Home | Whats New | Site Index | Search

Doe Run Village

West Marlborough Twp, Chester County, PA

The Doe Run Village Historic District was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Text below was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


Doe Run village is rather unusual in that its natural features, i.e., the stream, pasture and meadowland, and backdrop of rolling hills have been virtually undisturbed by man-made intrusions since the last century. In a visual sense, the integrity of these features forming the historic setting is as important to the significance of the district as its complement of historic structures.

The village lies wholly within the valley drained by Doe Run Creek and its minor tributaries. One of the cleanest streams in southeastern Pennsylvania, Doe Run is regarded, in fact, as virtually unpolluted. It meanders in an east-north-easterly direction, bisecting the village bearing its name, and joins with the larger Buck Run at the Laurels, where an iron works operated until the 1880's. In the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries a number of other mills were powered by its reliable flow. The combined streams, Buck and Doe Run, are a major source of high quality water for the West Branch of the Brandywine River and ultimately the City of Wilmington.

The valley drained by Doe Run Creek is unusually wide in the vicinity of the village. For more than one hundred years it has been used primarily as pasture land. An underlying band of limestone serves as an aquifer and enriches the soil and grasses, thereby strengthening the bones of feeding cattle. As early as 1918 (prior to its purchase by Lammot duPont as a stock farm) the area was renowned as "the great pasture land of ... valley," its "evergreen meadows highly prized for their abundant pasturage." Due to the area's long use for stock grazing, the adjoining hills essentially are clear of timber. The resulting unobstructed view of the gently contours of the rich green valley has become a favorite of native and tourists alike. By more than one visiting Englishman, the natural landscape of Doe Run has been likened as strikingly similar to the "back-country" of England.

The rolling hills serve as the backdrop for the village itself, comprised of 29 principal buildings, as a group possessing integrity of location, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association. Like most small, rural historic villages, there are no examples of high style among the assorted modest frame, brick, and stone buildings representing various vernacular architectural traditions and historic uses. Doe Run is, however, for such a small village, uncommonly sprawling. Unlike most others in the county, it is not concentrated solely at a single crossroads. Rather, clusters of structures are found today, as they were in the 19th century, in three general areas: 1) along Route 82, south of Doe Run Creek; 2) on Highland Dairy Road, and 3) at the intersection of Route 82 and Springdell Road.

The first group includes the Doe Run Garage, old general store, P.W. Buffington House, and a few other residences. The Doe Run Inn originally opposite the store was moved in 1966-67 to a hill just back from the road. The second cluster, containing four or five structures, was associated with a cotton mill no longer standing; in its place sits the former town hall built in 1898, later converted to a dairy. Important ruins of a paper mill and associated buildings are found a short distance down the road. Lastly, separated from the rest of the village by Doe Run Creek, the third group clusters around the 1744 grist mill. One building contained a store, tailor shop, and residence and another, a wheelwright shop. On the very outskirts of Doe Run are the former Presbyterian Church and the Doe Run School. A few farmhouses complete the village. Doe Run, then, was both a tiny, self-contained community and a social, cultural, and economic center for the outlying farms.

Doe Run had assumed its present configuration by the mid-19th century. In a sense, time stopped for the village in 1919. In that year, Lammot duPont of Wilmington, Delaware, made his first group of what would become many large purchases in the area. duPont's buying spree continued into the 1940's; by 1944 he had amassed nearly 8,000 acres. His purchase of the general store in 1941, long the hub of the community, only deepened the sleep into which the village gradually had sunk.

Given Doe Run's currently (and historically) scattered buildings, the lack of small parcel property lines, and its significance as great pasture and meadowland, the boundaries of the Doe Run Village Historic District have been drawn to incorporate the village view shed, i.e., that which can be seen upon entering Doe Run on existing roads or by standing at a central point in the village.

Using this method, the Doe Run Village Historic District spans approximately 500 acres of land bordering Doe Run Creek and takes in all buildings in, near, and visible from the village. The adjacent hills, most of which rise to between 450-500 feet, form a strong visual boundary on all sides.


The village of Doe Run's significance has extended through three centuries. In the 18th century, it was first the site of an Indian village and then colonial settlement. By mid-century, it had become the hub of a manufacturing district which derived its power from Buck Run and Doe Run. In the 19th century, Doe Run developed into a town of multiple services and offered a post office, general store, inn, school, church, even an enormously successful insurance company. In the 20th century Doe Run's growth was arrested when it was acquired part and parcel by Lammot duPont of Wilmington, Delaware, as part of a watershed protection plan. In 1946 duPont's interests were sold to the King Ranch of Texas and Doe Run Village became the center of one of the largest cattle fattening operations in the east. And, in 1984, most of Doe Run village was included in the largest conservation easement donated to date in Pennsylvania.

A description of Doe Run published in the Village Record in 1883 paints a clear picture of the village, then in its heyday. Then, as now, there were three small sections to the village, its "buildings very much scattered." The first group (on the south side of Route 82) currently consists of seven structures, most of which are in residential use. Originally, this group housed a general store, post office and the shops and residences of a storekeeper, harness maker, butcher, blacksmith, shoemaker, and tailor. There was, in addition, the office of one of the first fire insurance companies to be established in Chester County. The Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Chester County was organized on May 16, 1840, at Doe Run after having received its state charter the preceding April. Several of its managers were Doe Run residents: Richard Barnard, Hayes Clark, Joseph M. Thompson. The Company's charter permitted it to operate within a thirty-mile radius of Doe Run. The astounding success of the company (by 1870 over $30,000,000 of insurance was in effect) may explain the relocation of the main office to the city of Coatesville in 1861.

One of the liveliest places in this area was, without question, the general store owned for many years by Pusey Buffington and later Howard Humpton. Buffington's large brick store was described in 1883 as "one of the best country stores in the County." It was operated as such in the 1850's by the Martin Brothers and perhaps even earlier. Pusey Buffington ran the store from the 1860's to the early 1900's. In 1888 substantial work was done on the property by the Ferron Brothers of Rosenvick. At that time the saddler and meat shop on the premises were moved off by themselves. Some accounts indicated a "handsome new store." Buffington sold the property in 1905-6 to E. L. Boyd of Birmingham, Chester County, but repossessed the business after Boyd died in 1908 and his estate filed for bankruptcy.E. P. Buffington and Sons (of Rising Sun, Maryland) acquired the business shortly after. By 1920, J. Howard Humpton was keeping store. In that year a local newspaper observed the Doe Run store was "one of the few stores throughout the County that has continuously served the public for over three-score years." In 1941 the store and adjoining residences were purchased by Lammot duPont and "one of the oldest and largest country general stores in Chester County ... bid adieu." (9/22/41)

Around the corner from the former store, on Doe Run Road, P. W. Buffington built a stylish brick house in 1886-87. At the time of its sale to duPont in 1941, it was the residence of E. P. Buffington.

One of the key structures in the village, the Doe Run Inn no longer occupies its original location across from the Buffington store. It was moved well back from the road, but still on its original tract, in 1966-7 by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Jones, who recently had purchased it from its long-time owner, Ella Elvin. Reputedly, the Inn was built by Hayes Clark about 1827, the same year in which the Doe Run post office was established in that building. It was run for some years by Allen Chandler and then by one of his sons. Although it was remembered in 1883 as "one of the best known country hostelries in the County," it had by then become a farmhouse.

Another farmhouse in this vicinity, dates to the 18th century and is said to have served as an inn as well, perhaps one of the first such in central Chester County. According to some old maps for many years this building was conveniently located on a triangular plot of ground serviced by roads on all sides. Unfortunately, but typically, the old blacksmith shop at Doe Run is no longer standing. It burned about 1884 and seems to have been rebuilt in another location. Prior to that it was described as one of the most elaborate in the area. The blacksmith at that time, James Pugh, leased the property from J. Barnard and Son and had a wheelwright and carriage trimming shop on the premises as well.

The second cluster of contributing structures is found along the west side of Highland Dairy Road. Although their general condition today could be described as deteriorating, these several buildings are strongly associated with Doe Run's history and major area of significance. The group is dominated by the now vacant Highland Dairy, whose c.1955 exterior belies a long and colorful history. In its location along Doe Run Creek, the former dairy occupies the site of a cotton mill, the history of which goes back to the late 18th century, if not earlier. Known as Phipp's and, after 1866, James Barton's Factory, the mill was described in 1870 as a large, three-story stone building. Although said to have begun as a paper mill, over the years it was converted first for wool and then cotton production. In 1883 the mill was said to be "buzzing with industry;" twelve hands were employed there in the manufacture of carpet chain of yarn. After periods of standing idle in the late 1880's, the mill was adapted as a creamery. In 1898 a three-story town hall was built on the site of this mill ("torn down sometime since") by Pusey Buffington, general storekeeper. The creamery operation, then owned by a "stock company," was retained on the first level; the remaining two floors were used for school and community meetings and social events. Dances were particularly popular. In 1908 Morris Darlington acquired the creamery. Alfred Hoopes of West Chester bought the business in 1921 and adapted the entire building as a condensing plant. Highland Dairy Products Co., wholesale and retail milk producers, relocated there in 1940. After a fire partially destroyed the plant in 1955, it was renovated and expanded the following year assuming its current appearance. The old town hall is, however, still encased within. The Dairy is flanked by a few frame and stone houses formerly associated with the mill.

The third section of the village is reached by crossing Doe Run Creek via an iron bridge (described as "new" in 1883). Formerly, Doe Run Road forked just north of this bridge. Dominating this area (both currently and in the past) is the stone grist mill built by William Harlan in 1744, precariously located at the sharp corner of Doe Run and Springdell Roads ("Blow Horn Corner"). Although the Doe Run Mill site dates back to the 18th century, the mill itself was altered and/or repaired more than once. A local newspaper reported in 1851 it was refitted with cast iron gearing "on a new plan." After a fire in 1884 it was rebuilt by Broomall and Company of Christiana. Prior to that fire it had a third story. Among its various operators were Joseph Bentley, Harry Taylor, William Hannum and his sons George and Frank, and Isaac Evans. By 1937, it was the last mill in the area to have retained its water wheel (50' high and 6' across) in good running condition.

Near the mill were the home and shop of wheelwright Patrick Campbell and the home and offices of Dr. Lewis Palmer (1841-1934), beloved country doctor of the "old school." His home became something of a social center for Doe Run. The Farmer's Club and Literary Society met there, and for a time it housed the Doe Run Library's collection of 500 volumes. Doe Run's second general store was located in the adjacent house. One end was used as a dwelling, the other for the store. Across the street was yet another blacksmith shop, now gone.

A short distance north on the west side of Doe Run Road, the brick Doe Run School opened its doors in 1881 following the closing of Old Oak Hill School on Chapel Road.

Prominent resident J. H. Thompson, owner of the general store, a manager of the Mutual Insurance Company, and a stock farmer, resided in a house west of the mill. After his death in 1891, his son stayed on the farm. It was acquired by Lammot duPont in 1933. Most recently the farm was the part-time residence of Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. Nearby, the Doe Run Valley Presbyterian Church was incorporated in 1849, and shortly after a church building was erected on Chapel Road. The brick house across the road dates to 1796 and was the plantation house of Nathan Hayes. It retains many 18th century features, i.e., basement kitchen, corner fireplaces, plain stair case, etc.

Since the 1920's, Doe Run village has achieved an additional measure of significance by serving as the hub of a massive farming and ranching operation. In the early 1900's, Lammot duPont (later to serve as President of the DuPont Company between 1926-1940) predicted that the City's primary source of water — the lower Brandywine River — eventually would become so fouled as to render it unusable. To protect the quality of the river, beginning in 1919, he made major land purchases along its western branch in the Buck and Doe Run Valley with a plan to dam Buck Run and create a reservoir. Although the reservoir project never came to fruition, duPont continued to acquire farm lands until 1944, in the meantime having established a model livestock improvement program of national distinction in 1946 at his St. Amour farm. His vast holdings were acquired in 1946 by the current owner, King Ranch, Inc., of Kingsville, Texas.

In 1984, 5,367 acres of the ranch (including Doe Run Village) were acquired by Buck and Doe Associates, a limited partnership which subdivided the land into separate farm parcels and the village into smaller lots. Most of the village has been restricted by a conservation easement which thus far has brought the Brandywine Conservancy awards/nominations from the American Farmland Trust, the Gulf Oil Corporation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

  1. Martha Leigh Wolf, Brandywine Conservancy, Doe Run Village Historic District, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Big Springs Road • Route 842 • Thouron Road • Upland Road