02 January 2016

Saturday Spotlight- Circa 1910 American Foursquare in Pottstown

This week's Saturday Spotlight house is a brick American Foursquare in the borough of Pottstown, PA.

The American Foursquare style is very common in more densely populated areas and is pretty easy to spot and identify. This particular house measures approximately 1,800 square feet. This type of house is also referred to as the "Prairie Box" or "Classic Box" because it, well, looks like a box. It was one of the dominant styles of house architecture during its peak in popularity from 1900 to 1920. As seen in this example, they are nearly always two stories, and two-ranked, with a hipped or pyramidal roof. There is usually a center dormer, as seen here-- this house has a dormer on all four sides of the roof. It is a symmetrical form, yet the symmetry is broken with an offset entrance.

The first floor is often raised up a bit from ground level in the Foursquare, creating opportunity for basement windows as well as a stepped entrance. In this example, the dimensional stone of the building's foundation is presented as its finished exterior material up to that raised first floor elevation, with the brick masonry above constituting the primary aesthetic. It is pretty rare to see an American Foursquare without a front porch, and here we see a porch roof supported by simple, classically inspired columns. The rear side of the house continues the basic box form and center dormer at the roof. There is a one-story ell, which, if I had to guess, was built later, since it appears to be sort of "squeezed-in" to the left of the first floor rear door. A second porch covers this rear entrance and creates a balcony off of the second floor. You can see from this photo that two of the original windows have been bricked-in.


While County information lists an estimated construction date of 1900, there are no entries in 1900 or 1910 census enumeration schedules for this address, while the immediate neighbors are listed. An 1897 map does corroborate that there was no house here at that time. I think that it is likely that the house was built between 1910 and 1919. The earliest known owners were John J. O'Connor, an English-born detective, and his PA-born wife Sarah O'Connor. They occupied the home, along with their adopted daughter Esther, as early as March of 1919, when John passed away after contracting a form of cancer. Sarah and Esther continued on at the brick house, and as Sarah did not have an occupation of her own at this time, the presence of two boarders at the house in 1920 may have been out of financial necessity. The boarders were 38-year-old Lawrence Walch, a civil engineer at a blast furnace, and 34-year-old James Maney, a mechanic at a tire factory. It is unclear at this time what happened to Sarah and Esther O'Connor after 1920. Sarah perhaps re-married and moved on with a new surname, while Esther may have found her own husband, making both less-easily found in later census records.

By 1930, Robert W. Evans had bought and moved into the Foursquare home along with his wife, Elizabeth. At that time they had a 1-year-old son, Robert Jr. Robert W. Evans Sr. was born in nearby Limerick and had a farming background, but after marrying Elizabeth, they moved to Pottstown, where Robert established a real estate brokerage and insurance agency in 1910. Robert W. Evans Real Estate and Insurance became a very successful family business, as Robert Jr. eventually joined as an adult in 1950 and later took over the business. The Evans family lived at this particular house at least from 1930-1940, but had clearly moved onto a different residence in the eastern part of Pottstown by the time of Robert Sr's death in 1955.

Vintage sign advertising one of Robert Evans' rentals; photo found on an Ebay listing

1970s to Present

In 1975, the home came under the stewardship of the Fagley family. Firstly, from 1975 to 1977 the house was owned by Pearle V. Fagley, who at the time was in her 70's. Although Ms. Fagley did not pass on until 1984, in 1977 ownership of the house transferred to her grandson, who owned the house until 2007. Unfortunately, in early 2015, the house appears to have fallen into a bit of disrepair and was foreclosed on. Fannie Mae became the new owner and based on the amount of consideration in the public record, may have offered the previous owner some considerations as part of its Cash for Keys program, or as a Deed-In-Lieu of Foreclosure, to speed up proceedings. It was listed for sale through Fannie Mae's HomePath program, and less than two months later, a business owner from a neighboring town purchased the house, perhaps with the intent of either flipping it for re-sale or renting it out to tenants. Based on some of the interior photos from the HomePath listing, most of the interior charm and character which likely existed throughout its earlier decades is either covered over or gone completely, likely in the 1970's and/or 1980's. However, I see some stained glass as well as the remainder of some staircase detail at the interior front entry! Here's to hoping this house has a bright (and hopefully restored) future.

Photo courtesy of HomePath. Some historical details DO remain! Great windows!

Photo courtesy of HomePath. Paneling, linoleum, formica, dropped ceilings = charm?

Photo courtesy of HomePath. Bay at the side of the first floor. The wall on the right covers over a former window,

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