History of the Ashbridge House

 

The original part of Ashbridge House, headquarters of the Downingtown Area Historical Society, was built about 301 years ago. The exact year when construction was begun is unknown, but the first mention of the house was in 1709, when John Baldwin acquired the property.
Located on Lancaster Ave. in East Caln, the house, with a quartzite stone exterior, was in terrible shape when the Society acquired it in 1999. Sections of the roof had collapsed; pigeons were flying around inside, and several 18th Century mantles had been stolen. East Caln Township’s supervisors ruled that the house should not be razed, as initially planned by the developer of the Ashbridge Square shopping center.
Over the past 11 years, the Society has invested major resources, as it refurbished the house, whose interior has nine fireplaces and reflects every American remodeling trend over the past three centuries. As a result, it was impossible to focus the restoration to a particular period. So our refurbishing efforts include an attempt to preserve as many of the house’s architectural features as possible.
The renovation work was made possible by significant donations and in-kind contributions by members and friends, plus several large grants from State and County agencies and private foundations. However, our preservation efforts must continue, and will require continued financial support.
Much of the information about the house can be found in the Historic Structure Report, done in 1999 by a class of students participating in the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. The Document and Site Analysis class was taught by John D. Milner, AIA, Adjunct Professor of Architecture.
Data gleaned from research on the house:
Owned by members of the Baldwin and Sharpless families throughout the 18th Century and the early 19th Century, the structure became known as Ashbridge House after Elizabeth Sharpless married Abram S. Ashbridge in 1831. But members of the Ashbridge family never lived in the house; they lived in Ondawa, a mansion across the road. Many people who worked at Ondawa were tenants at Ashbridge House.
The original part of the house included a basement, first and second stories and an attic. The interior dimensions were 21 feet by 23 feet.
Between 1750 and 1775, a large addition, which included a stair hall, was added to the east side. The addition more than doubled the size of house’s footprint.
Tax records from 1794 indicate the 165-acre property also included a stone barn, a hay house and a wagon shed. 
In the 19th Century, the west side of the house was enlarged significantly and it became a two-family residence. Also during that period, an attached, one-story summer kitchen and a nearby outbuilding were added. 
The property was sold in 1953 to Ray G. Sheeler, a Downingtown car dealer. Rome Enterprises (the Tabas family) which bought the property from the Sheeler estate in 1986, sold it to developers in 1999. 
Ashbridge House has evolved into much more than a house-museum. It also is a repository of artifacts and documents, which reflect the Downingtown area’s history over the past 300 years. The Historical Society hopes that people will continue to donate artifacts, documents and photos to our collection.