Kennett Township municipal offices are located at 801 Burrows Run Road, Chadds Ford, PA 19317; phone: 610-388-1300.
The present land area that comprises Kennett Township was originally part of a 30,000 acre tract conveyed by William Penn to his children, William Jr. and Letitia. The tract known as Stenning Manor was part of the grant of land by King James II of England to William Penn in 1682. Stenning Manor; surveyed by Henry Hollingsworth in 1701, included the land within the present boundaries of Kennett Square Borough, the Townships of New Garden, Pennsbury, part of Pocopson and several thousand acres in New Castle County.
It is difficult to say who the first white settlers in the Township might have been, but it is known the Lenape Indians were here. Indian Hannah, who has been called the "last of the Lenni-Lenapes," was born just south of the junction of U.S. 1 and Pa. 52. She lived and worked among the white settlers of the community and died in 1803. Although she is buried near Embreeville, a marker in Longwood Gardens is a reminder of her presence in the community.
One of the early settlers within the original limits of the Township is reported to have been Francis Smith, who acquired two hundred acres at the mouth of the Pocopson Creek in 1686. The Township name is said to have been suggested by Smith as a tribute to his home village, Kennett, in the County of Wiltshire, England.
The first recorded mention of Kennett Township was in February of 1705, when Henry Pierce, the Township constable, appeared in court. Pennsbury Township was established in 1770, in response to a petition requesting that Kennett Township be divided into East and West Kennett Township for the purpose of better representation.
The Borough of Kennett Square was formed from the Township and incorporated in 1855. The original village in the Township served as the nucleus of the Borough. The Borough itself comprised a little over one square mile of land and included 606 inhabitants at the time of its formation.
Kennett Township figured prominently in our nation's military history. During the Revolution, British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries passed through on their way to Chadds Ford. Records indicate that preliminary skirmishes of the Battle of the Brandywine took place at the Anvil at Hamorton and near Old Kennett Meetinghouse. Most of the early settlers were English Quakers, some of whom were not inclined to support the colonial cause and were suspected by their neighbors of remaining loyal to the Crown.
During the War of 1812, an encampment of 3,000 soldiers under the command of General Bloomfield drilled on the site of the present Kennett Square Borough Waterworks. He gave his name to the property which supported a series of early mills in the Township and was owned by the Chambers family for over a century.
Prior to the Civil War, many of the Quakers in Kennett Township were active in the "Underground Railroad" which aided runaway slaves in their efforts to escape to Canada. Using railroad terminology, the persons transporting the runaways from one place to another were called "conductors" and the homes where they were concealed were known as "stations." Well-known conductors in the area were John and Hannah Cox, whose home was located near the Anvil. Dinah and Isaac Mendenhall secreted untold numbers of slaves in their home along the road now known as Route 52. Another prominent conductor, Dr. Bartholomew Fussell, lived a mile east of Kennett Square in a large home later owned by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Way and known as "The Pines." Many old farmhouses in the area had secret hideaways where slaves were said to have been concealed by day and moved to the next station under the cover of night.
Free blacks were also very active in aiding runaway slaves on the road to freedom and were an important segment of Kennett Township's population as early as 1830. Among the early black settlers appear the names of Matthews, Ray, Jones, Mayhew, Purnsley, Brock, Graves, Boyei; Winters, Turner and Glasco, many of whom were landowners by 1870. Members of the Glasco family operated a brickyard in the Township as early as 1830. There were enough blacks in the community by the mid-1800's to warrant the establishment of the U.A.M.E. Chapel on Bucktoe Road near the New Garden Township line. Nothing remains of the very large and substantial stone building which was erected in the 1850's, but there are a few gravestones still visible in the old cemetery.
The early settlers were farmers, as the fertile soil of Kennett Township was adaptable to diversified agricultural activities. Many farmers grew produce, which they took to markets in Philadelphia and Wilmington by horse and wagon over almost impassable roads. In the mid-1800's, a group of merchants and farmers joined together to subscribe funds to build a turnpike from Kennett Square to Wilmington, now known as Kennett Pike. This remained a toll road until the early years of this century.
Dairying developed as an important agricultural pursuit, and after the advent of the railroad, most of the farmers hauled their milk to the creamery on East Birch Street in Kennett Square where it was loaded on the train for Philadelphia.
A significant step in the agricultural progress of the community was the forging of the first iron plow in Pennsylvania by Bernard Wiley in a blacksmith shop on Bayard Road in 1810. Blacksmiths, necessary in any economy depending upon horsedrawn transportation, were frequently wheelwrights as well.
A necessary adjunct of clearing the land for agriculture and building homes was the saw mill for production of lumber and the grist mill for grinding flour for human consumption and to feed livestock. These mills were water powered and located along the streams. The first recorded grist mill in the Township was built on the Red Clay Creek in 1689. The exact location of the mill and the name of its operator are not clear. However; it is known that John Marshall operated a saw and flour mill along the Red Clay Creek in 1763 at a farm known as "Marshallvale." In 1856, Thomas S. Marshall converted this mill to a paper mill which was the forerunner of the present National Vulcanized Fiber Company (NVF), still an important industry in Kennett Square and across the State line in Yorklyn, Delaware. The grist mill known as Clifton Mills, south of Kennett Square, began in 1770 and remained in continuous operation until the 1930's.
In addition to supporting a profitable agricultural community, the natural resources of the Township provided clay for bricks, lime for mortar and fertilizer; and hornblende for building stone. This black building stone, found nowhere else, was used extensively for construction in the early days. Limestone was quarried from about 1850 to 1910 from at least two quarries in the area.
A new venture in specialized agriculture began in Kennett Township about 1895, when several residents began growing flowers and vegetables under glass. Greenhouses appeared throughout the Township, some of which have survived and are still active today, growing principally roses and carnations.
The specialty which was to make Chester County world renowned began about 1885, when William Swayne, a successful florist in Kennett Square, conceived the idea of growing mushrooms beneath his greenhouse benches. He sent to England for spawn, and the results were sufficiently encouraging to make him decide that a separate building would make it possible to control the growing conditions for mushroom culture. He built the first mushroom house in the area, and his son, J. Bancroft Swayne, returning from college, took over the mushroom business and made it a commercial success, eventually developing a spawn plant and a cannery in addition to the growing houses. Encouraged by the Swayne success and the attractive price of mushrooms in city markets, others began the production of mushrooms as their principal occupation.
There is record of two early private schools in the Township, one, conducted by Rebecca Gillingham in her father's home known as "The Pines," and the other under the care of Kennett Friends Meeting, which was located in the triangle between Schoolhouse Road and U.S. Route 1. Most of the one-room public schools in the Township were converted to dwellings after they were closed following the building of the Kennett Consolidated School in 1931.
Of the three post offices which have existed over the years in the Township, only one remains. The Hamorton office was closed soon after 1900, Norway changed to Rosedale about 1910 and was closed in 1967, leaving only the office at Mendenhall still functioning.
Among the well-known landmarks in Kennett Township was Woodward's Boarding House, a large three-story frame house with huge verandas near Rosedale. Guests from Philadelphia arrived by train and were taken by horse-drawn carriage to Woodward's. They enjoyed playing croquet, walks in the country, dances and entertainment with area residents until the building burned in the 1950's.
The disappearance of passenger train service to Kennett Township about 1947, and the end of the trolley service, which operated from 1900 until the late 1920's, left the area totally dependent on the automobile and the occasional buses that operated locally and infrequently to Philadelphia and Washington.
Most of the early settlers were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) who, when they first arrived in Kennett Township, had to cross the Brandywine to attend New Ark Meeting in Brandywine Hundred. Because fording the Brandywine was impossible at some seasons of the year, Old Kennett Meetinghouse was built in 1710, enlarged in 1719, and again in 1731.
The meeting house, now listed on the National Historic Register; with its well-kept burying ground, is located east of Hamorton at the entrance to Kendal-at-Longwood and is open for worship in the summer. Hamorton, an important crossroads commercial center in the early and mid-19th century, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in April, 1990.
The Longwood Meeting House, located behind the Longwood Fire Hall along Route 1, was established prior to 1850 by a group of Progressive Friends concerned with the abolition of slavery. The House was dedicated in 1855 and provided a platform for many of the most radical speakers of the day on abolition, temperance, single tax and equal rights for women. The renowned author and editor; Bayard Taylor, is buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Longwood Meeting House. This building is now a tourist information center.
Longwood Gardens, known for its flowers, colored fountains, greenhouses and gardens, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The Longwood tract, of which there are over three hundred acres located in Kennett Township, dates back to 1700 as an original land charter from William Penn. Longwood was formerly called "Pierce's Park" after George Pierce, its founder, who established the magnificent grove of trees.
† Source: Kennett Township Comprehensive Plan, 1971