It’s a beloved tradition that continues at the end of every year in Doylestown.
On the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, adults and children gather at the center of town – the plaza by Starbucks at State and Main streets – to await Santa’s arrival by antique fire truck, heralding the official start to the Christmas season.
Santa then helps the community count down to lighting the beautifully decorated tall evergreen tree chosen to grace the town square for the holidays.
And this year is even more special. It’s the 100th anniversary of the tree-lighting ceremony.
The event takes place between 6 and 7 p.m. Nov. 28. Central Bucks West’s marching band and choir bring their own brand of seasonal music to the family-oriented festivities. The night is sponsored by the Doylestown Business and Community Alliance.
After the lighting, check out the new Christmas Cottage down the street at the Hamilton Street parking lot. A tree crashed through the roof of Santa’s House last winter, causing severe damage. The new version will be unveiled this season.
With snowflake lights already illuminating town byways, our holiday season is ready to head into high gear. Doylestown is a great place to visit any time of the year, but it is especially wonderful during the holiday season. Enjoy it all!
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.
Archibald Crawford owned the large parcel of land around the crossroads for about 15 years. Around 1768, he sold a 10-acre parcel to brothers Robert and Henry Magill, recent Scot-Irish immigrants.
The Magill brothers operated a mercantile business at the southwest corner of the crossroads opposite Doyle’s Tavern. In 1776, Henry retired and moved to a farm in Bedminster. He transferred his ownership of the land to his brother, who became sole owner of this parcel.
In 1782, Robert died without a will, leaving behind a wife and one child, William Magill. Young William was only 7 years old when his father died, but his father had requested that his only son be educated and apprenticed to a trade. William apprenticed as a clockmaker and followed that trade for many years, manufacturing large, old-fashioned clocks. He spent his boyhood living with his mother and her new husband, Jacob Troxel, by the crossroads. His education was provided by itinerant schoolmasters and local teachers. As he grew into a young man, he operated his mother’s hotel, The Mansion House, at what would later be State and Main Streets (where Paper Unicorn is today).
William married, had five children, and enlisted in the military service during the War of 1812. He became a captain in a unit known as the Buck County Rangers. He continued as an officer in the militia until his death.
The little crossroads was beginning to grow into a small village. The first stagecoach route between Philadelphia and Easton was established, running directly through the village. The 62-mile trip took 1½ days. In 1813, the county seat was moved from Newtown to the crossroads.
Three streets in the new village were named for the members of the Magill family: Mary Street, Louisa Street and Arabella Street. (Arabella Street eventually became most of what Hamilton Street is now, with the remaining portion becoming Arabella Alley. That’s the current entrance to Hargrave House’s parking lot.) William Magill died in 1824. He had no will.
So after Jeremiah Langhorne died, the executors sold 172 acres of land and 141 perches (which amounts to a little less than an acre in today’s property measurements) to a man named William Scott. Later in the same year, 1753, Scott sold the parcel of land to Archibald Crawford of Warwick Township. The purchase price is not known. Hargrave House now stands on a portion of that land.
As an aside, other owners of large tracts of land around the crossroads that now make up the heart of Doylestown were Joseph Kirkbride, Robert Scott, Edward and William Doyle, Isabella Crawford, and the Flacks.
Like his father, Edward, William Doyle was a tavern keeper. At the time, he went to the county seat – then in Newtown – to petition for a license to allow him to keep a public house. Records indicate he had the recommendations of 14 of his neighbors and friends. The petition asked that no public house be located within 5 miles of where they lived. The Doyles built an inn at the crossroads in 1745. The crossroads were then named Dyer’s Mill Road (now Main Street), running north and south, and Swedesford-Coryell’s Ferry Road (now State Street), running east and west. The inn and tavern was known as Doyle’s Tavern and is where Starbucks is located today.
The family ran the tavern for 30 years before moving to New York state. The country crossroads was called Doylestown in honor of the early pioneer Doyle family.
Looking for some family fun this weekend? Look no further than Delaware Valley College just outside of town as they head into their 65th annual A-Day.
What started in 1949 as a one-day Activities Day has expanded into a three-day agricultural event that draws thousands of visitors throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. The kids will get a kick out of the tractor parade or milking demonstration. Mom and Dad might learn some gardening or bee-keeping tips. And the livestock and horse competitions are always crowd-pleasers.
Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Friday, April 25; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 26; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, April 27. Don’t forget to try one of A-Day’s famous milkshakes before you leave!
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.
We have so many wonderful little shops around town – anything you can imagine, really. And we’ve got one as a new neighbor, right around the corner from us, to which we’d like to extend a heartfelt welcome. Cowgirl Chile Co. Jewelry just relocated to 4 W. Oakland Ave. Laura Rutkowski handcrafts her own designs of jewelry, but you’ll also find an eclectic mix of women’s accessories, vintage items, artwork, hot sauces and lots of other cool stuff. Stop by their grand reopening this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for some goodie bags and live music. Your own zest for life may just mirror the boutique’s own celebration of cowgirl spirit.
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!
The holidays are past us. Perhaps you’ve just put away the last of the Christmas decorations. Time to settle in to what could be a few long and cold winter months. (We don’t even want to HEAR an utterance of the recent polar vortex weather oddity!) A good way to chase away those winter blues would be a visit to Michener Museum’s exhibit on actress-princess Grace Kelly. If you haven’t yet gone, you better hurry. The exhibit closes Jan. 26. Step through a portion of her world via film clips from some of her best onscreen roles, home movies from her growing-up years in Philadelphia and, of course, those spectacular designer gowns she wore. (Don’t we all wish for a 21-inch waist?) Call ahead for tickets.