The Morgantown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Morgantown Historic District is architecturally significant. Commerce developed to serve the surrounding farm community and local iron and mining industry. The village contained stores, a school, a church, a tavern/hotel, other businesses, and homes supporting area farms, and nearby iron and mining communities. Morgantown took the forefront position commercially because of the converging transportation and trade routes. It lies north of the Welsh Mountain and south of the Forest Hills. Located at the entrance to the Conestoga Valley, the village was advantageously situated in the vicinity of three Indian paths which became the early trails for traders and settlers. It was, and still is, a point of merging commerce and transportation. The period of significance for the Morgantown Historic District, ca. 1790-1945, was chosen to cover the years of village commercial activity and architecture represented by existing resources. This period covers three stages of development, each reflected in the architecture and retained in the contributing resources of the historic district.
The first growth period began circa 1750. Primary sources indicate buildings existed inside the present parameters of the village by this date. Expansion occurred when peace loving Germans moved south from the Blue Mountain to the fertile Conestoga Valley after the French and Indian War. None of these buildings appear to be extant.
By 1770, development was significant enough to justify surveying and laying out a town plan. Laid out on land owned by Col. Jacob Morgan, the town was first known as Morgan's Town. Growth continued through the Revolutionary War because of the close proximity to the Jones mine and charcoal iron furnaces and forges at Hopewell, Warwick, Reading and Rebecca Furnaces and the forges at Windsor. These activities, which flourished during the Revolution, demanded skilled workers and services necessary to support small growing industrial communities through the end of the 18th century. According to a circa 1802 map, the village contained at that time 12 stone houses and 19 log houses. There were two stores, three shops, three taverns, and one school house. Residents included two teachers, one doctor, one squire, one plasterer, one stone mason, one house carpenter, one saddler, one spinning wheel maker, two cabinetmakers, three tailors, and five shoemakers. In addition to a German plan log house several other buildings are known to remain within the district from this period of growth. These early dwellings are all modest one and two room plans, one and one-half or two stories high. More may remain, disguised by Victorian style features. Morgantown's first post office, established in 1805, was the third in Berks County. Stage routes soon followed to transport mail, packages and people. Routes came through Phoenixville, Yellow Springs, and Coventryville on the way to Reading and from Downingtown and Loag's Corner on the way to New Holland and Lancaster. This increasing activity reflects the importance of the village of Morgantown as the commercial hub for the surrounding area.
The War of 1812 brought a demand for specialized iron products produced in new foundries built in towns such as Phoenixville and Reading. Warwick, Reading and Rebecca Furnaces were out of blast by this time, and though Joanna and Hopewell continued operating, the effects of a slowing economy after the war were felt in the village.
The next period of growth occurred during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These years, circa 1850 to 1920, brought a revived economy. This economic upswing was reflected in the construction of many homes in the Victorian styles along the village main street - there are many examples. Older homes were "updated" in Victorian styles, creating architectural diversity in the streetscape.
This improvement in the local economy was related to larger urban population growth and regional settlement through this part of Pennsylvania through the late 19th century. Urban growth brought increased demand for processed farm products. Morgantown's position at a crossroads continued to favor its commercial activity and it became a center for trade of area merchant grist mills as well as saw mills, cider mills, and fulling mills erected on nearby streams. When the Wilmington and Northern Railroad was built in 1870, Morgantown residents again made the choice to serve as a seat of local commerce though stations were built in Elverson and Joanna. Morgantown residents aligned the community to Joanna, running a regular stage between the village and the station in that village. The result was that Morgantown grew while Joanna remained a small village. In Morgantown, the growth was reflected by establishment of a carriage shop, blacksmith shop and harness shop, all built during the late 19th century. Although all three buildings remain, others are non-contributing resources due to extensive alterations. Two other blacksmith shops are known to have existed in the village but no longer remain. A local furniture maker also built two residences and two furniture show rooms during this period, moving from one facility to the other as his business grew. A confectionery and two general dry goods stores were also built and operated. All are contributing resources.
Following world War I the village again experienced a period of growth. This growth was residential in character and again attributable to population growth in the area as well as increasing urbanization in this part of the state. Eighteen houses were built at the east and west ends of the historic district. All are good examples of architectural styles popular during this period, including four squares, craftsman, and bungaloid. Some institutional development also came with increased growth in the 1920s. Commercial and public works constructed during this period include the firehall and associated war memorial; the telephone company building; another restaurant; a butcher shop; and Morgantown Garage. Each of these buildings remains within the historic district.
This prosperous period, like the one previous, was again related to regional demand for farm goods, particularly diary products and specialized agricultural goods raised near Morgantown, and then shipped through the village to urban markets. Morgantown also continued to serve as a small commercial center for the immediate region as evidenced in the solid construction, size, and decoration of storefronts as well as the dwellings merchants and others living and operating in the village.
The Historic District has not changed greatly in either appearance or function, although Main Street has become busier. The district holds the old hotel, a flower shop, a commercial garage, real estate offices, a hobby shop, a photographer, a medical supply business, a fire house, the municipal building, the Tri-County Heritage Society Archives and Museum, and numerous restaurants and other small specialty shops. The economy is no longer farm related; rather it caters to tourist oriented services.
Architecturally, little has changed within the historic district. The styles representing the three growth periods are still clearly visible. Few buildings have been lost since 1900 and the building inventory demonstrates that few buildings have been changed so significantly as to lose their historic integrity. Out of 128 resources in the district, only 22 are non-contributing. Additions and alterations have not significantly changed the streetscape. The overall integrity of the buildings within the historic district is high.
In 1900, the hotel at the main crossroad had a "pointer-board" sign showing directions to Reading, Honey Brook and Elverson. These towns are still contemporary towns to Morgantown. Reading, to the north, always the largest, is now a 3rd class city. As a manufacturing center, Reading has felt economic ups and downs more deeply than has Morgantown.
Elverson, two miles to the east, was established in the late l700s. It is much like Morgantown in character but not as large. Even though it became host to the railroad in 1870 it never flourished. It retains the character of a small, early 19th century village. The Elverson Historic District was listed in the National Register in 1993. Churchtown, four miles to the west, established circa 1730, is much earlier than either Morgantown or Elverson. It is the smallest of the three villages. It has grown little beyond its original core. Its economy was tied closely to the iron industry, specifically Windsor and Pool Forges. When the charcoal iron industry failed, the economy never recovered.
Honey Brook, six miles to the south, started with a tavern about 1735-40 at the intersection of two Indian trade routes. It has expanded residentially to a greater degree than Elverson, but not as extensively as Morgantown. Its buildings, like those of Morgantown, exhibit a higher degree of architectural diversity than do the buildings of Elverson and Churchtown.
Joanna Station was the village two miles to the north with which Morgantown aligned itself when the railroad was built. Joanna, named for the furnace nearby, has never grown beyond its first few houses, station and store.
Birdsboro, circa 1740, about eight miles distant from Morgantown is situated on the Schuylkill River. An outgrowth of William Bird's forges and Mark Bird's Hopewell Furnace, it became a one-industry steel town which continued until the early 1980s. When the steel mill closed, the town's economy was severely depressed. Small in comparison to other steel mill towns, Birdsboro is larger than Morgantown but with fewer prospects for growth. Morgantown's long-term commercial and architectural history is due to its location in the middle of a productive farming area coupled with good transportation routes which supported local farming and manufacturing. In recent years both farming and manufacturing have declined. Nevertheless, the district continues to reflect these historic activities and architecture.