Photo: Hunt-Downing House, ca. 1802, 420-422 East Lancaster Avenue, Downingtown, PA. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Photographed by User:Smallbones (own work), 2012, [cc-by-1.0 (creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed February, 2016.
The Shaw Historic District was listed on the National Register in 1979. (also known as AgWorks or The Agricultural Works.) Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document [‡].
Francis B. Shaw Block Historic District
The Francis B. Shaw Block is trapezoid bounded on all four sides by Borough Streets: South Main Street on the East, South Clinton Street on the West, West Ashland on the North, and West Bridge Street on the South. It contains structures along South Main and West Ashland Streets and a small portion of South Clinton.
The District was a section of Shaw's "Underhill Farm" until 1830 when it was divided into building lots. The placement of the present structures still suggests the original subdivisions. The first lots were long and narrow, facing Main Street and extending back to Clinton. Approaching, the District and the center of Doylestown from South Main Street one senses the patterns of these lots from the houses facing the street close to the sidewalk. Enhanced by the incline of the street and, correspondingly the district, a step-like effect is created by the nineteenth century houses of similar proportion (2-1/2 to 2-3/4 stories, 3 to 4 bays).
The Moses Kulp House, on the corner of South Main and Bridge Streets, announces the beginning of the block and sets the pattern for the succeeding houses. A vacant area between (two of the lots) is the only break in the rhythm. (Two others) follow with the gable end of Section-B of the Agricultural Works, punctuating that set of buildings. The vacancy of the corner lot, (formerly Barrett's Hardware Store), provides a dramatic setting for the Agricultural Works, particularly when approached from East Ashland Street or Main Street from the center of town. Section-B, with its low profile, combines with the terrain to carry ones eyes to the main Section-A of the Agricultural Works. Built on an angle to West Ashland St., Section A dominates this corner with its long East facade, tan chimneys and gable roof profile. "
Proceeding along the District by West Ashland St., one views the entire Agricultural Works complex, which is situated lengthwise to the street and it set back twenty to 120 feet. Section-A, which is at right angles to the other sections, is the only exception and projects to within ten feet of the street. This section is the focal point of the approach to the Historic District down South. Hamilton Street (which intersects Ashland and parallels South Clinton) and creates a triangular courtyard effect with sections and D and West Ashland where it, intersects South Clinton. The variety of orientation, setback, building heights and shapes on this corner, and including the Charles Rhoads house, is countered by the common use of brick, fairly regular fenestration and similar proportional units.
An alley leads along the south side of the Rhoads' house back to the Rhoads' stables. The stables can only be seen as one proceeds South on Clinton Street past the Rhoads' house and along an open grassy area to the corner of Clinton and Bridge Streets. Of the same construction date and possibly by the same architect as the Agricultural Works, the Livery Stable appears as part of the Agricultural Works' complex, not as a separate business.
The grassy field is the site of the Railroad House Hotel and related buildings which faced Clinton Street and the railroad. In its present state it recalls the original house lots before they were shortened, c. 1850, although trees and underbrush now mark that division. This vegetation partially disguises the backs of the houses and two small intrusions.
All the buildings in this block are of masonry construction, with the exception of one frame intrusion. One is of fieldstone, others are cement block. The remaining six buildings are of brick and the houses are 19th century with three along Main Street circa 1835, one by 1874, and the Rhoads' House on South Clinton Street by 1891. The Agricultural Works complex and Rhoads' Stable are from 1914, although occupying the site of similar buildings of circa 1870-1890.
In October 1830, Francis B. Shaw, a member of the Doylestown Bar, something of a journalist, and son of Josiah Y. Shaw, made a step on the line of improvement of Doylestown. He purchased "Underhill Farm," which according to W. W. H. Davis, joined the village on the south and embraced strip of woodland on the west side of the Easton Road, now South Main Street. A portion of the property was cut by Shaw into building lots and offered at public sale on October 18, 1830. These lots, which comprise the present Francis B. Shaw Block, were advertised as "beautiful for building and convenient for business."
The issue of the newspaper announcing the purchase of the "Underhill Farm," the Bucks County Intelligencer of October 11, 1830, calls for the following mechanics and others most needed in Doylestown to boom its fortunes: "a tobacconist, a soap and tallow chandler, clock and watchmaker, tinsmith, oak and cedar cooper, and a gun and locksmith." It is felt that Francis Shaw hoped to attract some of these craftsmen to Doylestown by offering convenient places to settle and establish businesses.
In the year 1830, one would have to picture this area a small carriage road, named Howard Street in place of Clinton, and no Ashland Street, South Main Street was the Philadelphia-Easton Post Road. The block was divided into building lots, facing the Post Road and tapering back to Howard Street.
Before these lots were sold, Francis Shaw died (1831) and the executors for his estate, Josiah Y. Shaw and George Campbell, sold the parcels in the spring of 1832.
These properties changed hands very quickly with the construction of houses and businesses occurring on a staggered, individual basis. The Bryan House, 130 South Main Street, was built by Nathan Cornell immediately after his purchase of the lot as records show he sold this house and lot on April 3, 1833. The next house to be built was the William Goodman House, 144 South Main Street by Timothy Brannon between the years 1835 and 1838. Setback from the street the house comprised sections 2 and 3 of the present house with section 1 being added later. Also built by 1838 was the double house on the Ag Works property, 116 and 118 South Main Street, mentioned in the sale of the property from John Anderson to Nathan Cornell, March 30, 1838.
Moses and Enos Kulp purchased the lot on the corner of South Main and Bridge Streets in 1842 and in 1849 a map of Doylestown shows a house on that lot. In 1844, Abraham Bryan bought the full-length lot for 130 South Main Street and by 1857 had it divided in half mid-way between Main and Clinton Streets. A sale of the western lot in 1858 from the estate of Bryan to Charles Wigton lists the Rhoads' House as on the lot. The roof was probably rebuilt in 1891 by Charles Rhoads.
Until 1856 the Shaw Block was residential in nature. Although we have no record of businesses or crafts taking place in the houses, some of the owners were craftsmen. With the arrival of the railroad from Philadelphia in 1856, which terminated opposite the Shaw Block on South Clinton Street, businesses became the dominant feature of the District.
Possibly built soon after the railroad and by 1868 was the Railroad House Hotel. Moses and Enos Kulp were the first owners and sold it in 1869 to J. Bush. William Neis was proprietor in 1890 and in 1896 broke ground for an addition. The Intelligencer article of April 2, 1896 announcing this gives a clue to the Hotel's appearance. "(The addition) will be of brick, three stories high, to match the rest of the building, and when completed will make the Hotel square instead of L-shaped, as it is now." The hotel was standing in 1921 but gone by 1928 (re: October 1928 Sanborn Map). We have no records for the construction of the wagon and horse sheds but they, too, were gone by 1928.
The Livery Stable, behind the Rhoades' house, was built by Peter Hackman between 1863 and 1868, and in the latter year he sold the stable to Abel Stover. This frame building burned on April 5, 1871 and slightly damaged the frame Agricultural Works building. Six days later the wreck of the stables had been cleared and the brick walls of the new building nearly completed. The Intelligencer article for that day comments "(The stable) will be quite a substantial affair. It will be run up a story higher than it is now, affording additional storage rooms on the upper floor." The stables were improved by Charles Rhoads, only to burn again in the Agricultural Works fire, December 1913. They were rebuilt in 1914 to their present appearance.
In 1867 the first building for the Agricultural Works (Section-A) was constructed, to be followed three years later by the foundry (Section-B). Section-D was built in 1882, completing the main buildings for the Works. The fire of December 24, 1913, destroyed all but the foundry and the double house. The Works complex was rebuilt in the Spring of 1914, with alterations to Section-B through 1940. The double house, used as the office for the company, was changed back to a house, but taken down by 1928. A new office was built in July 1914, from the porch of "Oakland" the former Doylestown English & Classical Seminary which was demolished that summer.
Barrett's Hardware Store, originally known as "Twining Hall," was built by H. Twining as a pork and sausage factory with a meeting room for the "Good Templars" and other organizations on the second floor. Twining Hall, too, burned in 1913. It was rebuilt in brick by James Barrett and served as a hardware store until the mid 1960's.
The last dwelling to be built on the Shaw Block was the Jacob Clemens House, 138 and 140 South Main Street. Its construction date has not been determined, although it appears on maps of Doylestown by 1876.
The Francis B. Shaw Block provided homes for middle class families and a variety of services to Doylestown and the surrounding area. Of impact nationally and even internationally is the Doylestown Agricultural Works. Of lesser importance but vital in their day were: the Railroad House Hotel, Abel Stover/Charles Rhoades' Livery Stable, Twinings Pork & Sausage Factory, Twining Meeting Hall and Barretts' Hardware Store. This block was subdivided and subsequently developed as a separate unit on the edge of Doylestown Borough although influenced by adjacent development, such as the Railroad. It succeeded in Shaw's wish to attract business to Doylestown. Future plans, if successful, are also aimed at creating a place for craftsmen and artists to work, business to locate and people to gather.Agriculture
From 1867 to 1967 the Doylestown Agricultural Works manufactured and supplied equipment not only throughout the United States but also abroad to places as far as Jerusalem and Peru. The Doylestown Thresher was invented at the Works and was awarded 1st prize at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. The Doylestown Thresher was a versatile piece of equipment and was used to thresh beans, peas, wheat, peanuts, straw, etc. This thresher, competing with threshers of companies such as International Harvester, was in great demand; the peanut thresher which found a ready market in Texas and other southern states was particularly in great demand.
An advertising catalogue of 1884 lists the products offered by Daniel Hulshizer, owner, as the Doylestown Excelsior Patent Horse Power, the Doylestown Triumph Horse Power, the Doylestown Junior Thresher and Cleaner, the Doylestown Thresher and Shaker, Feed Cutters, Field Rollers, Corn Shellers, Wood Sawing Machines, Rufes Patent Governor for Horse Powers and Elevators, etc.
An outline of the history of the company, its products and accomplishments was given in the December 24, 1913 account of the fire in the Doylestown Daily Intelligencer:
The architecture of the Francis B. Shaw Block is highly conservative, particularly for the Victorian era. It illustrates the types of individual homes built by 19th Century middle class and the utilitarian buildings used by 19th Century and 20th Century local industry. Despite the lack of decoration or style these buildings emit a sense of harmony created by the common proportional units, fenestration, gabled roofs and masonry construction. The two buildings which depart the most from these traditional characteristics are the Charles Rhoads' House and Stable. They have clipped gable roofs and their orientation is opposite common siting: The house has its gable facing the street while the stable is served on its long sides, not its gable ends.
Early photographs, possibly before or around 1900, show the last third of the frame section with the stone foundation (now Section A) is intersected at right angles by a taller stone building to the west extending over the site of the present Section D. Both buildings of a design common to mill buildings of the 19th Century, have gable roofs and evenly spaced small paned windows. The stone wing has "eyebrow" windows serving its uppermost (fourth floor) level. Large service doors are aligned on each floor in the center of the gable end with flanking windows and a pulley extension in the gable to hoist goods to these openings. The chimney in the later of these two photographs appears to have been raised to its present height.
Reconstruction after the fire commenced in 1914 with David Nyce the builder. Mr. Nyce did a fair amount of building in Doylestown and his style represents the tradition for solid construction yet conservative design popular in this area. What is somewhat unusual is the manufacture of this tradition of early to mid-19th century construction and design well into the 20th century and its use by a company with national and international connections. Of interest is the metal "hoist" or open outside elevator on the west facade of Section A, one of the few new ideas incorporated into the rebuilding. Old bricks from buildings in Philadelphia were used for the walls.
The Doylestown Agricultural Works served as the manufacturer and distributor of agricultural implements and iron specialty items throughout the nation and abroad. Trade to places as far as Peru and Jerusalem for the Company was handled by their Export Sales Office at 30 Church Street in New York City. In addition to threshers and other farm implements, the foundry at the Agricultural Works produced iron specialty items such as park benches and wrought iron grill work for places in New York, Philadelphia and Atlantic City. The bronze gates surrounding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were manufactured at the Doylestown Agricultural Works.
In the early 20th century approximately 50 men were employed at the Works and were able to produce fifteen threshers in two weeks. At the time of the fire the Agricultural Works was not only the oldest industry in Doylestown, but considered the most important industry in the area. In a Doylestown Daily Intelligencer article of February 5, 1914, the question of relocating the business in Doylestown was raised "as other towns and cities, in the State have sent more than 100 letters, from their Boards of Trade—as far as Oklahoma to California, urging them to locate there. It was said, by a man familiar with the firm, that the Agricultural Works meant $25,000 in business to Doylestown."
The business was rebuilt in Doylestown and quickly gained momentum. By 1920, General Motors, in an effort to compete with Ford Motors in the production of agricultural machinery bought 90% of the Ag Works stock. The transaction, handled by W. Murphy, transferred 272 preferred stock and 254 common stock to General Motors for $26,807.70. The idea was that of Mr. William Durant, President of General Motors from June of 1916 to November 1920, who was interested in expanding General Motors holdings. The Doylestown Agricultural Company came under the division of Samson Tractors with two other companies. Unfortunately, the management of these holdings became a problem and Mr. Durant resigned in 1920. With the ascent of Pierre S. duPont as President of General Motors all unprofitable divisions including Samson Tractors were liquidated and the Doylestown Agricultural Company bought back its stock in 1921.
From 1921 until 1923 the Works continued to manufacture Agricultural machinery and specialty iron work. In 1934 the Depression economy forced the shutdown of the Foundry. Machinery continued to be assembled from excess parts but eventually the Doylestown Agricultural in 1935, after 16 years of experimentation, Joseph Ruos, the company president, perfected a vibrating straw rack for the thresher to replace the old and less efficient rake-type straw rack. The Doylestown Peanut Thresher was a popular item because it didn't break the shells as other brands did. The Works also were the first to put a self feeder on the peanut thresher.
Several innovations, or "firsts," are associated with the Agricultural Works. The September 18, 1886 issue of the Doylestown Daily Intelligencer announced "arrangements have been made with Mr. Hulshizer to furnish power for the first "test" electric lights erected in Doylestown, from the engine at the Doylestown Agricultural Works." Mr. Henry D.Ruos, in a conversation of July 9, 1979, related:
"Around 1900-1901, about the same time Henry Ford was making his first car, a man from Philadelphia who had just invented an Internal Combustion Engine approached Mr. Henry Ruos with the suggestion of building an automobile with his engine in the Agricultural plant. This was done and called the "Winslow Motor Carriage Co." It was expensive and eventually had to close due to lack of funds."
According to Mr. Ruos, the first spike on the Doylestown-Easton Trolley railway-driven June 22, 1901, was made at the foundry of the Ruos Agricultural Works. One of the first automobile franchises in the area was located in Section D of the Agricultural Works. Joseph J. Conroy, a former employee of Ford Motor Company in Philadelphia, came to Doylestown in 1919. Conroy owned the franchise for Ford products in the area and rented a part of Section D for $40.00 per month. Company just dealt in retail and repair work. Although still a successful business, the "Ag Works" closed in 1968.
‡ Shaw Historic District, nomination document, 1979, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places (NR #79002172),Washington, D.C.
Ashland Street West • Bridge Street West • Clinton Street South • Main Street South