Pottstown Landing

North Coventry Twp, Chester County, PA

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The Pottstown Landing Historic District was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Text, below, is comprised of selected excerpts from a copy of the original nomination document.

Pottstown Landing is a linear village lying south of the Schuylkill River in the northern-most tip of Chester County. The historic part of the present village lays on either side of an early north/south trail to the Schuylkill River which has become Laurelwood Road. Containing 18th 19th, and 20th century buildings, largely in domestic scale and character, the predominant exterior materials are frame, brick, and stucco, although the earliest buildings are stone. Laid out in small lots close to the trail, the district includes two 18th century dwellings, twenty-eight 19th and twenty-five 20th century dwellings, thirty-seven outbuildings, one school and one church. These translate into seventy-six contributing buildings and eighteen noncontributing buildings. The architectural styles of the district range from Colonial Farmhouse to conservative Victorian Gothic to Bungalow and American Four-Square. Those buildings on the east side of Laurelwood Road fall mostly into Late-Mid to Late 19th century classification while those on the west side, with the obvious exception of two farmhouse complexes, fall into 20th Century Revivals or American Movements. Excepting the bungalows, all the buildings are full two-and-one-half stories high. Houses are built close to the street and close to each other. Ample back yards hold the necessary auxiliary buildings – the barn/carriage house, the chicken house, the tool shed, and the privy, outhouse. Individuality reigns with direct copies a rarity. Frame is the choice of ninety-five percent of the houses on the east side of Laurelwood Road, while brick expresses much of the west side. The buildings, as a cohesive village unit, express today an accurate picture of their building dates and give a view into the growth of a canal village and its continuation as a working class village after the canal era.

The physical integrity of Pottstown Landing Historic District is very much intact and its historical street self-disciplined since there are few, if any, lots left large enough to be subdivided. The percentage of historical buildings is in high ratio to the nine noncontributing dwellings and nine noncontributing auxiliary buildings. The latter are mostly garages. The noncontributing buildings do not affect the district's ability to convey its original purpose—that of serving the canal and its active boatmen, even though the canal employment gave way to employment by the industries of Pottstown. The historic district is highly concentrated. Changes to historic buildings have been minimal. On the east side of Laurelwood Road, the 1873 map shows twenty-seven buildings under Pottstown Landing, and the 1883 map shows twenty-eight buildings, including the schoolhouse lot. Only one lot or house is unaccounted for in the present number of buildings on this east side of Laurelwood Road. The west side maintains its two farmhouses, two barns, and first wharf site, as well as the historic post-canal buildings of the 20th century.

Pottstown Landing Historic District is significant as a distinctive example of village development along the Schuylkill River in northern Chester County. A noted 18th century crossing of the river, the Landing did not exist as a village until the 1830s after the Schuylkill Navigation Company completed its canal from Philadelphia to the coal fields of northern Pennsylvania. Following the gradual demise of the canal after 1886, Pottstown Landing continued to develop by shifting its dependence from canal activities to labor intensive jobs in the burgeoning industry of the Borough of Pottstown across the river in Montgomery County. Characteristic of development in the village is the tight, unified appearance of individual buildings lining the road leading to the river. Pottstown Landing Historic District is also significant under Criterion C. The district architecture exhibits a range of residential styles dating from the late 18th to mid 20th centuries largely reflecting the architecture of working class families. The period of significance, 1780-1950, covers the district's major periods of construction.

By 1703, land was being claimed by survey along this part of the Schuylkill River. Specific purchasers at what would become Pottstown Landing were Thomas Millard, a miller with 360 acres, and Hans Woolf-Miller, a speculator with 165 acres. The trail to the Schuylkill ford lay on the line between the Millard and Woolf-Miller tracts. Millard sold 100 acres in 1750 to Abraham Reiff, the eastern boundary line being the trail to the river. This was an important trail for it connected the Coventry Iron Works on French Creek to Pottsgrove, the home of ironmaster, John Potts, and to Potts' Manatawny Iron Works in Montgomery and Berks counties. In 1761, Woolf-Miller sold his 165 acres to John and Susannah Wells. The upper, or river, land of the Woolf-Miller/Wells tract was sold to Moses Yocum in 1805, to William Mintzer in 1828, to Jacob Root in 1852, and to James Whartnaby in 1864, all sales occurring at settlement of estates. Part of Wells' land adjoining to the south was purchased by Abraham Wanger in 1830. Reiff, Mintzer, Root, Whartnaby and Wanger were the men who, by selling off trail-frontage lots, created the canal village of Pottstown Landing. The original trail position has not changed and today, called Laurelwood Road, is the street along which the village of Pottstown Landing developed.

The 100 acre Reiff farm descended from Abraham Reiff through his son, Joseph, to grandsons, Rudolph and Jacob Reiff. Joseph Reiff's house and barn complex, ca. 1780 – inherited by Jacob – still stands on Laurelwood Road. Rudolph's house and barn, built about 1835, are also still standing. Both Reiff farmsteads are on the west side of Laurelwood Road. The Woolf-Miller/Wells tract, divided into two farms, (Yocum/Mintzer/Root farm and the Abraham Wanger plantation) are on the east side of Laurelwood Road. Only the farmhouse of the Root farm is standing today, its barn and outbuildings having been razed many years ago. The Wanger buildings were demolished about 1974 to make way for the Coventry Shopping Mall. However, the lots on the western edges of these two farms are essential to the historic building of Pottstown Landing.

At the time of the building of the Schuylkill Canal (1816-1824), Coventry township was almost entirely rural. It would not be broken into three townships – North, South, and East – for another decade. Early commerce and travel had been up and down the Schuylkill River by raft or small river craft, where possible, to move timber, grain, and merchandise. Many shoals and rocky conditions, however, made navigation difficult, if not impossible in numerous places, making the idea of a canal a real consideration.

Beginning in 1816, the Schuylkill Navigation Company built a series of 32 dams between slackwater river navigation with 23 canals from Philadelphia to Port Carbon in Schuylkill County. The navigation was 108 miles long with 109 lift locks to meet the challenge of a 618' rise in terrain. The canal from Philadelphia to Port Clinton was completed in 1824 and to Port Carbon in 1828. The longest canal was the Girard Reach which ran from Vincent Dam in East Vincent township, Chester County, to Reading, Berks County, a distance of 22 miles on the southwest side of the river. Financed by Stephen Girard, 7.8 miles of this section ran through Coventry township, about four miles of which were in what became in 1844 North Coventry Township. As soon as the canal was a reality (1824), coal became the major commodity moved on it and quickly caused the need to enlarge its carrying capacity. The canal was widened and deepened in 1834 and 1846, after which two canal boats with their string of barges could haul more coal than one steam locomotive in the early days of railroading.

The steam locomotive developed almost simultaneously with the canal, and was in direct competition for the coal trade. Peak years of tonnage shipped on the Schuylkill Canal are said to have been between 1855 and 1859; however, the 1860s were equally high right up to 1869 when a miners' strike stopped all coal shipments for six weeks and was followed by a three month drought, thus effectively shutting down the canal until the end of September of that year. Fall rains broke the drought, but after three weeks of regained activity, a one hundred year flood swept down the Schuylkill Valley severely damaging both the canal and the railroad. Nevertheless, by working together, both the Navigation and the Railroad were back in business by April, 1870. But the Navigation had given up autonomy of its own affairs to the railroad, and in 1872, a gradual abandonment of the canal was begun. Full canal usage was maintained until 1886 when the Reading Railroad wavered away from the Navigation a million tons of coal per year, that tonnage to be carried on the railroad's newly laid trunk line to Pottsville. This spelled the eventual end of the canal's usefulness. Although canal traffic continued, operations were reduced to private shipments. The last remembered boat at Pottstown Landing was in 1934. The Schuylkill Navigation Company was dissolved in 1949 and the canal made a part of the de-silting project of the Schuylkill River.

The canal bed was in part appropriated by the Department of Transportation in 1952 when they rerouted closer to the river sections of the old Schuylkill Road (Route #724) through East Coventry Township. In North Coventry Township, it was not until major By-pass activities for Routes #I00 and #422 were implemented by PennDOT in 1960 and 1964 respectively that the canal path was effectively obliterated in the area of the Pottstown Landing Historic District. The north/south Route 100 By-pass lay to the east of The District and had little disturbing effect. The east/west Route 422 By-pass, however, by skirting Pottstown on the south side of the river, had to find the most open and easy route through the homes of South Pottstown and North Coventry Township. The old canal was the obvious unbuilt and direct way. These two By-pass routes enticed the Mall builders to envision an opportune spot for a shopping center which was built in 1967 in the area of Route 724 on the old Wanger farm.


The farms that gave up land for the growth of Pottstown Landing Historic District were the two Reiff farms, the Mintzer/Root farm, and the Wanger farm. While there were many crossings of the river that drew canal-related activities, the larger, more important canal gatherings tended to be just below locks. Pottstown Landing was the first landing below Laurel Locks. The Reiff and Root farms through which the canal passed had the additional advantage of a well-established road and ford, and ample, level terrain, making their edges very attractive for wharfs, trades, and small businesses.

The first such mention found in records are in testators' Inventories and Accounts. Settlement of Joseph Reiffs estate in 1839 noted the presence of considerable wharfage on his land. Rutter & Potts paid rent to him for a wharf; his son, Jacob, paid rent for a business under the name of Reiff & Wells; Daniel Boyer paid the estate for "boating" or "freighting" lumber, and rent for a lumberyard. E. & J. Wells paid wharfage rent. These occupations were on the southwest side of the canal and the west side of the trail ...Reiff land. As part of the estate settlement, The Reiff farm was sold in three parts, one part each to sons, Jacob and Rudolph, and the third—the Wharf—to Englebert Mintzer. Mintzer's deed read "with two Dwelling Houses, one brick and one frame, a Store House & Lumber & coal yard, Boat yard & Landing." This was the first recorded wharf and lumber or coal yard at The Landing. (Englebert Mintzer was a son of William Mintzer, who had bought in 1828 the farm on the east side of the old trail.) Englebert Mintzer operated the wharf and its businesses while his brother, Henry Mintzer, ran a feed and grocery store on the three acre wharf tract. The Mintzers were bought out by George Landis a few years later.

In 1852, the Mintzer farm tract on the east side of the old trail was sold to Jacob Root. Sale of a two acre lot along the trail allowed a Right-of-way through it "...in case Jacob Root should at any time erect a Dock for the repair of Boats &...on the north side of the canal ...." A boatyard was, indeed, erected on Root's land shortly thereafter, but on the south side of the canal. This was the second boat yard in The Landing. It was leased first to Abraham and Thomas Beekley and in 1856 to John Call for many years. On the 1883 map, it is identified as R.P. Wanger's boat yard. In 1885, a Brick Manufactory was located on the north side of the canal, between the canal and the river, and operated under the name of Spang & Potts. All trace of the brickyard has disappeared and it is not included in the boundaries of this nomination. All of these businesses required personnel and nearby residency.

Taxes and census records for the 1840s and 1850s indicate a feed and grocery store, and newspaper notices advertise coal and lumber available from the wharfs at Pottstown Landing. The 1840 census lists very few 'boatmen' but lots of laborers. By 1850 boatmen are being listed, often sons of local farmers, and seven boatmen are named in the 1856 Septennial Census whose names are familiar in The Landing. By the late 1850s, there were blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, and plasterers in The Landing, a grocery merchant and a weaver, as well as farmers. In 1860, Jacob Reifsnyder set up a wheelwright shop, George Ingham was a boatman, and by 1870 had three boatmen sons, ages 28, 18, and 16 years. Aaron Focht was both boatman and boat builder, his wife a mantua maker. Two shoemakers appear on the record. Through the 1860s and 1870s George Alexander was a merchant and huckster, and George Landis advertised as a coal merchant, although he was far more important as an agent for the Canal company. In 1868, Abraham Wanger gifted a plot of land along The Landing road for a schoolhouse. There is, however, earlier newspaper reference to a school in this spot as early as 1859. The legalities came later. William Smith was a lumber merchant with a "lumber yard at the wharf on Jacob Root's land." A veteran army surgeon, Amos K. Evans, bought a lot and built his house in 1867. Matthew Reinhard joined him shortly after. They took care of the mules that pulled the boats along the canal and of those turned out to winter pasture on a nearby Canal Company Farm. Pottstown Landing's wharf site of the 1830s had become the village of Pottstown Landing.

Then came the disastrous year of 1869 and the three month drought when practically no boats came up or down the canal for the major part of the summer, followed by damaging flood waters that joined the canal and the river into one marauding waterway. Still confidence in canal navigation resounded. Nineteen new houses went up in the 1870s. By 1880, Pottstown Landing had stretched along the east side of Laurelwood Road from the canal almost to the state road (now Route 724). Thirty-three buildings are shown on the 1883 Breou Farm Atlas under Pottstown Landing. Although deeds speak of "intended streets" only Laurelwood Road shows on the 1883 map.

Between the map of 1883 and the map of 1934, fourteen houses appear on the west side of Laurelwood Road, many of them pre-and-post World War I bungalows. The west side of Laurelwood Road had begun to develop as town lots after Rudolph Reiff died in 1884 and Jacob Reiff in 1894. At public sale, road frontage was purchased by Wilson Brown and Aides Bernhart, trading as B&B Builders, and carved into deep 300' lots. The first 'new' house built on the west side of the road was Matthew Reinhard's Four-square built in 1900 and introducing the 3rd floor dormer and 111 windows. In 1908, William H. Williams, a puddler working at a steel plant in Pottstown built a building. In 1910, Charles Spotts built a brick duplex, and Harry Shaner splurged on a Palladian window and Queen Anne touches. All were 2-1/2 story, brick buildings.

After that, building took on the style of one-and-a-half story bungalow types. Some of these are thought to have been mail-order houses, but no proof other than similarity could be found.

The district was still set amid farmland on both sides of the road. Beyond the bounds of this nomination between the canal and the river, several houses are shown on the 1934 map that were built for immigrant employees of the Warwick Iron Works. The Iron Works had been built in 1875 across the river in Pottstown. These houses were locally called Warwick Village. Warwick Iron Works closed many years ago, and the houses of that village have been razed for a township recreation field. However, the effect of iron, steel, and manufacturing plants across the river in Pottstown, Montgomery County, had a considerable influence on employment at Pottstown Landing.

As canal activity waned toward the end of the century in favor of the railroad, and need for wharfage was reduced, those living at The Landing looked to new employment. They found it in ample supply across the river in Pottstown. Although Pottstown was an early iron town dominated by the Potts family, individual major and minor industry began to expand about 1870 after the Civil War. It quickly broadened into bicycle and automobile factories, textile and garment factories, and iron by-product factories. The population of The Landing, having always been supported by company employment, continued the pattern. The 1880 census records for the first time record occupations such as Puddler, Heater, 'works in Roller Mill', 'works in nail factory', (one of these being John Bush, age 12, son of Harrison Bush the same Harrison Bush who had built the better-than-average brick Gothic house). Singleton Shafer, age 32, 'works on telegraph line.' Shafer remained so employed all the rest of his working years. For the first time, working on the railroad was given as an occupation, and George E. Landis, at age 47, had switched from being an agent for the canal to being a purchasing agent for the railroad.

Women began to show employment in the 1870 census as 'Housekeeper', usually meaning a house other than their own. Anna Levengood 'keeps boarding house', and Carrie Reinard, age 27, was the school teacher. The 1900 census lists four dressmakers, aged 19 years to 23 years, two cap makers, aged 15 and 16 years, three shirt factory workers, aged 17 years to 23 years. It can be seen that these were the younger girls who probably left the work force when they married. Older women are listed as housekeepers or servants after the child bearing ages. The 1910 census shows Olivia Fisher as a bookkeeper for an electrician and Edith Neiman as a stenographer at an auto works. Cora Halteman, age 17, is listed a florist at a greenhouse. Dressmakers are still numerous, but more are 'employed out' than previously. The 1910 census lists no boatmen or canal workers, but twelve iron workers (puddlers, blast furnace oven tenders, firemen, moulders at iron works, bridge works, oil works, etc.), two machinists at an auto works, and many 'laborers'. The bakery employed four men and one woman plus Joseph Shaner's occupation as owner and baker. The blacksmiths were still operating. There were three house carpenters noted in The Landing. Oscar Lincoln operated the local retail store and grocery. The Landing even had a salesman—Harry A. Hippie—for a Pottstown hardware company. James Fisher was a driver for the same store and lived in The Landing. Joseph Fisher, a teenager, was a waiter at a restaurant. Pottstown Landing was still a bona fide working man's village, but no longer one supported by canal business.

The architecture of the district holds examples from each of the building periods. The first period—1780-1850—is represented by the three farmhouses, and, it is believed, not more than an additional house or two that are standing today. There is a lack of evidence of house building between 1840 and 1867, yet seven Boatmen are enumerated in the 1856 Septennial Census, and the canal was fully operative. Since Wharf #1—included in the district on the west side of the trail—is described in Joseph Reiff's 1839 estate papers and sale notices, it seems rational that at least a few domiciles would have been needed for boatmen and their families. Jacob Root rented-out Wharf #2 in 1854 on the east side of the trail with a boat building yard and a feed and grocery store. (The site of this wharf is lost under the 422 By-pass and not included in the inventory.) Unmentioned rudimentary rental units may have been included. After Root's death in 1864, his son-in-law, James Whartnaby, had ten lots surveyed on the east side of the trail. Although these lots were sold "as bare land" in 1867 through 1870 to purchasers whose names were already identified in the 1850 and '60 censuses, and these purchasers in 1867-1870 included six of the seven Boatmen named in those earlier censuses, it would seem that by prearrangement, any houses—that most certainly must have been built—were considered the builder's property, and, therefore, those builders were buying at 1867-70 only the land on which their houses stood...a kind of lease/purchase arrangement. [See the history of land occupancy and ownership in the adjacent Vincent and Pikeland Townships for an identical arrangement during which time farmsteads and businesses were built and inherited as the property of the builders, the land purchased 100 years later "as in a state of nature"—i.e. bare land.] The three farmhouses that still stand in Pottstown Landing anchor the district at three corners—the northwest, the southwest and the northeast. Coupled with the first wharf, this was the first period of building at Pottstown Landing. The east side of Laurelwood Road holds all of the second building period, and the third building period is seen on the west side of Laurelwood Road between the two Reiff farmsteads.

Pottstown Landing is one of many canal landings. They were found in strategic places about five miles apart, and closer in areas of greater density. Not every boat stopped at every landing or wharf. Where there were boatyards, the landing held more importance, and Pottstown Landing had two boatyards. Further importance was given to Pottstown Landing because it had in residence veterinary surgeons in Evans and Reinhard, and a short distance to the west was the Company Farm where mules could be wintered over. George E. Landis, a merchant at The Landing and agent for the canal company, was much involved with these affairs of the Schuylkill Navigation. When the coal mines were on strike, it was Landis who arranged for the mules that were used underground in the mines to be brought to Pottstown Landing and turned out on the nearby Company Farm. For these obedient beasts, this was the first daylight they had seen since being lowered into the mines many months, some even years, before.

Other villages associated with the Schuylkill Canal are, to the southeast, Parkerford in East Coventry Township, Chester County, and Mont Clare in Montgomery County across the river from Phoenix Iron Works. Both are in a similar position to Pottstown Landing being below locks on the canal. Parkerford differs from The Landing in that its village is not physically directly aligned with the dock that was built there. The line of village houses is more related to Route 724, a road that parallels the canal, than to canal activity. It is an equally old crossing of the river. Parkerford today is a stretched-out, one-road village such as Laurelwood Road, but without the tight coherence of The Landing or the architectural unity of appearance. Mont Clare, due to its close association to Phoenixville, has burgeoned far beyond the original size of its early usefulness.

Moving northwestward from Pottstown Landing, the next wharfage of note is Monocacy, a community today bounding both sides of the river east of Birdsboro. Originally a canal site for the products of Hopewell Iron Furnace, it held a wharf, a boarding house hotel, and a few houses built by and for the iron industry and not because of larger canal business. It only briefly generated the activity found at Pottstown Landing, even though a bridge across the Schuylkill River was built there and the Pennsylvania Schuylkill Valley Railroad ran a line by it to Birdsboro. Since the 1930s, Monocacy has almost merged with Birdsboro and has kept only a vestige of canal identity.

Architecturally, Pottstown Landing is unusual among local villages for retention of its original footprint, and development of an early village atmosphere. This is largely due to the tight placement of lots that appeared spontaneously and very much as a block after 1855. That village, almost entirely on the east side of Laurelwood Road, is still evident and outstanding not in great examples of architectural scope, but in reflecting the architecture of 19th century, working class American families. The census records record —however imperfectly—up to the first World War, the crowding of families into not large houses, and often including one or more boarders. The average frame house in The Landing before 1900 was two, maybe three, small rooms per floor. In most, the front and back porch was necessary for overflow. The back yard was as important as the dwelling for hanging out the wash as well as relieving the proximity of bodies in the house. There was a certain stratification. The few larger houses—the Landis house, the Harrison Bush house, the baker's house, the Shafer house, the Maurice Haws house, the farmhouses—indicate the intermingling of more commodious houses with the very stringent living arrangements of others.

The west side of Laurelwood Road blends the two initial Reiff farmhouses with the 1900 development of the village as a support resource for businesses other than the Schuylkill Navigation, and is equally important in showing a later, continuing architectural unity. Although lots were larger than on the east side of the road, the overall impression was still that of a continuous placement of domiciles in a village-like atmosphere, and the 1910 and 1920 censuses declare the heads of households to be employed in the factories and foundries of Pottstown.

No other villages considered can show this kind of tight physical unity. Cedarville, a crossroad village not more than a mile south of Pottstown Landing is a slightly younger but contemporary village of more rural character than The Landing. Kenilworth, about the same distance east of Pottstown Landing and on the canal, gathered around The Swan, an early tavern. Although a small dock existed there, development of the village was supported by daily business traffic on Route 724 and the crossroad of Keim Street. Kenilworth houses along 724, dating in the post Civil War era, are larger and more architecturally aware, and generally on larger lots than those of The Landing.

Pottstown Landing is unique in character and placement of house styles. Although the area around it has changed with the mall, small businesses, and highways, Pottstown Landing can still be recognized for what it was – an ancient trail to the Schuylkill River enhanced by canal importance and cohesive close lining of houses that supported years of commerce on the Schuylkill Canal. Its identity as a neighborhood remains to visually remind us of the link between farming, canal commerce and distribution by the Schuylkill Navigation Company, and its subsequent adaptation to being a residential support community for businesses in Pottstown and along the Schuylkill River.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Laurelwood Road

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