Historical Markers
Chester County Historical Marker
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Chester County

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
County Courthouse, North High Street, West Chester

Dedication Date:
October 26, 1982

Behind the Marker

Chester County is one of Pennsylvania's three original counties. Together with markerBucks and Philadelphia counties, Chester County was formed by William Penn in 1682 under a charter granted by King Charles II of England.

Prior to Penn's arrival, Dutch, Swedes, English and some Finns lived along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers and the tributary waterways that extended throughout the southeastern part of his colony. Penn planned to establish a capital as a port city to insure the commercial prosperity of his new province.
Stormy farmscape
John Neagle, Painting of Chester County Quaker Farm. 1825.

The original site he envisioned was Upland, along the Delaware River in Chester County. But the location had already been settled by markerSwedes for more than thirty years. Real estate there was too costly to fulfill his vision, which had been planned without full knowledge of New World conditions. So Penn settled on markerPhiladelphia, a sparsely settled peninsula formed by the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers.

When the first colonial Assembly convened at Philadelphia in March 1683, its members granted Chester County a seal, highlighted by a rough-hewn farmer's plough, and established a county seat. Attracted by Penn's constitutional provision for religious toleration, English, Irish and Welsh Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians and Anglicans settled along the county's rivers and gentle rolling hills. The English and Welsh settled in the central and southeastern townships, while the Scots-Irish inhabited the south and southwest. German and Swiss immigrants, the often called Pennsylvania Dutch, settled in the northern townships.
Black and white image showing railroad tracks in the foreground and different iron works buildings (blast furnaces, rolling mills, and puddle mills)  labeled in the background.
Works of the Phoenix Iron Company

Most of these settlers farmed the fertile soil of the region, growing corn, wheat, barley, oats, rye, buckwheat and flax. With water power readily available, milling became the county's first industry. Most settlements had a gristmill, which could also be used as a sawmill. An iron industry also flourished in the county due to its rich iron ore deposits and plentiful water power. Modest iron manufactories at Coventry, Warwick and Valley Forge laid the foundations for such nationally known ironworks as the Lukens Steel of Coatesville and markerPhoenix Iron Works in Phoenixville during the nineteenth century. The iron industry also paved the way for the railroad mania of the era. When the Pennsylvania Railroad was formed in 1846, Paoli became a major terminal for regularly scheduled passenger train stops between Chester County and Philadelphia.

"Chester Whites" advertising card Thomas Wood, Doe Run, Chester Co.
"Chester Whites" advertising card Thomas Wood, Doe Run, Chester Co.
Chester County originally included present-day Delaware, Lancaster, and Berks counties. In 1729, Lancaster County was formed, creating the western boundary of Chester County. In 1752, a northern boundary was established with the creation of Berks County. With the drawing of the Mason-Dixon Line in 1764, Chester County's southern border was determined.

Shortly after, residents began to petition to have the county seat removed from Chester. Not until 1786, however, was permission granted and the first court convened at Turk's Head (located at the intersection of a road north from Wilmington, Delaware and another from Philadelphia to Lancaster) on November 28th of that same year. Two years later, the county seat of Turk's Head was renamed West Chester and, in 1789, Delaware County was created establishing the southeastern boundary of Chester County.

The War for American Independence came to Chester County in September 1777, when the British Army launched a surprise attack en route to the patriot capitol at Philadelphia. For the next nine months, Chester County witnessed the war first-hand with the battles of the Brandywine and Paoli, and the Continental Army's struggle to survive the harsh winter in the snow-covered hills of markerValley Forge.

The fight for freedom assumed a different form in the nineteenth century. Chester County was a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity as local Quaker and black abolitionists joined together to channel runaway slaves from the South through the region and on to safety in Canada. The county also played an important role in the Women's Rights movement hosting an 1852 convention advocating the vote for women.

With its charming Victorian-style homesteads, rolling horse country and rural tradition, Chester County continues to reflect a sense of its storied past.

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