Thomas Bull House
The Thomas Bull House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. 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 present appearance of the Thomas Bull House is very close to that of the 18th century, changes being those due to vacancy and neglect. The house has not been occupied since 1942. The house shows its growth in three parts. The two older parts are joined to form a four bay southern exposure which had a deep shed-roofed porch along its entire length which wrapped around the east end over a bee-hive oven. These four bays, alternately divided into two windows and two doors beginning at the southeast corner with a door, were the front of the early house.
The oldest part is the eastern end and is entered by a double (Dutch) door of heavy planks. The east wall of this section (and thereby of the entire house) is taken over by an interior chimney and exterior bee-hive bake oven. Inside, a circular staircase wraps around the chimney to the second floor. There is one small, off-center window in the third floor. The north wall has one window on the first floor and one on the second. The roof is gabled with partial returns. This section has no cellar.
The first addition was to the west wall and extended the southern facade by two bays. These were again a door and a window, the door being this time a single six panel door. On the north exposure, there are two windows on the first floor and one on the second floor.
There is one small corner fireplace in this large room leading to the supposition that the addition was made after iron stoves had come into practical use. It is possible that there may have been two corner fireplaces originally. All windows in these two sections are 8/8. The family believes the first of these two sections were built in 1715, and it is notated as such in newspaper articles. This would have put it under the ownership of Owen Roberts of Philadelphia, and is within the realm of real possibility. Roberts wife, Ann, is known to have lived in this area long after her husband's death, leading to the thought that she probably lived here during his life when they owned this land.
The third section of the house was built probably between 1783 and 1796. Dating lies in the fact that the property was bought by Thomas Bull in 1783 and that Bull was taxed for "1 large stone house at 75 pounds and 1 small stone house at 25 pounds" in 1796. Both houses were standing as late as 1966 at which time the smaller, or tenant house, was sold and rebuilt on another site near GlenMoore. The larger house is most definitely indicated in the 1798 Chester County Glass Tax by the dimensions "22' by 41', with two-story stone kitchen, 22' by 42', attached," these being identical to the present house. Thomas Bull was a stone mason by trade, although he was employed as manager of Warwick Furnace by Rutter & Potts. He was known locally for his ability to build a smokeless fireplace, and is known to have built other houses in the area.
This addition is without question a more elaborate style than the first. It added two rooms and a wide central hall and stairway on both first and second floors. It changed the orientation of the house from south to west, being perpendicular to the old house. It is attached to the west wall of the first addition, the rear of the new hallway entering the center west wall of the older house. It is three bays wide. Windows on the first floor are small paned 12/12. They are 8/12 on the second floor and 6/6 on the third floor, each being flanked by panelled shutters. Each window is topped by a prominent stone key-block between cut stone lintels.
The doorway is intricately designed and executed with finesse. A heavy marble step leads to a six panel door over which is a semi-circular fan-light rather than the usual oblong transom. It is embellished by two finely carved wooden pilasters composed of variations on the Doric column, architrave, metope frieze and cornice. A one-story, hip-roofed hood, supported by two simple wooden posts, shelters the doorway. Its floor is a large iron plate probably cast at Warwick Furnace.
The center hall is flanked on either side by a single room of generous proportions. Each room has a fireplace, set against the older house wall, and framed in marble. There is a wide, 6 panelled cupboard on either side of each fireplace. The remainder of the fireplace wall is partially panelled. Each room has 2 windows which are also panelled, the panelling extending below the windows to form a deep window seat. The room to the right of the main entrance has, in addition to its windows, a door opening onto the south lawn.
The stairway is treated simply with a square newel post and cap and round spindles on square bases in a closed stringer. A panelled wainscot is used. It rises to a landing from which a door gives entrance to the second floor of the earlier house. As the stairway then turns, it rises several more steps to the new second floor. This allows the higher ceilings in the addition. The newer part makes use of chair rail and cove moulding. Parts of the interior mouldings have been removed by the well known architect, R. Brognard Okie, when he was restoring the nearby Reading Furnace mansion. However, he always left enough to verify what had been there originally.
Thomas Bull, great grandson of the Bull family which came to Pennsylvania from Radmorshire, Wales, purchased a tract of 515 acres from Thomas Rutter and Samuel Potts in 1783. Rutter and Potts were owners of Warwick Furnace, which Bull managed. Bull was a stonemason, a skill he brought to bear in the construction of the mansion which survives today. The exact date of construction is not exactly known but it is safe to assume that it is between 1783-1796. The large two story stone house had dimensions of 22' by 41', with a two story stone kitchen, 22' by 42', attached.
Enough is known of Bull himself to offer a portrait of an able and energetic businessman and shrewd leader. Both before and after the Revolution, he managed Warwick Furnace, which provided iron products for the Continental Army. Entering the Army, he was named Lieutenant Colonel of a regiment when General Anthony Wayne was transferred to another command.
After the war, Bull took up the affairs of Warwick Furnace and applied himself to improving his plantation. He was already a citizen of substantial wealth, with property valued at 1,335 pounds in 1785, including two slaves. By 1803, when the tax lists were computed in dollars, his property was valued at $8,684. His neighbors, following the colonial and Federal pattern, accorded him an important place in political leadership. He was a member of the conventions which framed and ratified the state constitution of Pennsylvania in 1789-90. From 1793-1801, he represented Chester and Delaware Counties in the State Assembly. Bull felt more compelled by his business interests; and retired from politics following the turn of the century. He acquired a 9/16 interest in Joanna Furnace, and in 1812 was an advocate of the Conestoga Turnpike, which promised both direct profits and promotion of the area's economy. Thomas Bull died in 1836; his land and mansion house passed to his son, Levi.
The style of the Thomas Bull house is unusual for this area and is valuable as a well-articulated and little altered example of the Late Georgian-Early Federal architecture. The semi-circular fanlight, finely detailed Doric pilasters, placement of the entrance in the gable end, and the extremely wide and low pitched roof with complete return reminiscent of the classical pediment indicate the increasing classical awareness which characterized the Federal period. It is also indicative of the interests, tastes and appreciations of its builder/architect.
Atlas of Chester Co., Pa., Safe Harbor, Pa.: A. R. Witmer, 1873
Breou's Original Series of Farm Maps: Chester Co., Pa., Philadelphia W. H. Kirk and Co., 1883.
Chester Co. Courthouse, Deed Books: C2, p.48; V2, p.536; C2, p.48; X3, v.70, p.266; Q3, v.64, p.173; C7, p.475; Misc. Deed Book 142, p.555; F11, v.253, p.562; D21, p.81; V27, p.509. Will Books: 11, p.67; H8, p.177; 17, p.136; D2, V.29, p.453; D2, v.29, p.453; 37, p.224; 57, p.549.
Chester County Historical Society. Miscellaneous papers. East Nantmeal Township, Chester County.