On March 23, 1855, Philadelphian Thomas Hargrave bought the lot and house for $1,600. Hargrave, a marble mason by profession, had come to Doylestown two years earlier to open a second establishment of his large marble monument business. He later became one of Doylestown’s most prominent businessmen.
A native of Leeds in Yorkshire, England, Thomas Hargrave came to America as a young man. An expert marble cutter, Hargrave had no difficulty finding work. One of his first jobs was constructing ornaments for the building at Girard College in Philadelphia. He established his first marble business, said to be the largest in the city, at 13th Street and Ridge Avenue. Historical records indicate he displayed some of his marble sculptures in the 1847 Exhibition of American Manufactures at Franklin Institute. It featured a monument base and die with a figure of an infant in a sleeping pose. Two lambs were part of the piece, and the Italian marble headstone had a carved wreath of flowers, enclosing a name in raised letters. Documents of the exhibition describe the work as “well done” and worthy of the fine art label. Many of his most handsome monuments were erected in Laurel Hill Cemetery, a noted garden cemetery in the East Falls section of the city. Laurel Hill was also where a former owner of Hargrave House, Margaret Kripps, is buried.
Hargrave was married twice, with his second wife being much younger than he was. After their marriage in 1860, Mary Deschamps Hargrave gave birth to three daughters: Kate, Annie and Mary Jane. The federal census of 1870 notes that the Hargrave family lived on South Main Street in Doylestown. Hargrave was 60 years old and a marble mason by occupation.
More on Hargrave’s activities in our next installment.
In 1815, Judge William Watts purchased the house and lot for $1,000 and a swap of two other lots. Watts – a prothonotary, clerk of quarter sessions and associate judge for Bucks County – moved to Doylestown from Southampton when the new county seat was established here.
Dr. Thomas N. Meredith bought the property in 1819 for $1,500. Born in Doylestown, Dr. Meredith was a physician, as was his father. He married Rachel Burson nine years earlier and they eventually had 11 children. Historical research indicates he must have had some kind of financial problems, since in 1823 the court of common pleas issued a writ of execution against Dr. Meredith for failing to pay almost $2,000 in debts owed to Robert Jamison. He tried selling his house to pay off the debt, but was unable to do so. Later that year, the house was sold at a sheriff’s sale to Margaret Kripps of Philadelphia.
Kripps was the highest bidder on the property, buying the house and lot for $601. She was also a woman buyer, certainly not a common occurrence in the 1800s. She owned the house for more than 30 years, but there is no indication that she lived in it. She was single and lived her whole live in Philadelphia. Most likely she maintained landlord status and rented out the property.
When Kripps bought the property, it was still part of Doylestown Township. (The borough didn’t become established until 1838, when it incorporated.) As an interesting aside, township tax records showed that a year after she bought the property (1824), the value was worth $601 and a tax of 20 cents was levied. Later, in 1848, tax records show the value of the house and lot were worth $900, and Kripps paid a county tax of $1.40 and a state tax of $2.70.
In 1852, two years before she died, Kripps sold the house and one-quarter acre lot on South Main Street to William T. Eisenhart for $900. Eisenhart was a tailor, working in Allentown, Philadelphia, Reading and Pittsburgh before coming to Doylestown. It’s not clear if he ever lived in the house, but he opened his own business on South Main Street. He ran the tailor shop for about 13 years until he began to grow flowers and operate a truck farm. He only owned the house for about three years before he sold the property.
We’ll discuss the next property owner – one from whom Hargrave House takes its name – during the next installment of our history.
As we said in our last blog installment on the 200-year history of Hargrave House, the new county seat took its place at the crossroads in 1813. In January of that year, William Magill sold a portion of his property – Lot E – to David Carr Jr. The transaction was for $310. That lot was a quarter of an acre of land and part of the original Magill farm. Our historical research determined that Carr built the stone house that now hosts our bed and breakfast. After it was completed, he sold the building and property, unlikely that he had ever lived in the house.
The three-story structure was built in the Georgian style of colonial homes. The building was a simple box with side gables and windows in strict symmetry along with a center door – common at the time. Double-hung windows on the first and third floor had 6-over-6 panes, while the arrangement of the second-floor window panes were 9 over 6. As was typical, the upper windows touched the cornice. The roof was a hand-split, pine shingle roof, and the thick, stone walls were covered with stucco. Later additions included a small porch roof along the entire front of the house and a two-story wood frame rear addition. In the early part of the 20th century, the wooden shingled roof was covered with standing seam tin. (Town officials encouraged this action among homeowners after a 1914 fire storm caused several homes to burn.)
There is plenty of history behind what is now Hargrave House. And it began with William Penn, who asked England’s King Charles II for land in America as payment for a debt owed to his deceased father. The king granted him 40,000 acres in 1681, which eventually became known as Pennsylvania.
Eleven years later, Penn sailed to America and decided, as a way of enticing people to emigrate here, to offer land at a cheap price – 100 pounds ($166 in today’s U.S. dollars) would buy you 5,000 acres. During that trip, he established both Bucks and Philadelphia counties. He also made a treaty with the Lenni Lenape tribe of the Delaware Indians who are also native to our area.
Realizing the massive amount of land he owned was too large to manage alone, Penn sold about 20,000 acres to The Free Society of Traders, a wealthy group of Quaker merchants in England. The Society had offices in Philadelphia too, close to the Delaware River, in an area that later become known as Society Hill.
In 1724, The Society sold large tracts of land to Jeremiah Langhorne. Nearly half of his land was located in what is now Central Bucks County – Doylestown, New Britain and Warwick townships, to be exact. We’ll talk about that a little more in our next blog about Hargrave House’s history.
Doylestown is a treasure box filled with all kinds of interesting historical nuggets. We stumble on them now and again as we look into Hargrave House’s past and celebrate its 200th year at what is now 50 S. Main St.
J. Kurt Spence of Doylestown Historical Society pieced together our 200-year history through various sources. It’s much like detective work. One lead points the way to another. Property deeds, found in the Bucks County Courthouse, show land transfers, with some going back to the late 1700s. The records give the names and addresses of the buyers and sellers, description of the property and the purchase price. Sometimes maps were even attached.
Federal census information – gathered every 10 years since 1790 – is also culled. Where you were born, if you immigrated to the United States, when you were married, your occupation and your approximate personal worth were all recorded. (One of those curious historical tidbits from the 1930 census even notes whether a resident owned a radio!)
Other particulars came from old maps, tax records, newspapers, books, local publications, and, yes, the Internet also was used as a research tool.
Spence also credited the late Wilma Brown Rezer, an avid Doylestown historian, for providing firm groundwork in researching early Doylestown land transfers and history.
In the upcoming months, we’ll let you in on some more HH history – who some of its owners were, problems with a property line and renovations along the way. It’s a fascinating trip through time.
This year is an important year in Hargrave House’s history. We’re celebrating the building’s 200th anniversary!
According to historical research, the three-story stone building was erected sometime between 1812 and 1814. The house itself has had several owners with varied professions during that time period, including a doctor, a Bucks County judge, a family whose young son would grow up to be a noted Doylestown reporter, and a successful marble carver whose surname has graced the building in its most recent existence as a flourishing bed and breakfast.
Join us over the course of 2014 as we share some of what we’ve learned of our past and what that means to our future in Doylestown. We’re looking forward to having you celebrate with us!