Churchville, National Register Historic District, Northampton Township, Bucks County PA


Northampton Twp, Bucks County, PA

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  • Churchville Map
  • School District: Council Rock
  • Post Office: Southampton
  • Zip Code: 18966

The Churchville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

The Churchville Historic District is locally significant in the area of architecture for south central Bucks County. The village accurately represents its period of significance and retains its architectural integrity. The resource clearly reflects the influence of transportation networks in the development on a typical rural village. In the early nineteenth century the village grew because of its road network. The village also shows the impact of the late nineteenth century transportation network on the development of a typical rural village. Churchville also reflects methods of construction, use of materials, workmanship, and style changes and trends in the vernacular architecture during this time period and in this geographic area.

After beginning as a crossroads called Smoketown in the mid-to-late 18th century, the village initially grew in two phases from two distinct sites: the North and Southampton Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1816, and the first Churchville Train Station, built in 1878. The construction of the North and Southampton Dutch Reformed Church in 1816 near the intersection of Bristol Road and Bustleton Pike gave rise to a period of development in which the old crossroads hamlet of Smoketown became the village of Churchville. During the late nineteenth century the area near the church was called Churchville and the area near the station was named Churchville Station. As time passed the two grew together and became known simply as Churchville. Then, during a third phase starting circa 1880 and running through the Great Depression, the district underwent its strongest period of development. This was due to the increasing influence of improved transportation (the second Churchville Station was built in 1891). It is in this third phase that the village of Churchville became a small town. The final stage of development considered historic occurred in the late 1930s to early 1940s during which a small and varied group of buildings were added to the district. With increased development and contact with the cities, the architecture of Churchville progressed from wholly vernacular through the late eighteenth century to a turn-of-the-century-onward mixture of vernacular, Gothic Revival, Bungalow, Colonial Revival, Four Square, Dutch Colonial, Victorian "Clipped Gable," Second Empire, Italianate, Cape Cod, and Neo-Classical styles. An excellent, largely intact collection of locally significant architecture, Churchville boasts a period of significance which ranges from 1784 to 1945. After 1945, development took place through the division of rural parcels along road sides rather than in place of demolished architecture. Despite these non-contributing buildings and structures, Churchville remains an unusually intact example of an historic Bucks County town.

To understand the development of the town one must examine its early antecedents. In the late eighteenth century, there was a mix of ethnic and religious groups in the Northampton and Southampton region of Bucks County including Dutch Reformed, English Quakers, Baptists, and Lutherans. The strong, but somewhat scattered group of Dutch Reformed, comprised the largest concentration. This group was composed of Hollanders who settled on the western side of the Neshaminy Creek during the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The majority of these settlers immigrated from Long Island in New Amsterdam rather than from Holland, however. The Low Dutch Reformed Church traces its origins back to the church of Bensalem and Sammeny (Neshaminy) of 1710. Members of this church played a significant role in the development of this portion of the county in contrast to the virtually overwhelming English Quaker-dominated southeastern part of the county. Members of the Low Dutch Reformed Church in Southampton and Northampton established churches in the early eighteenth century. The Southampton church was built in 1737 in Feasterville, and the Northampton church was constructed in Richboro (formerly Addisville) in 1751. By the second decade of the nineteenth century both buildings had deteriorated to a point that the decision was made to combine congregations and build a new church at a more central location rather than repair the older two buildings. In 1816 the North and Southampton Reformed Church was erected in a small hamlet on Bristol Road then called Smoketown.

According to author George MacReynolds, the origin of the name Smoketown "... is that the early Holland Dutch brought their old country habits and long stemmed tobacco pipes with them to this country, and being habitual smokers the non-smoking settlers called the neighborhood Smoketown." This village's first major period of development took place between 1784 and 1815. With the construction of the new church, however, the name changed from Smoketown to Churchville. Smoketown was a good choice for the new church location. It was located at the intersection of two busy eighteenth century roads: Bristol Road, which passes through the village is the township line between Northampton and Southampton Township, and a road connecting Philadelphia to New Hope and on to New York (later the Feasterville and Richboro Turnpike Road, and now called Bustleton Pike) joins Bristol Road near the church site. Thus, the new location was placed about midway between the old churches at the junction of important roads. The advent of the new church was not enough to dramatically increase development in the area. Churchville grew very slowly for the next fifty years. It remained a small village, centered on Bristol Road, before the coming of the railroad in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Maps from 1860 and 1876 reveal the pre-railroad appearance of the town. In addition to a post office that was established in 1816, there was the church, a school house, a toll gate for the turnpike road, two blacksmith shops, a wheelwright shop, a hotel, a store, and a number of dwellings. The outskirts of town consisted of farmsteads surrounded by open agricultural land. An 1857 sale notice for a certain property in the district comments on Churchville as being "... in the midst of good society, convenient to schools, stores, mills, mechanics, churches, etc." When the Philadelphia, Newtown, and New York Railroad (which at its longest only spanned Philadelphia to Newtown) was run through the town in 1878, Churchville began to grow dramatically. As previously noted, much of the growth of Churchville before the last quarter of the nineteenth century was centered near the Dutch Reformed Church on Bristol Road. Pre-industrial commercial activity in this area gradually disappeared as new houses and late nineteenth century commercial activity developed around the train station. In the 1860s and 1870s, a hotel, store, toll house, blacksmith shop, and wheelwright shop stood on Bristol Road. All these businesses served travelers and local farmers. Only the hotel and toll house remain.

The original train station was constructed on Bristol Road (at Knowles Road) when the line opened in 1878. Later, around 1892, a new station was constructed along the tracks north of the crossroads. This new station was the focus of a new phase of development. Land speculators quickly realized the site's potential and advertised Churchville property as having "advantages that are scarcely appreciated at this time by its own citizens." The January 27, 1883 issue of the Newtown Enterprise newspaper stated that Churchville was having a building boom, and the "pike" (Bustleton Pike) was now "Broadway." Houses were being constructed by both "city folks" who commuted between Philadelphia and their Churchville summer homes, and by local retired farmers. Examination of the 1891 E.P. Noll Atlas of Bucks County visually portrays this railroad era development. This relocation of the Churchville station north of Bristol Road changed the focus of development. The farmland owned by John McLure was subdivided from 66 acres to 35 acres. Lots were sold off along Bustleton Pike and Victorian houses went up. The building boom that followed the establishment of the railroad brought many new residents into Churchville and, in order to better serve these residents, the commercial center shifted from Bristol Road to the area near the train station.

The Churchville Creamery was erected in 1880 (only to close in 1882, later to reopen as a cannery, a shirt factory, a coal yard, and now an oil distribution yard). Next to the creamery, Jesse J. Finney, a retired farmer, built a general store in 1883. A few doors away from the general store was an early twentieth century telephone exchange. In the 1920s, a Studebaker and Willys car dealership and garage opened up across Bustleton Pike from the store.

At the beginning of this development, the area around Bristol Road retained the name Churchville, while the area around the new train station was called Churchville Station. As time passed, however, the two areas began to grow together. Historian J. H. Battle, writing in 1887 about the crossroads, stated that there were twelve houses in 1871, "and no increase since that time is apparent to the casual observer." In comparison, he noted "Churchville Station, a suburb of the village proper on the line of the Newtown railroad in Northampton, bids fair to equal it (the crossroads village) in size and importance. It is possible that the future historian may chronicle the consolidation of village and suburb, and even now the built-up area of the former is gradually extending toward the latter."

The Philadelphia, Newtown, and New York Railroad line which passes through Churchville was only completed as far as Newtown. The eventual limited success of the railroad venture is not evidenced by the initial development it spurred. The fact that the line ended in Newtown, however, may have been an important factor in limiting the growth of the village and protecting its historic integrity. Until the rapid suburbanization of the area in the twentieth century, the Northampton and Southampton region was almost exclusively agricultural. The soil was fertile, the land uniformly level, with a well defined slope to the south and southeast. The meadows produced abundant crops of hay which formed a staple product, much of which was hauled by farmers to Philadelphia. With the opening of the railroads, dairying became an increasingly important activity.

The opening of the Philadelphia, Newtown, and New York Railroad did not only increase the number of houses built in the village, but also marked the development of new architectural styles. While the buildings built before the railroad came to the area were mostly vernacular structures, those built during the boom which rode in with the train encompassed a variety of new national styles. Buildings and structures built from 1878 until the turn of the century were typically Gothic Revival frame houses of 2-1/2 stories and 3 bays with enclosed side porches and outbuildings such as carriage houses and garages.

During the early twentieth century, development continued. Foursquares and bungalows were constructed on Bristol Road and Bustleton Pike. Reflecting the population growth, the church building was remodeled in 1902- 03. Most of the farmers close tot he village were selling off road frontage and continuing to farm interior fields. This has resulted in a number of farmhouses that appear surrounded by early twentieth century (predominantly 1920s) development which have surprisingly significant acreage behind the sold-off road-fronting parcels. The most prolific period of development in Churchville occurred from the third quarter of the nineteenth century through the Great Depression, and consisted of these small lots divided from farms which were built on over a period of time.

In 1919 a farm owned by J. Cornell, north of the train station, was divided and developed. A new road named Cornell Avenue was laid out. Individual lots were sold, houses were erected, and large trees were planted along the road. Many of the houses were ready cut houses which were ordered from companies such as Sears and Roebuck, shipped by rail in pieces, and trucked to the house site and erected (for instance, some houses were Sears, Roebuck & Co. houses). As many as twelve houses on this street, as well as others located throughout the district may be ready cut houses. Not all the lots on Cornell Avenue sold in the mid-20th century, however; construction ceased during the Great Depression and also during World War II. Subsequently, some lots on Cornell Avenue have been developed with buildings too new to be considered contributing. Overall, with its stand of mature broad leaf trees lining both sides of the road, this street has a strong sense of neighborhood. Between 1935 and 1945 building in Churchville slowed down, but the contributing architecture added to the district then is as visually important as it is varied.

The Churchville Historic District conveys, through the styles of its still extant architecture and the distinct periods of its development, the transformation of a small village built around a church into a small town whose growth was catalyzed by improved transportation. While much of Bucks County developed in similar ways, and many examples of early regional architecture remain throughout the county, Churchville is significant as an intact district, able to describe this transformation very successfully.

Churchville is representative of a Bucks County town whose development was predominately influenced by the railroad. With the arrival of the railroad, traditional cross road service villages began the transformation into suburban subdivisions. Home owners were no longer tied to the agricultural landscape or to small shops. Cornell Avenue became one of the county's first truly suburban streets. As such it was similar to Ivyland which was planned community laid out along the line of the North Penn Railroad in Warminster Township. This is in contrast to railroad towns such as Wycombe and Rushland in Wrightstown Township which developed at the turn of the twentieth century but retained a strong Victorian era appearance. It also differs from Langhorne Manor which was laid out by the Langhorne Improvement Company as a Bucks County "Main Line" with large mansions on gracious lots. The streetscape of Churchville is similar, on a much smaller scale to the central Bucks County boroughs of Chalfont and New Britain.

Chalfont is a borough located in central southwest New Britain Township approximately 10 miles northwest of Churchville. The borough was initially settled in 1720 with the erection of a grist mill. A village sprung up around the mill. The village added another grist mill in 1793, and grew slowly throughout the nineteenth century. Soon after the Northern Pennsylvania Railroad Company came to the borough and built a station there in 1869, they changed the name of the station from Whitehallville, the contemporary name of the village, to Chalfont, which effectively changed the name of the village for good. With the railroad came increased population and the borough was incorporated in 1901.

The adjacent Borough of New Britain shares a similar history with Chalfont. The first dwelling house in New Britain village was built at a crossroads some time between 1731 and 1760, and the town grew around two churches. When the Northern Pennsylvania Railroad completed a station in nearby Doylestown, they named it New Brittain (sic), and in 1856 the borough took to the name. In the context of southern Bucks County the integrity of the Churchville Historic District is good. The fate of Richboro, a small town located Northampton Township, four miles from Churchville, is symbolic of many villages in southern Bucks County. Over the past fifteen years the historic buildings in Richboro have been demolished to make way for new construction.

These examples demonstrate variations of the type of development experienced among many early Bucks County villages. Churchville, like these other villages, has experienced crossroads, church, and railroad-influenced development. Both historic and intrusive subdividing and building campaigns have affected the built environment of these villages as well. Finally, most of these villages have found themselves all but surrounded by recent suburban subdivisions. Yet, within the bounds described by this nomination, Churchville has succeeded in maintaining a high degree of integrity.

  1. Jeffrey L. Marshall, Heritage Conservancy, Churchville Historic District, Bucks County, PA nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Bristol Road • Bustleton Pike • Cornell Avenue • Knowles Avenue

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