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West Vincent Township History

Historic Birchrunville Tour

West Vincent's General Stores

Township School Houses 

West Vincent Township Played its Part in the Revolutionary War

William Penn’s vast lands were divided first into counties (Chester, Bucks, Philadelphia, and Montgomery), and then into townships. Vincent Township was divided roughly in half in 1832, with about 12,000 acres in the western portion. Algonquin and Lenni Lenape Indian tribes held this land before European settlement: Conestoga Road (Route 401) and Nantmeal Road (now Horseshoe Trail) were Indian trails.

The Township takes its name from Sir Mathias Vincent, who purchased his lands from his friend Penn. English, German, Swiss and Welsh settlers were welcomed here, making their homes primarily in the eastern portion of the original undivided township. Streams and rivers were important for transportation and industry, which was based on local iron works like those at Warwick, Reading, and Valley Forge.

West Vincent’s map profile is distinctive: the enormous “missing” square is the result of a boundary dispute in 1715, when Vincent and others failed to pay taxes to William Penn. Suit was brought against these men by the Clerk of the County Court, and 467 acres were seized. The “missing” piece lies on the border of Upper Uwchlan Township.

Tax records in 1730 indicate thirty “taxables” - white males - in Vincent Township. They made their livings as innkeepers, weaver, tanners, and farmers.

West Vincent played its part in the Revolutionary War: the countryside was scoured for wagons, firearms, blankets, shoes and stockings. After the Battle of the Brandywine, General Washington marched his eleven thousand troops across Vincent Township on his way to Valley Forge, where the army spent the hard winter of 1777-78. The hospital at Yellow Springs, built to handle the sick and wounded, was run by Dr. Samuel Kennedy and West Vincent residents surely aided as best they could. Congress at this time encouraged construction of powder mills; traces of one of those mills still stand in Birchrunville on Powder Mill Hill.

When public school systems were mandated by the state in 1834, West Vincent residents responded enthusiastically, and by 1875 there were five school houses providing basic education. All are still standing; the largest of which was our township building on School House Lane. West Vincent’s four original churches also still stand.

Some of West Vincent’s Quaker residents were sympathetic to escaping slaves, so there were many branches of the Underground Railroad here. The Civil War, too, drew West Vincent residents, with companies formed in Kimberton, Phoenixville, Pottstown and West Chester.

West Vincent entered the twentieth century largely unchanged, with no paved roads, no electricity, and scarcely an automobile in sight. But the township readily accepted the commodities of change: household electricity was first furnished by batteries that had to be recharged frequently. WPA workers paved the roads, and the automobile revolutionized how people lived.

After World War II, new roads, more efficient cars and a growing population drove development: West Vincent Township responded by adopting protective legislative. The township’s first zoning was adopted in 1955; it set up guidelines for how property could be used and developed in a primarily rural district. Green Valleys Association, founded in 1964, was one of the earliest watershed protection groups, and it continues to protect the environment in West Vincent and the surrounding community.

A recent survey identified 231 potentially historic sites in West Vincent. Thirty-four of these sites are included in the Birchrunville National Historic District and 88 sites are included in the Rural Historic District.

West Vincent’s residents have indicated an overwhelming desire to keep their township as rural as possible. The Board of Supervisors and its supporting commissions and councils are committed to that goal.

 


 

For a map of historical properties done through the Chester County Historical Society, click here