Chester County is one of Pennsylvania’s three original counties along with Philadelphia, where William Penn settled in 1682, and Bucks Country to the north of Philadelphia.
As many as 2,000 settlers came from England along with Penn: Quakers like Penn who sailed to the New World to settle the wilderness and practice their religion in peace. Immigrants from England, Ireland, and Wales rapidly settled along Chester County’s rivers and within its gentle hills and magnificent forests. The English and Welsh settled in the central and southeastern townships (today’s Exton Region) while the Scots-Irish inhabited the south and southwestern townships. German and Swiss immigrants, our Pennsylvania Dutch, settled in the northern townships.
Because abundant sources of water power were readily available, milling was the county’s first industry. An iron industry was quickly established in Coventry, Warwick and Valley Forge. Later, during the nineteenth century, major ironworks were established in Phoenixville and Coatesville. When the Pennsylvania Railroad was formed in 1846, Chester County’s flourishing iron industry was ready to forge the rails that helped expand the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Eventually, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly separated three new counties from the original Chester County-Lancaster County, Berks County and Delaware County. Chester, the large navel shipbuilding city on the Delaware River, serves as the county seat until 1786. Then the county seat was moved to a more central location, a village called Turk’s Head, renamed West Chester in 1789.
As the English and Welsh settled the central parts of Chester County in the early and middle decades of the eighteenth century, the Exton Region consisted of little more than a few farms. Some historians claim a local farmer, William Trimble, named the area where the Pennsylvania Railroad intersected the Lancaster Pike for his birthplace in Exton, England.
As settled from Philadelphia made their way west and north, many of those early settlers found that the area we now call the Exton Region was just what they were looking for, and many decided to stay, to purchase land, and to start farming the fertile soil. In 1851, James Beale opened a post office in Exton. The road known as the Lincoln Highway and Route 30 ran straight through the center of the Exton Region. This famous roadway was the main corridor from Philadelphia to Lancaster. Most of the historic buildings in the area are located adjacent to or along Route 30.
One of these historic houses build along that corridor was Whitford Hall. Like The Hankin Group’s “Ivy Cottage,” a three-story Georgian beauty built in the 1800s, it is located just off Route 30 West. The Zook House, Exton Mall’s original tenant home, still remains in a different section of the property. Built at the request of Welsh Quakers, the Uwchlan Meeting House served as a school several times in its long history, along with hosting regular religious meetings.
A number of Exton Region properties are include on The National Register of Historic Places including Whitford Lodge, Whitford Hall, Whitford Station, Woodledge, Woodlark Station, the Zook House, and the Williams Deluxe Cabins, built in 1937 at the eastern end of Route 30 near Frazer.