Marshallton Historic District
The Marshallton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. 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 Marshallton Historic District is located along the Strasburg Road in central Chester County. It assumed its present configuration between the 1760s-1880s, with scattered infill and rebuilding occurring into the 1920s. Of the 71 principal buildings in the Marshallton Historic District, 67 contribute to its historical and architectural significance. The 4 non-contributing buildings include three from the 1930s-40s (a dwelling, store, and apartment building) and a c.1965 brick dwelling. Of similar size and scale to the district's contributing buildings (by which they are far outnumbered), these non-contributing buildings do not detract from Marshallton's overall architectural unity.
Marshallton lies only four miles west of the county seat of West Chester; its surroundings are still rural. Leaving West Chester by the Strasburg Road, one passes sprawling farms, open fields, and pasture land. There is a small group of historic buildings near the nationally registered Cope's Bridge on the East Branch Brandywine River, and then more open country. Near the top of a hill and commanding a sweeping view of the valley drained by the Brandywine, lies Marshallton, a village dating from the late 18th century. Although it began as but a cluster of houses near an inn known as the Center House, Marshallton grew into a more linear village as Strasburg Road became a main thoroughfare. A self-contained community at the turn of the 20th century, today it features some 50 century-old or older dwellings, two historic inns, a restored blacksmith shop, two places of worship, the former town hall and community school, three cemeteries, and a few small stores.
Most of the buildings in Marshallton are of 19th-century vintage and are vernacular in style. Constructed of stone, brick, and frame (at least two are log), many are stuccoed; a few have modern siding over older materials. There are a number of double houses of four and five bays, several two-bay, two-story "Penn Plans," two Georgian Revivals, a few with Rural Gothic and Queen Anne features, and a small collection of 18th-century Colonial and Georgian buildings. For the most part, the buildings are well preserved and maintained. Several have been handsomely restored, three of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps because Marshallton was always a conservative and close-knit community and families tended to occupy the same property for generations, there is little evidence of drastic or incompatible renovation.
Individually, most of the buildings in Marshallton lack distinction. They were built by workingmen and retired farmers as modest and practical homes. Frequently the dwelling and associated outbuildings accommodated a home occupation, such as pump, cigar, or shoemaking, and cabinetry. Most of the buildings are located adjacent and rather close to the north and south sides of Strasburg Road on rather small lots. There are four former farm complexes in the village which occupy larger parcels of land. As a group, the buildings which form the Marshallton Historic District are unified by one common orientation (to Strasburg Road), vernacular feeling, size and scale, materials, and presence of porches and picket fences. Were there horses and wagons rather than automobiles and trucks passing by their inviting front porches, the integrity of the setting would seem complete.
As noted above, three of Marshallton's architecturally noteworthy buildings are listed in the National Register: the Humphry Marshall house, a 1773 stone house in the Georgian vernacular; the Marshallton Inn, a double-door Georgian built in 1814 as a hotel; and the Bradford Friends Meetinghouse, dating from 1765 and representative of the Colonial style as seen in Quaker meetinghouses.
Other styles and building traditions are represented in Marshallton's lesser known buildings. The Colonial plan (i.e., three bays wide, single-pile, and two stories) is seen in the Richard Woodward house, the house once occupied by Abraham Baily, and a log house. One of the most historically significant buildings in the district, the Center House, has undergone considerable change. It superb original stonework (quite likely the work of Humphry Marshall), however, is evident beneath the peeling stucco as are stone segmental arches over some of its windows. It, like Humphry Marshall's house, belongs to the Georgian period.
High-style Georgian and Federal houses (such as were built in Philadelphia) are not found in Marshallton. Besides the Georgian-vernacular Marshall and Center houses, there are examples of a Federal vernacular style. The so-called "Penn plan" or Philadelphia "townhouse" is seen in houses from many periods. This two-bay, two-story, double-pile house with a pitched roof and end chimney was built throughout the 18th and into the 19th century in Marshallton. A superb example is the Abe Martin Farm, which is also banked into a hill. From the late Federal and Greek Revival periods are several two-and-a-half-story three-to-six-bay single and double houses with flattened gable roofs. Rural Gothic gables, jigsaw work, brackets, labels, and slender proportion are seen. With its stone construction, balanced facade, Colonial-style hood and dormers, and semicircular garrett windows, the Cann house is a good example of the Georgian Revival style which is also seen in the community school on Sugars Bridge Road.
Within Chester County, the Marshallton Historic District is the most cohesive and intact village found today along the Strasburg Road. It is a village of architectural variety and quality, of homes for the wealthy and the working class. Many of the key buildings are still in their historic use — as inn, store, church, and dwelling. Those that are not, such as the blacksmith shop and community school, still convey a sense of original purpose. This harmonious grouping of mostly 18th and 19th century buildings has been only gently touched by the 20th century; nevertheless Marshallton is alive and well, and aware and protective of its history.
The Marshallton Historic District is primarily significant for its association with Strasburg Road, established in the late 18th century as a thoroughfare between Philadelphia and Strasburg in Lancaster County. Throughout 200 years of its history, Marshallton's focus has been on Strasburg Road, and both literally and figuratively its growth has paralleled the road's. With its integrity of setting and well preserved collection of buildings representing a variety of historic uses, Marshallton today conveys a clear, sense of the past — when the Strasburg Road was a primary transportation route and, capitalizing on its location, the village functioned as a rural service center for both travelers and nearby farmers.
Marshallton can trace its origins to the 1760s when a few houses, a Quaker Meeting, an inn, and a blacksmith shop were loosely grouped near the intersection of the roads to Strasburg and Downingtown. At that time the Strasburg Road was actually a fragmented series of local roads leading west. By the turn of the century, however, a State-surveyed and "confirmed" Strasburg Road with an improved cartway had become an important route between the former national capitol, Philadelphia, and the breadbasket of Lancaster County. It was during and following this period (c.1790-1810) that Marshallton enjoyed substantial growth and began to assume its current linear configuration. Had Marshallton been selected as the seat of the "new" County of Chester in the 1780s, as was proposed, no doubt a different kind of town would have developed.
Marshallton's key location attracted small commercial operations, cottage industries, and religious and educational establishments. Just as the Strasburg Road became the most heavily traveled in West Bradford Township, Marshallton became its most populous and active village. By the 1880s Marshallton was a self-contained community and looked much as it does today. Unlike many of Chester County's early villages which grew up around roads, Marshallton was unaffected by the rise of rail transportation. There were no direct rail linkages (the closest was at Northbrook); even the trolley bypassed Marshallton in favor of towns like Downingtown, Coatesville, and Kennett Square.
During its peak the village of Marshallton was a hub of commercial activity, serving the local farmer, accommodating the traveler, and providing a means of livelihood for its own residents. Both the Center House and the Marshallton Inn have a long history of commercial use. The Center House was established about 1765 as a "public House for the comfort of travelers" by Joseph Martin on 2.5 acres of land purchased from William Clayton. He built a hotel which was so heavily frequented as a drover's stop that, according to local legend, drovers often slept on the floor for lack of beds, their wagons lining Strasburg Road for some distance. The building was used as a hotel until 1874, after which it served as a restaurant, general store, flour and feed supply store, boarding house and soda fountain. The Marshallton Hotel was built by Abraham Martin. In 1814 he purchased one acre of land from his father-in-law Joseph Woodward and petitioned for a license to sell liquor. Although his annual petitions were rejected until 1822, Martin's inn, known until 1858 as the "General Wayne Hotel," prospered and became the Marshallton Hotel. Currently, it operates under the name of Marshallton Inn and is one of the best preserved structures in the village, both in physical appearance and actual use. A lesser, but nevertheless well-attended, site of public accommodation was the old "Oyster Parlor," a small restaurant operated out of the back of Pierre Rodeback's house.
Throughout its history, the village has supported several stores. George Martin ran a most successful general store in the 19th century. He built a store and house on the northwest corner of the Strasburg and Downingtown Roads in 1849. It was brick, 100' x 40' with a two-story annex in the rear of the store side. Despite a fire in 1889, the store was rebuilt in 1890 and Martin was back in business. Other general stores were operated in the Center House as well as the old post office.
Marshallton's working class population operated numerous small businesses and cottage industries. There was the obligatory blacksmith shop which persisted until the 1940s. Other local industries included a barber shop, the shoemaker's and notions shop, a cigar factory, later a bakery, the Loller tin shop, pump makers, a manufacturer of cradle and scythe poles, an undertaker and cabinetmaker shop, and the doctor's home and offices.
Many of the remaining houses were occupied by tradesmen, such as the stone mason, the blacksmith, carpenters, a tobacconist, a pattern maker and machinist, a hatmaker, and a shoemaker.
Besides its importance as a commercial center, Marshallton features noteworthy examples of popular 18th and 19th-century vernacular styles. Most of the Marshallton Historic District's remaining buildings are typical of medium-size towns like nearby West Chester or Kennett Square. They attain architectural significance as a group which, in its cohesiveness and unity, quietly suggest a historic sense of place.
Outstanding among Chester County's Georgian-style buildings is the 1773 Humphry Marshall house. It ranks with the nationally registered Abiah Taylor II house, built along the Strasburg Road in 1768. Both buildings, as well as the Center House in Marshallton, feature the brilliant stonework of Humphry Marshall. The Bradford Friends Meetinghouse, with its own exquisite stonework, is one of the most intact examples of Colonial style meetinghouse architecture in Chester County. Also archetypical, is the Marshallton Inn, an unusually well preserved 19th-century commercial building. The Abe Martin house and the Lydia Adams house could be textbook examples of the regionally popular banked "Penn Plan" and the English Colonial house.
Within a relatively short distance Marshallton offers a fair range of historic uses and architectural styles. Unlike larger towns in Chester County, where entire blocks tend to be occupied by buildings of similar style and vintage, Marshallton's unit of change is the individual lot. No single building, either in style or scale, overshadows the others. The Marshallton Historic District's collection of buildings is pleasantly varied but harmonious, and very much in keeping with the roadside setting.
Barbara Ayars, Window on West Bradford (August 13, 1976), 1-7, 11-12, 15-19, 26-27.
William C. Baldwin, editor, Chester County Post Card Album (West Chester, PA, 1980), 130-31.
Chester County Historical Society Library, Vertical Files, West Bradford Township: "Marshallton.."
Daily Local News (West Chester PA), March 11, 1948, "Early Days in Marshallton Are Recalled.
Eugene L. DiOrio, Chester County: A Traveller's Album (Coatesville, PA, 1980), 122-25.
Norma Jacobs, ed., Quaker Roots (Kennet Square, PA, Western Quarterly Meeting, 1980), 60-61.