Post Office #4 Historic 101 East Gay Street
photograph from 1907
STORY Malcolm Johnstone CURRENT PHOTO Courtney Potts HISTORIC PHOTOS Courtesy of Chester County Historical Society
n April 9, 1784, the future West Chester was conceived when the first map of what was then simply a village was laid out into four square blocks divided by Gay and High Streets and bounded by Chestnut, Walnut, Market, and Church Streets. This grid was sliced into 32 land parcels by a handful of locals and then sold for commercial development. What prompted this action was the Pennsylvania Assembly’s decsion to allow the seat of Chester County to move from the City of Chester to “the vicinity of Turks Head Tavern.” This meant a courthouse needed to be constructed, which would occupy the location where the lawn and fountain now sit, just north of the historic courthouse. As the first courthouse was being built, it became clear that this settlement of farmers would swiftly evolve into a political center that would attract
commerce. This first courthouse officially opened on November 28, 1786, when the first court session was held. But the actual birth of West Chester occurred later, on March 3, 1788, when the Pennsylvania Assembly, acting as proud parents, designated the village a “county town,” named it West Chester, and swaddled it in its current boundaries. The best and earliest example of what is referred to as West Chester’s first period development is the Darlington Building. It was named after William Darlington (1782-1863), a doctor, botanist, banker, politician, and all-around good guy who lived and worked within the building at 13 N High St. It was originally built in 1789 by James Smith and enlarged by William Sharpless in 1792. The structure predates all other buildings in the downtown and may be considered a historical anchor building. While the first courthouse (1786) was demolished along with its neighboring administrative building in 1846, it holds its place as cornerstone for development
THE POST OFFICE WAS ACTUALLY BUILT IN TWO PHASES, 30 YEARS APART.
in West Chester. Indeed, it led the way to the creation of what is now West Chester’s iconic historic courthouse at the corner of High and Market Streets. It was designed by Thomas U. Walter to replace the original courthouse of 1786. The architectural design is Greek Revival represented in several structures on High Street. It opened in February 1848 and became one of Walter's greatest architectural achievements. It also made county government the largest developer in downtown West Chester. Other features have been added to the area surrounding the Historic Courthouse over the years. A public drinking fountain, which ran water continuously from an underground spring, was placed in front of the Courthouse in 1869 to provide "water for people, horses, and dogs" from separate drinking bowls.
JANUARY 2019 THEWCPRESS.COM
Voice of the Borough