Unionville, Pennsylvania - History
THE VILLAGE OF UNIONVILLE
In 1979 Unionville Village Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places, as an example of a 19th-century rural village which has kept much of its early appearance and character.
Unionville’s beginnings go back to 1706, when an Englishman named Henry Hayes bought an 1100-acre tract of land from William Penn. For the site of his house he chose the source of the west branch of the Red Clay Creek, where he built a log cabin. This is thought to have been where Hood’s BBQ is now. Eventually there was a tannery on the site, and later a gristmill.
The next settlers were the Jacksons, for whom the village was first named Jacksonville, changed to Unionville in the early 1800s. John Jackson built a log house on the northeast corner of the main crossroads, the site of the present Catherine’s Restaurant. Jackson married Henry Hayes’s daughter Mary and built a big brick house on the southeast corner, which became the Cross Keys Tavern in 1808. Jacksons continued to populate the area and built some of the more substantial buildings.
The development and early success of the village were due in large part to the practice of overland hauling of goods and animals to the markets in Wilmington and Philadelphia. This location was a convenient resting place for travelers. The inns that sprang up along this route could accommodate the drovers and their flocks or herds, and they provided work and an outlet for local farmers’ goods.
Gradually new businesses started up to accommodate travelers and the growing local population. By the early 1800s there were a harness maker, a blacksmith, a library, and a one-room schoolhouse. By 1850 there were a private seminary, a town hall, and several houses of worship. And from early times there were general stores to serve the community.
Unionville Presbyterian Church on Wollaston Road is the only village church in continuous use. A congregation formed in 1829, and fifteen years later they built this church. Enlarged several times over the years, it retains its original structure.
In 1845 the Society of Friends (Quakers) built a meetinghouse on the hill east of the village. After about 100 years its congregation dwindled to one elderly woman and her dog, so the building was sold to East Lynn Grange, which met there for about fifty years, selling around 2005 to the new Grace Fellowship Church, which has incorporated the old building in its structure.
Unionville’s non-denominational community cemetery was established in 1855. Its handsome iron fence was a gift of Miss Annie Seal in 1860. Miss Seal’s father Thomas Seal was Unionville’s first doctor.
A Methodist church served the village from 1839 but lasted only about twenty-five years. Demolished in the late 1800s, it was located on Route 842 East.
By 1834 the town had outgrown its first little log school down near the tanyard. Residents decided to build a private school, the large two-story building at the fork at the west end of town, and called it the Unionville Academy.
Cheyney Hannum, principal from 1837-39, built the boarding house next door so students from farther away could attend. The student body consisted of 125 to 150 students, forty of whom were boarders, some of them from overseas, including one from Japan. In 1839 Jonathan Gause, one of the most widely respected teachers of his day, succeeded Hannum. He taught such notable students as well known novelist and poet Bayard Taylor; J. Smith Futhey, co-author of The History of Chester County; James P. Wickersham, ambassador to Germany; William Marshall Swayne, sculptor of a bust of Abraham Lincoln; and lawyers John J. Gheen and William M. Hayes.
The curriculum included the usual subjects, as well as maturation, surveying, navigation, mechanics, elocution, rhetoric, fluxions, optics, penmanship, botany, mineralogy, Latin, Greek, drawing, and painting. This excellent education could be had for $40 per quarter, including board, mending, and washing, but not washbasins or lights.
The building was also used as a venue for entertainment. The Lyceum, a joint effort of the village hall and Unionville Academy, provided many cultural activities, such as lectures, debates, dances, and musicals. Some lecture titles were “The Reading and Study of History,” “The Newspapers,” “Stratford on the Avon,” and “Paddle Your Own Canoe.” The building finally became the Unionville High School from 1893 until 1923, when the new consolidated school was built to accommodate students from twenty-one small schoolhouses. The old school building has been a residence ever since.
Around 1850 a one-room school was built back of the cemetery, near the Friends meetinghouse. It operated for about forty-five years. (See the photograph on this website’s Home Page.) Also in the mid-1800s, the brick house across from the Presbyterian Church served as a boarding school for girls.
Unionville High School circa 1916
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