Uncovering the surprising history of our Washington Ave. Victorian

Washington ave house history

We moved into Phoenixville in 2006 and knew nothing about the Washington Ave. house we moved into other than it was built around 1900 and it wasn’t in great shape. Like many of the beautiful Victorian homes in our town, it had great bones and lots of windows! To find out more about the house we ended up going to the historical society in Phoenixville and did some research. We were shocked to find out that the house dated back to 1880 and was originally a framed house and not the brick house we moved into. So why was it torn down to the basement level 20 years after being built and resurrected? Who does that?!

Here’s the story:
In 1884 the house was purchased by Hellen G. MacFeat who was married to James MacFeat, a Scottish shoemaker. The MacFeats had 6 children including 2 twins named Elizabeth and Jean who both lived in the house until they were elderly.

Here’s where it gets weird…
My identical twin sister and I purchased the house together with the intention of restoring it.
So in a way we always thought it made perfect sense that we were meant to find this house since it had a twin-energy 😉  😉

Jean (one of the twins) married a successful tinsmith and merchant of Spring City, named Charles Davis and in 1885 her parents sold them the house. Charles moved his tin and stove shop business to the corner of Bridge & Bank streets in Phoenixville. It was named: Kennedy & Davis.

kennedy and davis tinware phoenixville

 

And then things took a turn for the worse…
Jean and Charles never had a chance to start a family. Unfortunately, Charles fell off the wagon, No, not what you think – he fell off his horse-drawn cart – a cart accident in P-ville! He never recovered from his injuries and ended up selling his share of the stove shop to his partner, Mr. Kennedy before he died. In the end, his wife Jean inherited his fortune.

The Victorian era!
It looks like Jean preferred the new stylish Queen Anne Revival architecture that was so popular at the time. She was inspired by the beautiful Victorian house at the corner of Washington Avenue and Gay Street and she decided to completely demolish the framed structure of her house (except for the basement) and rebuild it in the Victorian style. The new brick house was completed in 1890.phoenixville fireplace

It’s clear that Jean had an influence in designing the house. It has a feminine feel with its two beautiful Trent-tiled fireplaces and Eastlake hardware throughout the house. She also had the very fashionable Queen Anne style windows installed in every window, with 18 small yellow, blue, and white pressed panes of glass surrounding 1 large one.

phoenixville victorian windows

We found out that there was a sculpture of a metal iron worker holding a lantern that actually lit up the bottom newel post – but unfortunately, someone removed it at some point.

By the time the house was completed, Jean’s twin sister Elizabeth, who had been married to Thomas Taylor and had a son named James (James Taylor!), had become a widow. The twins ended up moving in together and lived in this house until they were elderly, then passed it on to their niece.

Jean was a very interesting woman of her time! 

  • After her husband’s death, she became Superintendent of the County Evangelical Work of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union for 25 years.
  • She was also Phoenixville’s Police Matron for several years and frequented the downtown “lock-up” on a regular basis!
  • She was a deaconess of the Phoenixville First Presbyterian Church for 30 years and a high priestess of a masonic temple.

 

jean davis

The house gets new tenants
The twins had plenty of space so they invited their sister, Ella (MacFeat) Vanderslice, and her husband L.B. Vanderslice along with their young daughter Jean to live in the house. It seems that young Jean Vanderslice was named after her Aunt Jean (MacFeat) Davis.

L.B. Vanderslice Band Leader
L.B. was Phoenixville’s band leader for many years and also worked at a bank on Bridge Street. His young daughter Jean was also musically talented and had many vocal recitals in the house.

 

lewis d vanderslice

 

L.B. Vanderslice died at home in 1920.

The twins, Jean and Elizabeth eventually moved to a smaller home right down the street on Washington Ave. and sold the house to L.B. Vanderslice’s daughter, Jean for a dollar.

The next Jean…
Jean Vanderslice was well-educated. She ended up going to school in Washington D.C. and working for the IRS in Hartford CT. She eventually moved to Florida and never married. She sold the house for $1 to Mary Nagy. We never could figure out how she was connected.

There were a few other owners of the house through the years, all with their own stories. Learning about the inhabitants of the house was so much fun. Uncovering their lives and how they were part of the town we all love was fascinating. We have since uncovered signatures under the wallpaper from some of these people, even 1890 cigarette cards thrown into the walls as the builders constructed the walls.

Hopefully, more people will be inspired to find out about their own homes and the people who made this town unique.

phoenixville historical society

Making a Donation to the Historical Society

Please consider making a donation to the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area that may be tax-free. We are a PA non-profit corporation with an IRS status of 501(c)(3). We appreciate your support!

phoenix

Do you have a great story about Phoenixville’s history, the history of your old house, or a unique treasure from the past? Submit it here and we may feature you on our site.

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