Originally the province of the Lenni Lenape tribe of the Delaware Indians prior to the colonization by European settlers, the land destined to become Doylestown and Bucks County remains widely regarded as some of the most beautiful countryside in Pennsylvania – and America!
In 1682, William Penn, a Quaker, was granted the land of Bucks County from the King of England as payment for a debt. Doylestown was built on the tract that William Penn conveyed to the Free Society of Traders in 1682, originally containing 20,000 acres. Of the 20,000 acres, 8,612 of them lay in the nearby townships of Warwick, New Britain and Hilltown. The area was twice reduced prior to 1726, when the remainder, containing about 2,000 acres in Warwick and New Britain, was purchased by Jeremiah Langhorne of Middletown. Of Langhorne’s purchase, Joseph Kirkbride from Falls Township bought several hundred acres in New Britain. At the time of purchase, these two proprietors owned every acre of land within the present borough limits.
The name “Doylestown” was apparently derived from the innkeeper William Doyle who obtained a license to keep a public house in 1745 known as “Doyle’s Tavern”. This building, once the Fountain House and currently a Starbucks, is located at the northwest corner of the intersection of Main and State streets in Doylestown Borough. The mural on the wall of the Doylestown Post Office, painted in 1934 by Charles Child, is the only surviving depiction of the Doyle family. In 1750, the country hamlet consisted of no more than a half dozen families living in log houses. There was a blacksmith, a tavern, and a store selling pioneer gear. From its earliest days as an unnamed colonial wilderness, Doylestown grew along with America into a quiet country town. In 1792, a stagecoach route sprang up along the Philadelphia-Easton Road (now Main Street), and Doylestown remained a stopover along the route.
Because of its geographic location, Bucks County became the crossroads of the American Revolution. The majority of Doylestown soldiers fought in General George Washington’s army under General John Lacey III. General Washington and his troops first passed through Doylestown during the bleak period known by the British Army as the “Occupation of Philadelphia” in September of 1777. Forced to evacuate the city, the Continental Congress ordered that all bells and chimes be removed so that their metal could not be melted down and cast into bullets by the enemy. Most important of all these pieces was the Liberty Bell, which was then hanging in the Old State House. According to Congress, the Liberty Bell was to be secretly conveyed to Allentown and secured until Philadelphia could be retaken. Hidden under straw and potato sacks in a wagon train of a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer who had come to the city to sell produce, the bell began its journey to safety on September 17. The caravan moved slowly along the Delaware River to Trenton, New Jersey while staying within the territory controlled by General Washington. When General Washington ordered that the city be evacuated on September 20, the wagons moved northward, re-crossed the Delaware at Coryell’s Ferry (now New Hope), and zigzagged along a path paralleling the present Route 202 through Doylestown. Once the Liberty Bell safely reached Allentown on September 25, the main force of General Washington’s army continued to Valley Forge where they endured a most bitter winter. However, General Lacey and the Bucks County militia stayed behind to contain the British troops in Philadelphia by fortifying the territory between the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers. Due to weather and lack of soldiers, the militia initially had a hard time preventing sympathizers from covertly supplying the British with food and materials. Only after moving his headquarters to centrally located Doylestown and receiving reinforcements was General Lacey able to effectively check their movements. In June of 1778, news was received that the British had broken camp in Philadelphia and were headed north. Recognizing the danger to New York, General Washington immediately mobilized his men and raced toward Coryell’s Ferry in an effort to cut off the British advance. On June 20th, General Washington and his troops halted in Doylestown. General Washington left the next morning to survey the situation along the Delaware, but his troops remained in Doylestown for three days due to inclement weather. Just one week later, General Washington turned the tide of the war in favor of the fledging Union with the heroic victory in the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey.
Less than a century later, Doylestown stepped forward again to defend the Union. Only three days after war broke out between the states in April of 1861, the Doylestown Guards, under the command of Captain William W. H. Davis, answered President Lincoln’s call for troops by volunteering his company for service. In less than three weeks the Guards were in Washington, D.C. – the first company to reach the capitol from any state. This original group of soldiers saw action immediately in the Shenandoah Valley.
After returning home a few months later, Captain Davis quickly organized the 104th Pennsylvania Volunteers. To train these new recruits, Camp Lacey, named in honor of the Revolutionary War General of the Bucks County Militia, was built just outside of Doylestown. Once reaching Washington in November of 1861, the 104th Volunteers was incorporated in the Army of the Potomac, then stationed in Virginia. For three years, the regiment saw heavy fighting and distinguished itself in the Battle of Fair Oaks on May 31st, 1862. By the time they returned to Doylestown in September of 1864, the 104th had suffered 501 casualties in battles from Virginia to South Carolina. On May 31st, 1868, a marble obelisk dedicated to the 104th Pennsylvania Volunteers was erected at the Main Street intersection of Doylestown Borough. Inscribed along all four sides were the names of each battle. This monument to the Doylestown Brave still stands, over 140 years later.
From 1683 to 1725, the location of the county seat was unsettled due to the region’s growth. During this time, Crewcorne (presently the area of Morrisville), Bristol, and Newtown each served as the provincial capital. In 1784, when the town population had grown to several hundred inhabitants, an attempt was made to move the seat of Bucks County from Newtown to the more centrally located Doylestown. A total of eight petitions were signed by 284 people. In 1810, more than a quarter century later, the Pennsylvania General Assembly finally authorized the change for the “Seat of Justice”. On May 11, 1813, Doylestown held its first court session. Soon after Doylestown became the county seat, some thought was given to dividing the county, with either Bristol or Newtown again becoming the county seat. This idea was given serious consideration for almost forty years, but never came to pass.
In 1814, the inhabitants of Doylestown and its vicinity petitioned the Judges of the Court of Quarter Sessions for the establishment of the Township of Doylestown. By 1818, the Township of Doylestown was established and was comprised of the village of Doylestown and 1,885 acres from Buckingham Township, 5,350 acres from New Britain Township, and 3,515 acres from Warwick Township. A number of small villages including Cross Keys, Edison, Furlong and Tradesville were also included. The geographical boundaries of Doylestown Township are quite irregular, as the Township nearly surrounds the Borough of Doylestown. The first election of Township officials was held on March 19, 1819 and by 1821, Doylestown Township had grown to 339 taxpayers. In 1838, the growing village center of the Township detached itself from the whole and was incorporated as Doylestown Borough. Since that time, there has been little change in the basic form of township government, except that today, five supervisors are elected in place of what were only originally three “road supervisors”.
From the turn of the century on, Doylestown grew apace with the rest of Bucks County, and was notably popular and prosperous as the seat of county government. It became a professional’s town, with law and medicine among its top trades. Doylestown flourished as a region where art, architecture and good dining were revered, along with farming and other venerable trades.
Though the needs of the community have changed dramatically since William Doyle opened his tavern over 250 years ago, the desire to preserve its character has not. Rather than destroy structures whose original purposes have long since faded into history, Doylestown residents and institutions alike have taken care to adapt them to modern needs, crafts and traits which had contributed to its particular indigenous identity.
The largest landowner in the Township today is Delaware Valley College. The college began life as the National Farm School. Founded in 1896 by Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf to teach young Philadelphia men the science of agriculture, the school quickly expanded its enrollment so that all could benefit from its instruction. At first, the school was physically confined to farmland bought from Judge Richard Watson. However, the college began to increase its holdings through a series of acquisitions and private grants. The deed to the land surrounding the old Stephens Tavern was sold to the school in 1904 for $4,000 by the widow of Ephraim Fretz. The tavern, known as the Wayside Inn when it was built in 1751, served as Doylestown’s meeting hall during the Revolutionary War and early republic. After becoming the possession of the college, it was made into a dormitory, and then later renovated into a house. The building is now the residence of the former president of Delaware Valley College. Surprisingly, one of the pieces of land that the college did not absorb was the Agricultural and Mechanical Institute. The institute was really a fair ground for the then-popular Annual Exhibition. The 33 acres of land contained an impressive brick building which served as the exhibition hall, two sheds, 100 closed box-stalls, and a half-mile track “acknowledged by all good judges to be one of the very best in the country.” For unknown reasons, interest in the fair waned, causing exhibitions to cease by the turn of the century. The land is presently the location of a significant institution of another kind: Central Bucks West High School.
No discussion of Township architecture would be complete without mentioning the two Mercer mansions: Henry Mercer’s Fonthill, built in 1910, and William Mercer’s Aldie mansion, built in 1927. Apart from its beauty, Fonthill is interesting for its design which is based on the tenets of the International style. In an effort to maximize the use of space, Henry concentrated first on the arrangement of the mansion’s sixty rooms before concerning himself with exterior aesthetics. William, on the other hand, pursued a more traditional course and drew inspiration from the family’s ancestral home in Scotland. Because of the generosity of the Mercer estates, both buildings today enrich the entire community. Fonthill and the adjacent Moravian Pottery and Tile Works are museums, while the Aldie mansion is home to the Heritage Conservancy (formerly the Bucks County Conservancy), an organization dedicated to preservation of the environment.
Fully embracing the future while preserving the best of its abundant heritage, Doylestown has evolved into an area where exceptional people and industry, classic architectural forms, history, recreational fun and a picturesque landscape all combine to create a unique American identity, and where every day, residents and visitors alike sense its well-secured place in the stream of time as a truly one-of-a-kind community.
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