Chadds Ford

Chadds Ford Twp, Delaware County, PA

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Below are summaries of two different "representations" of Chadds Ford and its significance. The Written Suburb: An American Site, An Ethnographic Dilemma (John D. Dorst, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989) takes offers an interesting perspective on "place" and "intention." Text, below, was adapted from the book jacket liner notes.

"Chadds Ford, an elite suburb in southeastern Pennsylvania, devotes a lot of energy to creating a historical identity for itself. Numerous institutions participate in this task, including museums, a land conservancy dedicated to the preservation of the historical landscape, the local historical society, and the annual community celebration/crafts fair it has sponsored. Larger institutions related to regional tourism and suburban development generate a steady flow of texts about the images of Chadds Ford, in the form of pamphlets, brochures, glossy travel magazines, gallery displays, postcards, tourist snapshots, amateur art, styles of interior decoration, and suburban architecture and landscaping. Andrew Wyeth, the most famous resident, is an industry in and of himself in Chadds Ford, and his paintings evoke for many the definitive image of this place.

"... Dorst ... argues that these countless texts create an imagery and depth and authenticity through which Chadds Ford reproduces itself as a site. Dorst breaks new ground in the struggle to redefine ethnography and to address the complex problems with traditional assumptions that the written text can convey cultural facts in a straightforward way."

The Chadds Ford Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Text, below, was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

Chadds Ford Historic District

The 500 acre tract on which the village of Chadds Ford stands today remained intact until 1786. Francis Chadsey (Chad, Chads, or Chadds), to whom William Penn granted the land, built a grist mill on the Brandywine Creek at the present site of the village in 1703. He built at least two houses near there. The one was near the Creek. The other, a brick house built on higher ground, later became a tavern. Neither the houses nor the mill stand today. Francis Chadsey died in 1713 leaving the land to his son, John Chadsey. John built a stone house and springhouse on a hill overlooking the meadows along the Brandywine before 1726. This house stands beside Route 100 at the northernmost edge of the village, as we know it today. It is being restored, and the Chadds Ford Historical Society will use it for it's headquarters.

John Chadds enterprises prospered. In 1731 he received a license to use the brick house for a tavern. Five years later the Provincial Assembly granted him a license to operate a ferry across the Brandywine on the great road to Nottingham, (now U. S. #1). Chad and others operated the ferry until a bridge was built in 1829. During the Battle of the Brandywine September 11, 1777 the brick tavern was damaged. The 1798 window tax records indicate that a log house & mill still stood at that time. In 1868, when the Merchant (Brinton) Mill was built, workmen unearthed what were believed to have been the foundations of Francis Chadsey's Mill.

Therefore, at the close of the eighteenth century we know that a brick house, stone house, barn, shed ,and springhouse, a log cabin, a ferry, ferry house, the remnants of a grist mill, a cooper shop, and miscellaneous sheds occupied the present site of the village. Only the stone house and springhouse remain.

19th Century
The site's appearance changed little during the first decades of the nineteenth century. In addition to the eighteenth century building an 1814 tax record states the area which is now the village contained two 2-1/2 acre plots of land on the north side of the present U. S. Route 1. The eastern lot contained the stone Inn built in 1810. The owner of the western lot paid taxes on two frame dwellings, a stone smith's shop and a shed. In 1841 the county taxed the Lessor of this tract for two log houses and two shops, indicating that the frame buildings in the earlier account may have been log. None of these buildings are standing.

The beginnings of a village were there. People gravitated to the Inn. Children attended school in the upper room of the Chad spring house. Hetty Brown, the ferry operator, sold beer and cakes at the old ferry house. Benjamin Davis operated a store at Chads Ford in 1806 There was a black smith's shop.

The 1840's marked a distinct change in the village's growth. Between 1840 and 1850 five houses were built along Brinton's Road (now PA Route #100). When the Baltimore Central Railroad crossed the Brandywine at Chadds Ford in 1858 the village was a town, serving the needs of the farming region in which it was located. In 1864, George Brinton built the Merchant Mill beside the Brandywine. In 1884 residents built a church, which is now used as a town hall, south of the Great Road. People moved to the village and built their houses there. By the turn of the century the town was much as we know it today.

... a sleepy village at the cross roads of U. S. Route #1 and PA Route #100. The shops are designed to blend with the older buildings in the town. The most glaring non-conforming use is the gas station on the southwest corner of the intersection of Route's #100 and #1.


US Route 1, the great artery connecting Philadelphia and the south is still an important thoroughfare. Route #100 remains a meandering country road leading to Wilmington to the south and West Chester to the north. Chadds Ford's history is entwined with that of these roads, but the village has managed to exist without making highways the dominant feature of the village. A single modern gas station reflects the need to service travellers' cars as they pass through Chadds Ford. (RJG: remember, this was written in 1971.) If the four-lane Route 1 was to return to the narrow track which preceded it, the villagers would not care. They are more interested in protecting the historical and aesthetic qualities of their community than in hastening the movement of people and goods from one city to another.

During the Battle of the Brandywine, September 11, 1777, the American army was encamped around the village. Washington posted Green's division, Wayne's brigade and Maxwell's light infantry to cover the Ford. He expected the main thrust of the British offense there. However, the British forces crossed the creek to the north and most of the fighting took place northeast of the village. Only light skirmishing occurred at Chadds Ford village.

In the eighteenth century Francis Chadsey's Mill played an important role in the commercial prosperity of the village and the surrounding countryside. One of the earliest mills in the region, it provided a much needed service to the residents of the frontier. In the nineteenth century the Merchant Mill ground local grain for export, as well as for local needs, for although the plains states had superseded Pennsylvania as the "bread basket" of the country, Brandywine grain was still an important commodity.

The village architecture is typical of the region. It is not grand, nor is particularly outstanding. The significance of the village of Chadds Ford architecturally is in its simplicity and the degree to which it has not been changed. Chadds Ford was the home of solid, middle-class citizens. Its architecture reflects their tastes. The town complements rather than subjugates the rolling landscape upon which it is situated. Unconsciously, the people who built there adapted themselves to the countryside.

There was one exception to the architectural simplicity of Chadds Ford. It is the John Chad house built in 1726, which is described in greater detail as a separate, National Register property.

  1. Eleanor Webster, Consultant, Tri-County Conservancy of the Brandywine, Inc., Chadds Ford Historic District, nomination document, 1970, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Baltimore Pike • Creek Road • Route 1 • Route 100

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