The Borough of West Chester (population 18,000), county seat of Chester County, was chartered in 1799. Settled by Quakers at the intersection of roads from Philadelphia, Reading, Lancaster, and Wilmington, West Chester became a market town in one of Pennsylvania’s most fertile farming regions.
The first half of the 19th century saw an architectural and cultural renaissance, led in part by the construction of significant private and public buildings designed by two preeminent Philadelphia architects: William Strickland and Thomas U. Walter. Their contributions led to West Chester being called “The Athens of Pennsylvania.”
West Chester grew tremendously during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Continued growth in the late 20th century led to the loss of some significant historic buildings, but establishment of the West Chester Historic District in the 1980s led to a new emphasis on historic preservation and reuse of the community’s historic properties.
In 2005, the historic district was expanded to cover nearly 80 percent of the borough. The success of West Chester’s preservation efforts and its success as a heritage tourism destination led to its designation as one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations in 2006.
Each year, volunteers guide visitors in Chester County’s Town Tours and Village Walks program, showcasing the historical, architectural, and cultural resources of West Chester. In 2006, a featured area of the borough was the East End, West Chester’s largest African American neighborhood. The previous year, the East End was selected as one of the first communities to participate in Pennsylvania’s Elm Street Project, which focuses on revitalizing older neighborhoods near commercial downtowns.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2006.