Part Two includes two additional tours:
The “Uptown” Tour
The 21 sites on this tour can be generally divided into Civil War-era sites such as the Lincoln Building and the former offices of an Abolitionist newspaper as well as sites related to black entrepreneurship in the 19th century and in recent times.
As it is described in this booklet’s introduction, West Chester’s most successful black-owned enterprises – Burns’ Great Oyster House, Spence’s Restaurant, and the Ganges’ Ice Cream and Confectionary Shop – thrived at a time of explosive growth, in the 1850s and the 1900s. Even then, they could not be described as part of a “colored aristocracy.” They served a clientele that included judges and Court House personnel yet they typically saw their fraternal and civic lives as rooted in the black community.
“Uptown,” as residents of the East End still call it, includes one residential area: South Walnut Street. The beautiful Victorian homes are representative of those built by craftsmen for the artisan and working classes including black residents. Part of the area was developed in 1844 by Robert Mercer, who came to West Chester as an orphan bound to a Swedish shoemaker. The region’s first Presbyterian church built for African-Americans is also located here.
A third category of sites might be described as those associated with Civil Rights activism including the movie theaters and restaurants where Bayard Rustin challenged West Chester’s white community to uphold its liberal heritage.
The industrial Tour
The 13 sites on this tour includes “Mechanics Alley,” where a former crayon factory is open to the public (now Rose Valley Restorations) as well as 8 sites along East Union Street. The buildings at E. Union and S. Franklin Streets have been occupied since the 1870s when they included a grist mill and metal foundry. These buildings overlooked West Chester’s largest brick yards.
Owned by one of the Civil War’s most celebrated veterans, Henry R. Guss, the brick yards extended to Bolmar Street. They were later occupied by Hoffman’s Lumber Yards, but the area still shows glimpses of the past: a row of brick homes Guss constructed for his workers still stands. At the corner of Union and Adams Streets, one can see the original buildings of a long-standing mushroom cannery, E.H. Jacobs Company, which became nationally known as the producer of “B&B” mushrooms and other products.
The “Industrial” tour is the longest tour in the booklet, extending to Lacey Street and the boundary of an early Irish community known as “Riggtown.” Within the same neighborhood, the West Chester Railroad Heritage Association keeps its trains in a yard
that recalls a busy era when the Pennsylvania Railroad maintained its largely freight switching yard near the same spot. The railroad turntable is documented on the map in this booklet, but no longer remains.
In fact, the former vestiges of an industrial presence—the mushroom factory, the National Phone Co. and old 30-acre Wyeth Lab site—have disappeared. Hopefully, this part of the East End will have a positive future.