Sugartown Historic District
The Sugartown Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Sugartown, a small crossroads village, consisting of 11 properties, lies near the center of Willistown Township, Chester County. Despite its relative proximity to Philadelphia (16 miles), Willistown has retained an open, rural atmosphere. The nearest towns are Malvern, at its north end, and West Chester, the county seat, approximately 6 miles to the southwest.
Sugartown occupies 39 acres of a slight plateau. Five roads — Boot, Spring, Sugartown, Dutton Mill, and Providence — converge in the village, making Sugartown an important local intersection, both now and in the past.
During its first century, from 1790-1890, Sugartown developed into a rural service center for surrounding farms and for travelers. For most of its second century Sugartown has been the seat of local government. Despite this gradual shift in focus, the village is remarkably unchanged from its late 19th century appearance. Never in the path of railroads, trolleys, or superhighways, Sugartown has remained essentially a simple crossroads village. Although these villages were the norm in 19th century Chester County, Sugartown is exceptional for having survived, with minor changes, through most of the 20th century.
There are only 14 principal buildings in Sugartown. Some always have served as residences; others originally were used for education, commerce, cottage industry, and government. The majority now are in residential use. Most of the buildings are set well apart from each other and occupy 1-5 acre lots. Many of these lots are as originally laid out. On each of the properties are such accessory structures as barns, stables, sheds, and garages. A few of the properties functioned in the past as small farms. Except for the shoemaker's shop at "Coxefield," none of the accessory structures can be considered significant to the district.
It appears that, at minimum, the 18th century settlement at Sugartown consisted of houses and shops for a blacksmith and saddler and a Quaker school and schoolmaster's house. Activity picked up in 1801 when Jacob Myers decided to open a "public house" at the place where he lived. The saddler shop soon was converted to a store and it was enlarged in 1830, 1860, and 1890. Several more houses and another school were erected in the 19th century.
Only one significant building was constructed in the 20th century — the 1909 municipal building. A small c.1950 rancher, Sugartown's only intrusion, is the district's most recently built house. Certain properties have been restored and/or enlarged, particularly those which belonged at one time to the White-Coxe sisters. Most of Sugartown's buildings are well, even admirably, maintained. Recently, a non-profit group, Historic Sugartown, Inc., formed to acquire and restore the Sugartown Store. The preservation of this key building in the village should assure the continuing integrity of Sugartown.
With so few buildings and so little change, the range of architectural style in the village understandably is limited. This, however, is no reflection on the quality of design and construction of Sugartown's buildings. While those dating from the late 18th century may lack specific references to style, they are valid vernacular "types." These early buildings feature thick stone walls, large chimneys, and a plain, practical appearance. Both the hall/parlor and Penn Plan types are represented. The earliest section of the Sugartown Store, for example, is built on this area's version of the hall/parlor plan. It is rectangular, two stories, one room deep, lacks a formal entrance area, and on the first floor contains just two rooms, i.e., the hall and parlor. The core of the schoolmaster's house follows the Penn Plan, a two-pile version of the hall/parlor plan, common in areas settled by Quakers.
The most architecturally interesting 19th century building is the residence which was added to the Sugartown Store in 1860. With its light, smoothly plastered walls, large scale, low hipped roof, balanced openings, and graceful piazza, it refers to the Classical Revival. Far more modest statements from this period are the two frame houses of two and a half stories with gable roofs of shallow pitch. The plan for the Sugartown School, featuring an 1866 datestone, could have come out of a chapter on American Bracketed in a pattern book for school buildings.
The Willistown Township Building, constructed in 1909, is a nearly intact example of the American Foursquare style, i.e., a two-story box-like building with a low hipped roof and full front porch.
In addition to its well-preserved buildings, Sugartown's historic and rural atmosphere is enhanced by its honeysuckle entwined post and rail fences, low stone walls, mature evergreen trees, and old boxwood.
Because no archeological investigation has been conducted in Sugartown, one can only speculate on its archeological potential. None of the buildings have been moved; but several have been enlarged and restored. Many date to its earliest settlement. Three properties which might yield archeological information are "Coxefield" (especially the shoemaker shop, the Sugartown Store's oldest section, and the Quaker school complex.
Statement of Significance
The Sugartown Historic District is a notable example of a 19th century rural crossroads village. It is, in addition, Willistown Township's historic seat of government and the site of an important and rare 18th century Quaker educational complex. Sugartown's buildings, although few, represent over a century of historical development and a remarkable range of historical uses, from commerce, cottage industry, local government, public and private education to residential/agricultural. Despite the Township's rapid growth and change in the mid 20th century, Sugartown has retained its 19th century village charm. Both Willistown Township and the residents of Sugartown are committed to the preservation of this historically and architecturally significant village.
Sugartown was the most active of Willistown's four 19th century villages. It featured a large general store, an inn, and homes and shops for a blacksmith, wheelwright, cabinetmaker, saddler, and shoemaker. Most of the buildings once associated with these businesses and trades still stand. Despite the adaptation of most of them as residences, these structures display integrity of setting and design sufficient to convey their original uses.
The village's most prominent commercial structure, both historically and visually, is the Sugartown Store, a rambling combination house and store, dating from c.1790. Initially the property of a saddler, it began operation as a store in the 1820's. An addition was made about 1830 to accommodate the growing mercantile trade. The store also served as the village post office from 1835-1853, 1863-1864, and 1865-1913.
Sugartown Store's most colorful and influential proprietor was Sharpies Worrall (1811-1887), who acquired the three-acre property in 1847. For the next 135 years, the store would remain in his family's possession. What "progress" which did occur in Sugartown largely can be attributed to the efforts of this man and his descendents. In addition to keeping store, Worrall encouraged the educational and cultural development of the area. In 1851, he added a third floor to the general store and outfitted it as a meeting hall for the Ivanhoe Lodge of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows, for which Worrall served as Treasurer from 1863-1887. Worrall also was an advocate of a new schoolhouse for the village and "lyceums and other modes of intellectual improvement." (Local News, 3/8/1887)
The Odd Fellows' Hall was used by numerous other groups, among them the Sugartown Lyceum (1870's); Knights of the Mystic Circle (1876); Willistown Union Association for the Detection of Horse Thieves and Recovery of Stolen Property (1880's-90's); Sugartown Literary Society (1890's); Patriotic Sons of America (1888); Juvenile Temple No. 20 — "Early Efforts" (1890); and lectures and minstrel shows. The Ivanhoe Lodge flourished in the village until August 13, 1923, when it was consolidated with Malvern and relocated there. When the store recently was sold by Worrall's descendents, the new owner, Historic Sugartown, Inc., was pleased to find the old meeting hall on the third floor still furnished with Ivanhoe Lodge paraphernalia.
Another structure of major commercial significance to the village is the Sign of the Spread Eagle, an inn first licensed in 1801, despite strong objections raised by the Friends community of the effects this business would have on the school across the road. The inn was licensed and operated under various tavern keepers and names, e.g., Sign of the U.S. Arms, Sugartown Tavern, Sugartown Hotel, etc., without interruption until 1864. A tavern keeper there between 1804 and 1805, Eli Shugart, is viewed as the source of the village's original name, Shugart Town. Interestingly, Shugart also is associated with two other National Register eligible inns in Chester County, i.e., the Sandy Hill Tavern (West Caln Township) and the Grove (West Whiteland Township). The Spread Eagle served drovers, farmers, and traveling fishermen, and was a watering spot for lime teams. It housed the post office from 1853-1863. In 1864, it was reported that for many years general elections and meetings of the auditors and public school directors were held there. Upon losing its license in 1864 after a bitter dispute with temperance advocates, the Spread Eagle became an "eating house." By 1880, it ceased commercial operation altogether.
Other buildings in Sugartown served as homes and places of business for saddlers, shoemakers, cabinetmakers, etc. John Garrett (d.1817) was a shoe and boot maker who resided until his death at "Coxefield" and worked in an adjoining small stone shop. In the 1840's a doctor occupied the property.
For more than a century, the northwest corner formed by Sugartown and Boot Roads was the location of the blacksmith/wheelwright shop and a residence. In 1911 the two-acre lot was sold subject to the deed restriction that "no time hereafter shall a blacksmith shop be erected or maintained here." A cabinetmaker, Levi Hoopes (who also built coffins), lived and worked here. A tailor had a shop and apprentices in what is now "Rest Harrow." In sum, it seems Sugartown offered all the services of a typical 19th century crossroads village. What is not typical is the survival of the village's historic configuration through most of the 20th century, during which time Willistown's population more than quintupled.
The selection in 1909 of Sugartown as the location of Willistown's first municipal building further affirms the village's significance. For perhaps a century, Sugartown had been the Township's unofficial seat of government. In 1851, it was referred to by a local newspaper as the "ancient capitol of Willistown." Its reputation in this respect was enhanced by the location there of a post office (until 1913), a polling place, and two educational institutions. Sugartown's importance to Willistown continued into the early 20th century.
In the early 1900's the Willistown Road Supervisors undertook the improvement of certain roads to accommodate the rapidly growing number of automobiles, no doubt the ubiquitous 1908 Model T Ford among them. By 1909 it was apparent the Township needed a public facility for road equipment, and in that year Charles E. Coxe, (1870-1927), a gentleman farmer residing just outside Sugartown who "took much interest in good roads," provided funds for the purchase of a 9,095.4 square foot lot in Sugartown. Coxe also funded construction on the lot of a large frame Township building in the "American Foursquare" style. The lot and building officially were donated to the Township by a deed dated October 2, 1909. In 1931, Willistown erected a plaque in front of the building "in memory of Charles E. Coxe." Coxe's presence still is felt in Sugartown, both in the 1909 building and in the properties at one time or another owned and improved by various members of his family.
The first Township building contained a large meeting hall on the second level, while the first floor was devoted to storage of road equipment the Township Road Supervisors were finding increasing occasion to use. The 1909 building served as the primary municipal building until 1955-6 when an office for the secretary and police department was erected on adjacent land (just outside the district). Nevertheless, the old building continued to serve as a meeting hall for Township and other organizations until the 1960's. In addition to having its present offices near Sugartown, Willistown Township owns and has preserved 25.5 acres of open space adjacent to the village, the largest parcel of publicly owned land in the Township.
In addition to its historical significance in commerce, cottage industry, and local government, for over a century Sugartown served as an educational center. The Sugartown School (1866), once one of several public schools in Willistown Township, is distinctive for its large size and bracketed styling. Although converted to a residence in the 1930's, it retains a high degree of architectural integrity. More unique is the old Sugartown Select School and schoolmaster's house. Both buildings were constructed, by the Goshen Monthly Meeting, whose meetinghouse was located in an adjoining township. The Meeting acted upon the "advices" of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which since 1750 had urged its monthly meetings to establish schools under the direction of Friends. The Yearly Meeting's urgings became more forceful after the Revolutionary War, during which the Quaker ranks had been thinned by members who took an active role in the War, in opposition to the Quaker tradition of non-violence. The Yearly Meeting was anxious to "tighten up obedience to peace testimony" and to provide "better indoctrination of children in Quaker schools" (Quaker Roots, p. 8) The Yearly Meeting proposed a plan to accomplish this: each Monthly Meeting should build a schoolhouse and, in order to attract a staid person with a family who would ideally remain with the school, build a dwelling house for a schoolmaster. Goshen was one of the first meetings to adhere to this recommendation in its entirely. In its report of 1778, the School Committee of the Goshen Monthly Meeting reasoned that, with this kind of facility, no longer would its members have to board the schoolmaster or be limited to hiring a single person ("often of doubtful character"). In 1782 the Meeting purchased 5 acres of land in Willistown; in 1783 it built a schoolhouse; and by 1785 the schoolmaster's house was completed. The five-acre parcel was thought to be sufficient for a garden orchard and grass for a cow.
According to Thomas Woody's Early Quaker Education in Pennsylvania, the Sugartown School was the only one in the vicinity to belong to a Monthly Meeting. Eventually 18 or 19 schools were established in Chester County. Sugartown, however, was unusual for having been erected according to the explicit recommendations from the Yearly Meeting. The Sugartown Select School, as it became known, operated until the 1880's. Both the school and schoolmaster's house still stand and detailed records of the school are in the collections of the Chester County Historical Society.
Chester County Tavern Petitions. (1801 etc.) Chester County Archives, Courthouse, West Chester PA
Hanning, Dr. George T. "Abstracts from Goshen Meeting School Record (1778-1830)." Chester County Collections, No.6. June 1937, pp.201-4.
Jacob, Norma, ed. Quaker Roots (Kennett Square: Western Quarterly Meeting, 1980) pp. 71-3.
Lapp, Dorothy B. "Churches of Willistown Township," Chester County Collections, No. 2. November 1936, pp. 59-63.
Raymond, Eleanor. Early Domestic Architecture of Pennsylvania. (Princeton: The Pyne Press, 1931-1973) plates 69 and 153.
"Sugartown Select School for Both Sexes." Vertical files and manuscript collection of Chester County Historical Society Library, West Chester, PA.
"Willistown Township." Vertical Files under Sugartown, Schools, Business, etc. of the Chester County Historical Society Library, West Chester, PA.
Woody, Thomas. Early Quaker Education in Pennsylvania. (New York: Columbia University, 1920) pp. 122-46.
† Adapted from: Wolf, Martha Leigh, Brandywine Conservancy, Sugartown Historic District, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.