Brownsburg is located in Upper Makefield Township at the intersection of Brownsburg Road and River Road, approximately half-way between New Hope and Taylorsville (Washington's Crossing).
The Brownsburg Village Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in May, 1994. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from the original nomination presented to the Department of Interior.
The Brownsburg Village Historic District located along River Road and the Delaware River in Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County, is a well-preserved 19th century rural hamlet. The village of Brownsburg originated from the location of an 18th century fishery and ferry on the river and underwent the bulk of its growth circa 1810 to circa 1840, primarily at the hand of merchant and entrepreneur Stacy Brown. Brownsburg is historically significant as an area of commerce. Its commercial activity centered around river and canal related businesses, including the ferry, a shad fishery, gathering of river cobblestones, saw mill and canal trade, as well as traditional rural service and supply businesses. It is also significant for its association with Stacy Brown, a locally important businessman and town namesake.
Architecturally, Brownsburg retains excellent examples of the early 19th century buildings used for its commerce, including the store, hotel, ferry tavern house and tenement houses with attached shops. The village contains a superb collection of vernacular architecture, generally well-constructed and designed with even fenestration and representative of its period of form and use. The consistency of form, fenestration and setback and the clustered grouping of the buildings enhances Brownsburg's ability to visually convey a district identity. Its overall period of significance spans from 1760, the first operation of the ferry, through circa 1935, which includes late 19th century to early 20th century architecture adding to the district's significance. Over 90 percent of the buildings and structures in the district are contributing, with only smaller secondary structures built after circa 1935.
The origins of Brownsburg were a circa 1760 ferry and fishery site along the Delaware River located on the lands of John Beaumont at the easterly end of the district. The site further developed in the 19th century with the construction of the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. The site gained importance with the development of the intersection of River Road and the road to the ferry. River Road was laid out between eighteenth century grants several hundred yards inland from the Delaware River. Stacy Brown operated a store, tavern, and a number of other businesses at the crossroads, and eventually purchased the ferry and much of the surrounding agricultural land.
In the early nineteenth century Brownsburg developed many of the typical rural service businesses found in other villages including the store, hotel, blacksmith, wheelwright, butcher, and carpenter. Like many other similar communities, Brownsburg served the population of the farming community within a three to five mile radius, as well as stagecoach travelers from further distances. As with most rural service villages, further growth and development beyond the local neighborhood was generally overshadowed by larger towns. New Hope is three and one-half miles to the north, Newtown 6 miles to the southwest, and Yardley seven miles down river. By the end of the nineteenth century, these latter towns were at the terminus of railroad lines which stimulated late 19th century economic development. Brownsburg, with its lack of growth after the 1870's and excellent integrity, continues to illustrate the size, scale, and appearance of the Bucks County rural service village of the mid 19th century.
Brownsburg's development occurred in a relatively short period of time which resulted in a consistency of styles. As late as circa 1795 there was a ferry house and a stone and log house at the intersection owned by Mahlon Doan. The village did not develop for another 10 or 15 years. By 1816, newspaper advertisements support the fact that the subsequent owner of the Doan property, David Livesey, operated a store on the southwest corner of the crossroads, later used as a hotel. In 1806, Peter Laudeslater, a blacksmith, purchased land on the northerly corner of the intersection.
In 1818 he advertised a new two story house, one tenement, new barn blacksmith shop, and coal house for sale, located 200 yards from Opdyke's Ferry in the Correspondent and Farmers' Advertiser. It seems likely that the stone house in the advertisement is the building which is incorporated into a later building and the tenement is now gone. Both buildings appear on an 1827 map of the intersection. Improvements were also being made on the easterly side of River Road. Between 1810 and 1820, John Beaumont re-acquired much of his father's former estate. That the site was developing rapidly is suggested in an advertisement he placed on February 2, 1824 in the Correspondent and Farmers' Advertiser for a blacksmith, wheelright, post and rail fence maker, and weaver; he states they "may be accompanied with houses in a good neighborhood, men with small families preferred."
In the early 1820s Stacy Brown appeared on the scene. He apparently rented the store and commenced with the construction of tenements on the westerly side of River Road all before his deed from Samuel McNair was executed on May 3, 1827 (installment sales were quite common in Bucks County during this period). Samuel McNair, who was then operating the store, advertised the store to let as early as February 13, 1821 in the Correspondent and Farmers' Advertiser. In only a decade after his official purchase of the land, Brown completed the construction of most of the houses now situated on the westerly side of River Road.
An 1827 map of "Opdyke's Ferry Road" shows a complete village, labeled "Brown's Burg", with "S. Brown's Store and Tenements" lining the westerly side of River Road and "J. Beaumont's Tenements" and "J. Thornton's Tenement and Cooper Shop" are indicated on the easterly side of the road. At the river is "Beaumont's Tavern", sheds, "Beaumont's Ferry and Landing" and "Beaumont's Shad Fishery". Within a year of his purchase in 1827, Stacy Brown applied for a tavern license. He moved the store to the opposite, northwest corner of the crossroads and opened the "General Brown Inn" in the original store house for the convenience of travelers on the stagecoach line from Newtown to New Hope. Brown continued innkeeping through 1834 when his brother Levi took over for several years. The building continued to be used as a hotel through the 19th century. In 1827, Stacy Brown also became the village's first postmaster at which time the hamlet was officially called Brownsburg. Brown maintained the store and was generally referred to in deeds of this time as a coal and lumber merchant. Brown continued to rent and began to sell the houses and small lots in the town that now bore his name. Improvements were made within a few years. One example of this pattern is the stone attached house on parcel which was described in a Bucks County Intelligencer newspaper advertisement placed by Jefferson Gilbert on December 10, 1834 as a "new stone house" with a tailor's shop adjoining.
Stacy Brown's influence extended beyond the village. He successfully enhanced his commercial activities with agricultural production. Brown purchased over 90 acres extending back from this narrow village road frontage. The fine collection of agricultural outbuildings including a large stone barn, hay barns, corncribs and chicken houses are located directly behind his store. Brown's own house, which he built to the north of the store in the middle of the village, during this period, shows his increasing affluence. Upon the death of John Beaumont, Stacy Brown seized the opportunity to secure the entire commercial interest of the area. In 1840, he purchased the ferry property of 88 acres with his brother William. They built a large stone addition to the tavern house and also erected a steam saw mill on the canal banks opposite the ferry. The mill took advantage of the water available from the canal and the active lumber rafting industry on the river. The 18th century landing site provided a convenient place to bring in the rafts of lumber and after milling, the finished products could be shipped by canal or inland by wagon. With Brown's death in 1879, the driving force behind the community's growth was gone and virtually no subsequent growth occurred.
Brownsburg did not expand beyond a small, compact hamlet surrounded by agricultural fields. Despite the advantages of the river and canal it remained small in size and did not experience continuing growth through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In contrast to virtually all other Bucks County canal villages which grew significantly due to this commercial waterway, Brownsburg remained a small hamlet, with only the steam saw mill as a canal-related addition. Generally, canal and river towns continued to grow through the 19th and early 20th centuries due to the focalizing nature of the operation of a ferry or location of a bridge. The latter in particular was most influential in the last half of the 19th century, as illustrated by the river town of Point Pleasant which saw substantial growth in response to the construction of the river bridge which linked the town with the railroad on the New Jersey side. The ferry at Brownsburg was overlooked by travelers who could cross the river easily at nearby bridges in New Hope and Taylorsville and therefore the ferry ceased operation.
From an architectural standpoint, Brownsburg contains excellent representative examples of early 19th century commercial buildings, single and multiple unit tenements, agrarian outbuildings and vernacular, upper middle class houses. The patterns of everyday architecture of Central Bucks County are well illustrated through the use of fieldstone or clapboard, interior end chimneys, standard gable roofs, even fenestration and rectangular plans. The store and hotel and the Beaumont's tavern house illustrate typical early 19th century commercial/business buildings. All three retain a residential scale and appearance with only modest functional alterations to standard plans. The store on the northwest corner has a doorway on the second floor facing Brownsburg Road in order to accept goods for storage on the upper levels. The hotel on the southwest corner first served as the store and residence of David Livesey and has two front doors (not paired in the traditional pattern) which probably first served to separate the store from the residence. The Beaumont Tavern house is an additive building showing clearly the three generation of historical sections and ownerships. In addition to these individual buildings used for commercial purposes, Brownsburg also has several shops attached to houses to serve the cottage trades. The Jefferson Gilbert House best illustrates the side shop in the two story, one bay stone wing to the main residence. The Jane Price House also has a frame attached addition which served as a hat shop and, for a time, the post office.
The small sized, double or attached houses in the district reflects the economic and social division between owner and worker. Both houses are built of two units. The Jefferson Gilbert House is also attached to a matching frame counterpart on parcel, both houses having a four bay format with two, paired front doors. The three houses in the south end of the district continue to illustrate the modest economy of the village through their simplicity. The Grace Johnson House is a traditional settler's cabin for the area, 1 1/2 stories high with an exposed basement. Its closely placed neighbors are both houses of the common 2 1/2 story, three bay, one pile deep form with modest additions. The close placement of the houses on the west side of River Road, primarily those built by Stacy Brown, illustrate his reluctance to sell large lots with the tenements, reserving the balance of his land for agriculture, and establish that these houses were built as tenements for a working class and not self-sufficient, long term homesteads.
Stacy Brown's house and two houses built or remodeled by Brown for family members dramatically show the distinction of land and business owners and that of laborers. As such they probably more accurately reflect the origins of many other towns which started out as hamlets dominated by a single economic leader. Most small Bucks County villages of the 19th century evolved into a collection of individual tradesmen and entrepreneurs. Penns Park, Dolington, and Edgewood (aka "Woodside") Villages demonstrate this pattern. Dyerstown, while having most of its houses built by one family, was primarily a residential hamlet with the houses for single families. Brownsburg, however, has a number of multi-family dwellings and rental tenements, in particular those built by Stacy Brown and John Beaumont to encourage tradesmen to take up practice in the village. Brownsburg is really the only small hamlet in central Bucks County dominated by attached dwellings.
Most villages in Bucks County which had multi-family tenements had a number of industries which allowed the settlement to develop into a larger town, such as Hulmeville, New Hope, and Bristol. These villages had a tendency to keep expanding in a linear fashion along various roads.
Contrasting with the small, simple tenement structures is the Stacy Brown Residence and two other Brown family houses located directly across River Road. Stacy Brown's house is a Greek Revival influenced, side hall, front and back parlor plan with double parapeted chimneys on the south gable end. In proportion, this house is taller and deeper than its counterparts. The two other Brown properties, the William B. Brown House and the Andrew Jamison House are two quite similar structures. Distinguished by scale and Victorian decorative embellishments, and on larger lots, these houses indicate the residences of the locally well-to-do, and by their location in the immediate center of the village, show a direct association with the economy and activity of the village. While this demographic trend happened in other towns throughout Bucks County, such as Yardley, New Hope, and even Taylorsville nearby, Brownsburg, due to its controlled development by Stacy Brown and lack of growth after his death, maintains a clear picture of the single owner-family homes surrounded by the supporting tenement and artisan houses.
In comparison with other villages, Brownsburg demonstrates a high degree of integrity of its individual buildings, both commercial and residential, with most of the houses adhering closely to their original appearance. With the exception of the two sheds, there are no infill buildings either along River Road or Opdyke's Ferry Road which alter the village from its period of significance. The west side of River Road presents an uncommon degree of visual consistency for a rural village with all of the houses built between 1809 and 1835, and all except three by Stacy Brown. Furthermore, Brownsburg is distinguished by the instance of two groupings of agricultural outbuildings within its limits.
In summary, the architectural purity of Brownsburg, its unchanged arrangement from the mid-19th century, and its unified historical associations under Stacy Brown, present a village exceptional in Bucks County in its ability to convey visually an early 19th century hamlet developed out of river industries, local commerce and the energies of primarily one individual.