By Patricia Poore | Photos by Geoffrey Gross
This is a storied region, settled by William Penn and at the center of the American Revolution. The historic Brandywine Valley, which runs from Chester and Delaware counties in southeastern Pennsylvania and into the state of Delaware, remains dotted with early stone houses. A rich legacy of old stone buildings survives, too, in the surrounding counties: Montgomery, Berks, Bucks, and Lancaster. English and German settlers, especially Quakers, built these structures during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Take a careful look and you’ll see that different types of stone, and different masonry traditions, are in evidence. House walls are generally made up of rubble, not large dressed stones. (Stones most often came from farm fields being cleared.) The local reddish sandstone and bluish granite are most common. But there is also limestone, mica schist, and a gray-green stone called serpentine. German masons used techniques slightly different from those of the more dominant English, whose work is a reminder of an ancient Cotswold vernacular. The pitch of the roof, pent eaves (between floors), and the design of windows and door are all clues. One part of the house may be stone; another brick or wood-framed, as additions were common. Many houses built after the 1750s are fine, and some are even grand.
Inside, the earliest houses were primitive, often just one room with a large fireplace on an end wall. The hall-and-parlor plan was common by the 1720s. As the 18th century progressed, the symmetrical center-hall, double-pile Georgian plan—the more typical English colonial house—took hold.
The centuries since have seen successive revivals of traditional building in stone, led by restoration architects such as R. Brognard Okie in the 1920s and ’30s and G. Edwin Brumbaugh in the mid-20th century. Today a handful of regional architects are interpreting the old forms, keeping masonry building alive.
Houses to Visit
- Caleb Pusey House, 1683, Upland (Delaware County)
- Thomas Massey House, brick portion 1696, stone house 1731, Broomall (Delaware)
- Thompson–Neely House, 1702, at Washington Crossing (Bucks)
- Mouns Jones House (Swedish), 1716; White Horse Tavern, 1765/1780, at Old Morlattan Village, Douglassvillle (Berks)
- John Chad House, ca. 1720, Chadds Ford (Delaware)
- Keith House, 1722, now at Graeme Park (Montgomery)
- Waynesborough, 1724, Paoli (Chester)
- Conrad Weiser Homestead, 1729, Womelsdorf (Berks)
- Wright’s Ferry Mansion, 1738, Columbia (Lancaster)
- Gideon Gilpin House, 1745, now at Brandywine Battlefield Historic Site, Chadds Ford (Delaware)
- Henry Muhlenberg House, 1755, Trappe (Montgomery)
- Peter Wentz Farmstead, main house 1758, Worcester (Montgomery)
- Buckingham Friends Meeting House, 1768, Lahaska (Bucks)
- Johannes Mueller House (Moravian–German), 1792, Lititz (Lancaster)