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Saint Peters


Saint Peters Village Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Photo: Saint Peters Village Historic District, View along Saint Peters Road, entering town from the south.

Saint Peters Village was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.

Description

St. Peters Village Historic District is a small, late 19th century industrial 'company village' at the Falls of French Creek, Warwick Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. It encompasses an 1845-1928 iron mining site at the north end of the district and an 1880-1970 granite quarry site at the south end. Company-built workers' housing with small supporting tradesmens' in-house shops connect the two. St. Peters Road runs through both sites. The village is built in a narrow, boulder-strewn ravine where Mine Run pours into French Creek just before a rapid half-mile 150' descent to Knauertown (which is on present highway Route 23). Lying in a linear fashion close along both sides of St. Peters Road, the village is roughly four to six tenths of a mile long. It rises from the creek on two levels — the St. Peters Road level, and, on the bluff above, the industrial buildings level. The industrial activity lies on the east side of St. Peters Road. French Creek is on the west side of St. Peters Road in back of the Inn, General Store, and shops. Large granite boulders cover the forest floor.

Encompassed within the historic district are residential and industrial buildings occupied variously today in adaptive re-use. The village consists of 30 contributing buildings, 8 noncontributing buildings, 6 contributing structures, and 3 contributing sites, a total of 39 contributing resources and 8 noncontributing resources. Most buildings are frame and/or stone construction in small to medium size. The Inn [Hotel], a General Store, a Mule House and Bakery Wagon building, a Creamery, a four-and-a-half floor Boarding House, and the industrial buildings are larger. Structures within the district are a heavy wooden railroad trestle bridge over French Creek, two flat platform bridges, an industrial chimney, a concrete stream dam and a concrete swimming area. Sites are the livery stable site, the iron shaft mines, and the quarry . The village impression is that of a plain workman's environment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Due to the confining nature of the topographical features and the intent to retain the original ambiance, the village and workplace have very few alterations.

FRENCH CREEK MINES: The 1845 French Creek Mine extractive industrialization (a/k/a E.& G.Brooke St. Peters Mines) holds three now sealed mine shafts, two of which were active until ]928, the now abandoned railroad bed, and overgrown pits, foundations, and waste piles of industrial history. The four workmen's houses are set off to themselves on the west side of French Creek northwest of the creamery and the railroad trestle and are accessed by a flat one-car wide wooden bridge over French Creek leading to St. Peters Road. Two of the frame houses are 2-floor buildings of no particular style, and two are frame bungalows. The mine tract lay on both the east and west sides of St. Peters Road, (the two active shafts on the east side). When in operation, the mines occupied a barren hillside quite unlike the natural succession re-growth that covers the area today. Since there has been no industrial activity on the mine tract since 1928, the only reminders are the stone office building, (now a dwelling), the four workers' houses, the stone and brick boiler house chimney, and the railroad bed. Numerous crumbling foundations and unidentified mounds are scattered over the tract. A few waste piles are still visited by college geology classes and individual rock collectors.

ST.PETERS QUARRY: The St. Peters quarry was opened in 1880 by Davis Knauer and carried on by the Knauer family until the 1970s when it had reached its maximum depth of something more than 200 feet Today it is filled to 113 or 1/2 its depth with water, the rock walls still rising another 100' above the water to the quarry rim. Its roughly 100' diameter is currently surrounded by a 10' high chain-link fence. The quarry area retains an industrial appearance with the 350' long polishing shed, the engine room beside it, the old blacksmith building, and the noncontributing Yellowknife Forge building. The polishing shed's dirt floor and open interior has been roughly floored and partitioned for warehouse use, its exterior unchanged. Evidence of the two branch railroad lines that serviced both the iron mines and the quarry can still be followed by their cinder beds and in some instances, the rails remain. The Wilmington/Northern line entered from the west and went directly into the iron mines. The Delaware & Lancaster line entered the quarry area from the east, riding the high bank above St. Peters Road. The two lines met in the area of the Creamery. There is remaining a 'back-in' siding in the quarry area where coal deliveries could be directly deposited into 3-sided granite bins that fronted on the east side of St Peters Road. After 1969, these bins provided the side walls for two otherwise frame retail buildings. The siding also delivered directly 'to the back door' of the adjacent Granary & Feed Store building. The rails for this siding are still visible.

THE VILLAGE: The village began to appear after the 1880 building of "Excursion House" (St Peters Inn), the beginning of Knauer's realization of the village as a recreational weekend retreat. Known today as St. Peters Inn, the building is the most architecturally aware building in the village. It is 6 bays wide and 5-bays deep, pointed stone on the first floor and stucco on the second, double-porched across the front and slate roofed in the mansard style. With its double door entrance in the third bay, it holds public rooms and a bar on the first floor and 10 rental rooms divided on the two upper floors. The facade faces east at street level (no steps up) and the basement is in-ground facing west and opening on the creek level. A modern one-floor kitchen has been added on the south wall. An open-air patio-dining area is on the north side of the building.

The General Store was the next building erected by Knauer shortly after Excursion House. It is a 5-bay by 2-bay, 2-1/2 floor, gable-roofed, frame building with full I-floor porch a low step above the street level. It sets the general architectural appearance of the village as that of conservative Victorian utilitarian style. Under the name "French Creek General Merchandise Company," it was a general store on the first floor, a bakery with brick ovens in the basement, and living quarters on the second floor and attic. As with Excursion House, it faces east and has a fully exposed basement on the west or creek side. The brick bake ovens extended from the basement stone wall toward the creek, their two iron oven doors accessible from inside the basement These ovens were photographed in 2000 just before they were removed by the owner. The iron doors remain in place, viewed from inside the basement. Most of the basement was given over to kitchen purposes. Seven more frame buildings line St. Peters Road on the west side, worked in painted lumber, and all but one (a 1970 noncontributing, one-room retail building) are of the late 19th century period. All rise directly from the narrow brick pavement at roughly street level. There are no 'front' (or 'back') yards. The mule house and bakery wagon building , was in 1916 convened to a showroom for Chandler automobiles. On the east side of St. Peters Road there was originally only the 'in 'bank' 2-1/2 floor granary building and the stone 3-sided coal bins. Since 1970, the coal bins have been convened into two one room shops by enclosing the bins in vertical boards under gable roofs. This linear street of dwellings, shops, and the Inn (Excursion House) was the first village. As the quarry business succeeded, Knauer expanded the village quickly toward the north end with nine more dwelling houses, the Creamery, and the 4-1/2 floor boarding house. All of these are frame construction except the three stuccoed stone dwellings, and all but one are 3-bay, center door houses with a small porch to the front. The exception is, a frame double occupancy 4-bay house 2-bays deep. These houses are ell-shaped, 2-1/2 floor dwellings on fairly high granite foundations and only slightly larger than those of the first village. The 4-1/2 floor boarding house is also 3-bays wide with center door but puts its gable end to the street as the facade. It is built into a bank, is 7-bays deep with a secondary entrance in the middle bay on the east side, and typically gable roofed. The first floor is stone; the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th floors & attic are frame. These buildings are remarkably in original condition without additions or outward changes.

Exceptions to the domestic size buildings are the St. Peters Inn, the 350' frame mill building called 'the polishing shed,' and the nearby smaller frame mill building, described as 'the engine house,' the 4-1/2 floor boarding house, the general store, the mule barn, and the two French Creek Quarters buildings. The stone Inn, four stone houses, the blacksmith building, and the noncontributing cement block building for the Yellowknife Forge give variety to the otherwise frame appearance of the village. Frame buildings are generally worked in German siding, but an occasional use of vertical board is seen. With the exception of the 1980s town house complex of modern design (only one of the five buildings is in the district), the mansard roof of St. Peters Inn is the only roof variation in the village, all other roofs being moderate gables with only a few boxed or enclosed cornices. Porches of varying depths and sizes are both useful and numerous. Long granite outdoor stairways reach down to creek level and basement home uses. Several porches wrap around two sides of a building, and due to the confining nature of the creek and the road, some porches are attached to the sides of a building rather than to the facade, its side, 2nd floor porch being one of a very few additions to a 19th century street house. Along the west side of St. Peters Road, a sidewalk is laid in brick directly on the level of the macadam road, and entirely filling the gap between house foundation and road edge. There are no secondary buildings such as individual garages or outbuildings.

The overall appearance of the village is almost entirely of its historic period, there being a concerted effort to retain the character of a simple, plain workingman's company village of the 1880 period. The historic buildings have been converted without loss of identity or integrity in 1970 to various modem, year-round uses as a commercial attraction. Township and community ordinances are careful to discourage introduction of unsympathetic outward changes, and the tight physical constraints discourage new building. St. Peters Village appears very much today as it did during its period of significance. The owners' understanding of the unique quality of the village led the way to preservation of as much original fabric as possible, which has preserved the simple ambiance. With few alterations or additions, St. Peters Village reflects its past with integrity, most of its original buildings standing in good condition, bowing only to adaptive reuse. All of the buildings are occupied in such manner as to continue the original intent to be an insular community.

Significance

St. Peters Village Historic District meets National Register criterion as an area of 19th and 20th century rural extractive industry that created its own domestic community. Spanning 155 years of mining and quarrying activity, the Village Historic District is a singular example of company-provided housing within walking distance to the place of employment. The 1845 iron industrialization known as the French Creek Mines (also as E.& G. Brooke St. Peters Mines) and Davis Knauer's 1880 French Creek Black Granite Company produced the essentially one street village. Linear in form, the village is an intact example of the 19th century rural industrial workplace physically aligned to company-built living conditions. Distinguished by the natural, tight topography of a ravine and the embellishment of the Falls of French Creek, the village is a scenic attraction apart from its association with the extractive industries that created it. The village also meets National Register criterion "c" as an intact aggregation of plain, late Victorian, mostly frame, individual domestic architecture built in close proximity to perfunctory and sustaining industrial buildings. Built essentially at the direction of one man, Davis Knauer, to suit the needs of his employees, there is a visual unity of domestic design without monotony. As a district, St. Peters Village is an unusually pure example of the turn-of-the-century small, rural environment that provided both work and domicile in close proximity and exemplifies the close ties between management and employee of the time. The 1845 beginning date is based on the beginning of iron mining within the historic district. The 1953 ending date conforms to the NR 50-year guideline. The end date is justified by continuing quarry activity to and beyond 1953 up to 1970 when the St. Peters quarry was closed.

FRENCH CREEK MINES

Lying at the eastern end of a mineral rich strata extending from Peach Bottom, southern Lancaster County, to roughly Route 100 in northern Chester County, the larger Upper French Creek valley had been industrialized by surface mining since 1717 for its easily obtained access to high quality iron deposits. The French Creek Mine tract, an 1845 surface extraction, extended its life to 1928 by the opening three deep shaft mines after 1860.

At 1845, Samuel Keim and Samuel Crosley, farmers living just above the Falls of French Creek, found, by the old open pit or surface method, that they had iron ore on their land. In 1847, they turned over their discovery to Josiah Keim who, working with the E.& G. Brooke Iron Company (to whom he sold in 1848), tested for deeper iron by dropping a shaft. Not until the 1860s, however, did shaft mining begin in earnest. One thousand tons of iron ore and 45-50 tons of copper were extracted from the shaft in 1861. In 1866, the Brooke Iron Company merged with the Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, and in due course, three shafts were sunk to depths of 200-360 feet with slopes called 'drifts,' running off the main shafts. The three shafts were called "The Elizabeth," "The Suzie," and "The Calamity" mines. On the east side of St. Peters Road, the Elizabeth was at the top of a hill, the Suzie somewhat below, and the Calamity across the road on the west side of French Creek almost in the flood plain. Being too close to French Creek, the Calamity shaft quickly filled with water, as did the Suzie for a time. However, the Suzie remained workable by constant pumping. The Calamity was then used solely as an air shaft for the other two.

With no railroad to the mines until 1880, all ore was hauled to Hopewell Furnace and Birdsboro by fourteen teams of heavy draft-horses. The mines employed about 350 men in two shifts. In 1885, the 'fillers' (those who filled the carts down in the mine) struck for a pay-raise. Instead of being paid six cents per ton and supplying their own candles, they wanted eight cents per ton and candles supplied by the company. The 'fillers' won. By the end of the century, transportation by rail had progressed to where E.&G. Brooke found it cheaper to purchase iron from Minnesota's Mesabi Range than pay the cost of de-watering the French Creek Mines and eliminating its sulphur content. The mines were put on low production after 1896 for a number of years, but activity was regenerated in the early 1900s. The Elizabeth and the Suzie were un-watered, a new de-sulphuring process called the sintering process implemented, shafts re-timbered, and new mine equipment added. The Elizabeth and Suzie were in full operation again in 1910. French Creek ore was over 57% high grade iron and very low in phosphorus, which made an ideal product for the new processes.

From these mines, which eventually reached a depth of 2250 feet, an estimated million tons of high quality iron ore were taken. By 1926, at roughly 1700-2000 feet, the ore became lean, and operations came to a slow halt. New explorations were tried in a four mile radius but brought about no encouragement. (Had the explorations gone just a few miles further west, the later named 'Grace Mines' of Bethlehem Steel would have been found.) The French Creek Mines were closed in 1928. In 1948, the tract was sold to Peter Chonka with the understanding that he would allow limited mineral collecting from the trash pits.

While most of the iron workers were recruited from surrounding farms and the larger area as day labor, there are four frame houses on the west side of the road that were specifically for workers at the mines. The three mine shaft entrances, are known, but, for safety reasons, their entrances are obliterated. The mines carted their ore to nearby furnaces by heavy wagons pulled by sturdy six-horse teams until 1880 when the Granite Company brought in the railroad. The spur siding, a single track standard gauge [4.8-1/2"] line from Elverson (of the Wilmington & Northern Railroad to specifically service the granite works and the iron mines), led across the trestle bridge over French Creek directly into the mine tract. In the area of the village creamery a passenger and freight station once stood. This line was used long after the mining days by Knauer's quarry plant into the 1970s. Eventually abandoned, its rails have been removed, and only the cinder bed remains.

FRENCH CREEK BLACK GRANITE COMPANY

Davis Knauer (1826-1907), great grandson of the 1731 immigrant, Johann Christopher Knauer (patriarch of Knauertown), was a man of intense energy and invention. Born in the old homestead in Knauertown, he purchased in 1868 the tract that lay between the early Knauer lands and the French Creek Mine tract. This purchase included the Falls of French Creek. Knauer became one of the largest land owners in the region, and was often called "The Laird of Warwick" because of it. He held 4000 wooded acres in the vicinity of St. Peters, St. Marys, Hopewell, and Douglasville, as well as lands in West Virginia and the state of Washington. Using the local acres to make charcoal for iron furnaces, he was, for a time, the largest, and last, supplier of charcoal in the state of Pennsylvania which earned him another title — 'the Charcoal King.' He cut from his woodlands annually about 7000 cords of wood to burn into charcoal.

The Falls was an area known to men of the woods, to picnickers, and those interested in scenic beauty, but it was difficult to get into through briars and boulders. Between 1868 and 1870, Knauer and Jonathan Keirn built a road high along the eastern side of the ravine from Knauertown to the top of The Falls. It was quite a feat to do by horse, mule, drag, axe & saw, pick & shovel, and dynamite. Tradition and the Knauer family say that Davis Knauer bought the tract around the Falls with a primary interest in the abundant rock covering the woodland floor, and a side interest in public recreation; but being a practical man, he had to make his purchase productive while he planned. In 1872, he and Jonathan Keirn bought the old Coventry Forge machinery, moved it piecemeal from Coventryville to the Falls and reassembled it in a frame building about where the present French Creek Quarters stand. They converted the old forge wheel and bellows from water power to steam power, and there made horse drawn rakes, mowing machines, spades, crowbars, picks, and iron gratings. A forge does not need a large work force. Knauer and a few hirelings sufficed. Near the head of The Falls, Knauer busied himself building bridges over the rocks and boulders to an island that he called The Park where he built a pavilion and held Saturday night dances to the oom-pah-pah strains of German bands. Meanwhile, he investigated ways of utilizing the dark gray granite boulders lying layers-deep all over the woodland floor.

In 1880, he was sufficiently ready to make public his findings and intentions to ride horseback to West Chester with a bag of French Creek rocks which, it is said, he tossed on the desk of the editor of the local newspaper (much in the manner of a bag of gold) to declare the opening of the French Creek Black Granite Company. Knauer worked a dozen or more places in the area using 'loose' rock, and opened the first of several quarries for deeper rock. Knauer moved his business forward at every opportunity, pulling others along with his activity and entrepreneurship. Following his lead, a proliferation of quarries was rampant in Warwick Township. Every farmer who had an outcropping of the rocks tried to turn it to his benefit. None was as successful as Knauer, mostly for lack of capital. A quarry needs multiple hands and sizable capital. Some quarries worked as joint tentacles of Knauer's enterprise, others sold to him. There were attempted mergers of interests, some succeeding, some failing, but all taking their lead from Knauer, and all dependent on Knauer's facilities in St. Peters village for any dressing or polishing procedures as well as for sales connections.

The quarry business proceeded to boom throughout the region, and St. Peters was its hub. Knauer's first great flurry of granite sales was to the city of Philadelphia where he found a ready market as curb stone and 'Belgian' paving blocks. These can still be found under layers of tar and macadam in the city. In good times, quarry laborers worked a ten hour day for 12- 1/2 cents an hour six days a week. Quarry block makers received three cents a block and averaged $2.50-$3.00 a day. Blacksmiths collected thirty cents an hour or $3.00 a 10 hour day. While these seem low wages, farmhands were receiving only $12.00 to $18.00 a month and worked around the clock when needed. They did get a bonus in that meals were provided to farmhands when they worked. Laborers in the local iron mines were paid ten cents an hour, or worked by contract and broke the ore by the ton. In 1890, a lawyer in West Chester who owned land in the St. Peters area was quoted in the newspaper as saying:

"I would have 'most been willing to have taken a dollar an acre for about thirty-five acres a few years ago. It was covered with big boulders, and worthless for farming purposes. But the men began working up these stones ... and hauling them to the railroad, it was expensive work. The Belgian Blocks cost $50 per thousand delivered in Philadelphia, and sold for $60 per thousand. This is good profit and there is ready sale for all we can furnish ... The men simply worked the surface over, cutting up the big boulders like so many cheeses. Sometimes they would dig down a few feet into the ground in working a particularly promising boulder."

Aware of the problem of moving his product, Knauer, with local interest and the general promotion of railroads into the hinterlands, succeeded in bringing a spur line of the Wilmington-Northern Railroad [a/k/a Coatesville/Reading or Coatesville/Birdsboro Railroad] into the iron mines and his St. Peters quarry. Coming off at Elverson and traveling east the several miles to French Creek, the spur was known as the Warwick Branch and followed a natural high ridge. It was locally known as the Boar's Back. A standard gauge (4'8.6" between rails), one-track spur, the line gave long service to the growing industry, operating with less and less regularity into the later 20th century.

A second railroad was promoted by Davis Knauer in conjunction with his newly built "Excursion House" hotel [today known as St. Peters Inn.] Knauer was never one to isolate an opportunity. He saw the benefit of a connection from St. Peters directly into Phoenixville and the lower Schuylkill River hamlets, not only to ClU1)' out the burgeoning orders for his sought-after granite "Belgian Block" but also to bring in the week-end and/or summer vacationer to enjoy the beauties and wild nature of The Falls. He, with other businessmen, worked to interest the Delaware & Lancaster Railroad Company to build a line to St. Peters from the Pickering Valley 'milk train' spur of the Philadelphia & Reading Schuylkill Valley trunk line. After several years of negotiating investors, the line was laid in 1890 from Kimberton to enter St. Peters at the south end. It was also a standard gauge one-track line. Unfortunately, it was laid without much engineering in the soft lowlands along French Creek below The Falls and was quickly dubbed The Sowbelly Railroad for its undulating ride. It was defunct in four years.

But Knauer had even bigger dreams. With expert investigators, he learned of the great size and depth of the deposit of granite, and interested others in developing quarries by blasting and cutting pure black granite slabs from beneath the surface. He worked this principle for the remainder of his lifetime, (he died in 1907 at age 81) never knowing the truly golden days of his dream. The quarrying business was carried on by his sons and grandsons following the patterns that Davis Knauer had started. Sales continued through World War I and the 1920s largely as curb stone, street paving,and memorial stones (the dark granite taking a clear letter imprint when incised).

With a retooling of the St. Peters plant in the late 1930s came diamond saws and newer cutting tools that made it possible to slice the great blocks as never before had been possible. In 1939, the stone was used for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Library at Hyde Park, N.Y. Later, it was used structurally and decoratively in the American Telephone and Telegraph Building in New York City. The Whitney Museum architects, Brewer and Smith, used it handsomely in the exterior structure and much of its interior including a free-standing cantilevered black granite staircase. Large polished slabs of granite, gleaming like black glass, were used in decorative and structural ways in the building boom of the 1950s.

But the greatest days for the granite quarries rested in the making of industrial surface plates and machine parts. Through World War I and later, machine parts were measured to one one-thousandth of an inch accuracy. By 1940, with the embryonic coming of the Space Age, it became necessary to measure to one one-millionth of an inch accuracy. New materials had to be found with unheard of precision for 'surface plates' (measuring tables). A study made by the Bureau of Standards in 1942 (Bulletin #1320) recommended three black granites as the most stable - inert - materials to be found on the face of the earth. They were a granite found in California, one in Sweden, and French Creek Black Granite. Seth Velsey, a sculptor working in Zenia, Ohio, trying to help a friend who needed an inert table for measurement, and knowing of the Bulletin #1320, worked with company president and family member, George Seel, to produce a table (plate) that was honed to 50 one-millionths of an inch accuracy. This was the beginning of the use of French Creek Black Granite for Industrial Surface Plates. Plates were made for Bausch & Lomb, 3M, the Aero-Space Division of General Electric and others. French Creek Black Granite was used to measure parts for the nose cones for missiles, for use in the Polaris missile launching systems, and many other aero-space projects wherein a high degree of accuracy is required.

Mr. Seel worked on a 22' long conference table to please the exacting taste of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the John F. Kennedy Museum. Stone was fabricated in St. Peters for a number of federal office buildings including some as distant as Pierre, South Dakota, and Juno, Alaska. French Creek Black Granite was used for decorative pieces, steps, etc., at the Pennsylvania Governor's mansion in Harrisburg. The quarry known as 'Fox Hill' was opened for much of this activity and operating under the name of Pennsylvania Black Granite Company (now Rock of Ages, Vermont) is producing more granite today than all the older quarries did in total. While this use of French Creek granite continues after the period of significance for this nomination, it shows the continuing importance of the larger St. Peters story. The St. Peters quarry reached the limit of its depth in the late 1960s and was taken out of production in 1970. [The depth of a quarry is deter-mined at the very beginning by the diameter of the opening.] Other quarries had been opened under Mr. Seel's term of presidency in the 1950s on Knauer lands at several sites in Warwick Township, but are separated from the village by State Game Lands #43. After 1970, when the village was sold in its entirety, a new cutting and polishing facility was situated on Trythall Road, a mile west of the original site in St. Peters Village. All the quarries are now owned by Vermont Rock-of-Ages.

THE VILLAGE

Until 1880-81, the only dwellings within this nomination were the four 1860s small frame houses above The Falls used by the E.& G. Brooke Mining Company to house employees. These four buildings sit off to themselves, the trestle bridge setting them apart from the later quarry-built houses, general store, inn, and other village buildings.

Up to the opening of the Black Granite Quarry in 1880, Davis Knauer had built in the village only buildings for his iron forge needs. These buildings were minimal in the scope of the quarry and village. Knauer's 1880 plans to build a hotel at the top of The Falls was the beginning of his village plan. He had spent eight years securing bridges over the rocks and stream so that picnicking could be enjoyed on both sides of the creek. The hotel was to anchor the plan and provide a substantial place for overnight or weekend lodging. It was the most prominent stone building in the area when it opened in the spring of 1881. In response to advertising, people came for week-ends and a few for summer vacations. Its eight to ten rental rooms were easily filled. Called "Excursion House" by Knauer, the building still stands today as "St. Peters Inn," a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining and a colorful Fox Den bar. [When fox hunts were popular; foxes were raised in the basement of the hotel through the spring and summer and released in late summer to acclimate for fall 'hunts. 'J Knauer followed the opening of St. Peters quarry and the hotel and livery with an ice house, a warehouse, a feed store, a general store and bakery, a coal yard, and a creamery. These were primarily village related, although obliquely vacationer convenient. Bread, doughnuts, cookies, and pretzels were baked in the brick ovens beneath the general store and were delivered year-round as far west as Morgantown in mule-drawn bakery wagons or sleds (a private enterprise by the manager of the general store). Bread sold at six loaves for twenty-five cents. Philadelphia bread and baked goods were also delivered by railroad for a time. It was a local point of pride to say that fresh bread, baked in Philadelphia some 30 miles away, arrived in little St. Peters village still warm from its city ovens.

The encouragement of a transient pleasure seeking clientele for Knauer's 'park' was always secondary to the village industry and mainly plied on week-ends, longer visits in the summer. The tradesmen - cobbler, barber, butcher, baker - were supported by year-round residents living in the houses Knauer was providing. While some newspaper notices of occasional early rowdyism can be found, the general reminiscence of local memory is one of a quiet, pleasant atmosphere of picnics on the rocks, sleigh rides in the winter, and village celebrations on holidays. There was a warning whistle prior to quarry blasts, which never occurred more than once a week, and never on weekends. The industrial activities (on the upper ground level) were generally set apart from the street activities of the General Merchandising Company, the Granary, and the houses along the street. Boarding house workmen carried their own lunch pails and generally mingled on the street only on Sunday or slicked-up in the evenings. The picnic and swimming patrons came from the wider, local area either by train or their own carriages, as well as from the city. Even the more distant, city patrons could catch a train back within a day or two at most. The present Knauer family remembers being restricted in their childhood against entering the bar room, but otherwise feeling a jovial, pleasant atmosphere and freedom that can still be felt today. Through Knauer's ingenuity and understanding of basic principles, electricity was introduced to the village in 1914 when the surrounding area still used gas light and kerosene lamp. In the 1920s, silent movies were shown once a week in the old forge building. In 1942, with war-time housing locally in high demand, the Inn was commandeered by the United States government and turned into six apartments for out-of-the-area war plant employees in Pottstown plants. After the war, the building "was returned" to the Knauers who restored its original room arrangement.

The village quarry was abandoned (worked out) about 1970 having reached its depth. After 1972, the Knauer family conscientiously began rehabilitation of all of the village buildings with a view to marketing the village as a modern automobile roadside attraction. The older village buildings were turned into various merchandising gift and curio shops with The Inn anchoring the southern end of the village, the General Store somewhat in the middle, and the Mule & Bakery Wagon shed at the northern end of the shop district. The old Polishing Shed was unused for a time, and buildings too obsolete to adapt to the intended change (such as the old wooden forge building and the railroad station) were demolished. The new French Creek Quarters were built to supply overnight accommodation to the traveling public. However, the venture did not 'take-off as planned and the entire village was put lip for sale in 1978. The village was sold as a unit to a Pottstown businessman who operated it as a unique business venture attracting small shops and highlighting water and nature trails. He advertised widely and was gaining a trade when he met with an untimely death. He was followed by another businessman who visioned it as a Bed & Breakfast village. He lost the vibrant quality of activity by using several of the houses on the street as individual overnight rental units. This gave the village a first impression of being closed up.

Interest was expressed by several adventurers to make the village into an amusement park with twinkly lights around the quarry and other seemingly inadvisable ideas. In the meantime, a number of the domestic size house/businesses and the nine individual house units lying in the extreme northern part of the village were sold to individual purchasers. Concerned that the area would lose its singular atmosphere, the St. Peters Condominium Association was formed which is the responsible governing body of the village today. The hotel provides fine foods, the general store has become an office supply, the old ice house is an ice cream parlor, a psychiatrist holds an office, and there are several independent small shops. The 350' Polishing Shed has been used as an antique show room and as a warehouse, the Creamery is turned into rental housing, and The Quarters are successfully occupied by overnight visitors or business persons.

The most important feature — the Falls of French Creek — became a liability to the Condominium Association, and was released from their insurance policy when French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust worked out an agreement whereby State Game Lands took over the creek as part of its adjoining State Game Lands #43. The village is gaining stability and still retains its original ambiance.

COMPARISONS

There are very few villages that can boast a commonality of ownership of the entire village for 130 years. While company villages are fairly numerous, they more often represent a spontaneous gathering of workmen near employment rather than a concerted and long-range offering of housing by the company. Further, most have either deteriorated greatly when the company or industry closed, or expanded greatly with the company if the company succeeded or drew-in other business. Local villages of about the size of St. Peters village are numerous in the area, most built by multiple owners with a variety of focus but joined by mutual interest and benefit. While this may seem to unduly lay importance of St. Peters Village on its one-owner status, it is precisely that one-owner status that gives it the unique quality of homogeneity in architecture and purpose lacking in other nearby villages.

There is only one comparable village in the northern region of Chester County that resembles in any way St. Peters Village. That is Coventryville. This village, still self-contained although much modem domestic building has surrounded it, was the result of Samuel Nutt's iron-making endeavor and entirely owned by him and later owners of the iron works until the mid 1800s. Coventryville was an earlier village than St. Peters, dated at approximately 1717-20, and spawned an industry that vanished when improved transportation took its product to city centers. Originally, much of Coventryville was log construction with stone being used for the owners' houses. The workers' village was nearly 100% rebuilt by George Chrisman after 1810. Although a village with nostalgic quality and genuine character, the present appearance of Coventryville is that of the Chrisman years rather than those of its founding years.

St. Peters is a much later village at 1880, and, unlike Coventryville, has thereby been able to retain practically all of its original ambiance. Further, St. Peters Village has developed as a self-sustaining venture beyond its industrial origin. When in the 1970s, the Knauer family attempted a revival tourist attraction, they were careful to retain the original fabric. Therefore, the integrity of St Peters has been kept Still further, St. Peters, by its unique position in a ravine and bordered on the west entirely by State Game Lands, has limited-to-no space to be encroached upon by modem development With care, it can retain its character well into the future. St. Peters Village Historic District is a very nearly pure example of a disappearing union of industrial concern for, and employee loyalty to, a singular objective. It draws a true picture of a way of life no longer practiced, and today rarely understood by the modem genre, that created the bonding of the company and its' employees. The owner and his family were an everyday, visible part of the community they were creating. Although there were decided differences in living accommodations, it was neither a huge nor a dividing difference. The relationship was maintained by the Knauer family until 1978 when the whole village was sold as a unit The village of the last century has outlasted its industry, yet leaves a well-defined, coherent footprint of its hundred years of company dependency and integration.

  1. Cremers, Estelle, French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, St Peters Village Historic District, Chester County, PA nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Saint Peters Road

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