Fairville National Historic District
The Fairville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.
Pennsbury Township's Fairville Historic District is an architecturally intact crossroads village of late 18th, early to mid-19th, and early 20th century houses, commercial buildings, and outbuildings. It contains buildings constructed in response to travelers on the Kennett Pike and as a service and market center for the farms and mills surrounding the district. The district, which encompasses most of the village of Fairville, straddles Kennett Pike (Route 52) at a slight curve where it intersects Fairville Road to the south and Hickory Hill and Cossart Roads to the north. The district is approximately one mile north of the Delaware state line and just south of the village of Mendenhall. Much of the district is surrounded by land and buildings that, for the most part, no longer reflect historic land use of the region's rolling hills for farming and dairying. The core of the district is just north of Fairville Road on the east side of Kennett Pike. Here one finds mainly small, two-story, stone and stucco houses and shops concentrated near the road in a linear pattern and built in close proximity to one another. Properties and houses get larger as one travels north along Kennett Pike. The Fairville Inn, a bed and breakfast, is north of the historic core. Near the southwest corner of Kennett Pike and Fairville Road is the former Brandywine Presbyterian Church and the Phillip du Pont estate, now owned by his heirs. The district has 45 resources; there are 44 buildings and 1 structure. There are 37 contributing buildings, 7 noncontributing buildings, and one noncontributing structure. Eighteen resources, mainly houses and associated outbuildings, were built in the first half of the 19th century. These resources are the most visible buildings in the district, forming the basis for Fairville's historic village makeup.
Houses account for 14 of the district's 37 contributing buildings. Large, nonresidential buildings, such as barns, carriage houses, garages, commercial buildings, or a combination of the above, account for 23 buildings.
Contributing houses are the district's most visible resources. The district's architecture generally derives from the vernacular building traditions used throughout southeast Pennsylvania in the late 18th and early to mid-19th centuries. Colonial Revival, Gothic, and Tudor Revival styles are also found here. Many residences have rear frame additions. Most properties have barns and carriage houses, now converted to garages, in the rear of the properties. The design of the district's barns is part of Chester County's vernacular landscape. Aside from mowed yards and shrubbery, the district has little formal landscaping.
The resources in the historic core, just north of Fairville Road, are located on lots ranging from one-eighth acre to just over one acre. The buildings here are located between 20 and 50 feet from the Pike. North of the core but still in the district, lot sizes range from 1.4 to 2 acres. Compared to the resources in the historic core, these resources are surrounded by large lawns. The properties south of Fairville Road range from one acre to over seven acres. Most of the district's contributing resources are constructed in stone, brick, or stucco.
The William Brinton house, on the northeast corner of Kennett Pike and Fairville Road [circa 1810],, is one of the district's oldest and most visible resources. Like other buildings in the historic core, it is a two story, vernacular building of rubble stone construction. The four-part house has two sections facing Kennett Pike and two rear sections. The Georgian style core has four bays and originally had two center doors. The north center door has been partially filled with stone to create a window. The circa 1840s addition, located on the north end of the core, has three bays and a center door. A medium pitched, end gabled roof with wooden shingles covers both sections. There is a two-story brick wing to the rear that houses a kitchen and the remains of a bake oven. A contemporary board and batten clad addition is attached to the rear of the kitchen wing.
Just north of the Brinton house sits the David Jones/Thomas Woodward house [circa 1800]. It was originally built to house David Jones, a cobbler. Thomas Woodward, who owned the property between 1847 and 1849, extended the house southward around 1847. The house has three main sections fronting Kennett Pike and a rear shed addition. All sections are vernacular. The original section is a 2-1/2 story, two bay building with a single gabled dormer. Additions are also two bay, 2-1/2 story arrangements. The north sections are stucco over stone; the southern end unit is rubble stone. Chimneys are located at mid-gable of the core and on the southern end of the building. An ell addition on the rear of the north addition has two stories, three bays, and clapboard siding. Its center door and porch face north.
The village cobbler shop, built in 1805 by David Jones, shares the lot with the Jones/Woodward house. The cobbler shop is one of the district's smallest commercial buildings, yet it may have been originally designed as a house. The two-story, red brick building has a sensitive brick addition that was constructed in the 1970s on its southern end. The core measures just 12 x 12 feet. Its two-bay facade is topped with a low pitched, end gabled roof. Fenestration has irregular lighting patterns. There also is a frame shed addition on the rear.
The Sharpless duplex [circa 1810 (possibly older)] is just north to the Francis Boyce forge. The duplex straddles two lots. The 2-1/2 story frame building has a 4-bay front facade and a full front porch with a shed roof. Fenestration includes regular 6/6 double hung sash. Its two story rear addition is augmented by a one story enclosed porch addition. The building is clad in German siding.
The original Owen Evans house, circa 1744, is part of an early to mid-19th century, two-story, four bay, Georgian style building. In the mid-19th century, its medium pitched, end gabled roof was modified with a cross gable over the front entrance to create a Gothic appearance. The original core consists of log planks hidden by wood shingle cladding. Fenestration is 6/6 double hung sash with a 4/4 rounded head window in the cross gable. The building has two front entrances consisting of raised panel wooden doors located behind aluminum storm doors. The building is set back farther from Kennett Pike than other houses in the core.
Another house in the village core is the Hannah Walters house [circa 1820]. This two-story, vernacular building has stucco over stone walls. A three bay, center entrance, front facade faces Kennett Pike.
North of the village core sits the Fairville Inn, formerly a residence. Built circa 1826, it is a four bay, stucco over stone, 2-1/2 story building with Greek Revival style detailing. It features a full front porch at the first and second floors. Large, multiple pane windows are found at first floor, a 6/6 double hung sash arrangement is at the second floor, and 3/6, double hung sash, friezeband windows are found under the cornice at the third floor. One significant feature is the extended water courses over second story windows. The building is augmented by a frame rear shed addition. It was originally built as a duplex.
One of the few late 19th century houses in the district is the John Ryan house. The two story, frame, National style house is shown on the 1873 Witmers Map. A series of additions, including one believed to be a Sears catalog house built in the 1920s or 1930s, altered the building's 19th century appearance. These changes, however, are consistent with the district's twentieth century significance.
The northern most building in the district is the Sharpless Windle house, constructed in 1840. The house also has late 19th century additions on the rear. The original section appears to be an excellent example of vernacular mid-19th century stone house construction in Southern Chester County. The porch and window details show that the builder may have also been influenced by the Greek Revival style. It is clad in large rubble stone, has four bays and two front doors; the rear addition is brick.
On the northwest corner of Fairville Road and Kennett Pike sits Windle farm house [circa second decade, 1800s]. The 2-1/2 story vernacular house has a large yet compatible addition on its rear or west side, forming a "T". The original section is clad in clapboard and rests on a stone foundation. A Gothic influenced gable is located on the roof over center entrance. Its fenestration is generally 2/2 double hung sash.
Just southeast of Fairville Road and Kennett Pike sits the William Sharpless house and store [circa 1815 with major store addition 1828]. The two-story brick building fronts Kennett Pike with a large rear extension facing Fairville Road. The house served as a grocery store, Fairville's first post office, and possibly an inn. The original core has six bays, a medium pitched, end gable asphalt roof and chimneys at both ends. The roofs cornice sits less than a foot above the flat arches above the second story windows. This facade also has a full length porch with a shed roof and decorative brackets between its five posts. Fenestration consists of a 2/2 double hung sash arrangement. A vertical masonry line shows that this part of the building was constructed in two sections. The rear addition facing Fairville Road is seven bays long. One part is clad in stucco and the end section in brick. There also are two sections on the rear or east wall of the house. Both are end gabled, two-story extensions.
On the southwest corner of Fairville Road and Kennett Pike is the former Phillip duPont estate. The property contains the Manor House [constructed in 1919], and a number of servants quarters and outbuildings. The layout of the estate is far different than the other buildings associated with the district. The estate's resources are mainly north of the manor house, which sits on a hill overlooking hundreds of acres of open space south of the district. It has been included in the resource count due to its architectural merits and its location on the original 78 acre, 60 purchase tract.
The duPont Manor House is a large, two-story, L-shaped house designed in the Tudor Revival style. Its designer was Robeson Lea Perot, an architect from Philadelphia who designed buildings for several duPont families and for the Du Pont company. Its many stone voussoirs and massive two-story stone apse on the east end reveal Richardsonian influences. The house is clad in dark gray polygonal stone walls and topped with a hipped slate roof.
The duPont estate also contains another dwelling; a former caretaker's house. The house probably predates the manor house and may have been used as a hunting cabin by Phillip duPont. The L-shaped building was constructed in the Bungaloid style. It has a hipped slate roof, clapboard siding, and two unusual hipped roof entrance hoods on the north side. The main entrance is denoted by the larger entrance hood. Like other outbuildings, the window surrounds on the caretaker's house are influenced by the Greek Revival style.
Most properties in the district have outbuildings. The district has 23 contributing outbuildings, barns, and commercial buildings. The 10 barns include several small barns/stables behind houses. Most barns were converted to carriage houses and now serve as garages, shops, or apartments. Typical examples are the barns/carriage house behind the David Jones shop and behind the Hannah Walters house. Both are wood frame, two-story buildings clad in board and batten. The small barn behind the William Sharpless house is a wooden frame, two-story building similar to others in the district. It was converted into a residence around 1915. Strawshed-type additions are found on the east and south sides. The building contains a garage, entered from a bay on the east side. It is now clad in machine shingles. Just east of the barn is a stable building [circa late 1800s]. It was moved from an unknown church property Delaware in the 1920s. It is a three-sided building facing west. Measuring approximately 50' x 15', it has clapboard siding and a small, end gable addition to the south. The building is similar to stables found near area meeting houses.
The district has two large bank barns. One barn was re-built in the 1920s on the 19th century stone foundation of the John Windle barn. It is a three-story frame building clad in board and batten. Converted into a residence in 1975, it retains its integrity. The fenestration is retrofit 12/12 double hung sash; roof is a high pitch crossed gable structure with asphalt shingles. Granite retaining walls have been maintained in place, serving as the approach to the second floor entrance.
The district's other large barn is the former Jesse Sharpless barn. The large bank barn sits on a stone foundation and has a board and batten strawshed on the east side. It was constructed in the mid-1800s and a small addition was added in the twentieth century. Its brick gable end walls contrast to many barns in Chester County, that often have stone walls. It served the Sharpless farm east of the district and was no doubt used as a dairy barn during Chester County's dairy farming heyday in the late 19th century.
The district also has other examples of barn architecture. Located behind the William Brinton house is a 1-1/2 story stucco over stone barn and forge, constructed circa 1859. It sits less than 10 feet from Fairville Road. The core measures 22'x 28' and has a 10'x 33' shed addition on the north side. Doors on the north and south sides allow vehicle ingress and egress without having to turn around, back out, or become unhitched. This would have aided the blacksmith in wagon repair. Believed to be based on English architectural traditions, the design of the barn is somewhat rare in this part of Chester County.
The district's other small masonry barn sits behind the Sharpless Windle house, near Cossart Road. The barn, which may pre-date the house built in 1840, is a Pennsylvania Bank barn. It is similar to the Pennsylvania "Type H" barn (see Robert F. Ensminger, The Pennsylvania Barn, 1992). The barn measures just 25'x 30', small by comparison to many barns built using this design. The board and batten clad building rests on a stucco over stone base with curved returns on the south face holding up the forebay. Its shape and stone masonry details are similar to the much larger Sharpless barn.
Aside from the 10 barns/carriage houses, there are 13 other contributing outbuildings in the district. Two are commercial buildings: the Boyce forge [circa 1792 with later rear and end additions], and the David Jones shop (now called the Pyle Cobbler Shop), previously described. The Boyce blacksmith, wheelwright and forge is located in what may be considered the village core. It is set back from the road and framed on both sides by the Sharpless duplex to the north and the David Jones shop to the south. The vernacular building features a brick facade with five irregularly spaced bays over its three sections. Fenestration is 6/6 double hung sash, with 24-light picture windows. The building also has a medium pitched, end gable wood shingle roof and chimneys at both ends. It rests on a fieldstone foundation. The building may be built on the site of a blacksmith shop owned by Owen Evans.
The district contains 11 other assorted contributing outbuildings. Just south of the Sharpless barn is an end gabled, clapboard shed. It was once used as a recreation room for boys attending the Sharpless Boarding School. Inscribed on the built-in work bench are initials and dates from school students. The 18'x 35' vernacular building also has a corn crib running the length of its north side.
The duPont estate contains several contributing outbuildings. The "Card House," a one-story, 30' x 25' stone building, was built for Philip duPont and his friends to play cards. It is likely that the card house and the carriage house (see below) were designed by Robeson Perot, architect of the manor house. Like the manor house, the Card House faces south and overlooks the estate. The estate also has three chicken houses, including a frame, end gabled, building with NeoClassical Revival style influences.
Compared to the district's other carriage houses and garages, the duPont estate's carriage house is quite large [constructed 1919]. No doubt it sheltered automobiles soon after it was built. Its architecture compliments the manor house, built at the same time. The 1-1/2 story building's polygonal masonry is identical to that of the manor house. This building has hipped end dormers on the south facade facing the manor house. A 60' by 20' shed roof frame garage addition was added to create an L-shape.
The district also contains three contributing garages. One such garage is located next to a Colonial Revival style house north of the village core. Like the house, it is clad in Avondale Brownstone. Its design includes a large, arched window under the front end gabled roof. It was probably built along with the house in the 1920s.
The former Brandywine Presbyterian Church [constructed 1899], is now part of the former duPont estate on Fairville Road. The Gothic Revival style building is a one-story, wood frame building clad in German siding. It is topped with a steeply pitched asphalt front end gabled roof. A small vestibule marks the front entrance.
The district has seven noncontributing buildings and one noncontributing structure. The noncontributing resources detract little from the district's historic integrity. They comprise less than 20 percent of the resources in the district and are scattered mainly north of the village core. None inhibit the view of the district's contributing buildings.
One noncontributing resource is a house built in the 1960s. It is a contemporary, one-story, brick ranch house. The house sits much further from Kennett Pike than most of the district's contributing houses and is surrounded by a large lawn.
There are three noncontributing buildings on the Fairville Inn property. One building looks like a barn and is used as the Inn's annex [constructed 1986]. The building, measuring 90' x 30', has two stories and sits behind the inn. The multi-sectional building is clad in board and batten, wood shingles, and weatherboard. Another building [constructed 1986], sits on the foundation of the remains of an earlier barn. The wood frame building, also containing guest rooms, has a massive rubble stone chimney on its north side. Its stone and board and batten construction complement the district's contributing buildings. A small, gabled roof shed is also located on the property.
The district's only structure is a noncontributing, in-ground swimming pool, recently constructed on the duPont estate. It is out of public view.
Overall, the district maintains a high degree of integrity. Although several buildings have been converted into antique shops, their main exterior facades remain relatively unchanged. One common change to many buildings has been the construction of rear additions to buildings on the east side of Kennett Pike. These extensions, usually one-story, frame, with board and batten siding, are barely visible from the public right-of-way. Other changes include the replacement of original, deteriorated woodwork with newer millwork. Perhaps the biggest changes to contributing buildings have been the cedar-like shingles placed on the Owen Evans house, and the conversion of the barn on the former Windle property into a house. Modern additions placed on the Sharpless Boarding House have enlarged the building, but not significantly altered it to the extent that it is no longer contributing. Finally, while all buildings change over time, the historic character of the community remains, for the most part, unchanged. This provides Kennett Pike and Fairville Road travelers virtually the same view of the village now as it did during its period of significance.
The Fairville Historic District is historically important in the areas of commerce under Criterion A for its association with the Kennett Pike (Route 52), and as a commercial center for neighboring farms and mills and architecture under Criterion C. Its period of significance begins in 1744 with the construction of the first house and continues through 1946 as its businesses continued to service travelers along Kennett Pike. Through much of the 18th and 19th centuries, it supplied forged implements to surrounding farms and mills while serving as a market for their goods. The village became home to blacksmiths, cobblers, and individuals associated with other industries and professions that made Fairville a small but thriving hamlet. By the 20th century, Fairville had ceased being a local albeit important commercial center, yet continued to prosper as a residential center. Fairville Historic District is Pennsbury Township's best preserved, compact, historic village. No other hamlet in the township contains such a large, intact concentration of mid-18th to early 20th century commercial, agricultural, and residential architecture.
Summary History of the District
The village of Fairville lies approximately one mile north of the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line on Kennett Pike (Route 52). The district sits within a 78 acre, 60 perches property first acquired and settled in 1744 by Owen Evans. The oldest building in the district is Evans' log house, now encased in a larger house standing on the east side of Kennett Pike [circa 1744]. Prior to that is was part of Letitia Penn's Manor. From 1744 until 1792, the property was mainly used as a farm. In 1792 the land was sold to Francis Boyce. The deed indicated Boyce was a blacksmith and his shop still stands on Kennett Pike. The parcel was bought and sold as a contiguous parcel until 1803.
In 1803, then owner James Passmore sold most of the 78 acre, 60 perches tract to Caleb Sharpless. Caleb Sharpless' ownership of the land began a reign of Sharpless family land holdings that would last into the first decades of the 20th century. The Sharpless' descended from John and Anna Sharpless, of Ratherton, in Cheshire, England. John Sharpless purchased 1,000 acres of land in America and came here in 1682. They settled north of Chester along the Ridley Creek in Nether Providence Township, Delaware County. Eventually, descendants migrated west to what became Chester County. The Sharpless name is synonymous with one of the largest and most prominent family names in eastern Pennsylvania. For example, Henry Graham Ashmead noted in his History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, that over 2,000 people attended a Sharpless family reunion in 1882. (This tradition continues.)
In the first half of the 19th century, the Sharpless family subdivided and sold as lots much of the property on the east side of Kennett Pike They also constructed a duplex around 1810, and built buildings for themselves south of Fairville Road. The lots sold by the Sharpless family and the subsequent buildings constructed on them form the historic core of the Fairville Historic district. The deed recording the sale of property from Jesse Sharpless to Nelson Craig in 1852, for example, describes the property as "village lots," one of several Jesse Sharpless (Caleb's son) sold there. The row of buildings built on these lot and forming Fairville's historic core remain largely intact. Most display traditional vernacular building techniques of the antebellum era. Fairville experienced little architectural change throughout the remainder of the century. Thus, the Sharpless legacy exists in the buildings and the village development pattern throughout most of the district.
In 1811, John Windle purchased the 48 acres west of Kennett Pike from Caleb Sharpless. Windle constructed a barn and house there, probably by 1820. The barn, rebuilt after a fire in the 1920s, has since been converted into a residence. The land stayed within the Windle family until 1909. (Most of the tract was farmed until being developed for housing in the 1970s and is not part of the district.) This and other barns help maintain the district's association with the area's agricultural past.
Metal working was an important industry from the latter part of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century. An important part of Fairville's commercial activity, the industry provided forged goods for several water-powered mills located along streams in the countryside surrounding the district's boundaries. In the 1830s, five blacksmith and/or wheelwright shops, including the Boyce forge were churning out products for the mills, farms, and villagers. A cobbler, who also produced goods such as belts for milling, was also located in the village, possibly as early as 1805.
Fairville was a small, regional center of commerce throughout much of the 19th century. Situated on the intersection of Kennett Pike and Fairville Road, the village became a central location for farmers shipping goods between Wilmington, Delaware to the south, Kennett Square, to the northwest, and Chadds Ford, to the east. The village not only served as a center of transportation and forging industry, but also provided other goods, services, and a market for milled and farmed produce from the surrounding mills and farms. The Sharpless General Store, opened by Jesse Sharpless on or before 1828, served this purpose. Located on the southeast corner of Fairville Road and Kennett Pike, the store was added to the existing Sharpless two story brick house in 1828.
Fairville's role as a transportation center and farm market declined after a railroad station was constructed in 1865 at what is now Mendenhall, just north of town. The forge business also declined around this time. Steam power in larger population centers replaced water-powered mills.
The arrival of the Phillip duPont family signaled the beginning of Fairville's change to primarily a bedroom community in the early 1900s when he developed an estate on the southwest corner of Kennett Pike and Fairville Road. Phillip duPont was a direct descendant (sixth generation) of the duPont family, founder of the E.I. Du Pont Company in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. Like several other duPonts, Phillip was exiled from the Du Pont Company for his support of Alfred duPont in his struggle against Pierre duPont's successful takeover of the company in 1914. Phillip, like dozens of other duPonts in Northern Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania, constructed a manor house and estate. The manor house and probably other buildings on the estate were designed by Robeson Lea Perot. Perot was an architect from Philadelphia who worked for other duPont families and the company. The property is still owned by his heirs.
The last working forge, located in the Boyce Forge building, closed around 1919. Throughout the 1920s to the late 1940s, the post office and general store functioned in the Brinton House. A convenience store in the former Boyce Forge building continued to service travelers and residents in the 1950s after that time. A gas station operated there in the late 1950s and 1960s. The Windle farm property ceased agricultural production in the early 1960s when a housing development was built. Meanwhile, Fairville's houses continued to serve as residences. Today, most houses on the east side of Kennett Pike are antique shops or residences.
Straddling the intersection of the heavily traveled Kennett Pike and Fairville Road, Fairville was a convenient location to provide goods, services, and a market for products from the surrounding farms and mills. Several people built houses near the crossroads in the early to mid-19th century to answer the needs of the farmers, millers, and travelers. The appearance of the resulting village has changed little in the ensuing years.
From the late 1700s and throughout much of the 19th century, several water-powered mills operated along the streams that flowed near Fairville. The 1883 Breou's Atlas shows four mills within 2.5 miles of Fairville. The five forges (blacksmith and wheelwright) were operating in the village to support this industry, as well as the farms. The first forge is believed to have been started in the 1730s by Valentine Hollingsworth, however there is no mention of forging activities until Francis Boyce, listed as "blacksmith" on a 1792 deed, purchased most of Hollingsworth's holdings that year. This forge is still intact. By the 1830s, two forges were located there and another behind it. The building, which included a wheelwright shop operated a forge until the early 1900s and is now used as an antique shop [circa 1792]. Other known blacksmith shops were in the barn  behind the William Brinton house, and on the current Burnett property.
Businesses, such as the blacksmith shops, accommodated Kennett Pike travelers, farmers, and millers. By the early to mid-1800s, daily coaches traversed the pike between Kennett Square and Wilmington, which was especially important to students attending the Fairville Institute, later called the Sharpless Boarding School.
The Sharpless family members and heirs, instrumental in the development of the village in the first half of the 19th century, farmed, bought and sold real estate, ran the general store and post office, and later the school. A 1828 newspaper article mentions the "new store house," indicating the age of the building's large additions and possibly the store. The store and post office was located in the Sharpless home on the southeast corner of Kennett Pike and Fairville Road until 1922. The store, begun by Jesse Sharpless, served not only as a general store but as an outlet for local farmers to sell their goods. As such, the store/post office was probably the most important enterprise in Fairville (in addition to the forges), contributing greatly to its significance in commerce.
The small village of Fairville provided many services besides those serving the surrounding farms and mills. The Fairville Academy, a private school, reportedly opened its doors in 1819. (A public school was east of the district off Fairville Road.) In 1854, Jesse Sharpless established the Fairville Institute, also known as the Sharpless Boarding School. The house could board 75 students, both male and female; the school could accommodate up to 90 students. The boys' recreation building is located behind the Sharpless barn. Its woodwork contains initials carved by former students. The Institute closed in 1868, but the building continued to house boarders. The Breou's 1883 property atlas depicts the building as a "summer boarding house."
Under the direction of the Sharpless family, the settlement grew into a village which offered other services desired by a growing community. The Sharpless house and store, for example, also served as the post office and Lyceum. Fairville was once known as "Hogtown" because a hog farmer (Aaron Harlan) often let his hogs roam free. (The Harlan family owned property north of the district.) Hogtown became "Pennsville" early in the 19th century and in 1859 was changed to "Fairfield" when the Fairfield Post Office was moved to the village from nearby Burnt Mill Road. Residents combined the "Fair" and "ville" portions of the two names to create "Fairville." William Sharpless became the first post master. The post office operated there until 1902, when it moved to the former William Brinton House and operated there until 1949.
By 1831, under the aegis of the Penns bury Library Commission, Fairville also had a library, possibly located in the new Sharpless General Store. The village's lyceum, which also met at the store, held meetings every two weeks, according to a local newspaper. (Daily Local News, January 3, 1881). Fairville also had a newspaper, the Fairville Budget.
Socially, the village received acclaim as a summer destination for young women from Philadelphia. Girls boarded with farmers and townspeople in or near Fairville to escape the heat and unpleasant odors of the city. The end-of-summer dance thrown by these young ladies drew young men from throughout the county and was noted as one of the social events of the times.
Fairville's prosperity began to decline after the Civil War. In 1865, the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad constructed a line and a station approximately one mile north of the village. Ironically called the Fairville station, it shifted farm business from the village, which relied on Kennett Pike, to the station, which offered more efficient railroad transportation. The village of Mendenhall grew up around the station. The modern transportation, able to ship produce directly to Philadelphia and elsewhere, soon brought to an end to Fairville's importance as a center for commerce. Possibly due to this decline, only two major buildings were constructed in the late nineteenth century, one being the Sharpless dairy barn.
The post-Civil War decline is made evident by the Boyd's Directory(s) for Chester County. The 1870 Boyd's Directory described the village as " ... a quiet country village with about 100 inhabitants ... " It also said there was a small auger manufactory located there. The following professions were listed: 1 postmaster, 2 butchers, 1 carpenter, 3 millers (three mills), 2 blacksmiths, 1 auger maker, 2 masons, 1 boot and shoe maker, 1 general store (Sharpless), 1 coal and lumber dealer, 1 physician (and farmer), 1 rail road agent, and 1 wagon maker. The directory also listed 48 farmers. The village was a busy marketplace, mainly providing goods and services to the farms that surrounded the village. However, according to the 1884 Boyd's Chester County Directory, only 60 inhabitants resided there. The 40% drop in population attests to the village's decline. Of the businesses listed, only one mill was mentioned.
Although many Quakers resided in the village, no Friends meeting house was constructed. The village's only religious building, the former Brandywine Presbyterian Church, was not constructed until 1899. The small chapel, no longer in use, sits on the south side of Fairville road just west of Kennett Pike. The church was erected by the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church. With the Sharpless dairy barn, it is the only major building built in the district in the late 19th century.
About the time the train station opened, advances in steam power made water-power obsolete. Eventually, all of the mills around Fairville closed, and so did the forges. By 1890, only one forge was operating out of the Boyce forge building.
The decline of commercial and forging activity after 1865 did not bring an end to the community. The district's intact houses, barns, and contributing outbuildings make this evident. The district's architectural resources are buildings generally designed in the vernacular tradition. The vernacular buildings are an outstanding record of a certain time, place, social, and vocational activity which occurred mainly throughout the 19th century. Given the small size of the district, each building is important to this history and historic setting. The district also contains buildings designed in specific architectural styles or revivals of earlier styles. The duPont estate, whose buildings were constructed in the Tudor Revival Style in 1919 and in the 1920s, has some of the district's premier architecture. Two barns in Fairville, given their size and design, are rare for Chester County. Almost all of the buildings in the district maintain their architectural integrity, and are contributing.
For the most part, the buildings that create the district's historic setting are not individually distinctive. The unbroken line of contributing houses and other buildings on small lots facing the east side of Kennett Pike, however, establish the significance of the district's historic setting. The houses are, from south to north, the Jesse Sharpless house [circa 1828 with mid-19th century additions], the William Brinton house [core circa 1810, additions circa 1840s], the David Jones/Thomas Woodward house [core circa 1800, south addition, circa 1842], the David Jones shop [circa 1805], the Boyce blacksmith shop [circa 1792 with 19th century additions], the Sharpless duplex [circa 1810], the Owen Evans house, [core circa 1744, addition circa 1840s], and the Hannah Walters house [circa 1830]. Several contributing outbuildings also contribute to this historic setting. The barns no doubt once held many of the village businesses, as they are too small for large agricultural use. There are few noncontributing buildings in the district; and none interrupt the line of buildings just described. The historic setting of the village core is complimented by other contributing buildings in the district.
Many houses in Fairville have multiple additions. These provide clues to the economic circumstances of their builders, subsequent owners, and the community at large. For example, the David Jones/Thomas Woodward house and the William Brinton house have several additions. Extensions were added as families grew, uses changed, and more space was needed. The Owen Evans house, a small, two-story log cabin, became incorporated into a much larger house in the mid-1800s. Enlarging a house as opposed to building a new one may indicate the influence of Quaker frugality. It may also indicate the desirous location of the village center.
The Sharpless Windle house [1840, with mid-19th century additions] is an excellent example of vernacular mid-19th century stone house construction in this part of Chester County. The Greek Revival style may also have influenced the builder. It sits on land that was not part of the original Evans tract. (Sharpless Windle was the son of John Windle, who purchased the 48 acre tract west of Kennett Pike from Caleb Sharpless in 1803.) South of the Sharpless Windle house is the a Colonial Revival style house [circa 1910] and garage built at a time when period revival architecture was popular, particularly in the suburban areas of Philadelphia. The house and garage are clad in hearty Avondale Brownstone, quarried in nearby Avondale.
The biggest event that signaled Fairville's shift to a bedroom community was the construction of the duPont estate and manor house in 1919. Located on the southwest corner of Fairville Road and Kennett Pike, the manor house was built in a Tudor Revival style, with several Richardsonian influences. Philadelphia architect Robeson Lea Perot was the architect. The style is rare in rural Chester County. The estate also contains a large carriage house, servants quarters, and the "Card House," built for Phillip duPont and friends to play cards.
The district possesses two rare barn types. Both were ideally suited to the village setting. They were probably built to serve the limited farming needs of the village business person for farming, storage, small business, and for use as a carriage house and stable. The small barn/forge [constructed 1859] behind the William Brinton House is an unusual building type in southern Chester County. Built to house a forging operation, it was probably converted into a barn and stable in the late 1800s. It has large doors on opposite walls, creating a drive-through for servicing wagons. It may be the only surviving example of this barn/forge type in Chester County.
The Pennsylvania style barn behind the Sharpless Windle house is also rare, given its extremely small dimensions. In a rural area where large farms and huge double decker barns were once abundant, the small village barn is not commonplace. Most barns the size of the Windle barn would have little need to utilize the design and construction methods, including an overhanging forebay and earthen ramp, seen in larger Pennsylvania Barns. Elements of its design, including its foundation and plan, are almost identical to the large Sharpless barn found south of Fairville Road.
Fairville also has several other small frame barn-type buildings used over the years as stables, carriage houses, and garages. One example is found on the former William Sharpless property. Built in the late 1800s, the vernacular, two story, frame building was converted into a residence and garage in 1915.
Surrounding Historic Districts
There are several National Register Historic Districts with a rural cross roads orientation near Fairville. Just south of Fairville in Delaware is the Centreville Historic District (NR 1983). Also a lineal village, Centreville is larger than Fairville and contains more resources. Buildings are orientated equally on both sides of Kennett Pike. A thriving village, most of the buildings facing Kennett Pike have been converted into stores and offices.
The Sugartown National Register Historic District is in Willistown Township, just 15 miles northeast of Fairville. The two historic districts are similar in many ways. They compare closely in size and number of resources. Like Fairville, Sugartown's significance lies in its role and appearance as a late 18th and 19th century crossroads village. Both districts have five roads intersecting them. Sugartown's buildings, like Fairville's buildings, mainly date from the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century. Like Fairville, Sugartown's buildings were used for many purposes. There were/are local government buildings, a school, an Odd Fellows Hall, a store, an inn and tavern, and a blacksmith shop at Sugartown, reflecting a more diverse community than Fairville. Both districts retain their rural historic setting.
Roughly 10 miles north of Fairville in East Bradford Township is the Strode's Mill National Register Historic District. Both Strode's Mill and Fairville are crossroad villages located on Route 52, however Strode's Mill has fewer resources. The primary architecture of the districts derive from vernacular building traditions of the 18th and 19th centuries. The earliest building in Strode's Mill is the 1721 mill building, making it an older district than Fairville. It reportedly ground grain for the American Army during the Revolution. Two of the buildings, the mill and the East Bradford Boarding School for Boys, are listed individually in the National Register. Like most of the resources in Fairville, Strode's Mill buildings are constructed close to main roads that traverse the district. Although modern development is adjacent to Fairville, it is more evident near Strodes Mill. Historically, both districts became local service centers providing goods to travelers along Route 52 into the twentieth century.
Another crossroads village just north of Fairville on Routes 1 and 52 is the Hamorton Historic District (N.R. 1990). Although houses appeared in the district around the same time as Fairville, Hamorton experienced several "building booms" in the 19th and 20th centuries. The village was enlarged in the 1930's by Pierre duPont for employees of his estate, less than a mile away. (The estate became Longwood Gardens.) The older section of the district, at Routes 1 and 52, contains much younger housing stock than Fairville. Many of the housing units are connected and clad in stucco or clapboard, unlike the majority of Fairville's detached, stone houses. While Fairville retains its rural village setting, Hamorton straddles an extremely busy intersection. Road widenings and subsequent modifications to Hamorton's buildings no longer produce the rural historic setting that remains in Fairville.
Little has changed the siting or integrity of the village of Fairville since its period of significance. Few noncontributing buildings have been built; few contributing buildings have been demolished. The position and siting of its buildings attest to the small but important commercial, manufacturing, and agricultural center it once was. As a small village, it served travelers through its period of significance and continues to do so. Although its historic context has since changed from a rural hamlet to primarily a bedroom community, its appearance has changed little. It is a collection of intact vernacular buildings that are indicative of the building traditions and stylistic influences incorporated into buildings constructed throughout rural Chester County during the late 18th, early to mid-19th centuries, as well as manor architecture in the early 20th century. Fairville's layout is indicative of rural development patterns at this time. Most buildings retain their early appearance, including massing, scale, materials, and set-back proportions. There are few noncontributing buildings intruding upon the landscape to disturb this setting. Fields, forest, and lightly developed lands surround the district, helping to preserve the rural 18th and 19th century setting of the hamlet.
Major Bibliographical Resources
Crossart Road • Fairville Road • Kennett Pike • Route 52