Elverson Historic District
The Elverson Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
Elverson Borough (earlier known as "Springfield") is located in northern Chester County, its northwest boundary being the Chester/Berks County line, and its south and east boundary being West Nantmeal Township. At 870 feet above sea level, Elverson is the highest borough in Chester County. Within its bounds lie the headwaters of the Conestoga Creek, tributaries of the French Creek, and the headwaters of the east branch of the Brandywine Creek. Within the 640 acre triangular shaped borough is the village proper, open farm land, and acres of wood land.
The Elverson Historic District centers on two main roads in the village, Route 23 or Main Street which runs east-west through the district, and Route 82 or Chestnut Street which goes north-south. Park Avenue and Pine Streets are side streets which branch north from Route 23 near the east end of the district. The former road bed of the Wilmington and Northern railroad, which ran northwest-southeast through the district, is visible near the east end of the district. Buildings near the center of the district were erected close by Routes 82 and 23 and each other. Buildings near the outer edges of the district generally were situated back from roads with open, green space between buildings.
The Elverson Historic District is important in the area of architecture as a well preserved, representative example of mid-eighteenth to early-twentieth century architecture in northwestern Chester County, and in the area of commerce as a locally important commercial center. Elverson was a commercial center for nearby East Nantmeal and West Nantmeal and Warwick Townships. Architecturally, the historic district is a microcosm of the evolution of local architecture from later eighteenth century vernacular buildings, to conservatively styled Victorian buildings, to early twentieth century bungalow and American Four Square houses. The period of significance reflects the village's growth up to 1930 when new construction halted for several decades.
Originally part of West Nantmeal Township, Elverson's first importance came as a result of its being situated near three strong springs on an established trade route from Lancaster to the French Creek iron furnaces. The springs, which still flow, gave rise to the area being designated as Springfield. There are also records of iron ore being dug here in the late seventeenth century. These diggings are presumed to have become Jones' Mines by 1725. However, it was the opening in 1717 of the Warwick Mines in northwestern Chester County that brought regular travel on the Blue Rock Path from Lancaster's Conestoga region to points east. A petition in 1736 was issued for a road to "the new furnace" (Reading Furnace) in East Nantmeal Township which would also connect with iron deposits and furnaces in Lancaster County near Cornwall. Commerce connected with the iron industry spurred population growth and economic activity in this otherwise remote area of northwestern Chester County.
Up to 1800 the Springfield area remained primarily agricultural land and woods, except for a wayside on the Blue Rock Path at the three springs. Within the limits of the historic district only three of four stone houses and a few log houses appeared along the road. A Methodist Meeting was established in 1801 in a primitive dwelling in the tiny village. In 1811 Jacob Warren applied for a tavern license under the name of the White Horse tavern, the tavern keeper being John G. Jones from Morgantown. A blacksmith and a wheelwright took residences on opposites sides of the Blue Rock Path and several more log dwellings clustered around the tavern and springs. A regular stage route passed through the village on its way to Reading from Kimberton. A school was recorded as beginning in the area of the strongest spring on the north side of the Blue Rock Path (present-day Route 23). In 1832 present-day Route 82 was rerouted through the settlement to more directly reach the Jones Mines and continue on to Birdsboro and Reading.
By 1849, Springfield warranted a post office, but since there was a post office so named elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the name Blue Rock was officially applied to the village, the name indicating the geologic outcroppings of black granite which had a bluish cast. That name lasted until 1899 as the name of the post office, but the town, and later the railroad, continued to use the name Springfield. This caused such confusion in shipping on the railroad that the totally new name of Elverson was made official in 1899. It was chosen to honor the popular owner/publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, James Elverson, Sr. A second phase of Elverson's growth began about 1860 when rumors circulated that the train out of Wilmington, Delaware, was going to run through Springfield to Reading. This was viewed by all as a great boon to the town's commercial life, and in anticipation, Evan Dampman built a hotel, calling it Blue Rock Hotel. It was an "Eating House", not a tavern, and had a community hall on the second floor. Not until the 1890s did then owner/operator, William Harts, feel the need to provide sleeping rooms. The railroad, built by the Du Pont family, was completed in 1870 and was eventually known as the Wilmington and Northern Railroad. The railroad expanded Springfield's commercial markets since it became an important link to other communities. The village's population more than doubled in size, and a small influx of businesses came into Springfield to provide necessities and satisfy commercial demands. Among the long list of businesses in 1883 were two mercantile stores, a tinsmith, a wheelwright, two blacksmiths, a tailor, a dressmaker, two shoemakers, a butcher, two dentists, a doctor, an undertaker/cabinetmaker, a Justice of the Peace and land conveyor. Among the businesses established between 1860 and 1910 were Dengler Brothers Store, a railroad ticket office and freight house operating in 1870, Isaac Sigman's coal and lumberyard, Henry Zook's farm implement and fertilizer business, and Dolfinger's Milk Depot and Creamery.
Henry Zook provided what was probably the greatest boost to the town's later nineteenth century economy. Coming shortly after the railroad, Zook had an enterprising spirit coupled with a vision of Springfield becoming an important commercial center. He set to work developing a fertilizer, farm implement, and carriage-dealership directly across from the train depot. He built his own home. Once a year, he held a public auction, attended by hundreds of people in a carnival mood, to reduce his inventory of carriages, wagons and implements.
In 1874, Isaac K. Sigman, son of a local farmer, opened the coal and lumberyard on a corner of his father's farm and along the railroad. It currently operates as the Elverson Supply Company, Inc. under the aegis of the Cook family. In 1906, Dolfinger's Milk Depot and Creamery opened on the west side of the tracks across from the lumberyard. After 20 years of service and an explosion, it was reopened in 1935 as The Old Orchard Distillery, makers of Peach Brandy and Apple Jack. The building was continued as a sewing factory in the 1950s for De Mayo Fashions, Inc. and is now the factory/showroom for Vixen Hill Manufacturing Company, Inc., makers of widely sold gazebos and window shutters.
Along with the town's rapid growth came a new school in 1874, and two churches. One church was an outgrowth of the 1855 Church of the Brethren which constructed a new church building in 1884, and the other, the Elverson Methodist Church, was a progression of the older 1801 Methodist Meeting which built a new church in 1869. Henry Zook had become successful and he dreamed of better things for Elverson. He planned for a park-like atmosphere along the railroad tracks and later, for a new wide road and donated to the town. He started development along Park Avenue with two new houses for his employees. He was one of several businessmen who in 1911 worked for the incorporation of the town. In 1915, he donated land for a bank building and was instrumental in erecting the Elverson National Bank, which under the strong hand of the Witwer family survived the economic trouble of the Great Depression and today has five branch offices in three counties.
With Zook's new houses on Park Avenue, the third period of the historic district's growth (1910-1930) began. Along with the bank, came a machine shop, an automotive repair garage, and a florist joining the older businesses, and new homes appeared toward the edges of the historic district. The train continued freight runs on a weekly basis to Reading. From the mid-nineteenth century to 1930 Elverson was the principal commercial center in the northwestern Chester County region that encompasses East and West Nantmeal and Warwick Townships. These townships did not have villages, including commercial centers, as large as Elverson, and have remained overwhelmingly rural through 1930. The nearest commercial rival to Elverson in northwestern Chester County was Honey Brook, some six miles southwest of Elverson. Honey Brook had more businesses in a distinct commercial section of the town. However, Honey Brook was somewhat isolated from Elverson's market area by the Welsh Mountain range, which limited commercial and social communication between these neighboring towns. The closest commercial center in neighboring southern Berks County was similarly sized Morgantown, approximately three miles distant from Elverson.
Since the 1930's, Elverson has shown minimal growth until the present decade. Even though the borough is today conservative by nature, it has a world-wide flavor due to the international sale of some of its products. Just outside the eastern perimeter of the historic district is a new residential development, Summerfield, Inc., which will increase the population, and a new Evangelical Free Church on the hill behind this development in the vicinity of the early Brethren church of 1855. A new and larger home office of the Elverson National Bank has been built outside the western perimeter of the District. The Elverson Historic District contains a well preserved collection of buildings that are representative of mid-eighteenth to early twentieth century architecture in northwestern Chester County. 1979-1982 surveys of historic resources in Warwick and East and West Nantmeal Townships show that, like Elverson, the great majority of buildings are mid-eighteenth to early twentieth century houses, most of which are constructed of stone and frame. Buildings in these nearby townships are primarily vernacular in appearance. Vernacular buildings often show elements of high styles, such as Federal style transoms over entrance doors, Gothic style cross gables, Italianate style roof brackets, or Eastlake style porch trim. A small minority of buildings are outstanding examples of high styles, including Federal, Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, bungalow and American Foursquares. These are the types of high style and vernacular buildings found in the Elverson Historic District.