The History of Birch Run Farm
As the owner of an 19th century home, I have a natural interest in the history of our township. In 2014, I put together the following historical article about Birch Run Farm to support the West Vincent Historic Resource Committee's Walking Tour of Birchrunville.
Located in Birchrunville, Pa., Birch Run Farm is the former home of James Wilson Griffith. Mr. Griffith was born in 1818 in West Pikeland Township. At age 17, after attending the local schools, he spent seven years as an apprentice in the shoemaking trade. In 1842, he began work as a journeyman shoemaker in the local area; during this period he also was married and started a family. A well known businessman, Mr. Griffith was also known as Rev. J.W. Griffith, a Baptist minister who was a quite popular in local parishes.
In 1847 Mr. Griffith acquired a tract of land in Birchrunville (then known as Mechanicsville) along the Birch Run and constructed a stone, four room farmhouse.
The house was constructed in the Greek Revival style which, although popular in the country at the time, was somewhat unusual in rural parts of Chester County.
Rev. J.W. Griffith Farm in 1880s Map of Birchrunville
The original portion of the house was constructed of stone with two rooms on each floor. On the west side, a covered porch was built, and on the other side a “lean-to” shed was constructed.
The front porch was built with three columns supporting a pediment.
At some point after 1918, a fourth column was added and the columns were rearranged so that a column would not obscure the front door.
The original home was heated by coal stoves in each room (typical in the 1840s) and no external chimneys were visible since the flues were built inside the east wall of house.
The current external chimney was added in the 1920s and reconstructed in the 1990s.
Originally, the kitchen was located in the basement since there was easy access to a water well and a cauldron over a firebox.
The cupola/bell tower on the roof was not part of the original home – we know from newspaper accounts that Mr. Griffith added it in 1879, about 30 years after the home was built.
It’s not clear if its purpose was functional or decorative. However, Mr. Griffith became a minister in 1853, so perhaps the bell served a purpose related to his ministry.
Cupola in 1918
Cupola in 2018
Mr. Griffith died in 1896, and the farm passed through several owners until the Johnson family acquired it in 1916. Ten years later, a stone addition was constructed on the east side in the Craftsman architectural style.
This addition included indoor plumbing, but since electricity was not yet available in Birchrunville, water pressure had to be supplied by a cistern located on the hill in front of the house.
Throughout the 20th century, a number of structures were added and replaced on the west side of the home. In the 1930's, a two story "sleeping porch was constructed. This was replaced by a kitchen addition in 1962.
In 2005, a Greek Revival porch was added to complement the original columned porch on the front of the house.
The outbuildings on the property are typical of a farmhouse of the era and still exist today. They are clustered near the house and supported subsistence farming and the occupations of the residents.
The original post-and-beam barn is built upon a stone foundation. The bottom level contains stalls for horses and an ox; the upper level is for hay storage.
A shed addition in the rear was added to increase storage capacity. Adjacent to the barn is a stone carriage shed.
Also constructed of stone, the spring house was mainly used to keep bottles cool in the warmer months (since water for the house was served by a basement well).
In the upper story of the Springhouse is a small room which was most likely used as a small living or working space.
The outhouse is also constructed of stone for durability.
Finally, the large shed behind the house is known as the Cobbler's Shed. It is where Mr. Griffith carried out his trade. We know from his business ledger books (on file at the Chester County Historical Society) that his shoe repair business was quite active.
The post-and-beam shed was originally a single room structure with white-washed board and batten siding.
In the 1920s, it was converted into a caretakers apartment and wrapped with the German Lap siding that you see today.