Doylestown Borough, Pennsylvania

How did Doylestown Borough, Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Doylestown Borough, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.

County Seat since 1813, borough since 1838. The land on which Doylestown is built was originally owned by the Free Society of Traders of London. Jeremiah Langhorne on February 15, 1724, purchased 2000 acres from the trustees of the Society, which with other tracts he acquired made his total holdings 5,200 acres. He sold several tracts to other parties during his lifetime. When he died the executors of his estate disposed of the balance in accordance with the terms of his will, dated May 16, 1742.1 Joseph Kirkbride was also an owner of part of the site of Doylestown. The Langhorne and Kirkbride tracts were sold to Edward Doyle, Robert and William Scott, Archibald Crawford, Robert and Henry Magill, William and Clement Doyle and others. The Doyles, for whom Doylestown was named, were here as early as 1730. On March 30 of that year Edward Doyle bought a strip of 150 acres of land, running from the present Court Street back towards Pine Run. It was about a fourth of a mile wide and a mile long. William and Clement Doyle were sons of Edward. William in 1737 bought a tract of 100 acres, which, through a subsequent purchase, became a contiguous tract to his father’s land. It lay to the northeast of Edward’s tract and was 825 feet wide by a mile long. It was on this tract, in all probability, that William Doyle built his tavern. He obtained his first license from the Court at Newtown during the March Term, 1745. The tavern was located in the northwest corner of the intersection of Dyers and Coryell’s Ferry Roads (present Main and State streets). There has been much discussion as to the location of the first tavern building. As William Doyle appears to have owned this corner, as well as land on the northeast corner on the opposite side of Dyer’s Road, the probability is that the first tavern stood on or quite near the site now occupied by the Fountain House, its lineal descendant. From 1745 to 1776 the crossroads village was generally called William Doyl’s Tavern. Doyle sold his tavern to Daniel Hough on January 1, 1776, and the village ceased to be William Doyl’s Tavern and became Doylstown. Doyle at that time was usually spelled “Doyl.” Pennsylvania Germans omitted the “o” and almost invariably pronounced it Dyletown. Some of the Doyle family left the village about 1776 and are said to have located at Hancock, N. Y. General John Lacey wrote a letter to the Committee of Safety from “Doyles Town March the gist 1778,” which is the first use, so far as known, of the name in its present form, but it was often spelled “Doylstown” down to 1800, and this is the form used by Isaac Ralston in his The Farmer’s Weekly journal, Bucks County’s earliest newspaper and the first known Doylestown imprint. When surveyed and incorporated as a borough in 1838, “Doylestown” became official in that form. A post office was established January 1, 1802, with Charles Stewart as postmaster. The first postal carrier system in the United States was inaugurated when Postmaster Stewart regularly carried the letters around the village in the bell-shaped crown of his high beaver hat and delivered them in person to his patrons. One of these high beaver hats, worn by Postmaster William Green, of Quakertown (1803-1829), is in possession of The Bucks County Historical Society, but it is not on record that Postmaster Green copied Postmaster Stewart’s carrier delivery idea. Postmaster Stewart died February 7, 1804, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Enoch Harvey. In the Pennsylvania Correspondent, published at Doylestown, October g, 1804, Enoch Harvey, postmaster, advertises the following list of letters remaining in the post office: “Doylestown, October 1st, 1804: Wm. R. Hanna, Esq., Newtown; Doct. Felix Robertson, Bucks County; Robert Wehir, Shamony, Bucks County: Robert A. Farmer, Esq., Birdsborough; Israel Childs, Buckingham.” This would indicate that Doylestown post office in those days covered an extensive area. Quoting a “Doylestown paper of 1833” Sherman Day2 says: “As far back as the year 1778, there were but two or three log buildings in the place; the oldest of which was occupied and kept as a sort of public house, for the ‘entertainment of man and horse.’ ” That such a statement should be published by an historian of the standing of Sherman Day is no less surprising than the fact that local historians and newspapers have repeated it without correction. It is only necessary to refer to a draft of Doylestown, made as of 1776 by the late Attorney Charles H. Hal1,3 to see the fallacy of the Day statement. The draft shows the following property owners located within the area covered by the original borough draft and dates of transfers: William Dungan, Sr., to William Dungan, Jr., 1771; William Scott to William Dungan, 1753; Archibald Crawford to Robert Magill, 1768; Moses Crawford to Henry (?) H. and Samuel Flack, 1773; Mahlon Kirkbride to Robert Kirkbride (not residents), 1776; John Thompson, trustee, to John Fell, 1775; Israel Pemberton to T. Robinson, 1760; Nathan) Preston to T. Robinson, 1771; William Doyle to Robert and Henry Magill, 1773; William Doyle to Daniel Hough, 1776; Archibald Crawford to T. Robinson, 1756. At least nine of the parties interested in these transfers were residents, not to mention several tenants. Adjoining the old borough lines were the properties of James Snodgrass, Ludwig Switzer, Jacob Lapp and William Beale, all residents. Within a mile from the center of the village were about forty-five tracts of land owned by individuals, three-fourths probably residents.

Dr. Hugh Meredith, a leading physician of his day, had already begun practice in Doylestown in 1776. Nine years after Sherman Day’s three-log-house libel, Doylestown had a public library4 The second inn, “The Sign of the Ship,” on the site of the present Lenape Building, diagonally across the road from the older Doyle Tavern, is reputed to have been built in 1774. Mrs. Nathan Cornell, wife of Doylestown’s pioneer hatter, remembered Samuel Flack keeping tavern there in 1778.5 It is quite unlikely, therefore, that in 1778 Doylestown was a hamlet of two or three log buildings, when only twenty-two years later it was a village large enough to support a newspaper. There are still a few Eighteenth Century buildings in Doylestown and if the history of others could be traced the number would be increased. However, there is much stronger evidence that Doylestown was a place of some importance in 1778 because the people of the county only six years later made an earnest effort to make it the county seat. It is not generally known, because county histories have not mentioned it, that several petitions, numerously signed by citizens in various parts of the county, were presented to the session of the Legislature as early as 1784, praying for the removal of the county seat from Newtown to Doylestown. The petitions were of pretty much the same character and “most humbly sheweth, that your petitioners have long labored under the great disadvantage of having the courts of justice held in a place very uncentral in said county, whereby the expense of attending on juries and other occasions fall unequally on the freemen of the county; and, whereas, the present court house and prison are old and decaying and must soon be rebuilt from the foundation, which makes the present a proper time to apply to your honorable House for leave to build a court house and prison on a better plan at Doylestown, a village nearly central, a place, remarkably healthy, and pleasant, situate at the crossing of several very public roads, (which will plainly appear by draught herewith presented,) and is capable of much improvement, where materials are plenty, and easy to be procured, and where public buildings can be erected at much less expense to the county, than at Newtown, as many liberal subscriptions will be made.” This, remember, was in 1784, just after the close of the Revolution! This petition was signed by 114 citizens, a large number of them belonging to well-known Bucks County families. There were eight petitions, containing in all the names of 284 signers, mainly from middle and upper Bucks County and men who represented the public sentiment of their communities in those days. Among the signers were Andrew Denison and John Davis, veterans of the Revolutionary War; Jonathan Ingham, of Ingham Springs; Samuel Preston, surveyor and draftsman; Walter and Robert Shewell, of Painswick Hall; Michael Frederick Kolb, a prominent Pennsylvania German; Fulkerd Sebring, John and Andrew Armstrong, Zebulon Pike, father of General Zebulon M. Pike, of Lumberton, and Jesse and Joseph Fell, who owned large tracts of land in and near Doylestown, and who pledged themselves to present to the county a tract of land in Doylestown for the county buildings, together with a contribution of £75 towards their construction. Besides the petitions several subscription papers were circulated and signed by many subscribers, pledging a large total sum towards erecting the buildings.

The removal effort, however, failed to get Legislative endorsement. It is quite an unfortunate circumstance that the drafts made by Samuel Preston and presented with the petitions just mentioned have been lost, as they may have contained much information of historical value. The next petition for the removal of the Court House was presented to the Legislature in 1795. Another strenuous effort was made in 1800, when big meetings were held throughout the upper and middle districts to further the project. It was not until a generation after the movement started that the Act of the General Assembly was passed, February 28, 1810, providing for “The removal of the seat of Justice in the County of Bucks from Newtown to a more central place” and Doylestown became the county seat with the opening of the first Court session on May it, 1813.

A bill for the erection of Doylestown into a borough was introduced in the Legislature in February, 1830. Another attempt was made in the session of 1832, but this also fell through. Finally, “An Act to erect the Village of Doylestown, in the County of Bucks, into a Borough,” was passed and signed by Governor Joseph Ritner on April 16, 1838. On a draft of Doylestown made in 1830 to accompany the petition for incorporation only five streets are named: “Easton Road,” now Main Street; “Academy Lane,” now Court Street; “New Hope Road,” now State Street; “Front Street,” now Oakland Avenue, and “Dutch Lane,” now Broad Street. Except on the west, the borough lines ran irregularly. The northerly line extended by seven courses from Limekiln Road (present West Street) to the Easton Road a few hundred feet north of the lane to the Chapman farm. The easterly line ran from the last named point to the New Hope Road at a point near the present entrance to the Borough Water Works. From there the southerly line ran almost straight to the present Green Street, then swerved westwardly by two courses, passing through what is now Reading Railway property to West Street, and the westerly line ran straight along West Street to the place of beginning. Doylestown grew slowly but steadily in population and area after incorporation.

The borough lines have been extended several times. The last extension, taking in Cross Keys territory, increased the borough area probably to twice its original size. Between 1840 and 1860 a number of fine houses were erected, mostly of a type of architecture that gives an air of stability to the older quarters of the town. A few of the old State, Main and Court street houses have undergone very little change. Some quite attractive small frame houses remain. A feature of the old brick and stone houses was the double brick chimney surmounting one or both gables, some of which may still be seen. The wide flues were vents for open fireplaces, of which there was a generous number in every house. The flues were kept free of soot by professional chimney sweeps, mostly black lads from Philadelphia. Before starting their job, they usually sat on the chimney top and sang a couple of plaintive songs, then disappeared into the chimney with a suddenness that was alarming to spectators. The last sweep made his visit in the spring of 1879.

In 1845 Doylestown became a pioneer station for the newly-invented electric telegraph. A couple of experimental wires connecting with Philadelphia were put up in February of that year by James L. Shaw, son of Josiah Y. Shaw, and R. Alfred Goell, a Russian and pet of Amos Kendall. The instruments were placed in a room in the Mansion House, a tavern on the southwest corner of State and Main Streets, kept by Thomas Sands. The wires then used were copper, as it was thought no other metal would carry the electric current. One of the most active men in this community, in fact in this part of the State, in furthering these electric experiments was the late Dr. George T. Harvey, who helped it along in various ways. The novelty of sending messages by wire drew crowds of people to the Mansion House to see the operation. Shaw and Goells made the electric telegraph the business of their lives and were pioneers in pushing plans to popularize it. In 1848 they constructed a line from Philadelphia via Doylestown to Wilkes-Barre, but it proved to be unprofitable. Their later efforts, however, were crowned with success.6 It may be interesting to glance at the certified assessor’s return of Thomas Hayes for the year 1849, showing the following trades and professions in the county seat at that period: Farmers, ii; ministers of the gospel, 3; tipstaff, t; innkeepers, 7; carpenters, 6; laborers, 43; printers, 15; ostlers, 3; millwrights, 3; coachmakers, 5; masons, 9; drovers, 5; gentlemen, 13 (they were Captain Brown, William Beek, John Basley, William Carr, Abraham Chapman, Andrew Donaldson, George Donaldson, Andrew Heller, William Henry, Esq., John Lloyd, Benjamin Morris, Enoch Mathias and Bartram Stewart); clerk of bank, 1; cashier of bank, 1; Clerk of Quarter Sessions, 1; connected with magnetic telegraph, 3; blacksmiths, 5; bartenders, 2; barber, 1; cupper and bleeder (Robert Seibert), 1; merchants, 1; Clerk of County Commissioners, 1; President Judge, 1; attorneys, 15; Register of Wills, 1; Recorder of Deeds, 1; Prothonotary, 1; shoemakers, 16; brickmaker, 1; Clerk of Orphans’ Court, 1; Sheriff, 1; Deputy Sheriff, 1; clerks in stores, 3; druggist, 1; tailors, 5; pedlars, 2; millers, a; bakers, 2; oystermen, 1; hatters, 2; Associate Judge, 1; harness-makers, 2; horse traders, 1; postmaster, 1; machinists, 3; stable-keepers, 2; carters, 2; stonecutter, 1; physician, 1; students-at-law, 2; student-at-medicine, 1; taxable women, 16; constable, 1. Doylestown was a great stage coach center from its early days until October 6, 1856, when the completion of the branch of the North Pennsylvania Railroad introduced a new means of transportation. For two decades following the Civil War, the town enjoyed a great building boom, with corresponding lively activity in the real estate market. During that period much of what is now the Third Ward was built up. Before the Civil War, the southeastern section of this ward was a forest. In the angle formed by Clinton and Ashland Streets was a rounded hill nearly twenty-five feet in height, covering about two acres in area and overgrown with chestnut trees. It was called Mount Timothy. In the course of a decade following the start of the building boom, this hill was entirely removed and its site is today covered with houses and gardens. In Scott’s Atlas of 1876 is a lithograph of “C. Rotzel 8c Co.’s Planing Mill, Lumber Sc Coal Yard,” on South Main Street, with Mount Timothy shown in the background. On that date a considerable part of the hill was standing. It supplied a superior quality of yellow building sand, which was used in the construction of many of the houses in that neighborhood. A strong stream of spring water, rising to the northeast of Clinton Street, which diagonally crossed the Third Ward, following the present Oakland Avenue for half a block, is now entirely concealed and flows through a deeply-covered conduit. Since those days Doylestown has experienced even greater changes, but it has always kept abreast with the demand for progress which confronts all small municipalities. It owns an electrically equipped water works, a modern sewer plant, has up-to-date public schools, many fraternal and beneficial organizations, two banks and trust companies, eight churches, Doylestown Fair, Chamber of Commerce, Emergency Hospital, Village Improvement Association, Red Cross unit, Nature Club, Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, Country Club, Parent-Teacher Association, Choral Union, Free Library and Junior Woman’s Club, but above all, a thing that appeals to visitor and resident alike, it has been able to preserve its early Nineteenth Century charm, despite its location on two of the super-highways in this age of motor trucks and automobiles. But within the present century the center of the town has undergone marvelous transformation. Many old homesteads and shops have disappeared, to be replaced by modernly-equipped business houses, and the spirit of change moves on relentlessly.

See further: Doylestown Township, Pennsylvania


MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.

  1. The original will is in possession of The Bucks County Historical Society. []
  2. Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania, by Sherman Day, 1843, pp. 161, 162. []
  3. Draught of Doylestown and Vicinity in 1776. Compiled from the Records. By Charles H. Hall. 1897. []
  4. John Dyer’s Diary, 1763-1805 – “July 23, 1787. Entered in Doyls Town Library this Day.” []
  5. Doylestown, Old and New, by W. W. H. Davis, 1904, p. 127. []
  6. Historic Scraps, by W. W. H. Davis, Vol. 1, pp. 49-51. []

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