he purchased the mill property and rented it out for business. The new miller initiated cider production as well as operating the grist and saw mills. According to newspaper clippings, the cider press produced sparkling delicious gallons of cider at a very rapid rate. With Marshall's purchase of the old boarding school property, by 1870 the Strode family again possessed all of the land at the four corners of Birmingham and Lenape Roads. Following Marshall Strode's death in 1880, his son, Amos Darlington Strode, purchased the farm and developed a landmark agricultural business.
While, in the first half of the 19th century the Strode family had made a significant mark in the community for operating the mill and East Bradford Boarding School for Boys, during the second half it achieved recognition for processing and selling pork products. Although the family had been engaged in the manufacture of pork products for generations, Marshall and his brother Francis are credited as the founders of the family sausage business. Their initials and the date of "1875" are carved into a stone on the core of the old slaughterhouse.
Initially, the family operated a booth in the Market House in West Chester where they not only sold fresh pork products, but also chickens, eggs, fruit, and cattle products. Marshall's son and successor, Amos Darlington, was responsible for making Strode's Pork Products a Philadelphia tradition. In 1893, Amos took the business to the newly organized Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, and opened one of the original stalls. The Strodes built their reputation on the quality of their product — slaughtering only hogs raised on the farm, choosing only the younger and leaner stock, unlike what was typical of the industry at the time. Business expanded rapidly and after a few years, there were accounts that Strode's Pork Products could be found on breakfast tables nationwide. As the business grew, more help was needed to manage the operation successfully. During the 1880's, A. Darlington moved his family from the farm to West Chester; the farm was put to use as employee living quarters. The main house was converted to a two-family tenant house and another dwelling, probably was built for a family associated with the business.
When the Strodes first started selling their products at the Reading Terminal, they were one of the few suppliers of pork products in the Philadelphia region and as a result had one of the earliest USDA inspection numbers — 71. Eventually, Philadelphia became known as the scrapple-making center in the country. Although Strodes faced tough competition for scrapple as well as sausage, many of the original Reading Terminal tenants and old Philadelphia families considered Strode's Pork Products to be the finest quality available. When the family sold the business in 1983 to the Daniel Weaver Company of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, many felt that a Philadelphia food tradition had died. For over a century, the Strodes had slaughtered and processed swine at Strode's Mill; it could be argued that theirs was one of the most famous agricultural products of Chester County.
A small but excellent collection of vernacular architecture is represented at Strode's Mill. The village remains one of the few in southern Chester County where there are three 18th century buildings of architectural distinction, in excellent condition, and possessing fine integrity. Examples of the building styles and traditions that were common to the region are found in the village and, whether built for residential or commercial use, still convey a sense of original purpose. Strode's Mill, for example, is a first period mill retaining good integrity. The Strode farm (Georgian vernacular), and the old boarding school (late Georgian/early Federal), represent the development of styles that were common in Quaker communities. The Strode sausage plant, reflects the technological progression of an agricultural processing building, as well as the changing and expanding needs of the business. The remaining buildings; the miller's house, the blacksmith/wheelwright shop, and tenant houses, survive in good to fair condition. They all, however, contribute to the architectural significance as solid representatives of working class vernacular buildings. Consistently, the buildings in the village have undergone minimal change, and retain their historical and architectural integrity.
All of the buildings in the village are constructed of local material, much of which is green serpentine stone. Its source could have been Brinton's Quarry (located southeast of the village on South New Street Road) which provided stone for the West Chester and Philadelphia areas, or the serpentine stone vein and small quarry in the northeast section of the Strode farm. Around the turn of the 19th century, serpentine stone became the dominant building material in the vicinity of Strode's Mill. All of the serpentine stone buildings in the village appear to have been erected between 1798 and 1820, i.e., the boarding school, the addition on the Strode farm, the core of the slaughterhouse, the tenant house on Lenape Road, and the old Strode barn which stood across the road from the house. It was built in 1810 and burned in the second half of the 19th century. Although the slaughterhouse has a datestone of 1875, it seems to have been built around 1800. Its small banked appearance suggests it was erected at an earlier date.
Unlike other 18th century villages, such as Chadds Ford and Dilworthtown in Birmingham Township, Strode's Mill never featured an inn or tavern. Nor did it have a place of worship like Grove in West Whiteland Township. Either an inn or a meetinghouse or both appear to have been backbones for most early villages in the region. Grist mills tended to locate in more rural areas and infrequently were the impetus for village development. Strode's Mill, however, stood aside a tributary of the Brandywine Creek and at the intersection of two old roads. Under these conditions, it developed quite logically into a rural service village.
It has retained to a large degree its original four-corner configuration and nearly all of its principal early buildings. Due to the limiting geography and the dominance of the Strode family for the past 200 years, development has had slight impact on the village and it has been able to retain its historical identity.
Chester County (PA) Recorder of Deeds Office West Chester, Pa.
Chester County (PA) Archives, Register of Wills, Book of Wills,
Chester County (PA) Tax Records (microfilm) 1750-1850 (held by the Chester County Historical Society), West Chester, Pa.
Chester County, (PA) United States Census Records, East Bradford Township 1790-1910 (Held by Chester County Historical Society), West Chester, Pa.
James, Arthur E., A History of East Bradford Township: Chester County Pa. (West Chester, Pa: The Chester County Historical Society, 1791), pp.
Daily Local, (West Chester, Pa.) December 28, 1883 -"Centifugal Separator"
May 15, 1884
Village Record, (West Chester, Pa.)
January 5, 1825
American Republic, (West Chester, Pa.) October 4, 1831
Wilmington Starr, (Wilmington, De). 1926