May 7, 2023

Athens on High Street: A Walking Tour of West Chester

Chester County History Center
225 N. High Street
West Chester, PA 19380

Group meets at 10:00am

ICAA Members: $25 | General Public: $35 | Students: $15
Registration required – maximum attendees: 25

This two hour walking tour, guided by Anne Krulikowski, PhD, Associate Professor of History at West Chester University, explores the varied and sometimes impressive architecture of the borough of West Chester with a special emphasis on Classical Revival Architecture.

The highlights of the tour are a number of buildings by Philadelphia-born architect Thomas Ustick Walter (1804-1887), whose work includes Founder’s Hall at Girard College and the U. S. State Capitol Dome. One of his earliest commissions was the First Presbyterian Church (1832) in West Chester and the town became a showcase of Walter’s work in the 1830s and 1840s; the last building he designed was Horticultural Hall (1848).

The tour begins a block north of the commercial district, in front of the Chester County History Center, formerly Horticultural Hall; Walter’s final West Chester commission was the only one not in a classical revival style. But the former Horticultural Hall, where all the famous lectures like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Sojourner Truth spoke before the Civil War, was the centerpiece of intellectual life in the borough. Thus, this building appropriately connects the cultural life of borough residents with the physical landscape in the historic district of brick Federal buildings with classical decorative elements punctuated by grander classical essays in white granite. The tour then proceeds through the center of town and stays mainly though not entirely within the historic district, which is still oriented to the Walter-designed courthouse, to get a sense of the preserved scale of the town, predominantly 2 and 3-story brick buildings.

In addition to the Walter buildings and a few Samuel Sloan (or attributed), we will see the two earliest federal houses in today’s commercial district; one is the house of Dr. Stephen Darlington, who began the famous herbarium. The First Bank of West Chester (Walter), a Beaux Art bank from 1913, several classical revival banks from the 1960s/70s that replaced many of the original buildings torn down in the interests of modernization, the first purpose-built business building (Federal style, home of the Chester County Time, which printed the first biography of Abraham Lincoln), the first and until a few years ago only skyscraper, and Colonnade row on Minor Street.

Advanced registration is required.