Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: Winter 2006 Volume 43 Number 1, Pages 27–38


Seth Hinshaw

Page 27


Chester County has some of the finest residential architecture in the nation. Beginning with some of the most important Colonial houses of the 1690s, and continuing through the colonial and federal periods, the architectural fabric of Chester County is rivaled by few other regions of the United States. One factor which contributed to the longevity of architecture in this area was the presence of excellent building materials. A large band of excellent limestone runs diagonally through the county, along with smaller bands of other excellent types of stone—serpentine, slate, marble—used as building material. The best clay for making brick is found in the southern part of the county, and this is where more brick houses are found. The highest concentration of frame houses is located in the northern part of the county.


Illustration from page 27

John Evans house

The very earliest houses in Chester County were one-room buildings, which are called the Hall Plan. One of the oldest houses in Pennsylvania, the Caleb Pusey House—illustrated on the front cover—is in Upland, and was originally constructed as a Hall Plan house in the 1690s. The John Evans House in London Britain Township, built c.1715, is an example of the Hall Plan. These buildings usually had a large chimney for a walk-in kitchen hearth, often found in a corner. Hall Plan houses usually had a partial second floor on the inside, called the “loft,” where the family would sleep in winter. In Medieval England the entire residence was often called the hall; in Colonial America, the “hall” was the room where the family did most of their work. With the passage of time, spaces in houses were partitioned off from the hall, with the result that by 1850 the hall was simply a passageway connecting other rooms. Most log houses were also constructed as Hall Plan residences.

Most of these small Hall Plan buildings were so small they did not need a summer beam—a framing member which reaches across the floor space to hold the ends of the floor joists. The summer beam is usually visible in the basement. Instead, the joists extend from wall to wall. Unfortunately, this has led some people to say that the use of summer beams was a German trait and was not found in early English houses.

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As the settlers became better able to build larger houses, two building types emerged with two rooms on each floor. The “hall and parlor” type was a two-room house with the two rooms arranged laterally, or side-by-side. In the very earliest hall and parlor houses, the front is not symmetrical because of the perception that the interior partition wall should divide the building exactly in half. The emphasis on interior symmetry forces an exterior asymmetry. This type of house was common until the introduction of the Georgian style in the 1740s, which introduced an emphasis on symmetry of the exterior, regardless of what that means for the interior.

Illustration from page 28

Brinton 1704 house

The Brinton 1704 house on Route 1 near Chadds Ford is one of the most important examples of the “hall and parlor” plan. It was constructed with casement windows, the predecessor of the double-hung sash window—invented in England in the 1670s, but not used in the colonies until about 1710. Casement windows are hinged on the sides and open out. They have small diamond-shaped panes which are set into lead cames. The pent roof, shown here, is another architectural element with a debated history. Most architectural historians believe that the pent was a German influence. However, a few seventeenth century buildings in England have pent roofs, including several of the buildings designed by Christopher Wren following the Great Fire in London in 1666. In some cases, such as the Barnes-Brinton House, the pent roof wraps around the entire building; in a case like this, it is called a pent skirt. The Barnes-Brinton House also has a cornice return on the end walls which runs across the end walls to connect the cornice on the side walls. This feature is sometimes called a pent eave.


Illustration from page 28

Penn Plan house

Like the “hall and parlor” plan, the Penn Plan has two rooms on each floor. In this case, however, the two rooms are arranged latitudinally; the front door opens into a parlor, and the kitchen is in the back. The Penn Plan is often compared to a townhouse, since it has a narrow profile with wide end walls. Illustrated here is a Penn Plan house on Middletown Road in Thornbury Township, Delaware County.

Penn Plan houses are always two-story, two-bay buildings. The door, near one corner, is located diagonally opposite the large chimney. Many Penn Plan houses have a large kitchen hearth on one side of the partition and a corner fireplace on the other. Another feature of the design is that the summer beam is anchored into the chimney mass, running below the partition wall and mortised into the timber framing of the opposite wall. This building is an example of an English design with a summer beam.

One feature commonly associated with the Penn Plan is the pent roof. The pent, mentioned earlier in connection with the Brinton 1704 House, is a small roof on the side wall of a building

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between the first and second floors. The second floor joists extend through the walls of the building to support the pent; each exposed joist end is called a pentice.


On occasion, architectural historians talk about the “four-room” plan. This is a building which consists of two adjacent Penn Plan houses which are mirrored. These are two-story, four-bay buildings with a door in the second and third bays and windows on each side. Probably the majority of these four-room plan houses were originally constructed as Penn Plan houses and were later enlarged. While this type of enlargement is called “doubling,” it is actually “mirroring.” These houses have four rooms on each floor instead of the traditional two.


Illustration from page 29

Cookes House in Lancaster County

German Colonial houses are found in northern Chester County and northern Montgomery County. The example shown here is the Cookes House in Lancaster County. They usually have three rooms on each floor, of roughly equal size: the kitchen along one end wall and a stove room and bedroom in the other end. German Colonial houses sometimes have the chimney in the center of the house, which is rarely found on English Colonial houses. Sometimes German Colonial houses have two doors on the front of the building—one leading into the kitchen and one leading into the “stove room.” Thus they give the appearance of a four-room house, when they only have three rooms per floor.


Illustration from page 29

Brentford in Tredyffrin Township

Illustration from page 29

In the early eighteenth century, the Georgian Style was introduced from England. Named for King George I, the Georgian Style involved a new understanding of how to organize the exterior appearance and the interior space. Unlike the earlier, medieval building types constructed prior to this time, the Georgian Style introduced a new emphasis on symmetry. This is especially true for the interior. A new building type, called the “Full Georgian Plan,” materialized. The Full Georgian house has a centered door on the main elevation which opens into an interior hall. Two rooms open off either side of the hall. In addition to the Full Georgian, a smaller house consisting of the hall plus two rooms was introduced—called the Side Hall Plan.

The house shown here is Brentford in Tredyffrin Township, an example of a full Georgian house. This house was constructed as a side hall and later enlarged to a full Georgian. In colonial times, dormers were usually very tall and narrow. This dormer has many of the characteristics one would expect from the Georgian period: a heavy cornice supported by Tuscan pilasters—flat columns—and an arched-headed window with intersecting tracery.

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Illustration from page 30

Side Hall Plan house in London Grove Township

The house shown here is a side hall plan house located in London Grove Township. This building type has several names which may be confusing: the half-Georgian, the one-third Georgian, and the three-fifths Georgian. Side hall plan houses have the door in an outer bay, opening into the side hall. As a result, almost all historic houses with the door in an outer bay—rather than in the center—have a side hall interior. Other key elements usually associated with a side hall plan house is a large chimney on the end opposite the door, with a kitchen hearth—usually in the back room, a pent roof, and a rather steep roof.


Illustration from page 30

Joseph Butler house

As the eighteenth century progressed, the earlier Georgian Style became more refined, producing what we call the Federal Style. In many cases, it can be difficult to determine the difference between the two. This is partially due to the fact that the older Georgian interior types continued in use throughout the Federal period: the full Georgian—or the center hall plan, and the side hall plan. For example, the Joseph Butler House in Upper Uwchlan Township might, at first glance, look like a Georgian house. Closer examination reveals important differences. First, the slope of the roof of Federal Style houses is less steep than that of earlier houses. Second, the windows are larger than those which would have been used in a Colonial or Georgian house. After

1800, louvered shutters came into general use for second floor windows. When louvered shutters are closed, the window can be opened to allow air into the house but not light. Another key feature is the large fanlight over the door. Although fanlights were occasionally used earlier in the eighteenth century, they become much more common after the American Revolution. This house is an example of a three-bay center hall plan, another common Federal interpretation of the center hall plan. The five-bay center hall plan continued in use as well.

Illustration from page 30

Malin farmhouse

The Malin farmhouse in East Whiteland Township illustrates some of the differences between the Georgian and Federal Styles. The original section on the left is an example of the four-room house. It has large end chimneys and a steeply pitched roof. Unfortunately, its original windows have been enlarged. The Federal, side-hall addition on the right stands in clear contrast. It has a more shallow roof with a large chimney on the right end and segmentally-arched headed dormers. Windows are larger, and the door has both a transom and sidelights.

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Illustration from page 31

London Grove farmhouse

At the end of the Federal period, the friezeband window became common. This was a narrow window used on the side walls of a house to light the uppermost level. At the time, the prism-shaped area of a house was called a garret if it did not have windows on the sides and an attic if it had windows on the side walls. Today the word garret has fallen out of use. Houses with attics were worth more, as the uppermost level—usually the third level—became useable space. In places like West Chester, a house with friezeband windows earned more rental income than one with a garret only. The farmhouse shown here is located in London Grove Township. Note that the only real difference between this house and a standard Federal Style house is the presence of the friezeband windows. Note also that some architectural historians consider this type of building to be Early Greek Revival.

Two developments in the 1830s influence the architecture to follow. First, the first efficient cookstoves were introduced around 1835. These stoves produced controllable heat, with warmer and cooler areas on the top. The large kitchen hearths were no longer needed, and many chimneys were reduced in size in order to produce a better draft. The large chimneys of earlier years thus become a mark of an “outdated” house. Second, changes in the way nails were made and the introduction of standard-sized lumber led to the introduction of the balloon-frame house. No longer would a highly-skilled joiner be needed to prepare highly precise mortise and tenon joints for framing a house. Instead, lighter lumber was held together by nails. These two changes cut the amount of time needed to build a house and reduced their cost.


In the early nineteenth century, the people of Greece rebelled against their Turkish occupiers. Many Americans felt a brotherhood with the people of Greece, who were beginning their own experiment in self-government. Many of the new United States settlements of the early part of the century had Greek names—Scipio, Athens, Sparta, Corinth, etc.—in places such as western New York, eastern Ohio, and southern Illinois and Indiana. In terms of architecture, it is often difficult to tell the difference between the Roman-influenced architecture of the Federal Style and the Greek architecture of the early nineteenth century. There are some important clues, however.

Illustration from page 31

Girard College building

This is an early postcard of the original building on the Girard College campus. It is an excellent excellent example of a true Greek Revival building. First, it has a front-gabled—sometimes called front-end gabled—orientation, a major change from earlier architecture types in the United States.

The gable extension supported by the columns is called the portico. A true Greek Revival building will have one of three types of columns: Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian. Of the other two types of classical columns, the Composite was rarely used but the Tuscan column remained popular. Note that all curved elements have disappeared. Greek architecture is called trabeated due to its lack of curved elements.

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Illustration from page 32

Strafford Greek Revival house

This “pure” Greek Revival type of construction is not very common in southeastern Pennsylvania. This building in Strafford is the closest we come to a Greek Revival house. Note that it has the friezeband windows and a classical-inspired door frame with Ionic pilasters—flat columns. The building is also stuccoed, which gives the appearance of being constructed with marble stone. Many eighteenth century houses were stuccoed in the early nineteenth century as a means of appearing “up-to-date.”


Illustration from page 32

Smedley Darlington house

The Italianate Style ran concurrently with the Gothic Revival. Both were introduced in the 1840s and continued in common use until the Civil War. The Italianate Style had several key differences from the Gothic Revival. United States Representative Smedley Darlington's house on the western border of West Chester is an excellent example of the Italianate. The house has a water tower located near the center of the building, rather than at a corner as found in Gothic Revival houses. During the 2nd half of the 19th century people wanted to have running water in their houses. Italianate Style houses often had a tower built into them with a basin inside to collect rain water and provide water pressure inside the house. Like the Gothic Revival Style, this house has heavy brackets which support the weight of the water and the interior gutter system. This house also has a hipped roof, the most common roof framing type, which eliminated gables on the building. Like most Italianate houses, it has a full third floor rather than an attic as found in the Late Federal Style. Windows are larger but have larger panes of glass. Both the Italianate and Gothic Revival styles used porches—called, at the time, piazzas—instead of pent roofs. Note that at this time the pent roofs on many older houses were removed and replaced with porches.

Illustration from page 32

John Todd house

Later in the nineteenth century, John Todd constructed this house in Byers Station, Upper Uwchlan Township. Note the increased decoration decoration on the house: decorative quoins at the corners, highly decorative window and door frames, and the thick decorative brackets and friezeband.


Illustration from page 33

John Todd house

The second new architectural type of the 1840s was the Gothic Revival. Although the style received its name from its borrowing of medieval Gothic architectural elements, it was marketed as a picturesque American architecture. Books by men like A. J. Downing taught people how to build simple buildings with rich decoration.

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The key feature of Gothic Revival houses is the use of a cross-gable, which turned the attic level into a useable space. The cross-gable usually has a pointed arch window, sometimes called a Gothic window. Other common characteristics of Gothic Revival houses are thick brackets supporting the interior gutter system, decorative bargeboards, and thick molding on the door panels. This house just west of West Grove has an open turret on one corner that originally contained the basin to collect water. The soffits are supported by what appears to be exposed rafter tails, but these are actually sprockets—or false rafter tails. Note also that the slope of the roof has returned to the steep profile of colonial times.


Illustration from page 33

Second Empire house in Paoli

The Second Empire was named for a historic period in France, in which the medieval Mansard roof was re-introduced. The mansard roof was used to create a full third floor on a building. It consists of a nearly flat upper portion and a nearly vertical lower portion. This house in Paoli is a classic example of the type. The house has two chimneys on each end wall, arched-headed dormers, and a concave mansard. Note that the lower two floors could easily be considered Italianate: segmentally-arched windows and doors, an extremely flat wall surface, and a decorative porch. The windows on the first floor may be opened to serve as additional doors leading into the parlors on either side of the center hall. To a great degree, the Second Empire is an example of a French roof on an Italian building.

After the Civil War, milling companies began to produce architectural elements en masse and sold them through catalogs. A result of this mass production of various types of ornaments is a growing complexity in houses in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. This era—often called the Victorian era—encompassed several architectural movements.


Illustration from page 33

Queen Anne house in London Grove Township

The most important architectural movement of the 1880s and 1890s was the Queen Anne Style. It is noted for its incredibly complex roof systems, lavish use of decoration, and use of turrets and towers. This house in London Grove Township is an excellent example of an early Queen Anne house. The gabled roof has a very wide cross-gable—definitely not a Gothic Revival gable. A decorative Palladian window is located in the gable. None of the walls are flat surfaces. The door is located inside a vestibule on the front porch, and each end wall has a three-panel—“octagonal”—bay window. The impressive porch system begins with a porte-cochere—an architectural element introduced at this time—on the left, an extended gable in front of the door, and an open turret on the right. Note that the wrap-around porch—one of the key characteristics of a Queen Anne house—continues around the ends of the building.

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Illustration from page 34

Queen Anne house on Route 113

This house on Route 113 in northern Chester County is another example of a highly decorative Queen Anne house. It has a steeply sloped hipped roof with two chimneys. The cross-gable is located over a two-story bay window with Victorian windows—they have different sized panes in the same sash. The tower on the right is called an oriel tower. It is cantilevered out from the corner of the building and appears to be unsafe to enter. The lower floors have Italianate windows and a highly decorative wrap-around porch.


Illustration from page 34

Stick Style house in West Chester

In the early years of the Victorian era, the wide availability of frame architectural elements led to the Stick Style. This style primarily describes the lavish use of decorative exposed frame elements. This house in West Chester is an example. One of of the most common Stick elements is the use of gable ornaments. This house has a king's post truss with diagonal braces in the gable. Note that this truss is entirely decorative—the attic framing may or may not have a truss of this type. The cross-gable is clad with shaped wood shingles, and the porch has richly decorated, jigsaw spandrels between the posts.


Illustration from page 34

Fritz Lumber Company building in Berwyn

This is a subset of the Stick Style. This exterior ornament type is marked by the use of vertical frame elements. At this time, the use of board and batten became common, although it was far more common for barns than houses. Note that this building—Fritz Lumber Company in Berwyn— has several pointed lintel windows and even pointed windows.


Illustration from page 34

J. Sharpless Worth house near Coatesville

The Shingle Style is a subset of the Victorian era. It is characterized by a complicated building which is covered with shingles. This building type was generally reserved for the well-to-do. This house, constructed for steel magnate J. Sharpless Worth near Coatesville, is an example.

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It has a multitude of gables and dormers of various sizes and shapes. The wall cladding varies by floor: it has clapboards on the first floor, scalloped shingles on the second floor, and sawtooth shingles on the third floor. One of the most important elements of the Shingle Style is the return of emphasis in the interior on the chimney as a gathering place. This particular house also points to the over-compartmentalization of houses in the late nineteenth century; one room flows into the next, without the use of hallways.

Illustration from page 35

Frank Furness house in Paoli

Another example of the Shingle Style is this house constructed in Paoli by the renowned architect Frank Furness. Note the large, decorative chimneys, which are not used to heat the house.

One of the chimneys is located on the front of the house, something which is not found in residential architecture before the Victorian era. The two-story section has a mansard-like roof with multiple dormers. Although this is an interesting building, it is not one of the classic “Furnesque” residences, which usually incorporate playful architectural details to grab the attention of the viewer.


Illustration from page 35

West Chester Public Library

Henry Hobson Richardson was a famous architect in the late 1800s and was one of the first to construct Shingle Style houses in the 1880s. As his career progressed, he introduced a new signature architectural element—the “Syrian” arch. The Syrian arch was a much larger arch than was necessary for the stated purpose. Richardson also introduced the practice of using quarry-faced stone rather than smooth stone. His buildings thus have a monumental feel to them. One of the best examples is the Allegheny County Court House. Richardson was particularly interested in the construction of public libraries. The West Chester Public Library, arguably not a true Richardsonian building, certainly uses Richardsonian antecedents. The thick, stubby tower, eyebrow dormer, and arcade are all architectural elements found in many of Richardson's projects.


Illustration from page 35

West Chester Public Library

Throughout the nineteenth century, architects had a sense that earlier house forms carried a degree of value that was not found in current styles. At the very end of the nineteenth century, this yearning for earlier architectural styles led to the Colonial Revival movement. The Colonial Revival was one of several revival movements and the most common in southeastern Pennsylvania. The most important local architect in the Colonial Revival movement was Richardson Brognard Okie. This house, constructed by Okie just north of Wayne in 1895, was one of his first projects.

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At first glance, it looks like a standard center-hall plan house. However, note that several of the architectural elements are enlarged completely out of proportion for a true colonial house. The dormers are a little too wide and are pedimented—a treatment not found in colonial houses. The cross-gable has large ogee brackets and crowns a protruding bay—a feature called a pavilion at the time. Note also that the spacing of the windows and doors is not uniform, as one would find on a true Georgian house.

Illustration from page 36

D.S. Newhall house in Strafford

This house in Strafford was constructed by the renowned firm of McKim, Mead, and White. It is an example of a high-style Colonial Revival residence, one of the building types for which the MMW firm earned its reputation. As with all Colonial Revival houses, this building would not be confused with a true Colonial house. It is a very long building, with a front elevation constructed on different planes rather than having a flat main surface. The dormers are too wide and have a hipped roof, an extremely rare dormer type in colonial times. The window bands with large panes and undersized shutters are other key characteristics of the Colonial Revival Style.


Illustration from page 36

Tudor house in Strafford

The Tudor Revival style is the second of the great revival movements of the early twentieth century. The use of exterior timber framing had been used in several of the earliest buildings in the colonies, but very few of these buildings remain. Tudor Revival buildings differ in that the exterior framing is entirely decorative. This Tudor, constructed in Strafford, is a very high-style example of the type. Note that several Queen Anne elements are also used—including the tower and the complicated roof structure. Common features of Tudor houses include highly decorative brick chimneys and highly complicated wall surfaces. The timber framing almost always is used to emphasize the windows, doors, and corners. In most cases in the United States, the exposed timber does not have diagonal bracing, which is always present in true Tudor houses in England. After World War I, Tudor Revival houses are mostly stone buildings with prominent multi-light window units in large pavilions.


Illustration from page 36

American Foursquare house in Paoli

The American Foursquare was a type of house marketed in the very early twentieth century. This two-and-a-half story building in Paoli became popular because people could order it as a kit through a mail-order house. Companies such as Montgomery Ward or Sears would mail a package which included everything needed to build the house. An option with the American Foursquare was a device sold for an additional fee which made a concrete block with a special face on one side. This type of block is called “cast stone,” and was used for the foundation and sometimes for the walls as well.

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One disadvantage of the casting machine is that all the cast stone blocks were identical. Often the builder would lay half the block upside down, which gave the appearance of having two different face patterns on the block. Another option was to borrow a second casting machine, which would provide a completely different face.

American Foursquare houses shared several similarities. They had a pyramidal roof, often with a small hipped roof dormer on each slope of the roof. The roof was usually quite steep. The first and second floors originally had four rooms each, but with the passage of time the plans provided fewer, but larger, rooms. Windows were almost always 2x2 or 1x1 units.


Illustration from page 37

Craftsman style house

A smaller, one-story type of house commonly available through mail-order catalogs was the Craftsman/Bungalow. These are actually a single style. The Craftsman version has a front-gabled orientation. This house, formerly on the Immaculata College campus, is an excellent example.

Note that the building is highly simplified, compared to the earlier Queen Anne. It is a simple rectangular building except for the enclosed entry porch. The building is clad with machined shingles, a twentieth century type of cladding.

Illustration from page 37

Bungalow in Paoli

When these houses are end-gabled, they are called Bungalows. In general, Bungalows are more decorative than the Craftsman version, usually with dormers to provide a useable second floor. This Bungalow in Paoli has a hipped roof with an incised porch on the main elevation. One of the signature features of the Bungalow is that the columns on the front porch are stubby elements which stand on an overstated base. Often, the columns are tapered square elements standing on a brick base.


Illustration from page 37

Bungalow in Willistown Township

The most common variant of the Bungalow in the 1920s was this type of building, which has the unfortunate name of the Dutch Colonial Revival. The example shown here is in Willistown Township. The key feature of these buildings is the roof structure.

They have a gambrel roof with a monitor dormer, often on both slopes of the roof. In many cases, the monitor is so large that little remains of the gambrel. Like the Bungalow, Dutch Colonial Revival houses could be purchased through mail-order catalogs and were marketed to the middle class.

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Illustration from page 38

Prairie Style house in Goshenville

The first architectural type inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright was the Prairie Style and this example is in Goshenville. This house type—first advertised in the Ladies' Home Journal—was marketed as ideal for the endless rows of cornfields in the Great Plains. Prairie Style houses have widely overhanging roofs which shade the upper floors during hot summers. They are also characterized by open interiors, with one room flowing into another—thus rejecting the compartmentalization of the late nineteenth century.

After World War II, a series of small houses was used in tract housing. The earliest type is now called the MINIMAL TRADITIONAL. These are L-shaped houses, with the ell facing out towards the road instead of away from the road—the historic pattern. With the Minimal Traditional houses, the rear of the building became the place for the family to relax, rather than the front porch. As the 1950s began, the Minimal Traditional Style became simplified, thus producing the RANCH STYLE. Ranch houses are generally longer buildings and usually constructed in brick. They also are more likely to have overhanging roofs than their Minimal Traditional predecessors. In 1955, the SPLIT LEVEL STYLE was introduced to southeastern Pennsylvania. This example was constructed in East Bradford Township the first year the type appeared in this area. The characteristic of these non-ADA [American with Disabilities Act] accessible houses was the incorporation of a garage on the lowest level, with the public areas on a mezzanine and the private areas on the second floor. While this experiment in a new division of interior space was commonly believed to establish the new living pattern of the latter half of the century, the type, in fact, went “out of style” within a decade.

With the introduction of the Split Level in 1955, a discussion of historic architecture in southeastern Pennsylvania comes to an end.

Illustration from page 38


Eleanor Raymond. Early Domestic Architecture of Pennsylvania. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1977. Reprint of a 1930 book.

Margaret Bye Richie, John D. Milner, and Gregory D. Huber. Stone Houses: Traditional Homes of Pennsylvania's Bucks County and Brandywine Valley. New York, NY: Rizzoli, 2005.

Margaret Berwind Schiffer. Survey of Chester County Architecture. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 1984.

Seth Hinshaw is Senior Planner with Wise Preservation Planning, an historic preservation planning firm located in Paoli. Wise Preservation undertakes projects such as historic resource surveys, historic structure reports, and historic impact studies in the greater Philadelphia area. The majority of the photos used in this article are derived from Wise projects. Wise Preservation Planning has given permission for their use. This was a presentation at the June 19, 2005 meeting of the Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society. It was transcribed by Bonnie Haughey.


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