Freed/Brown House

Built 1735-1750, Enlarged several times before 1840, Demolished December 2002

The Freed/Brown House a few days before its demolition.

Despite pleas from local historians, township residents, the New Garden Historical Commission, and the Chester County Commissioners, one of New Garden township's few remaining buildings that witnessed events of the Revolutionary War was demolished in late December of 2002 to make way for the expansion of the nearby Edgecraft Corporation factory. The house, built between 1735 and 1750 on Limestone Road near the Delaware border, witnessed thousands of British and Hessian troops under the command of General Howe entering Pennsylvania along Limestone Road on their way to what would come to be known as the Battle of the Brandywine.

Edgecraft's owners, Dan Friel Sr. and Jr., were apparently unaware of the actual age of the house. Dan Friel Jr. told the Historical Commission that he thought the house only dated from the mid 19th Century. Dan Friel Sr. was quoted in the Daily Local on Oct 18, 2002 as saying that although he found the area around the Southwood and Limestone Roads intersection to have historic importance, he saw the House itself as historically inconsequential. "We all hate to (demolish it). But I think we have to differentiate between something that is old and something that is significant in terms of its history," he said.

This house had been featured as the "David Brown House" in a respected local history published for the bicentennial. The book had a picture of this house along with the story of Quaker farmer David Brown exchanging cattle and grain for a promise by the invading army to not sack and burn the house. This story, which had been handed down through generations of the Brown family, was partially collaborated by the book’s author who found an account in the diary of British Capt. John Montresor that had been preserved in the British Museum. This account described how the army camped in David Brown's meadow where he provided food and supplies. However subsequent research by Peg Jones of the New Garden Historical Commission has shown that this story was incorrectly linked to this particular house since it did not come into the family until purchased by David Brown's son many years later. It is now thought that the actual site of the David Brown incident must have been nearby, possibly just down Limestone Road in Delaware.

Professor Bernie Herman

Once it was obvious that pleas to save the house were falling on deaf ears, the township used the BOCA building code allowed 30-day period between request and issuance of the demolition permit to study and document the house. Because of the special nature of the house, experts from the University of Delaware's Department of Art History and the Center for Historic Architecture and Design were brought in. New Garden Historical Commission Member Michael Leja, who is also a Professor in the Art History Department, coordinated the project. The field team, led by Professor Bernie Herman, two graduate students Jeff Klee and Eric Gollanek, and Michael Leja worked several days on site doing historical detective work and taking measurements. Meanwhile two members of the Historical Commission, Peg Jones and Mary Sproat, researched deeds and probate inventories for the families who had owned it.

Professors Herman and Leja commence the investigation.
Bernie Herman and Eric Gollanek pry up a floorboard to examine substructure.

The researchers found that this was no simple colonial building. It was in some ways more interesting in that it showed the evolution of taste in home design between 1750 and the 1830s, as earlier styles were continually adapted to the newer ones. Bernie Herman and his students identified four major structural periods for the house, with the house's modern day appearance being established when it was remodeled in the 1830s. The team was fascinated by the way the house exhibited its historical evolution so clearly in its stonework and woodwork. Herman said the house constituted a study of regional domestic architecture in one building. He also observed that such houses are rare; this one being one of a very few in all of the townships surrounding New Garden.

Michael Leja uncovering originally
exposed ceiling beams.

In the end all the pleas to save the house were for naught. The Friels had made their plans and were unwilling to consider anything else. Demolition of a house that had stood for over a quarter of a millennium took only a few days and was completed in early December. Several doors, a banister, and two fireplace mantels were donated to the Historical Commission and will be made available to owners of other historic homes in the township for restoration purposes.

Jeff Klee drafting the architectural plans for the report.