The Northbrook Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Northbrook is a small village pleasantly situated on both banks of the Brandywine River's West Branch. Although located primarily in Pocopson Township, the Northbrook Historic District takes in two properties located in the adjacent townships of Newlin and West Bradford. The village is dominated by the river which takes a large bend here. Much of the land is flood plain and continues in agricultural use. Many of Northbrook's buildings are situated rather close to the river; virtually all of them are oriented to it or Northbrook Road which runs north/south and crosses the river. From the river, the land rises to form moderately steep hills.
In addition to the river, the tracks of the former Wilmington and Northern Railroad are a focal point in the village. They hug the south river bank and, like it, bisect the village.
The village is framed by five principal properties which feature a main dwelling and such associated buildings as barns, tenant houses, sheds, and so forth. Buildings on smaller lots are situated closer to the river and railroad tracks. They represent an assortment of historical uses: a Blacksmith's house; a Sunday School; a station house, post office and store; a coal and lumber company; and modest residences. Northbrook also features a saw mill which, although rebuilt in 1958, has been in use in Northbrook in nearly the same location since the 18th century. The majority of buildings in Northbrook contribute to its significance. Only one house can be considered an intrusion. Most of the buildings in Northbrook date from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Because of this wide range of date and the small number of buildings, the village does not exhibit strong architectural unity. The buildings are, however, good examples of their own time. Two exceptional examples of a rural vernacular Georgian style are the Moses Marshall and Samuel Marshall houses. The Lewis Marshall house is a quiet statement of the rural Classical Revival style. Indian Rock Farm speaks to the Gothic Revival. From the early 20th century are two buildings, the 1902 Baily house and the 1900 Northbrook Sunday School. Northbrook is fortunate to have retained buildings associated with a coal and lumber business which was started here in the 1870s. Normally, buildings of this type and use undergo considerable change, if not demolition, in time. Northbrook's small commercial complex, however, is nearly intact and still in active use.
The Northbrook Historic District also features three significant sites which have been marked by the Chester County Historical Society: 1) the site of Indian Hannah's (Chester County's last Lenni-Lenape Indian) cabin; 2) Indian Rock; and 3) an Indian Burial Ground.
The proposed boundaries of the Northbrook Historic District are based on historical development and the view shed. Because the village began as an area of large farms of several hundred acres of open space and some newly developed areas would have been included. The proposed boundaries reflect the view shed from the center of Northbrook and from the Brandywine River.
Northbrook is significant for its association with the Lenni-Lenape Indians, a prominent Chester County family, and the Wilmington and Northern Railroad. Its location along the Brandywine River's West Branch was the common factor in all these important associations. Both the Marshall family and the railroad figured in Northbrook's development and present configuration.
Of all the areas along the Brandywine's West Branch once occupied by the Lenni-Lenape Indians, Northbrook has the strongest associations. Here is the legendary Indian Rock which marked the limit of William Penn's Commissioners of Property purchase of land along the Brandywine from the Indians in 1706. Just 4/10 of a mile down the road on a knoll is a documented Indian Burial ground which was excavated in 1878 and 1899. Northbrook also was home to Chester County's last Lenni-Lenape Indian, Indian Hannah, who resided on land once reserved for the Indians on either side of the Brandywine. The site was marked by the Chester County Historical Society. During her life, Indian Hannah was, a familiar figure in Northbrook, wandering from house to house with her dogs, a cow, and baskets and brooms.
In 1798, more than 30 neighbors signed an agreement to care for or financially support her in her old age. One of the signers was Samuel Marshall of Northbrook. According to the agreement, Indian Hannah would spend a week or two with the various families. After a few years she went to live at the nearby county poorhouse, where she was buried in 1802.
Northbrook was settled in the 18th century by the Marshall family. The patriarch, Abraham Marshall (1697-1767) and his wife Mary, both English Quaker immigrants, established a home along the Brandywine about 1707 called "Derbydown." Their descendants erected additional homes, built a grist mill and saw mill, and ran prosperous farms. Because of the family's dominance, Northbrook originally was known as Marshall's Mill. For a while it was called Marshall's Station. According to Pinkowski in Chester County Place Names, the village became known as Northbrook in the 1870s "because the railroad engineers regularly tooted their train whistles at the north brook" and because a post office by that name was established here in 1871.
The family homestead, "Derbydown", is the anchor of the Northbrook Historic District. It was listed in the National Register in 1973. At "Derbydown" Abraham and Mary raised nine children and helped to establish the Bradford Friends Meeting which originally convened in their home but later moved to its permanent location in Marshallton. Their most famous child was Humphry (1722-1801), who became an esteemed botanist. His own home, built in 1773 in Marshallton, also is listed in the National Register.
Humphry acquired the homestead tract in 1759 through an unrecorded deed which stipulated his parents could continue living there and would be cared for till their deaths. A stone mason by trade, Humphry enlarged the homestead in 1764, built a mill, and acquired other tracts of land.
At his home in Marshallton Humphry established a botanical garden and arboretum and authored important botanical works. He was assisted by a nephew, Dr. Moses Marshall, who lived with him. Although twice married, Humphry Marshall left no children and at his death his estate was divided among his nephews and nieces. Nephews Joshua and Moses Marshall inherited two important tracts.
Derbydown went to Joshua who, by 1798, was living there. It descended to his son Abraham Sr. (1785-1874) and then to Abraham's son, Abraham Jr. with the condition that Abraham Sr. could, as his grandfather had done, continue to live there and be provided for. "Derbydown" remained in the Marshall family until 1919.
Dr. Moses Marshall (1758-1813) inherited several tracts from his uncle, including the mill tract. He built a handsome stone house and continued to operate the grist mill and saw mill. Moses also demonstrated an interest in botany. He made trips to the south and west collecting specimens for Humphry Marshall, with him edited a catalogue on trees and shrubs, and assisted him with his extensive professional correspondence. Moses Marshall was, in addition, a physician, trained in Wilmington from 1776 to 1779. He assisted with caring for the wounded at the 1777 Battle of Brandywine. In 1796 Dr. Moses Marshall was appointed Justice of the Peace. He married Alice Pennock in 1797; remarkably, their line of descendants is represented in Northbrook today.
Both Moses' son, Moses W. (1808-1871), and grandson, Edward (1844-1901), were doctors educated at the University of Pennsylvania. A fire destroyed the grist mill (then called "one of the oldest in the state") and saw mill in 1889. The grist mill was stone, three stories, and measured 50 by 80 feet. It was not rebuilt, but the saw mill was. It was moved to its present location in 1910 and rebuilt after a storm in 1958. The Moses Marshall house was sold out of the family in 1901.
The family's long tradition of milling was continued with Edward M. (d.1963) who proudly operated the saw mill, by then steam-powered, until his death. His sons, Edward and Franklin, operate the saw mill today, now using diesel power. Both Marshall brothers live in houses built on the original family tract. Now, as in the 18th century, the Marshall family operates a local industry along the banks of the Brandywine.
In addition to the homes built by Abraham and Moses Marshall, the Northbrook Historic District encompasses several other homes built by Marshalls. The Samuel Marshall house was built in 1801 by a son of Abraham and bears a strong resemblance to the Moses Marshall house. The property also features a notable stone barn of the same vintage. The Lewis Marshall house was built c. 1840 by one of Samuel's sons, Humphry Marshall (d.1858 It descended to his son, Lewis (1891) who lived all his life in Northbrook and attended the Greenwood Dell Boarding School. Like the Samuel Marshall house, it is stone and part of a historic farm complex. Indian Rock farm descended through another line of Marshall's.
These five principal properties frame the Northbrook Historic District. They were built and occupied by generations of Marshalls. Until the 1860s, Northbrook was essentially a one-family agricultural and milling compound bordering both sides of the Brandywine. With the arrival of the Wilmington and Northern Railroad in the 1870s, Northbrook took on a larger significance.
The Wilmington and Northern Railroad was conceived in Delaware in 1861 as the Wilmington and Brandywine Railroad Company to run from the Christiana River in Wilmington towards Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. By 1866, through consolidations, it was incorporated in both Delaware and Pennsylvania as the Wilmington and Reading Railroad Company.
The company obtained its first right-of-way through Northbrook in 1869 and in 1870 purchased one acre of land for a station house. After financial difficulties, the railroad was reorganized as the Wilmington and Northern in 1876. The station house served as Northbrook's first post office (est.1871) and a store. The first postmaster was Richard Marshall and the last, appropriately, was Grace Marshall who retired in 1972. Frank Shoemaker, who lived in the station and eventually bought it from the railroad, was for many years the station agent, post master, and store-keeper. In the early years the station was busy with as many as four passenger and two freight trains a day. The station closed in 1932, but the tracks are still used, although with less frequency, by a local freight company.
In addition to the post office and station house, the railroad promoted other development in Northbrook. By 1873 Milton Barnard had opened a coal and lumber business. The business was sold to Frank Bailey then Wallace Russell (date unknown) and to Caleb P. Fulton in 1932, and the buildings are still in use, both for coal sales and currently for a successful canoe rental business. In 1888 Elwood Thorne opened the Brandywine Fence Company to produce his patented line of snow fences. A creamery was established for a time in the small village and later the buildings were used by an ice company. Frank E. Baily, the storekeeper, built a house in 1902. In 1900 the cornerstone of the Northbrook Sunday School was laid. The school was organized in 1898 in the home of Dr. Edward Marshall and its large attendance (78 people) necessitated erection of a separate building. In a few months the necessary $976 to pay for the building was raised through donations from the community and the building contract was given to Richards and Owen. The Sunday School was active until 1954. It now is used by the Marshallton Grange.
With only an occasional freight train and no general store or Sunday School, Northbrook is now a quiet village. Its tranquility is broken only by the din of the saw mill and the exuberant voices of weekend canoeists. Happily, this old village is not out of touch with the times, nor at odds with its most lasting resource -- the historic and scenic West Branch of the Brandywine River.