Downtown Historic District
The West Chester 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 © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The district comprises approximately 15 square blocks bordering the intersection of Gay and High Streets. It includes about 400 structures of which about 1/3 are residential.
The West Chester Downtown Historic District includes approximately 15 square blocks of the Borough. Central to this area are five blocks along the Borough's tow parallel "Main Streets," Gay and Market. This area includes the original town plat (1784, the four blocks bordering Gay and High Streets) and subsequent commercial expansion to the east and west along Gay and Market streets. In addition, the district extends two blocks north and south along Church and High Streets to include early 20th century commercial, institutional and office expansion into former prominent residential areas; and the "Industrial Square" south of Barnard Street between Church and High. Here Denney-Reyburn has manufactured tags and labels since 1888 in a large factory complex built around the early Barnard Street School (circa 1840). It resides quite comfortably within a neighborhood of early Victorian townhouses and row buildings. High Street is the major north-south route (Route 100) through town.
Established at the site of a crossroads tavern known as "Turks Head," this new town was the chosen site for a courthouse and prison to serve a scaled-down Chester County. The new Delaware County was carved out f the southeast corner of Chester County, which included the former county seat at the City of Chester. The Historic District provides material documentation of the initial residential and later commercial and institutional redevelopment of these blocks; and subsequent expansion, first to the east and west and then to the north and south, that today comprises West Chester's Downtown and Central Business District.
The four original blocks are anchored by the Chester County Courthouse (1849), which faces two outstanding buildings across High Street: the National Bank of Chester County (1836) and the First National Bank of West Chester (1912). Between these Greek Revival and Neo-Classical bank buildings is one of the surviving structures which relates to the initial development of the courthouse site: the 1789 Smith-Sharpless House. This Federal style structure is among five other structures within the district that remain from the first period of development. Both the Courthouse and the National Bank of Chester County (now Fidelity Bank) were designed by Thomas U. Walter. Adjacent to the courthouse on the north is another survivor from West Chester's early period, a 1793 stone, Federal style residence which became the Aiken's Drug Store in 1866. Since (it was) brick faced this building stands intact with two Victorian storefronts inserted in the first floor. Since these blocks have historically been the town's focal point, they also contain most of its large-scale structures. Later, but on the same scale in this area are the Beaux Arts F & M Building (1907) and the Art Deco Warner Theater (1930) and Green Tree Apartment (1933) buildings. Woolworth's (1928) also remains at Gay and High as a strong "anchor" in the downtown, retaining its original facade and signage.
† National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, nomination document #85001447, 1985, Washington, D.C.