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East Nottingham Twp, Chester County, PA

The Hopewell Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Text, below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.


Nestled in the sloping hills of southwestern Chester County are two roads; Hopewell Road with a general East-West orientation and Lower Hopewell Road which approaches from the north and dead ends at Hopewell Road. The "T" shaped area that surrounds their intersection is a well-preserved collection of 19th century domestic, agricultural, and commercial structures which represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components might lack individual distinction. The architectural collection and the open space configuration was "set" for a 19th century milling and agricultural community shaped and dominated by an enterprising Scotch-Irish, Presbyterian family, the Dickeys, who used the borough of Hopewell as their base of operations while creating a small "empire" of industrial and agricultural properties that impacted western Chester County and had some ripple effects on the entire region. The Dickeys, with their broad spectrum of interests, left their mark upon the area in (but not limited to) the areas of agriculture (innovative farming using a water ram upper fields and experimenting with a variety of fertilization techniques to drastically improve yield), dairy production (the creation of a butter-making machine patented in 1853) industry (extensive milling operations), and education (with both public and private schools in the borough).

Hopewell's story reflects the influence of the Industrial Revolution on pastoral southwestern Chester County, and the mechanization and commercialization of agriculture in the region as it moved from subsistence to bread-basket status. Research reveals the relationship of 19th century economics upon this family of "driven" entrepreneurs by the growth and collapse of the Dickey family's intricate empire, the many subsequent reuses of the structures and the consequential impact on the valley and region.

The 15 principal structures, and 40 associated buildings, sites, and bridges, 36 contributing and 19 non-contributing) within the area studied here include the Hopewell Academy (listed in HABS), one of the original mills, the millworkers' housing, the town store, the lyceum/schoolhouse/chapel, the modest rectory on Hopewell Road that served a church outside the borough boundaries, and the homes of the Dickey brothers. Also included as part of the district's cultural landscape and inventory are the 3 country bridges (structures) on Hopewell Road, since they provide access and integral view accents to the study area. Century and Penn trees are also indicated on the district map.

The Family—The First Generations

Samuel Dickey, Jr. (II) was born in Ulster, Ireland about 1730. With his father, Samuel Sr. (I) and family, he emigrated to America prior to 1739 and settled in East Nottingham Township, several miles south of Oxford. He married Mary Jackson in 1759; Mary coming from a notable family in Lower Oxford. They eventually settled on a 260 acre farm called "Palmyra" south of Oxford in East Nottingham Township. The union produced eight children, four daughters and four sons. The sons, named John, Samuel III, Ebenezer and David, were the motive forces that shaped the borough of Hopewell. Perhaps the best way to describe them is as innovators in a conservative sense.

Ebenezer entered the Presbyterian ministry, David invested in land, and the two older brothers, John and Samuel, became interested in a mechanical process that was revolutionizing the production of cloth (one of the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in America)—the water-powered textile mill. Rev. Ebenezer, a sometime reluctant entrepreneur, achieved fame in his own right, obtaining an honorary PhD from Princeton, becoming a published author, leading the temperance movement in southern Chester County, and having a son, Rev. James Miller Dickey, who later became well-known for founding Lincoln University (mentioned below).

Available documentation suggests that Samuel III was the brother with the most diversified interests. Agriculture was one of Samuel III's early passions, evidenced by his being chosen as an honorary member of the prestigious Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1807, an extraordinary recognition for an individual from western Chester County. This accolade was apparently the result of his 1806 invention and patent of a fuel efficient kitchen stove. After having experimented with horse-powered spinning machinery around 1809, Samuel moved to the valley of Hopewell Creek where the streams with their steady, rushing current could furnish the energy to spin a water wheel. The 1821 septennial census of Lower Oxford lists Samuel III as a farmer, suggesting perhaps that he pursued both agricultural and industrial avenues simultaneously, or balanced the pursuits as the flexing economy dictated. The 1828 septenial census listed Samuel III as a manufacturer. It is also notable that his farm had an early hydraulic (water) ram, possibly one of the earliest applications of this technology. That he should have such an apparatus is not unexpected, since he was a technological innovator and the deed records make note of the family's continual quest for water or water rights to power their various mills, and irrigate the land for farming.

Older brother John operated a mill several miles to the north, on Mount Vernon Creek. While not a partner with his brothers, he did have financial dealings with them from time to time.

By 1816, Samuel, Ebenezer (dividing his time with his Presbyterian ministry) and David were in business as "S.E.&D. Dickey" and were selling spun cotton yarn from their Hopewell mill. (They were able to expand in the next decades). The brothers' entrepreneurial interests and needs branched out to include a grist mill, and eventually attracted other skilled craftsmen such as blacksmiths, machinists, wheelwrights, carpenters, and masons.

In an entrepreneurially prudent rather than totally altruistic fashion, the Dickeys also constructed housing units for their mill workers. While there were some "entry level jobs" in the preparatory steps of the processes, usually done by women, much work in the cotton mills was done by skilled labor, almost always men, on machines known as "mules" and "throstles". Many of these skilled workers were from England, Scotland or Ireland, and the provision of the finest rental housing was seen as a means of keeping them in Hopewell. (Competition was strong for such workers among the textile mills of southeastern Pennsylvania). The 1860 Census showed 27 female workers, 16 of whom lived in the borough (a cotton mill or paper mill was one of the few places a young woman could work outside the home prior to the Civil War). The unmarried women lived with local families.

Reverend Ebenezer's son, Reverend John Miller Dickey (b. on Hopewell Road in 1806), founded Lincoln University—originally the 1854 Ashmun Institute for the training of black missionaries -and served as its first Board President. In a speech given in Oxford in 1872, and reprinted in the local paper in a 1913 retrospective piece entitled "Oxford in Early Days" dwelling on his early childhood memories, Rev. John Miller Dickey remembered "blue and white cotton, striped and cross barred," which gives indication that the Hopewell mills were producing not only cotton yarn, but finished cloth products at an early date. (A sample book of Hopewell cloth produced in 1828 exists in the vault at the Chester County Historical Society. In it is a sample of cloth such as described in the J.M. Dickey speech).

Agriculture, Industry, and the next Dickey Generation in Hopewell

In 1835, after the death of Samuel III (the last of the generation to found the industrial mini-empire), the Hopewell works, although divided equally among his seven children, came under the control of three of Samuel's sons, Samuel J., Ebenezer J. and David D. Dickey (the fourth son, John, was a Presbyterian minister living in central Pennsylvania). The inventory at the time of Samuel II's death included two cotton mills at Hopewell, machinery, a blacksmith's shop, and assets he had purchased from his brother David's estate, including 2 cotton mills, a paper mill, and a blacksmith's shop at Mount Vernon.

Operating as "SJ. Dickey and Brothers", the three brothers not only oversaw the Hopewell businesses, but also acquired their Uncle David's factory and mills at nearby Mount Vernon, and began to purchase farms in Hopewell, East Nottingham and Lower Oxford, as well as across the Octoraro in Lancaster County. With the introduction of innovative agricultural techniques, the Dickey family assisted in turning Chester County into one of the nation's leading agricultural areas, moving from subsistence farming to supplying food regionally.

The farming activities inspired a lengthy letter from Ebenezer J. Dickey published under he title of "Fine Crops of Corn," in The Farmer's Cabinet and American Herd-Book XI in December of 1846. In that piece, E.J. expounded upon the manner in which he and his brothers had ploughed, manured and treated the fields with crushed bone (for calcium) and ashes, and how this technique had yielded them excessively large amounts of corn (116, 82 and 76 bushels per acre at a time when 30 bushels per acre was the norm). He also wrote of a seed drill that he had devised for planting and his subsequent improvements to the drill. (This drill was exhibited at farm shows, and patented in 1849). This drill and the methods of treating the soil marked the Dickeys as part of the movement from subsistence farming to larger-scale commercial farming.

Butter making was also part of the enterprise of this family, and E.J. invented and patented a butter working machine warranted to "work 100 pounds of butter in fifteen minutes, and with extreme ease to the operator, thus making the most arduous part of the dairy labor easy, and at the same time improving the butter both in appearance and keeping quality." (Pennsylvania Farm Journal, (1854), p. 32). The article showed the machine, with a patent date of July 12, 1853, and referred to E.J. as "a practical dairyman."

These brothers had diversified interests. These included politics, leading the drive to have borough status granted to Hopewell, which finally happened in May 1853, making the one and one-half square miles of Hopewell the third largest borough in Chester County in land. Brother Ebenezer J. became the first Chief Burgess/mayor of the village.

Another major passion of the Dickey family was the temperance movement, to such an extent that historian John Bradley has speculated that they may have petitioned for borough status so they could control the traffic of alcohol within the borough boundaries. This passion for an alcohol-free society would have also fit well with their industrial and agricultural management procedures, since a sober employee is, of course, a safer employee and a more productive employee. Records even indicate that Ebenezer sold a concoction called "Dr. Chamber's Medicine for Intemperance."

Additionally, church work, community development and education were major pursuits of the family. Samuel J. worked with his Oxford cousins in promoting a rail link for southern Chester County and was also a staunch advocate of education (Samuel J. was an original trustee of Lincoln University which was established by his first cousin, Rev. John Miller Dickey, mentioned above).

It is not spatially efficient nor necessary academically to enumerate all the Dickey business and real estate transfers that occurred in mid-century in this document. It should be noted, however, that the 1860 population census, when it noted real estate values in the Hopewell area of the county, listed the top two names as "Dickey", with real estate values of $ 89,000 and $ 88,000 respectively, with the next farmer's real estate value listed at $ 8,000. The figures in the 1850 census of manufacturers show the Dickey Mills as the largest employer in the southwestern section of the county, paying the best wages. Despite this, the population of Hopewell did not grow tremendously, with 272 residents of the borough in 1860, and a loss of a few to 268 in 1870. Additionally, a few free black families lived in Hopewell even prior to the Civil War, although census data shows they were basically farm laborers and did not share in the wealth related to the agriculture of the area.


In the thirty years prior to the Civil War, many times a large wagon carrying massive bales of raw cotton to the mills from the Philadelphia wharves would pass a stage coach on Hopewell Road. Frequently the stage would be carrying young male passengers with apprehensive looking faces—headed for Hopewell Academy, one of Chester County's better-known, private, college preparatory schools. Education was almost a passion with the Dickey family, and consequently, with Hopewell. Prior to the passage of Pennsylvania's Free School Law of 1834, children were educated in private schools. Hopewell had one private school as early as 1826; Thompson Hudson, who had previously taught at a school in Bel Air, Maryland, operated an academy which he called the Hopewell Academy between 1834 -1841. (Note must be made that the Hudsons were another "great" family of early Hopewell until the borough's legal decertification.)

The second Hopewell Academy's (1841-61) classrooms and dormitories were housed in the former residence of Col. David Dickey (listed by HABS in the 1930s). This academy was run by Jesse C. Dickey (a relative of the family only by marriage to David Dickey's daughter Margaret), who served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1843 to 1845 as a member of the Whig party. He also served a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1849-50.

The school's liberal arts curriculum—Latin, Greek, mathematics, science, history, literature and grammar—was most noted for being equivalent to the first two years of college study. An 1847 notice in the Village Record advertised the academy's English and classical curricula, and announced tuition costs would be $55.00. The notice was signed by Jesse C. Dickey, Principal. The school also had a "practical" curriculum, which taught skills such as surveying 2nd shorthand. The Academy's enrollment in 1854 was 76 students, most of whom came from Chester County, although there were few from far-flung places as Madison, Wisconsin, and Plum Bayou, Arkansas. A faculty of 5 gave instruction in Latin and Greek, history and geography, grammar, composition and literature, French, vocal and instrumental music, botany, chemistry. geology, mathematics, and physical exercises. The school was favorably reviewed by the Pennsylvania School Journal in 1852. Available evidence suggests that the Hopewell Academy was closed about 1861.

Responsibility for public education, after the Free School Law of 1834, fell to the township East Nottingham school board minutes for 1836-39 contain several references to a school in Hopewell, with a specific reference in the minutes of September 2, 1837 of the board's decision to ask Samuel J. and Ebenezer J. Dickey for permission to use the Hopewell schoolhouse as the township's public school. The East Nottingham minutes also indicate that the Hopewell school was closed in 1838 while a new building was being completed. (It opened in 1839). The "current" schoolhouse was constructed in 1888, replacing a stone structure, according to the Oxford Press of September 25, 1888. The two story frame building housed the school and served as an unofficial town hall, as well as meeting place for the Hopewell Lyceum. Classes were held in this building until the 1920s. The building (standing today) and its predecessor served also as a meeting place for a variety of congregations and inter-denominational church groups from the mid 1880s through the 1940s.

The "Changing of the Guard" and the Decline

The 1856 death of David D. Dickey at age 34 signaled the beginning of the end of the era of financial prosperity. Despite a listing in the 1860 Federal Census of Manufacturers which ranked the Dickey Cotton Mills of Hopewell and Mount Vernon as 4th and 5th among the 12 cotton mills in Chester County, debts from heavy land purchases and the restriction of cotton supply caused by the Civil War played major contributing roles in this downward process, and led to the end of the Dickey financial empire.

In 1862, the assets of S.J. Dickey and Brother's factories, machinery, shops, the general store, the grist mill, farms and their own homes were placed in the hands of trustees. Along with sixteen other properties held with their relative John Dickey Ross (of Mount Vernon), the Dickey lands and buildings were sold to pay nearly $150,000 in debts. (It must be noted that the deed transfers from that time period lead the researcher on a merry chase as Dickey relatives who were still financially solvent and Dickey friends and allies combined to purchase as many as possible of the properties sold off at the bankruptcy of the brothers.)

A new era came upon Hopewell. Although the Dickey bankruptcy was a blow to the 272 residents of Hopewell, it was not a death knell to the community. A long-time dream of the Dickeys and the community, a railroad line, finally came to fruition in 1873 with the introduction of the narrow-gauge Peach Bottom Railroad, which connected Quarryville (south of Lancaster) with Oxford, and with another branch of the line mid-way between these towns connecting west to Peach Bottom on the Susquehanna River.

Agriculture continued as a mainstay of the Hopewell economy. This included a variety of crops, as noted on the 1870 U.S. Agricultural Census with wheat, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, and orchards (particularly on the Samuel Dickey Farm, where the main orchard continued into the 1940s, and the farm continues as a working farm even today with the same or similar crops to those of the 19th century, such as corn, soybeans, etc.). Within the borders of the borough there were 6 farms with more than 100 acres in 1870, and 5 in the 50 to 75 acre range. Hopewell dairy products enjoyed some fame in the early 1870s when the Chester County Milk Company, owned by the 4th generation of American Dickeys (the sons of Samuel J. and Ebenezer J.), produced butter, cheese and ice cream in the converted brick "upper Mill," formerly one of the old cotton factories. The success that this enterprise enjoyed is evidenced by the fact that the products were shipped to Philadelphia, Baltimore and New Jersey via the Peach Bottom Railroad. Visitors to the United States Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 enjoyed these dairy products of Hopewell. Newspaper reports indicate that this Dickey business was closed by 1879, since articles appeared speculating whether it would reopen. The last mention of the creamery appears in an 1881 article that speaks to the operation being run by a J. H. Brosius.

The new era did point out that Hopewell was not a typical nineteenth century borough, falling rather into the category of an agricultural village, unusual by the fact that all its farms fell within the borough limits. While it was distinguished by what it had—the mills, the factories, the prosperous farms, and the Academy—it was also distinguished by what it did not contain within its incorporated boundaries; no church, no cemetery, no physician, no attorney, no tavern (no surprise here knowing the Dickey passion for temperance!), no hotel, no library, no eating place, no theater, no town hall. The only public building was the schoolhouse (at first a small stone structure besides Hopewell Creek in the village center). When a new, two-story wooden structure was built on the site of the old stone schoolhouse in 1888, it also became the meeting place of the Hopewell Lyceum ( a community educational and social club that attracted large crowds to its programs of speeches, debates, poetry readings, music and dramatics. The Lyceum organization predated the building itself, being founded in 1875). Even this building served additional duty, serving as a place housing worship services between the 1880s and the early 20th century.

While the limitations mentioned above were not devastating, they did add to the borough not 'losing ground" but also not moving ahead to keep pace with the nearby growing communities. The bottom line was that residents had to travel outside the borough boundaries to tap into these additions to the fundamentals of life.

Allegiances to communities that were growing, such as Oxford, Chrome, Nottingham, and other locales that could provide these amenities sprang up; popular allegiance to Hopewell waned. A Philadelphia Inquirer article dated 10/31/1897 entitled, "A Farce Comedy in Borough Legislation..." dwells upon how almost everyone in the town had an elected office, and most were related to each other.

The end of the 19th century saw Hopewell's fortunes moving more rapidly toward decline. The ice cream factory closed, the grist mill burned, the Academy became a private residence, and the lower cotton mill was converted to flour production. The population dropped, and by 1910, the town had less than half its mid-19th century population. In 1914, after a bitter, extended dispute, Chester County Court finally honored the petition for withdrawal of borough status that had originally been filed in the 1890s, and redrew the township lines of Lower Oxford and East Nottingham to include Hopewell, despite the claim of the anti-dissolutionists that there was "as close a congregation of buildings as there had been when the charter was granted 60 years earlier." (Petitions and Court Records in Chester County archives) The former borough, although it physical make-up was not much changed, ceased to exist after 61 years as a separate political entity.

The Architecture and Landscape of Hopewell

A help to understanding the architectural placement and significance of Hopewell is to realize that what exists there today is pretty much the way Hopewell would have looked 150 years ago (minus the few buildings that have succumbed to fire) due to the fact that Hopewell was always more of an agricultural village than a typical 19th century "urban center" like Oxford, and yet different in time of evolution, number of resources, architectural types and spread of architecture over the landscape from the crossroad villages such as Kirk's Mill (Little Britain Township, Lancaster County) or Andrews Bridge Historic District (Colerain Township, Lancaster County) which are the two closest examples of other districts nominated to the National Register. Falling into the category of "the land that time forgot" seems to have helped the district keep the 19th century feeling with only occasional glimpses of the current century.

The architecture of Hopewell, both the few "high style" and the rest vernacular, blends with the continued use of the land in a largely agricultural mode to create the feeling of stepping back in time. Three former Dickey residences serve as visual markers at the three extremes of the "T" shaped district; many of the other buildings included in the nomination were occupied by workers in the various Dickey enterprises.

The Col. David Dickey Home, Hopewell Academy, commanding the crest of the hill at Roney's Corner Road, remains as marvelous an example of Georgian architecture as when it was recorded by HABS in the 1930s.

The Samuel Dickey home, also a Georgian style building, today the Tierney Farm, retains its stylistic patterns, both interior and exterior. It also continues to use its 90 acres as a working farm, producing vegetable & grain cash crops (corn, soybean & hay), with some land set aside for horse pasture and wetland. The newest major structure on the property is a depression-era tenant house. The ruins of the water ram (mentioned above) and the ruins of the bridge that serviced the "Old Road to Nottingham" are found near the western boundary of the property and the district.

The workers homes at the foot of the hill of the Samuel Dickey home have not been changed on the exterior in decades. The Thomas Strawbridge Dickey property, to the east of the above mentioned property, retains its evolutional integrity, keeping even the raceway berms and dam breastwall on the property.

The mill and workers housing at the northern end of the district have good degrees of integrity. The mill has had a twentieth century one-story addition, but it in no way detracts from the industrial massing of the main building. Two of the three workers houses have splendid degrees of integrity; one so much that, when it was sold in 1989, its interior spaces were as originally planned and it did not possess indoor plumbing. The Samuel Dickey early home sits at the eastern edge of this cluster, its proper tyline delineated by the former raceway (which is now legally a part of that property).

The schoolhouse/Lyceum still sits snugly on Hopewell Road at the confluence of the two creeks, guarding the pathway to the Samuel Dickey House and the roadway rising west and out of the district. With its two major trees, it sits as sentinel at the watery western boundary of the district as it has for over a century.

The stone post office/general store, retains its shape quite well, with a rear shed which had completely rotted being recently replaced with a shed roofed rear room of almost identical proportions. The E.J. Dickey Home was recently painstakingly restored from a ruinous condition to a well-cared for residence. Its accompanying barn was retained and enlarged.

Few architectural intrusions detract visually from this 19th century collection. The few new homes that border the district are mostly buffered by landscaping from the historic collection. The one non-contributing residence within the district is a mobile home, which is the ultimate "reversible" structure. The architecture of the district says "rural village", and clearly rural village of the 19th century.

Nearby Oxford has some architecture of this vintage, but, as is typical for more urban areas, the architecture tends more toward the later stylized and less vernacular. Oxford also has a wealth of 20th century structures, while only a few dot the landscape outside the Hopewell district boundaries. The few new buildings that are there are one story, primarily brick ranchers that fade into the landscape. The section of land that rises to the west of the district's valley is heavily buffered by mature stands of trees, obscuring the few 20th century houses that have been built west of the district.

The other nearby collections of architecture mentioned above -- Kirks Mill and Andrews Bridge -- commemorate earlier evolution and earlier architectural styles, as well as different arrangement of buildings (cross roads community versus the borough large enough to have all its farm land inside its legal boundaries).


Unlike the empire represented by Ozymandias's statue, however, much of the original physical borough of Hopewell remains standing, situated in the identical positions held for the last century. Driving down Lower Hopewell Road, or across the quaint bridges of Hopewell Road, one cannot help but hear the whispers of the former mills, see the beds of the former millraces, and be drawn back into the 19th century. Horses still roam the upper pastures. Agriculture, albeit mechanized, still maintains a portion of the valley's and the surrounding area's economy. The streams still sweep past the schoolhouse/lyceum. The workers housing still stands, both near the mill of Lower Hopewell Road and south of the "T" intersection, near the stream and the weeping willows, and signals shelter from the workday. The Academy still commands the eastern hill, and views the once lively valley. Hopewell still exists.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Hopewell Road • Lower Hopewell Road