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Historic Milestones of West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania

Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the service of the Dutch East India Company, sails the ship Halve Maen (Half Moon) into Delaware Bay. This gives the Dutch the first European claim to the area now known as Pennsylvania.

Under the leadership of Johan Printz, the Swedes establish the first European settlement in Tinicum and claim the region of what is now Pennsylvania. Fur traders paddle up the Brandywine River into the Brandywine Valley where they encounter the Lenni Lenape Indian Tribe and establish fur trading. Where West Chester now exists was part of the hunting and fishing grounds for many of the tribal clans which had a total population of about 12,000 persons.

September 15 -- The Swedish settlement is reclaimed by the Dutch when their army captures Fort Trinity and Fort Christina. However, the Swedish settlers continue to enjoy a certain amount of local autonomy, retaining their own militia, religion, court, and lands.

The English seize the Dutch possessions in the name of the Duke of York, the brother of King Charles II. New Amsterdam is renamed New York.

March 4 -- With a stroke of a pen, King Charles II creates Pennsylvania by signing the Charter of Pennsylvania that grants William Penn a province in the New World. It is named after William Penn's father, Admiral Sir William Penn. Land there is almost immediately parceled and sold for about 10 cents an acre in modern money. A Quaker sect from northern Wales purchase 40,000 acres in what became called the Welsh Tract in the lands of Goshen.

October 29 -- William Penn arrives in Pennsylvania for the first time aboard the ship Welcome.

December 4 -- After convening a provincial government, Penn establishes the first three counties: Chester, Philadelphia, and Bucks. The municipality of Chester would become the Chester County seat.

July 25 -- The township of Goshen establishes its boundaries when it is surveyed as part of the Welsh Tract that also includes Tredyffrin, the Whitelands, Westtown, Willistown, Easttown, Haverford, Radnor, and Lower Marion. A hundred years later, West Chester would be carved out of Goshen.

November 16 -- The Provincial Council of Pennsylvania orders the surveying, cutting, and clearing of roads into the Brandywine Valley of Chester County.

Robert Eachus becomes the first European settler within what is now West Chester. It was most likely a log structure in the vicinity north of Borough Hall.

circa 1710
Goshen Road is laid out and becomes the first road to connect West Chester to Philadelphia. Today, it's the northern border of West Chester Borough.

John and Mary Wall construct a log house on Goshen Road within the boundaries of what is now West Chester Borough. Sometime between 1767 and 1791, Thomas Hoopes replaced it with a stone house on what is now the southeast corner of High Street and Goshen Road. Today, after many additions, it is called the Dower House and is one of the oldest continuously occupied structures in West Chester.

The first county tax document lists the first families in the Township of Goshen. Included is first historical record of those living in what would later become West Chester. Six families comprised the initial group of settlers.

July 30 -- William Penn dies in Berkshire, England.

1735 to 1742
The Lenni Lenape, unable to stop the encroachment of European settlers into their traditional hunting and growing lands, migrate westward in large numbers to resettle, often forcibly, in Oklahoma and Canada. Only a handful of families and individuals remain behind.

Nathan Hoopes House is built along the old Goshen Road. It now lies in ruins at the West Chester Country Club west of Goshen Avenue.

The first schoolhouse is built of logs at what is now the northwest corner of Gay & High Streets.

A petition to open a tavern is granted to Phineas Eachus, who does so at the northeast corner of what is now High and Market Streets. The tavern is called The Turks Head, a name that is applied to the crossroads village for the next 26 years.

July 4 -- The Continental Congress in Philadelphia declares the 13 colonies independent from England.

September 11 -- The school house located on the northwest corner of Gay and High Streets is used as a hospital for soldiers wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War, which takes place south of West Chester. Revolutionary soldiers are said to be buried there. As General Sir William Howe wins a decisive victory sending General George Washington's army into retreat (and leaving Philadelphia defenceless), 20-year-old Marquis de Lafayette, serving as a major-general under Washington, manages to organize a successful retreat, despite being wounded, making him an instant hero.

The Pennsylvania Assembly, at the urging of local leaders, approves moving the seat of Chester County from the City of Chester to the vicinity of "Turks Head Tavern." Construction of the first courthouse soon begins just north of the current historic courthouse.

April 9 -- The first map of West Chester is laid out into four square blocks divided by Gay and High Streets and bounded by Chestnut, Walnut, Market, and Church Streets.The grid is made up of 32 parcels.

November 28 -- The removal of the seat of Chester County from the City of Chester to West Chester is completed when the first court session is held.

March 3 -- The Pennsylvania Assembly designates West Chester as a "county town" and establishes its current name and boundaries. The only power this allows is for local citizens to elect two justices of the peace. The first are Charles Dilworth and John Hannum.

James Smith constructs the building at 13 North High Street (enlarged by William Sharpless in 1792) that is now the oldest surviving "first period" structure related to the County administrative center formed at what is now referred to as The First Block bounded by High, Gay, Church, and Market Streets.

March 28 -- West Chester is incorporated as a Borough by the Pennsylvania Assembly. The primary motive appears to be to avoid road taxes in Goshen Township. The Borough's population is 374.

May 6 -- William Sharpless is elected Chief Burgess, becoming the equivalent of the first mayor and council president.

August 6 -- First West Chester Fire Company is established with 23 volunteers. The company is well equipped with the exception that it does not have an "apparatus for extinguishing fires." Instead, each volunteer is provided with two water buckets.

December 14 -- George Washington dies at Mount Vernon.

Indian Hannah (Freeman), the last local member of the original Lenni Lenape tribal clans, dies in the Chester County Poorhouse.

January 1 -- A United States Post Office is established in West Chester.

August 1 -- West Chester conducts its first hanging. It is a woman named Hannah Miller who was convicted June 1, 1805, of murdering her child. Nearly three thousand spectators come to witness the event.

March 27 -- The West Chester Academy, the precurser to West Chester University, is chartered and located in the area at the southwest corner of Gay and Darlington Streets. John Forsythe was the first president.

November 11 -- The Bank of Chester County opens as the first bank in Chester County at the northwest corner of High & Market on the second floor of what was then the County offices. Rent is $25 a year.

A Library Company, precurser to the West Chester Public Library, is formed. It collects books to be loaned from shelves placed in businesses.

West Chester Fire Company purchases a small fire engine.

The first sidewalks, paved with brick, are installed. This predates paved local roadways by six years.

July 26 -- Marquis de Lafayette returns to West Chester to honor the memory of the soldiers that fought at the Battle of Brandywine. Some 10,000 gather to hear his speech. A monument placed on Lafayette Avenue near Walnut commemorates the occasion.

West Chester Fire Company purchases a new fire engine for $2,800 replete with paintings of historic fires.

October 18 -- The first railroad car travels from West Chester to Philadelphia.

William Everhart constructs West Chester's first true office building, designed by William Strickland and now known as the Lincoln Building, at the corner of Market Street and Wilmont Mews. It marks the beginning of the second period of development for West Chester. It is soon followed by the Mansion House Hotel constructed just west.

Good Will Fire Company is formed, with William Williamson as its founding president, and purchases the West Chester Fire Company's old engine.

Rachel, a woman born into slavery, escapes from her master in Baltimore and makes her way to West Chester where she marries Isaac Harris, a freed slave. They set up a home on West Miner Street near Darlington where she does domestic work for several residents while he works in a factory.

September 3 -- After more than a year of construction, the town clock, placed in the steeple of the first courthouse, begins running. Isaiah Lukens built the clock and the original bell still marks the hour.

May 30 -- The Bank of Chester County locates to a Greek Revival structure designed by Thomas U. Walter at 15 North High Street. It is the tallest single-story facade in West Chester and continues today as a bank. This gives it the distinction of being the longest continuously running business type in the Borough.

March 28 -- Fame Fire Company is formed and its first fire call is to put out a blaze at the home of William Williamson, founding president of Good Will Fire Company.

Under the Fugitive Slave Act, Rachel Harris is arrested by bounty hunters and taken before Judge Thomas Bell at his quarters which still stand at the southeast corner of Miner and Church Streets. Before he can review all the evidence to consider whether she is a runaway slave to be returned to her southern master, she escapes, with the help of the judge's wife, Keziah, by scaling a seven-foot fence on the way to the out-house. Finding a hiding place in a neighbor's attic, she is disguised as a man and both Rachel and Isaac are transported along the Underground Railroad to Canada by local abolitionist Benjamin Price where they make a new life.

The exact world map location of the Chester County Courthouse is determined by E.W. Beans, Principal of the Public School, and Walter Hibbard, Surveyor and Conveyancer. It is latitude 39 degrees, 57 minutes, 31.3 seconds north; and longitude 75 degrees, 36 minutes, 32.7 seconds west of Greenwich, England.

July 4 -- The cornerstone for a new courthouse, designed by Thomas U. Walter, is laid as construction to replace the old courthouse of 1786 commences. It now stands as the historic Courthouse of Chester County at High and Market Streets. It becomes one of Walter's greatest architectural achievements and West Chester's iconic structure.

West Chester Pike begins life as an improved road connecting the western edge of Philadelphia and West Chester. This is a commercial venture, a toll road; the "pike" being a board used as a gate to prevent travelers from passing through without paying a toll. Upon being paid, the gatekeeper would "turn the pike" to let travelers through, thus inspiring the word turnpike. -David Sadowski

February 22 -- The new courthouse opens. Due to a lack of funds, the facade is brick rather than the stone facing today.

March 13 -- Marshall Square Park is established predating Central Park in New York City by nine years. It is named after Humphry Marshall, a local farmer who was one of America's first true botanists, to provide "suitable walks and introducing various ornamental trees and shrubbery."

September 14 -- Horticultural Hall (225 North High Street), a structure in serpentine stone with butresses and a recessed Norman arch that was Thomas U. Walter's last commission in West Chester, features its first horticultural exhibit that includes a miniature steam railroad. 2,000 visitors arrive the first day.

The first telegraph office opens on Church Street. 20-year-old Emma Hunter is the telegrapher and is among the first female operators in the world.

June 2-3 -- The first Pennsylvania women's rights convention ever held, and only the second held in the United States, takes place at Horticultural Hall (now part of the Chester County Historical Society). The meeting adopted 16 resolutions including women's suffrage.

July -- Flush toilets are introduced at the Mansion House Hotel (then located at the southeast corner of Market & Church).

Summer -- Natural gas is provided to West Chester with the eventual construction of about twelve miles of gas mains by 1899.

As the population approaches 4,000, the Borough Council passes an ordinance to number all the houses and divide the Borough into quadrants so that all the streets are north/south or east/west.

May 19 -- William Everhart, at the time West Chester's wealthiest resident and a member of the US House of Representatives, rises on the floor of Congress to attack the Kansas-Nebraska Act saying that it would "encourage salvery as if it were a source of blessing and honor."

August 18 -- The Chester County Republican Party is formally organized at the Courthouse. The meeting is attended by "Whigs, Democrats, Americans, and Liberty men." The Pennsylvania wing of the new political party would be pivotal in electing Abraham Lincoln president.

The now historic Simon Barnard Row of townhouses, characteristic of working class dwellings, is constructed on the 100-block of East Washington St.

Fall -- Jesse Fell, a Chester County native, meets with Abraham Lincoln in Bloomington, Illinois, to discuss political strategies for a presidential bid by Lincoln. Fell asks Lincoln for information concerning his family background and education with the intent to have a biography written of him and published in West Chester. Lincoln initially refuses.

The Courthouse facades are faced with Pictou stone, finally completing the structure.

December 20 -- After multiple requests, Abraham Lincoln finally provides Jesse Fell with autobiographical notes of his life which are then forwarded to West Chester writer and Republican advocate Joseph J. Lewis.

February 11 -- The first biography of Abraham Lincoln is published by The Chester County Times at 28 West Market Street. It is republished in newspapers throughout the country to introduce Lincoln as a candidate for president.

The 97th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment is organized in West Chester, initially recruiting over a thousand soldiers motivated by patriotism and adventure. It participates in several campaigns from North Carolina to Florida. By the end of the war, the regiment had lost 136 men in battle and 186 men to disease. The regiment includes Galusha Pennypacker, who would become the youngest general in the army and receives the Medal of Honor for heroism at the Second Battle of Fort Fisher.

September 20 -- Charles Edwin "Charlie" King, Drum Major for Company F, 49th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, is wounded at the Battle of Antietam when he is "shot through the body" by cannon shrapnel. He dies three days later in a field hospital to become the youngest American soldier to ever die in battle at the age of 13-years, 5-months. He is said to be buried in an unmarked grave at the family home on West Barnard Street. His memorial is located at Green Mount Cemetery in Westtown Township.

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first "Colored" unit, is formed and recruits are sought in West Chester by such individuals as Frederick Douglass. There are 139 black Civil War veterans buried in the local African American cemeteries.

April 10, sunrise -- With Lee's surrender at Appomattox the day before, two African Americans, Samuel J. Williams and Alexander Gladman, bring the news of the end of the Civil War to West Chester and announce it by ringing the bell at the Courthouse.

The Hartshorne Mansion is constructed at High & Marshall Streets and takes up an entire square block. Now known as The Barclay, the mostly Italianate style building (Colonial Revival additions were made in the 1930s) may be the most intact estate in West Chester.

The public drinking fountain is set up in front of the courthouse that provides water for people, horses, and dogs from seperate drinking bowls.

September 25 -- The West Chester Academy reopens as West Chester Normal School consisting of 160 students.

The West Chester Public Library is established.

Private telephones become common in West Chester.

The Edison Electric Illuminating Company of West Chester is organized just three years after its prototype opens in New York City providing electric lighting at a price that competes with gas lighting. By the end of the century there are 76 brilliant arc lights and 179 incandescents lighting the evening streets.

October 29 -- After 23 years of planning and raising funds, West Chester's most impressive monument is dedicated to the honor of the 97th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  It occupies the highest point in West Chester Borough at the southwest corner of Marshall Square park.

January 30 -- The Board of Trade, an association of businesses that would morph into the current West Chester Chamber of Commerce, is chartered. Its first project is to publish "West Chester, Pennsylvania. The most important suburb of Philadelphia" indicating that it's "for the benefit of the uninformed and the misinformed."

The current West Chester Public Library, design by T. Roney Williamson at 415 North Church Street, opens. The Queen Anne style makes this one of West Chester's most impressive public buildings containing five windows of Tiffany-style glass each illustrating a quote from a story by Bayard Taylor.

The Court House Annex, with its entrance on West Market Street at Courthouse Alley, is constructed. Designed by T. Roney Williamson, it interprets the Italian Renaissance style although it's connected to the Greek Revival Courthouse. It's faced with Indiana limestone while the interior is embellished with Italian marble wainscoting, stained art glass, and decorative wood garlands, diamonds, and pilasters.

The West Chester Police Department and Borough administrative offices locate to the Assembly Building, refurbished from the Meconkey Mansion at 16 North High Street (now 10 North High Street).

March -- Chester County Hospital opens with just five patient beds. Plans are immediately put in place for expansion.

The Gay Street School, a primarily African-American public school, opens at the place where Borough Hall now stands.

February 1 -- Frederick Douglass delivers his last speech to an audience at the State Normal School (now West Chester University). He talks about lynching and other urgent issues facing African-Americans. Just nineteen days later he dies.

Long distance telephone service is introduced in West Chester. Within two years, 140 instruments exist to make "conversation with Philadelphia and other points much easier."

David Chambers and James Douglass retire as the last of the official Town Criers.

The population of West Chester has grown to 9,524, about half of what it is today.

Everhart Park, located in the Southwest quadrant at Brandywine and Miner Streets, is donated to the Borough by Dr. Isaiah Everhart.

The current West Chester Post Office is constructed at the northeast corner of Gay and Walnut Streets. It's made of Cockeysville marble, the same material used on the Washington Monument.

The Farmers & Mechanics Building, designed by William C. Prichett, is erected at the corner of Market and High Streets as West Chester's first, and only, skyscraper. At 90-feet, the Beaux Arts style building remains the tallest commercial structure in the Borough.

March 9 -- Samuel Barber, America's celebrated composer and West Chester native, is born. His early childhood is spent at 35 S High St. Within a few years, his family relocates to 107 S Church St.

Borough Hall is built at 15 South High Street and serves as the first permanent administration building and municipal Police Department of the Borough.

West Chester Normal School becomes the first of the statewide normal schools to be owned outright by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

June 11 -- Old Glory, the landmark statue at High and Market Streets, is dedicated to honor the Chester County's Civil War veterans. A crowd of 35,000 turn out for the ceremony. Originally, Old Glory carried a sword; at some point after the dedication, it mysteriously disappears.

The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce is incorporated out of the Board of Trade.

The West Chester Armory Building is completed on North High and Washington Streets providing a base of operations for the Pennsylvania National Guard Bravo Company, 1-111 Infantry, Stryker Unit, also known as the "Associators".

September 5 -- A memorial is erected to Indian Hannah (Freeman) on Route 1.

West Chester Normal School becomes West Chester State Teachers College when Pennsylvania initiates a four-year program for teacher education.

November 14 -- The Warner Theater opens at 120 North High Street. Designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp in the style of Art Deco and built by Warner Brothers, the 1,650-seat theater showed movies with the best audio/visual technologies of the day.

July 2, 10:25am -- The first United States Post Office air mail aerial pick-up for West Chester took place.

November -- Under the leadership of G. Raymond Rettew, the first mass production of penicillin begins at the revamped old Pennsylvania Garage (now the Chestnut Street Garage, corner of Walnut & Chestnut Streets) where most of the world's supply of penicillin is made that year. Being the first antibiotic, it is credited with saving thousands of lives during World War II.

Segregation of West Chester Borough's schools come to an end when Gregory Porter is allowed to enter the first-grade at the all-white Auditorium School near his home on the west end.

November 24 -- Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day, dies at the Marshall Square Sanitarium at the age of 84.

June 6 -- The Red Arrow, a trolley line that connects West Chester to Downingtown and Coatesville, among others, makes its last run.

As the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania paves the way for liberal arts programs in its college system, West Chester Teachers College is renamed West Chester State College.

West Chester State College introduces a liberal arts program that turns the teachers college into a more comprehensive college.

April 24 -- In order to accommodate growth in the county, the North Wing opens at 2 North High Street replacing the Meconkey Mansion. The International style architecture includes a vertical stone relief sculpture with four panels by Harry Rosin depicting several Chester County historical figures including George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette.

January 23 -- Samuel Barber, America's celebrated composer and West Chester native, dies in Manhattan at age 70 but is buried in Oaklands Cemetery, West Chester PA.

The West Chester State College Quadrangle Historic District is placed in the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings included in the historic district are Philips Memorial Building, Ruby Jones Hall, Recitation Hall and the Old Library. Except for Philips, these buildings are constructed of serpentine stone quarried near the school.

July 1 -- With passage of the State System of Higher Education bill, West Chester State College becomes one of the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and is renamed West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

The new Borough Hall and Police Department opens at 401 East Gay Street.

January 1 -- The Borough of West Chester adopts a Home Rule Charter.

The West Chester Business Improvement District is established to attract more downtown customers and businesses, and act as an advocate for downtown stakeholders. It replaces the West Chester Borough Commerce Department.

A $2.3-million renovation of the West Chester Public Library (415 North Church Street) is completed. It doubles the usable space without disturbing the historic features of this remarkable structure.

September 7 -- The 422,000 square foot Justice Center, housing all the court-related departments for Chester County, opens at 201 West Market Street. The historic Chester County Courthouse will continue to be used primarily for ceremonial court functions.

October 6 -- A portion of the county First Block properties, including the North Wing, is sold to partnership company owned by Eli Kahn and Jack Loew.

August 17 -- The Hotel Warner becomes the first hotel to open downtown in over 100 years at 120 North High Street. It was re-purposed from the Warner Theater.

November 15 -- The North Wing opens as 10 North High.

October 1 -- A bronze statue of Frederick Douglass is dedicated at West Chester University not far from where his last speech was delivered. Richard Blake, a member of the University's art department, was commissioned to create the lifelike figure.

April 28 -- The Historic Chester County Courthouse reopens with court services by District Court 15-1-04 after a $1.4-million renovation.

December 18 -- The historic West Chester Armory Building on North High Street is sold to a division of the Uptown! Entertainment Alliance which begins renovation of the 1916 structure into a venue for performing arts.

April 22 -- A 3.5 acre portion of the historic Hartshorne Estate is dedicated as the Barclay Park at the corner of High & Marshall Streets to become West Chester's newest park thus preserving West Chester's last fully intact estate.

March 20 -- The Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center has its grand opening at 226 N High St.

May 1 -- West Chester is one of three winners of the 2017 Great American Main Street Award, a nationally prestigious recognition. Video

June 3-6 -- The Pennsylvania Downtown Center holds their annual statewide downtown revitalization conference in West Chester for the first time.

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Compiled by Malcolm Johnstone

Updated June 15, 2019


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