Red Hill Borough
Municipal offices are located at 56 West 4th Street; phone: 215-679-2040.
Red Hill Borough was incorporated in 1902. Red Hill is part of the Upper Perkiomen School District.
Source: copy of the original nomination document submitted to the National Register of Historic Places, 1985
The Red Hill Historic District includes properties along Main Street, East 6th Street, and Adams Street. Properties built circa 1847 through 1930.
Between the 1880s and 1920s the small community of Red Hill thrived as one of several important industrial centers in the Upper Perkiomen Valley of Montgomery County and nearby Berks County. But, unlike other boroughs and cities such as Green Lane, Pennsburg, East Greenville, and Reading, which supported a variety of industries and developed over time, a single enterprise, namely cigar manufacturing, directed the economic and physical growth of Red Hill. The net effect of this industry, which became the area's principal developer and employer, was to transform "Hillegassville", a sparsely settled mid-19th century turnpike strip village, into the incorporated borough of Red Hill, a turn-of-the-century work/residence community lined with brick homes and factories. The Red Hill Historic District is significant as a well-preserved main street community with similarly important side streets, containing a unified collection of residential, commercial and industrial buildings that describes the most important period of development in the borough and encompasses landmarks of individual significance as well.
Until the 1880s, Red Hill or "Hillegassville", a name honoring the founding Hillegass family, consisted of a small village settled along the "Great Road Leading to Philadelphia," a road laid out in 1735. The first farmers acquiring land titles in the mid-eighteenth century were primarily German immigrants who soon organized the German Reformed Congregation (New Goshenhoppen Reformed). Their descendents as well as numerous other families of German extract ion dominated the cultural profile of Red Hill and the entire Upper Perkiomen Valley for the next two centuries. Little or no evidence of these few early homesteads remains and despite its being on the major road to Philadelphia, the first half of the nineteenth century witnessed minimal development of the area. During the early 1800s the community included innkeepers, blacksmiths, storekeepers, and a coffin maker, principally directed by several branches of the Hillegass family, all of whom erected houses and businesses primarily along Main Street. The rural character was expressed by a farm tract that divided the village into an upper and lower end. Two important monuments of the Hillegass family remain at the upper end of Main Street; the HillegassvilIe Hotel (now the Red Hill Hotel) built in 1811 by George Hillegass and added to in the late nineteenth century, and the handsome brick late-Federal Hillegass Rouse across the street, built in 1847 by George Hillegass' son, Josiah. The south or lower end of the village contained the Red Hill Post Office, a school house, a few businesses, and approximately a dozen dwellings including another house for a member of the Hillegass clan.
One of the most important events for the future development of Red Hill occurred in 1851 when the Green Lane and Goshenhoppen Turnpike Company was formed, leading to the improvement of "The Great Road Leading to Philadelphia" through Hillegassville. In addition, the advent of the Perkiomen Railroad in 1874 made the village more appealing for residence and industry, helping to set the stage for the cigar manufacturing business which was soon to grow dramatically. In the 1880s and '90s the village changed radically as cigar manufacturers created an industrial economy and residential enclave to house the workers they drew from the farms.
By 1910, the cigar manufacturing industry was among the largest employers in the Upper Perkiomen Valley of Montgomery County, with other factories in Pennsburg, and East Greenville. Census records from 1910 and 1920 clearly indicate that it was by far the principal employer of Red Hill's population. The reason for this industry's regional dominance during the 1880 - 1920 period is threefold. First, the semi-skilled, hand-made cigar process appealed to the artisan and craft-oriented Pennsylvania German population, offering ample job opportunities as an alternative to farming. In addition, the industry employed women who would dry and strip tobacco in the factory or at home and roll cigars, while men harvested the locally grown wrappers, also rolled cigars, manufactured cigar boxes and transported the merchandise. Second, cigar manufacturing itself shifted from a small-scale cottage industry to a factory-based operation, the result of the Revenue Law, before which "nearly every family made cigars in their homes and some families employed all their members in it. After that, when the law provided stringent regulations, the cigars bad to be made in factories which revolutionized the whole process." Third, the Spanish-American war devastated nearly all the great tobacco plantations in Cuba during the late 1890s, creating a demand for American-grown tobacco from Lancaster County and American manufactured cigars from rural industrial centers such as Red Hill. The end result of a workforce on hand to operate the factory-scale operations and the impetus for stepped-up production in the 1890s, was the dramatic growth and transformation of Red Hill.
The principal man behind this phenomenon in Red Rill was Lucien B. Miller, a leading manufacturer, developer, and public figure, having served as the first burgess of Red Rill borough, incorporated on October 9, 1902. In 1882, Miller started his cigar business in his home at the corner of Main and Third Streets, a mid-nineteenth century house formerly inhabited by a member of the Hillegass family. One year later he rented a building near his home, employing twelve bands, and for the next twelve years, built and enlarged factories in Red Hill and Pennsburg until he consolidated his business under the gabled roof of the 3 1/2-story brick mill on Main Street in 1895. By 1890, Miller's brother-in-law John P. Kline, had worked as his partner. Together, Miller and Kline's Cigar Factory employed 150 hands in 1899 and 300 hands in 1902. At the turn of the century, newspapers regularly reported housing shortages for the factory laborers who travelled several miles to work in the borough. Miller and Kline, as well as other cigar manufacturers such as William N. Trump who erected the Adams Street rowhouses, constructed the numerous single and double brick houses that line Main Street and E. Sixth Street. Miller and Kline were also instrumental in erecting the boroughs first firehouse in 1904, located on land adjacent to their mill on Main Street. Their highly visible role in community development extends further; these two men held various positions with Red Hill's building and loan association, electric company, water company, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, borough council, the school board, the National Bank of Schwenksville, and the Board of Trade. Also of importance, though less highly publicized, were the cigar factory of Jacob M. Pflieger, a brother-in-law of Miller and Kline, located in a frame structure (now an apartment house) set back along the west side of Main Street's 200 block, and S.C. Moyer's cigar factory, an 1890s brick mill situated on E. Sixth St., along the tracks of the Perkiomen Railroad. These factories, too, contributed to Red Hill's golden era of cigar manufacturing.
The cigar manufacturing industry in the region waned in the late 1920s. Several factors account for this decline, including large-scale machine mass production elsewhere and national advertising campaigns by major companies such as Since which gained a greater share of the cigar market. In 1924, Rosenau Bros., Inc. a children's clothing manufacturer moved into Miller and Kline's cigar factory and in 1928, the Red Hill Rug Co., Inc. began to manufacture cotton chenille rugs in S.C. Moyer's E. Sixth Street mill. Although the cigar industry vanished from Red Hill, the important landmarks of the cigar age remain frozen in time within the borough's streets capes as do several of the buildings from Red Hill's pre-industrial era.
While the architecture of both the pre-industrial and industrial eras of Red Hill is essentially builder-designed and vernacular in style, it is of significance because it marks important regional building styles. The slate shingled house with wood siding beneath the porch is a local Pennsylvania German tradition that is indigenous to this part of Montgomery County. A collection of these survives at the south end of Main Street and on East Sixth Street. The 1890s industrial buildings and workers' housing are also of significance; the brick mill buildings and two-and-one-half-story single and double houses, embellished with ornate millwork on their porches, clearly dominate the streets cape of Red Hill and continue to describe the borough's former lifestyle. Although these modest buildings are also seen in Pennsburg, East Greenville, and Green Lane, Red Hill supports the most highly concentrated and best-preserved collection of them along Main Street and East Sixth Street. Both the slate-shingled houses and brick mills and workers' houses convey the flavor and character of the Upper Perkiomen Valley at the turn of the century.
Red Hill is a nearly perfectly preserved community - unified in scale and material - that describes its transition from a turnpike village to a cigar manufacturing center at the end of the nineteenth century.