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Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Colonial Reenactors on the grounds of the John Chad House, 2013.
Colonial Reenactors on the grounds of the John Chad House, 2013.
Two of the
most important colonial houses in Chadds Ford are owned by Chadds Ford Historical Society, the John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House. Both houses are on the National Register of Historic Places. Each year during Christmas the Historical Society alternates which house will be open for the Candlelight Christmas Tour. In 2013 the John Chads House was open. For the 29th Annual 2014 Candlelight Christmas Tour which was held December 6, The Barns-Brinton House was open for the holiday festivities.

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Colonial girls standing in front of the Christmas decorated fireplace, 2013.
Colonial girls standing in front of the Christmas decorated fireplace, 2013.
Chadds Ford is in the western part of Delaware County approximately thirty miles southwest of Philadelphia. Chadds Ford Township before 1996 was known as Birmingham Township.

John Chads' House is one of the earliest colonial houses in the township. John Chads father, Frances Chadsey, an English Quaker from Wiltshire came to Pennsylvania in 1685 and purchased 500 acres in Birmingham Township which was then in Chester County from Daniel Smith who was an original purchaser of William Penn. He did not take possession of the property until 1702 when he built a millrace and corn gristmill on the land. Frances married Grace Stanfield in 1695. He was elected member of the Provincial Assembly in 1707 and was appointed by the court to lay out the roads from the forks of the Brandywine to Naaman's Creek Mill. He and Grace had six children.

In 1710 Frances sold 51 acres of land to John Wyeth (no relation to the family of artists), a carpenter. Frances died in 1713, leaving his eldest son John Chads the larger part of his estate and half a share in the corn mill when he became of age in 1718.

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - John Chad House, 2013
John Chad House, 2013
John Chads commissioned John Wyeth Jr. to build his two story bank house around 1725. Three short pent roofs appear above the first floor level. Pent eaves are above the second floor level on all four walls. The front door with its frame along with most of the wall panels are original. A beehive oven extends from the basement kitchen. The parlor has a fireplace in the front corner. The original spiral stairway leads to the second floor. There are two rooms upstairs, a bedchamber and a master bedchamber which has the most appealing fireplace in the house.

The kitchen in the basement was the most extensively restored room in the house. There is a walk-in fireplace to the west side of the house. The root cellar is adjacent to the kitchen. The initials "J. W. Jr." are neatly carved in stone by the upper right window on the front or south wall of the house.

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Colonial girl in front of paneled walls, 2013.
Colonial girl in front of paneled walls, 2013.
The springhouse was constructed earlier. By 1729 John married Elizabeth Richardson. The house on the Brandywine became their home. Chadds Ford was named after John due to the several businesses he owned. As travel increased the ford often became impassable. John was instrumental in establishing a ferry across the Brandywine in 1731. He also turned his father's home now known as Chadds Ford Inn into a tavern.

The county loaned John thirty pounds to establish a ferry. For the August 30, 1737 proceedings in the Court of Quarter Sessions the following was recorded:

"John Chads having petitioned the court setting forth that by the concurrence of the Justices and by order of the Commissioners and Assessors, a ferry being erected over Brandywine creek on the road leading from Philadelphia to Nottingham, and no rates for the same established, prays that such rates be set for the same, as to the court may seem reasonable: Whereupon the court taking the same into consideration, have adjudged the rates hereafter mentioned may be demanded and taken by the said John Chads,or his assigns or successors in the said ferry:

     Every horse and rider, four pence.

     Every single person on foot, three pence; if more, two pence each.

     Every ox, cow, or heifer, four pence each.

     Every sheep, one pence.

     For     Every hog, three half-pence.

     Every coach, wagon, or cart, one shilling and six pence.

     Every empty wagon or cart, nine pence.

     Every steed, four pence.

"To the aforesaid rates the justices have subscribed their names:
”Richard Hayes,

"John Crosby,

"Henry Bates,

"Samuel Hollingsworth,

"John Parry,

"Abraham Emmitt,

"Caleb Cowpland,

"Elisha Gatchell,

"Joseph Brinton.”


The ferry continued operating up until the death of John in 1760. In John's will, he gave his cousin, Joseph Davis his entire estate with the exception of his house and forty acres which he bequeathed to Elizabeth who had no children. John wrote in his will, "my plantation and tract of land, containing about 40 acres for her lifetime. Sum of 30 thirty Pounds, also household goods, and kitchen furniture, my plow, a harrow, choice of two of my best horses, and two of my best shoats, four of my best cows, all corn now in the barn, and corn in the ground, and hay or fodder being on the place. Thirty five pounds yearly...paid every 6 months. Sufficient fire wood...hauled to her door.".

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Spring House at the John Chads House, 2013
Spring House at the John Chads House, 2013
The ferry remained in operation until 1828 when a 200 foot open-wooden bridge was built across the Brandywine. In 1860 it was replaced by a covered bridge. Because the fording place was often mentioned in early documents, the area was called Chadds Ford.

The John Chads House was vulnerable during the Revolutionary War since General Washington built his fortifications on grounds above the house which sits on a hill. The house was never hit with cannonball; however, the southern corner of the spring house may have been hit. Elizabeth had to deal with the daily looting. She took steps in burying "...her Silver Spoons Daily in her Packet [pocket] until the Danger was over."

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Barns Brinton House, 2014
Barns Brinton House, 2014
The other house owned by the Historical Society is the Barns-Brinton House along Route 1 which is celebrating its 300th Anniversary. William Barns, a blacksmith and builder, knew of the importance to erect a tavern at this location. It was "along ye Road yt leads to Maryland, and likewise to Conostogo." In July 1722 William Barns petitioned the court for a license "To keep a common Ale house." His friends in November of the same year petitioned for a "Publick House for ye accomodation . . . of man and horse." A final petition was registered in August 1725 and was finally granted in October for a "publick house of Entertainment for ye selling of wine. beer, syder, brandy, and other strong liquors."

Due to financial difficulty the license was not allowed in 1728. Upon William's death in 1731, he was in debt to 78 neighbors. His administrator James Ffew operated the tavern for two more years but then sold the property to Isaac Taylor in July 1742. Ffew bought the property back six months later. He eventually sold it eleven years later to James Brinton, grandson of William Brinton who was one of the earliest settlers in the area. James owned the house during the Battle of Brandywine which suffered damages from the Revolutionary War.

On September 11, 1777, Sir William Howe split his 18,000 man army into two and sent half under the direction of General Wilheim von Knyphausen to Chadds Ford. General Washington retreated. The British Army remained in Chadds Ford looting neighboring farms:

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Colonial lady cooking inside the Barns Brinton House, 2014
Colonial lady cooking inside the Barns Brinton House, 2014
"While the British army was resting at Dilworthtown, from the 11th to the 16th of September, 1777, the officers sent their servants round among the farmers of the vicinity to collect poulty and other provender for their own tables. These marauders regarded as lawful plunder everything they could lay their hands upon and deemed worth carrying away."
Dr. William Darlington

At that time, the Great Road was just south of the house. The losses to the British claimed by Brinton were two horses, a cow, and household goods totaling 87 pounds, 15 shillings.

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Colonial man at the birdcage bar, 2014
Colonial man at the birdcage bar, 2014
With the floor plan of two rooms up and two rooms down, it was believed that it was always meant to be both a family home and a tavern. No other house in the area was constructed like this. In the cellar there are five niches in the foundation walls which could be used to keep food or drink cool. The original oak front door leads into the hall of the tavern where weary travelers would enjoy food and drink. The large nine foot walk-in cooking fireplace which stands on the east side of the house on the tavern side lacked the beehive oven found in early colonial examples but was perfect for the cold traveler needing warmth and rest.

John Milner, architect found a pattern of nail holes where he suspected the bird cage bar once stood. He built a replica with exact dimensions in its place. A stairway leads guests to the second floor where they would have stayed for the night. Another set of stairs goes to the attic which has finished plastered walls. The attic was most likely used for overflow travelers.

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - John Milner, Architect, at his studio, 2014
John Milner, Architect, at his studio, 2014
The west side of the house was used by the Barns family. A wood surround and elaborate moulding adorns the fireplace in the parlor. The stairways are separate from each other. There is no passageway between the two rooms upstairs. The family fireplace upstairs has paneled cupboard doors with fancy grill-work.

The exterior uses Flemish bond brickwork with a diamond patterned gable accentuated with black headers. There are pent roofs at the gable ends, and at the level between the first and second floors, another pent roof which surrounds the house.

Colonial Sense asked John Milner if the diamond-shaped windows were original to the house. He said that all of them had to be replaced during renovation in the 1970's. Four of the casement windows remain; therefore, there was no doubt but to put leaded lights in their place. One of the colonial reenactors has said that there was so much vibration in the house from the Route 1 traffic that an underground concrete barrier had to be constructed.

Two Colonial Gems, John Chads House and the Barns-Brinton House - Colonial lady serving light refreshments inside the Barns-Brinton House, 2014
Colonial lady serving light refreshments inside the Barns-Brinton House, 2014
In 1938 Route 1 was moved to the north side of the house. The Barns-Brinton House was purchased by the Historical Society in 1969 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

John Milner is an active architect in the area of Chadds Ford. Not only did he restore the Barns Brinton House, but he also restored the John Chads House and designed the Barns Visitor Center which is open during the tour each year. John Milner is an internationally known architect of 18th Century structures. John's studio was open for this year's tour.

Chadd's Ford Historical Society does a wonderful job each year of finding the perfect homes suitable to the the colonial connoisseur. The colonial reenactors did a wonderful job in interpreting the life of a colonial person. In the Barns-Brinton house this year each room served light refreshments of the time and a recipe was provided for each visitor. Some of the other houses on the 2014 tour was Hillendale built between 1780 and 1790, Downstream Farm built by the Hayes family in 1837, the William Brinton House built in 1704, an 1840 Farm House, and an 1830 Tenant House. Be sure to make this Candlelight Christmas House Tour for next year.

Source: Research & text by Bryan Wright

Related Links:

Chadds Ford Historical Society

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