Ivy Mills Historic District
The Ivy Mills Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. 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 Ivy Mills Historic District consists of three important structures. These are: the ruins of the paper mill which fell into disuse after 1866, a clerk's house used for keeping records and now remodelled into a private dwelling, and the Mansion House constructed in 1837. We shall describe each of these structures in turn.
The original paper mill at the site was erected in 1729, but after one hundred years of operation it was torn down and replaced by a new mill which began production in December, 1829. In an 1865 view, the central mill building is seen as a wood and whitewashed stone, two and one-half story shingle roof structure. The wooden section remained until the mill underwent serious deterioration. This accounts for the lack of dressing of the south side of the foundation as well as its poor condition in comparison to the other masonry. The wooden section had long, rectangular openings in its facade. One wall of the mill remains, along with the silting pond and the foundations of the mill race and several other buildings. In the remaining mill elevation (north) there are four bays, including a door at ground level on the third bay.
The clerk's house, which dates from ca.1830, originally stood beside the paper mill, and was obviously connected closely with its business operation. The house has been completely restored. It is built of random serpentine and is three floors high. There is a clapboard wing which is not original but replaced an earlier one. There are two bays in the front elevation plus a door in between covered by a shed roof with braces. The bays are identical, with six-on-six light windows on the first two floors and three-on-three lights on the third. The end elevation has a single one-on-one window on the second floor.
The main roof overhangs generously and has a box cornice. The chimney looks original. The clapboard addition also has an overhang to its roof. This elevation has a door and six-on-six light window.
The original Ivy Mills Mansion House was built in 1744 but burned early in the nineteenth century. It had two central chimneys and was probably constructed at different times. In an artist's rendering there are five bays on the right side of the front elevation. All fenestration is six-on-six light windows. Opening onto a shed-roofed veranda are two doors. One has a three light transom over it; the other is partially obscured by vegetation. To the left of the veranda are a six-on-six light window on both floors and a six-light casement on the second.
The present Mansion House was built in 1837 of stuccoed masonry. Structurally, the house remains much the same as it was originally. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, the house was Victorianized externally. This restoration is evident in the wide veranda on the front elevation of the house.
There are five bays in the front elevation of the house. A shed-roofed wing abuts on the gable end. Above it is a massive double chimney.
A portico, supported by two rows of double columns, covers the entrance to the veranda and the house. The veranda roof, cornice, and other trim are all painted black. The front door is flanked by two six-on-six light windows. All have dark shutters, as do the five six-on-six light windows on the second floor front. There are three six-on-six light dormers which were probably added later as they do not project on the bays below. The only white trim on the house is the cornice of the front elevation roofline.
The south elevation of the shed-roofed west wing and the west elevation of the main house have six-on-six light, dark-shuttered windows on both the first and second floors. Above the roof of the west wing are two windows. Above them is a semi-circular opening flanked by the stuccoed chimney.
The west elevation includes the end of a salt-box wing which may have been an addition. This wing includes three bays. The first bay, reading from left to right, contains two, six-on-six windows. Beside the upper window is an identical one. Below that is a door covered by a shed roof. In what is probably an attic of the salt-box is a two-on-two light window. There is an apparent difference in floor heights between the main and salt-box wings. There are two bays on this part of the main wing's west elevation. Both are two floors high and all windows are six-on-six lights. There is a similar single bay on the north side of the shed-roofed west wing. The north elevation of the salt-box includes an eastern bay of a window on both floors. At ground level is a door; at the corner is another window with one shutter.
The east elevation of the main wing and the north elevation of the shed-roofed wing are identical in their fenestration. Both have six-on-six light windows on two floors. The east elevation has a salt-box addition which leads to a door under a stairwell in the house. The north elevation of the main wing has three bays. The two eastern ones are identical — two floors, six-on-six light windows. The third bay contains a window lighting a staircase.
In 1726, Thomas Willcox, an English immigrant and skilled papermaker, constructed a mill dam across Chester Creek with another local resident, Thomas Brown. Soon afterward, a paper mill was erected and in 1729 the first paper produced at the site was marketed. The mill represents either the second or third in operation in the American colonies. Brown and Willcox continued their partnership until 1732 when Willcox leased Brown's interest in the operation. In 1739, Willcox bought Brown out completely.
Little is known about the paper mill operation between 1739 and 1775. Willcox was a friend of Benjamin Franklin for whom he is known to have made paper. Perhaps as a result of this friendship Willcox received the first orders for the paper used in printing colonial and continental currency. Thomas Willcox's grandson wrote in 1850 that at the same time the mill began producing the paper for provincial currency it also began the production of writing paper.
Mark Willcox, son of Thomas, began operating the mill ca.1776 and received title in 1779, upon his father's death. In addition to continuing the manufacture of continental currency, he was active in provincial politics. In 1791, Governor Thomas Mifflin appointed him as an Associate Judge of Delaware County, an office he held until 1824. He also served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
The Ivy Mills, as they were known, not only supplied paper for the Continental and United States governments but also for many South American governments as well. One source credits the mills with supplying, "nearly the whole of the western continent" with its stores of bank paper. This paper was almost the exclusive product of the mills which passed from the ownership of Willcox to another until the manufacture of homemade paper was abandoned in 1866. With the demise of the paper making business the buildings in which it had been carried on gradually fell into ruins.
Like many other early manufacturers, the Willcoxes lived in close proximity to their mills. The exact location of the first Willcox homestead is not known; it was destroyed by fire in the early nineteenth century. In 1837, the present Mansion House was built. The Willcox family has occupied it continuously since that time. The house stands on the slope of the hill facing the creek and mill complex. The complex, consisting of the mill ruins and clerk's office gives a good indication of a typical eighteenth century industrial setting. The Mansion House is a good example of a rural dwelling of the first half of the nineteenth century which was Victorianized and remains in excellent condition. The clerk's house, once used for business transactions has been completely restored and transformed into a private dwelling.
The Willcoxes also played a role in the establishment and growth of the Roman Catholic Church in America. A 'station', as the mission chapels were called, was established at Ivy Mills in the 1730's. Mass was heard in the Willcox house from then until the size of the congregation was sufficient to warrant the construction of a church. This was done on land donated by James Willcox in 1852.
Ivy Mills Historic District possesses significance as a site connected with important developments in the religious and economic life of America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
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Bigby, V. L. "Paper for Colonial Currency," The Whitman Numismatic Journal, June-August, 1964.
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Futhey, J. Smith and Gilbert Cope. History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: L.H. Everts, 1881.
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Morley, Christina C. Types of Early Mills in Delaware County and Their Uses of Water Power, some of Delaware County History.
Smith, George. History of Delaware County From the Discovery of the Territory Included Within Its Limits to the Present..., Philadelphia: H.B. Ashmead, 1862.
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Willcox, Mark. Paper Presented Before the Holy Name Society of St. Thomas "Highlights of the Mission Station at Concord and the Parish of St. Thomas the Apostle (Ivy Mills," May 7, 1962.