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Springtown Historic District

Springfield Twp, Bucks County, PA


Springtown Histeoric District

House and Church, Springtown Historic District, Springfield Township, Bucks County, PA. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Photographed by User:PattiParker (own work), 2012, [cc-3.0], accessed July, 2022.


The Springtown Historic District [†] is located in the upper eastern half of Springfield Township, Bucks County and is a rural village set in the scenic, agricultural limestone valley of the Cook's Creek. The previously Listed John Eakin farm is significant for its association with Commerce and Agriculture. The district contains a well preserved collection of houses, barns, stores and outbuildings and demonstrates rural village development in the traditional linear pattern along its Main Street. The period of significance for the village district is from 1736-1956, namely from its first permanent buildings through 1956, following the National Register's 50 year rule.

The location of Springtown spurred its initial growth and established commercial activities in the 18th century that are still evident today. The settlement of this area in the early 18th century was by established Quakers from the lower part of Bucks County and investors from Philadelphia. The village is strategically located on the south side of a substantial range of hills that now define the boundary between Bucks and Northampton counties, and along important travel routes since the 18th century into the Saucon and Lehigh valleys. Also, this eastern end of Springfield Township abuts the famous Durham Tract to the east that was corporately owned by prominent investors for the mining and production of iron, restricting private ownership and settlement. The first mine was opened by 1698 and the fumace in operation by 1727. Land near to the Durham Tract, mainly to the west along the Cook's Creek and in the rich limestone belt, was particularly sought after not only for the enhanced agricultural value but also for private ownership and commercial possibilities near the iron furnaces. A George Wilson was operating a store near Springtown in the 1720's.

Ownership of Springfield Township by the Proprietary government was in question until the Walking Purchase of 1737 by which land previously negotiated for from the native Lenape Indians was actually paced out and defined by survey. Land patents out of the Proprietary were issued after this controversial survey and in the vicinity of Springtown patents for several hundred acres immediately went to Caspar Wistar and Isaac Greenleafe, prominent Philadelphians. Wistar promptly sold to Stephen Twining (father-in-law of John Chapman, famous surveyor who laid out the path of the Walking Purchase), who built a mill east of the village within a year indicating that nearby land was already cleared and farmed. This mill, where Silver Creek joins Cooks Creek, reserved water rights westerly along the Silver Creek within the present district.

Twining built his home by 1739 adjacent a smaller, possibly earlier cabin overlooking this portion of Silver Creek. The house stands as the eastern part of Keeker's Tavern (John Eakin Farm, National Register). Early road petitions from the 1740's cited Stephen Twining's mill as their destination and became the impetus for the creation of the village (BC Road Petitions 84, 89, 91,163). One of the earliest, dated 1743, recited that the road was requested 12 years before and laid out 1741, again verifying settlement before land titles. The 18th century saw further development between the house and mill with the addition of a house for John Chapman, Jr. built adjacent Twining's house by 1760 as well as a variety of stone outbuildings still visible today, i.e. spring house, smoke house, and barn and by the early 19th century, the tannery.

The never failing, spring fed Silver Creek and its larger stem the Cooks Creek not only provided power for the mill, but also defined the path of roads through this valley. The earliest path of the road from the Richland Meeting (Quakertown) to Durham past Twining's Mill may have taken a fairly direct route across meadows and the creeks, but the damp ground and multiple crossings lead to the joining of two roads, one from the iron furnaces (Route 212) and one from Philadelphia (Route 412), east of the mill to cross at the mill and take the higher and drier ground to the north. This path, now Main Street, also follows the north patent line of the Greenleafe tract. At the west end of the village two roads split off to go over the mountain into the Saucon Valley, but the main roads still join to recross the Silver Creek and then split, Route 412 taking the Walking Purchase path through the pass at Hellertown and up to Bethlehem, and Route 212 leading southwest past Richland Friends Meeting to the Provincial Road (Route 309) and upper Montgomery County.

The combined path of roads, called the "Great Road" by 1761, leading to significant 18th century destinations as the iron furnace, Bethlehem and Philadelphia made an attractive location for the development of commercial enterprises and thus a village. The favorable south slope of the hill with fertile soil well watered with fresh springs made settlement undeniable. Twining sold his house in 1758 to son-in-law John Chapman, who in 1761 transferred to Jacob Kooker, stone mason, who established a tavern, evident in the two additions to the house. Kooker and Abraham Funk, who bought Twining's mill, mark the arrival of the more permanent German population. Land to the west of the Kooker/Twining property was held by Catharine Greenleafe, widow from Philadelphia until May 1784 when she sells 158 ac, 95 perches to Abraham Funk, the miller. Funk sells the eastern portion of this (the center of the village), 98 acres, to Henry Funk of Northampton and 23 acres on the western corner (Route 212, Springtown Hill & Lower Saucon Roads) to Conrad Hess, cordwainer by 1785. Hess builds a log house, stone barn and stone springhouse and within four years acquires land to the north and west to create a large farm. Funk's son Henry sells another parcel of 26 acres, 80 perches to Conrad Shoemaker, wheelwright just south of the district in 1790 after receiving it from his father's estate. Henry, now the miller, buys back the 98 acres in the center of the village, likely with modest buildings, the 1798 tax list indicating a log house and barn being rented and another lived in by widow Mary Funk. The Dorey property contains a smaller cabin within the present house.

Sales of land on the north side of Main Street also follow the pattern of 20-30 acre parcels sold to craftsmen and entrepreneurs. In 1791 John Brock, merchant and Jonas Kirk, blacksmith purchase land and by 1797 divide it into two parcels of 26 and 23 acres, identified in the 1798 tax list with a stone house and log storehouse and stone blacksmith shop. John Black, cordwainer, purchases 31 acres, 48 perches from Abraham Chapman to the west of Brock's store, near Conrad Hess, in 1783, again listed with a log house and barn in 1798. Thus by the end of the 18th century a village is established to the extent of the present district, with a variety of occupations and services including a tavern, (mill just to the east), store, blacksmith, cordwainers and wheelwrights (just to the south).

The center of the village, opposite the Brock store and Kirk shop, was sold by Henry Funk to become the core of the village. Conrad Hess purchased land to build his fashionable "town house" by 1807 and just west in 1800 John Brock bought a three acre parcel to erect a more permanent store, this time of coursed stone. Abraham Chapman purchased Brock's stone house to the north and doubled its size to accommodate the White Horse Tavern. These key buildings of Federal design, fine stonework and orientation directly on the road reinforced the pattern of village development to follow throughout the 19th century. The post office was opened in 1806 in a small building adjacent the Brock store and by 1811 Adam Romig, now owner of the store, sold to George Short, tobacconist.

This property continued its commercial/professional affiliation into the 20th century (known as Mills Store). The rear of the lot extends down to the Silver Creek and early deeds reserved the water plus a 15-foot border on each side for Henry Funk, owner of the mill, to clean the streams and "keep them in their proper channel". At the west end of the village near the bend in the road several frame houses were built in the first decade of the 19th century for artisans. As many of the properties were large enough to support modest agriculture, barns were enlarged or rebuilt in stone to house the combined stabling, granary and hay storage. This strong collection of surviving pre-1815 houses and buildings, including 8 houses, 3 springhouses and 3 barns spread along the entire length of Springtown make it exceptional in demonstrating the early village settlement of the area and its connection to agriculture. While many Bucks County villages may trace their beginnings to the 18th or early 19th century, such as nearby Pleasant Valley, or even Quakertown, few demonstrate it so literally with surviving historical fabric, including outbuildings, from this early period.

Steady growth continued for Springtown through the 1830-40 decade with the new buildings falling into an already established pattern of building orientation and setback, infilling the skeleton network previously established. Most noteworthy is the Springtown Hotel built by Christopher Witte in a standard domestic form 5 bays wide and 2 piles deep that has continued to this day as the town's established hostelry. A stone house was built to the east of the White Horse Hotel on the 18th century Kiri Smith property, as well as a brick, hipped roof house. Stone tenant houses appeared along the road at the Kooker Tavern property, in response to the developing lime business under relative John Eakin. The Enos Weirbach brick house was built near the division between the 18th century Brock and Black parcels. At the west end of the village more frame houses were built at the point where the two roads over the mountain split off from the main thoroughfare. The appearance of double houses, as with, began to show a denser village population employed in commercial or trade/craft enterprises. Two large stone bank barns were built with closed frame forebays typical of this period, including the massive Eakin barn, set close to the road for the lime hauling wagons.

The S. Hersey Business Directory and Gazetteer of Bucks County, Pennsylvania of 1871 (Wilmington, DE, p. 290, 295) described Springtown as "an enterprising village, containing a hotel, store, coach works, handle and felloe factory, merchant mill, and from 20 to 25 dwelling houses." The current inventory of the village identifies 24 houses built c1870 and earlier concurring with the directory and suggesting little or no loss of period houses within the district. With the assistance of the 1876 Atlas of Bucks County, many of the businesses can be identified by location with the shop industries, such as wheelwright and blacksmith, saddler and harness maker, shoemaker, and coach maker clustered at the west end of the village, the store and church in the middle and the hotel, lime kilns, tannery and mill at the east end. Blacksmith Way is the only interior alley at this time, paralleling Main Street behind the "west end" shops. Today small frame barns represent some of these local industries, including the Titus Swartz Blacksmith Shop, the W. T. Helms Coach Shop which both stand two stories high against Blacksmith Way with west facing gable end access. On the south side of Main Street, several of the houses have additive sections that may have served in part as workshops for the shoemaker, saddler and harness maker.

During the post Civil War period Springtown more than doubled in size, although It maintained the lateral limits of the village boundary. Expansion was principally via Infill lots along Main Street as well as two new interior streets. Church and Walnut. Single and double houses are placed intermittently on these streets, the latter indicating an increasing need to house labor for growing industries. The expansion of the S. G. Mills Store logically takes place during this period. Two other store buildings appear. The Times Building also served as Laubach's Central General Store, with the style of a double house, the east half reserved as the residence. This store/house form is repeated with the construction of the Stonebach General Store in 1892. The maturity of the village supported the printing of its own newspaper by H. S. Funk, operating out of the Times building. The Springfield Times was offered weekly from 1885-1918. The Springtown Water Company was incorporated in 1895 to serve the more dense building stock with principals being local residents such as O. B. Fackenthal. A reservoir west of the village up the hill was fed by strong springs, in 1940 a new reservoir was built north of town. A petition was submitted for the incorporation of Springtown into a borough, but this was never approved and it has maintained its allegiance as the largest village in Springfield Township.

An article written in the late 19th century describes Springtown as "having 60 houses, dwellings and over 200 inhabitants. The industries it supports are one general store, one green grocery, one stove and tinware store, one tobacco store, one extensive merchants tailoring establishment, one printing house, one hotel, one carriage factory, and one saddlery. Near town are Brods Handle Works, the Excelsior Mills, two blacksmith shops, one wheelwright shop. This town has also the home office of the Globe Mutual Live Stock Insurance Co....a flourishing academy...an orchestra.... The town affords great opportunity for the display of enterprise. It has great natural advantages, not possessed by many other towns..."

The enthusiastic growth of the late 19th century calmed during the first half of the twentieth century as industries shifted to large scale operations near railroads and the popularity of the automobile allowed farther travel for supplies and work, namely to larger towns such as Quakertown and Bethlehem. A gas station appears in the center of town by 1918, next to the Mills Store, still there today with a new building built in 1946 (the old station torn down in 1959). Gutshall's Chevrolet took over a blacksmith shop in the area of an old lime quarry in 1921 and continued in operation until 1992 (now a car repair shop). General stores were able to continue at Stonebach's with the post office, and also into the 1980's, combined with a luncheonette in the Times' building (in 1990 a convenience store was added next to the gas station). While the tanning and lime burning and transport industries diminished, truck farm patches in town increased to large operations producing strawberries, vegetables and tomatoes, first for local canning, then for transport to Bethlehem, continuing through 1987 (Marek). With the growth of Bethlehem Steel as an international industry, residents of Springtown could get work during difficult times of the 1930's and 40's, and conversely, Springtown offered a quiet residential community for steel employees. As such there has been continuous, albeit modest, growth, through the 1950's, with many traditional businesses operating until the 1980's. New houses were added as infill to the existing village at an average of three to four per decade (vs. one/decade up to 1850, five/decade 1850-1900).

Economic hardships for traditional farmers in the 1970's and 1980's, coupled with a boom in suburban housing, encouraged the sale of farms adjacent to the village for residential developments. This occurred to the north at the Seifert fann on Drifting Drive (owned by the Cyphert/Seifert family since the 1780's), with house lots to the east on the Funk mill property and to the south past the firehouse on portions of the Hess farm. Tracts of land more visible from the village proper, namely in the Silver Creek valley up to Bitts Hill are still maintained principally in open space, most noteworthy the 100 acres that is a part of the John Eakin NR Historic District. Likewise the fields of the Funk Mansion house property are open up to the district edge at the Salem Church. These significant open spaces continue to define the historic setting of Springtown, the newer development, while not as visible, has clarified the extent of the historic district to the traditional village parameters established by the 19th century.

Architecture

Architecturally, Springtown's visual continuity comes out of a blend of English and Gennan influences tempered by the conservative tastes of the populace. The strong presence of 18th and early 19th century houses and buildings, demonstrating Georgian and Federal proportions and style, seems to have established a form only modified by late-19th century trends. This stands in contrast to two similar sized villages that experienced significant growth in the second half of the 19th century, Ivyland Borough and Blooming Glen. Ivyland, adjacent Warminster Township in lower central Bucks County, was influenced by Its railroad connection to Philadelphia and has distinct house styles of the Second French Empire and Queen Anne, with Mansard and peaked roofs and irregular house plans. Blooming Glen, a large village in Hilltown Township, shows the Gennan preference for large substantial houses, mainly brick with steep roofs and Gothic windows or solid, boxy Colonial Revival forms. While the predominant population of Springtown was Gennan, the initial establishment by English during the pre- and post- Revolutionary period created a preference for the symmetrical fenestration and lower roof pitches of the Georgian / Federal forms. With strong growth periods during the mid-Federal and early Greek Revival styles, the classical proportions became reinforced and by mid-century the Italianate continued the established form, i.e. rectangular footprint, three bays wide and one pile deep with 2-1/2 story height and medium pitch roof Therefore, many of the houses of the second half of the 19th century are based on this form, with porches, brackets and window labels concessions to Victorian decorative preferences.

Outstanding examples of architectural styles from several periods do exist in Springtown, beginning with Stephen Twining's (Keeker's tavern) ca 1739 home. The 2-1/2 story, two bay, two pile "Penn Plan" form replicates contemporary houses from Twining's earlier home around the Quaker influenced Newtown. Stone relieving arches, rough ashlar masonry and hewn joists and rafters represent early construction. Back-to-back corner fireplaces are also favored features. Within twenty years Twining's grandson builds a house in the same form, although different stonework and sawn framing distinguish age and builders. Such documentation of earky settlement occurs only rarely outside of Springtown in this area, one example on the Walking Purchase path on Slifer Valley Road to the east and the Lester Tannery in Quakertown to the southwest. Exceptionally unique in demonstrating the blend as well as distinction of English and German architectural ideas during this mid-18th century period can be seen with the Keeker's Tavern addition ca. 1773 to Stephen Twining's house. While of the same 2-1/2 story, two bay, two pile form, the tavern has a ground level entrance, heavy decorated summer beam and jamb stoves indicative of German construction. The exterior form, however, shows a concession to the English form adjacent. By the post-Revolutionary Federal period the stone houses in the district demonstrate prevailing English influences of ashlar stonework with flat arches, even fenestration with symmetrical door placement and interior gable end chimneys on low pitched roofs. The Hess Mansion, the White Horse Tavern and Brock Store/Short Tobacco Shop exhibit these traits.

The late Federal form easily translated into the Italianate used both before and after the Civil War. Examples of the simple application of Italianate features can be seen on the Times building and in the group of vernacular frame houses to the west of Stoneback's Store, including the W. T. Helms House, replete with window labels, round arched attic windows and decorative porches. While the classical form predominated the late 19th century architecture of Springtown, five brick houses provide a distinguished exception with Victorian Gothic features including steep roof with cross gables, peaked window labels and with two houses, a projecting central bay, the best preserved being the W. Shively House. In spite of the attempt at Gothic, symmetrical plan, window labels and round arched windows are still included in these houses.

The Victorian cross gable Is the only residual element on the pair of turn-of-the-century stone double houses on Walnut Street. Their solid square forms were preferred by the German population and recalled the even regularity of the Georgian. Most of the double houses in the district are frame, but with this simple rectangular form. Individual examples of 20th century styles exist including Sears and Roebuck kit, Tudor, Cape Cod and Bungalow. These provide visual interest and historical continuity of the first half of the 20th century, but do not dominate the overall architectural character of the district.

Being located in a fertile limestone valley and on a significant 18th and 19th century travel route, Springtown visually and architecturally holds some similarities to the larger Hellertown, located further northwest on Route 412 in the limestone based Saucon Valley. Both areas have dominant stone Federal period buildings of Georgian form that characterize their core, with conservatively styled steady growth into the 20th century. Hellertown, being closer to Bethlehem and at a more heavily traveled crossroads to Easton, is a larger town, but still has some barns and grist mills as a part of its streetscapes. Its 20th century neighborhoods, with brick bungalows and Cape Cod homes, demonstrate to an even greater degree the strength of the Bethlehem Steel Mill in supporting these rural communities during the depression era and following decades. Springtown is a smaller, more compact and better preserved example of a rural based village in a limestone valley.

The Springtown Historic District is remarkable for its high state of preservation of resources from the 18th and 19th century, its representation of early rural village development and connection to industries linked to natural resources and agriculture. Its blending of English and German cultures and styles present a pleasant continuity of streetscape and fine collection of outbuildings recall the local industries which defined the village in the past.

Adapted from: Kathryn Ann Auerbach, Preservation Consultant, Springfield Township Historical Commission, Springtown Historic District, nomination document, 2007, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Center Street • Lower Saucon Road • Main Street • Mill Street • New Hill Road • Route 212 • Springtown Hill Road • Walnut Street