Borough’s Past

The Elverson Historical Commission is continually seeking out any and all information regarding the history of the borough as well as individual sites.  Please contact the Elverson Historical Commission at History@elversonboro.org if you have any historical information pertaining to Elverson.

Borough’s Past

Originally part of West Nantmeal Township, early settlement in the area of present-day Elverson responded to its situation along an established trade route from Lancaster to the French Creek iron furnaces at a location where travelers had access to three strong springs. The springs gave rise to the designation of the area as Springfield, a name which could be justified today since the springs are still flowing. Situated on the edge of Chester County and looking westward into the broad Conestoga Valley of Lancaster and Berks Counties, there are regional records of iron ore being dug here in the late 17th century. These diggings are presumed to have become Jones’ Mines by 1725. However, it was the opening of the Warwick Mines (1717) in Chester County for the French Creek furnaces that brought regular travel on the “Blue Rock Path” from Lancaster’s Conestoga region to points east. A petition in 1736 was issued for a road to “the new furnace” (Reading Furnace, Warwick/East Nantmeal Twps.) which would also connect with iron deposits and furnaces in Lancaster County near Cornwall. The interplay of the iron industry gave rise to increased population and economic stability to this otherwise remote area of Chester County.

At this early date and up to 1800, the region was, however, primarily wooded agriculture except for the wayside stop at the springs. Within the limits of the present borough, only three or four stone houses appeared along the road. But a few log dwellings were found, and a Methodist Meeting was established in 1801 in a primitive dwelling within the tiny village. In 1811, Jacob Warren applied for a tavern license under the name of White Horse, the tavern keeper being John G. Jones from Morgantown. A blacksmith and a wheelwright took residence on opposite sides of the road and several more log dwellings, two of which remain today under stucco, clustered around the tavern and springs. A regular stage route passed through the village on its way to Reading and Kimberton.

The strongest springs lay generally on the north side of present Route 23 (Main Street). Water Street, now North Chestnut Street, which seemed central to the springs. The first school was in this area, recorded in 1809, indicating the embryo of a village had begun to emerge. Route 82 (Chestnut Street) from the south, did not come through the settlement until 1832, when it was re-routed to more directly reach the Jones Mines and continued onward to Birdsboro and Reading.

By 1849, Springfield warranted a Post Office, but since there was a post office so named elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the name Blue Rock was officially applied to the village at this time, the name indicating the geologic outcroppings of Black Granite which give a bluish cast. That name lasted until 1899 as the name of the post office, but the town, and later the railroad, continued to use the name Springfield. This caused such confusion in shipping on the railroad that the totally new name of Elverson was made official in 1899. It was chosen to honor the popular owner/publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, James Elverson, Sr.

The second phase of growth for the village began about 1855-60 when rumors circulated that the train out of Wilmington, Delaware, was going to run through Springfield to Reading. (James Everhart, local resident, was member of the first board of managers of the Wilmington and Reading Railroad.) This was viewed by all as a great boon to the town’s commercial life, and in anticipation, Evan Dampman built a hotel, calling it Blue Rock Hotel. It was an “Eating House,” not a tavern, and had a community hall on the second floor. Not until the 1890’s did the then owner/operator, William Hartz, feel the need to provide sleeping rooms. The railroad, built by the duPont family, was completed in 1870 and was eventually known as the Wilmington and Northern Railroad. Availability of the railroad expanded the significance of Springfield’s markets as it became an important link to other communities. Overall growth within the village more than doubled the population and created an influx of small industries to accommodate necessities and satisfy commercial demands. Among the long list of businesses in 1883 were two mercantile stores, a tinsmith, a wheelwright, 2 blacksmiths, a tailor, a dressmaker, 2 shoemakers, a butcher, 2 dentists, 1 doctor, an undertaker/cabinetmaker, a Justice-of-the-peace and land conveyor, as well as the railroad complex, the lumber/coal yard and Mr. Zook’s establishment. Also living in the town were John Huston, a master bridge builder and O.S. Hertzog, an electrician, both employees of the Wilmington and Northern Railroad.

Henry Zook was probably the next greatest boost to the town’s economy. Coming shortly after the railroad, Zook had an enterprising spirit coupled with a vision of Springfield becoming an important commercial center. He set to work developing a fertilizer, farm implement and carriage depository/dealership directly across from the train depot. He built his own home on the same lot. Once a year, he held a public auction, attended by hundreds of people in a carnival mood, to reduce his inventory of carriages, wagons and implements. In 1874, Isaac K. Sigman, son of a local farmer, opened a coal and lumberyard on a corner of his father’s farm and along the railroad. It currently operates as the Elverson Supply Company, Inc. under the aegis of the Cook family. In 1906, Dolfinger’s Milk Depot and Creamery opened on the west side of the tracks across from the lumberyard. After 20 years of service and an explosion, it was reopened in 1935 as the Old Orchard Distillery, makers of Peach Brandy and Apple Jack. The building was continued as a sewing factory in the 1950’s for DeMayo Fashions, Inc. and is now the factory/showroom for Vixen Hill Gazebos, makers of widely sold gazebos and window shutters.

Along with the town’s rapid growth came a new school (1874), and two churches. One church was an outgrowth of the 1855 Church of the Brethren which was relocated to S. Chestnut Street (Route 82), and the other was a progression of the older 1801 Methodist Meeting. Henry Zook had become successful and as he relaxed, he dreamed of better things for Elverson. He planned for a park-like atmosphere along the railroad tracks and later, for a new wide street, Park Avenue, which he macadamized, edged with sidewalks, and donated to the town. He started it off with two new houses for his employees. He was one of the several businessmen who in 1911 worked for the incorporation of the town. In 1915, he donated land for a bank building and was instrumental in erecting the Elverson National Bank, which under the strong hand of the Witwer family survived the economic trouble of the Great Depression and today has five branch offices in three counties. (Now BB&T)

With Zook’s new houses on Park Avenue, the third expansion (1910-1930) of the town took place. With its own bank came a machine shop, an automotive repair garage, and a florist joining the older businesses, and new styled homes appeared on the edge of the older blocks. Until a few years ago, the train continued freight runs on a weekly basis to Reading.

From the mid-nineteenth century to 1930 Elverson was the principal commercial center in the northwestern Chester County region that encompasses East and West Nantmeal and Warwick Townships. These townships did not have villages, including commercial centers, as large as Elverson, and have remained overwhelmingly rural through 1930. The nearest commercial rival to Elverson in northwestern Chester County was Honey Brook, some six miles southwest of Elverson. Honey Brook had more businesses in a distinct commercial section of the town. However, Honey Brook was somewhat isolated from Elverson’s market area by the Welsh Mountain range, which limited commercial and social communication between these neighboring towns. The closest commercial center in neighboring southern Berks County was similarly sized Morgantown, approximately three miles distant from Elverson.

Elverson’s building styles follow closely the periods of its commercial growth. Its newer domestic architecture reflecting conservative Victorian styles in the Gothic mode. Except for the occasional home of a wealthy businessman, rural agricultural towns could not produce great examples of the Victorian’s pen. They could, however, adapt the high pointed rooflines, the two story bay window, the carpenter’s intricate scroll saw decorations and larger, higher, brighter interiors (albeit the Victorian housewife darkened them with heavy drapery) than had been found in earlier plain, rural colonial homes. These features are found in many Elverson houses. The cottage style and the American 4-Square homes built in the 1900’s rounded out the Victorian architectural style and brought to an end the last historical period of growth in Elverson.

The Village of Elverson incorporated as a borough on April 17, 1911. The judge’s opinion, Judge Hemphill, in favor of the incorporation states….”A large majority, in value, of the property owners and tax payers favor incorporation and assign as some of the reasons therefore:  the need of a more adequate and sanitary water supply, of better streets and side walks with uniform grades, of public lighting of the streets, of the straightening of property lines on the streets, of some fire protection and polling place and school system of its own…After careful consideration of the matters referred to and the fact that the electors will have control of their own destiny, as is the case in every elective municipality.

Since the 1930’s, Elverson has shown minimal growth until the present the 1990s. On the eastern perimeter of the historic district, a new multi-faceted development called “Summerfield” increasing both the population and the diversity of land use in the Borough. At the edge of Summerfield, off of Brick Lane, a new Evangelical Free Church had been erected. Elverson’s townscape maintains it’s internal integrity with a Central Historic District. With a tight, already-built pattern of lots, the historic district remains a vignette of a 19th and early 20th century small, rural, commercial center.

Almost 42 years after the Borough was founded, a majority of freeholders of land adjacent to the town petitioned the corporate authorities of the Borough to annex their lands. Borough Council responded on January 19, 1953 by enacting Ordinance No. 53-1 which added more than 490 surrounding acres, thus increasing the area of the Borough to its current size of slightly more than 1 square mile. While the ordinance itself gives no clue, other documents suggest the primary reason was to allow the landowners’ children to attend Elverson Elementary School.

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