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Why is there a Newtown in Delaware County and a Newtown in Bucks County? Blame it on Pennsylvania’s first developer, William Penn

In 1681, Penn was granted a large, wooded tract in the New World, Penn's Sylvania.  He and his surveyor, Thomas Holme, worked out the basics of the initial development.  The capital city, Philadelphia, was laid out in a grid of streets that still identifies Philadelphia’s center city today.

Penn and Holme then turned to the outlying areas.  The results are shown in that first subdivision plan, the "Mapp of Ye Improved Part of Pennsylvania in America, Divided into Countyes, Townships and Lotts" published in 1687. 

In Bucks and Chester County, Penn and Holme planned two “New Towns”.  The 1687 map shows them experimenting with different ideas for how a town would develop.

The town in Chester County was placed in a township bisected by a north-south “straight road”, and an east-west road.  A “townstead” was planned at their intersection.  If you bought a larger parcel outside of the townstead, you also were entitled to a smaller lot in the town.  Everyone would have a stake in the town, and it would be easily accessible to the planned roads. 

In Bucks County, the development was planned like a wagon wheel: the town in the middle, for a market, a meeting house perhaps an inn.  The private lots would each border the town, running like spokes from the central hub of the town.  Each lot would have direct access to town.

Like developers today, Penn and Holme assigned a place holder to these new towns on the map, simply "New Town".  Presumably once the marketing effort started in earnest, they would be given snazzy new names with a little more flare: Aronimink Mews or Newtown Woods!

Yet today, three centuries later, those first new towns still bear the name given on the 1687 map.  Newtown in Bucks County is a beautiful borough of about 2500 people surrounded by a township of the same name.

Newtown in Chester County subsequently ended up in Delaware County when the former was split in two in 1789.  The town planned along the crossroads of Newtown Straight Road and Goshen Road actually grew at that location, with an inn, the Square Tavern, located at the crossroads. However, when the West Chester Turnpike, was built to the new county seat of Chester County, the center of Newtown moved up to that new road. Old Newtown Square was bypassed.

The next time a local visitor wonders why there are two towns with the curiously nondescript name "Newtown" in suburban Philadelphia, you can tell them to blame the developer, William Penn.  He gets an A in planning, but someone from Marketing apparently never got the memo.

Riding Public Transportation – in 1822!

By Doug Humes

 The Cross Keys Tavern at 4th and Market in Philadelphia

How long does it take to get from 4th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia to the Greentree Building at Gay and High Streets in West Chester? If you follow the directions given by Google, you will head south on I-95 and cover a distance of 33.4 miles to get you there in about 42 minutes. But what if it is 1822, and you are starting off from the Cross Keys Tavern at 4th and Chestnut, and heading for the Green Tree Tavern in West Chester? The good news is that by simply following Market Street and then the West Chester Road, the distance is about 26 miles. However, the trip in 1822 would take you a bit longer. As reported in the book “Historic Newtown Township”:

“In 1822, Messrs. Taylor and Peters, proprietors, announced that the stage would depart from the Cross Keys every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, at 7 o’clock promptly, change at Fox’s and arrive at 1 o’clock same day at Benjamin and Abner Miller’s in West Chester. On alternate days the coach returned to the city. ‘Fare through $1.25. All baggage at the risk of the owners. Newspapers and packages carefully forwarded as usual.”