The Bucktoe Creek Preserve is the result of 30 years of conservation by a local landowner and conservationist, who began creating it by combining smaller but environmentally significant parcels of land in the late 1980s. The property now contains 297 acres of diverse natural habitat, as well as many historic sites and structures representative of our area’s unique history. Historic preservation has always gone hand in hand with ecological conservation and restoration on the site, in order to maintain the integrity of the land and its heritage.
The Preserve is located within the West Branch Red Clay Creek Historic District, and contains twenty contributing historic resources. This emerging local historic district is noted for its significance in local transportation and agriculture, and played a role in the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. The area contains two sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Joseph Gregg House, built circa 1737, and the Chandler Mill Bridge, built in 1910.
Additional historic resources located on the Preserve include ruins, historic homes, and the remains of a stone quarry, mill, dam, and mill race. These historic sites and structures tell the stories of two prominent families in the area, the Greggs and Chandlers, who operated a grist mill for several generations. The mill and surrounding agricultural operations led to the creation of Bucktoe and Chandler Mill Roads, in 1821 and 1861, respectively, which provided easy access to the mills and markets further downstream, and enabled farmers from the west side of the West Branch easy access to Gregg’s Grist Mill. The local roads we know today were shaped by the roots of the area’s agricultural industry, which continues to play a vital role in Chester County’s economy, infrastructure, and heritage.
In the 1800s, the area was residence for a growing population of African American people who found work in the various local industries in the vicinity, such as mills, brickyards, and clay and stone quarries. In 1824, a group of African-American residents acquired an acre of land along Bucktoe Road, in what is now the Bucktoe Creek Preserve. By the 1860s, they had built the African Union Church, a cemetery, a parsonage for its pastor, and houses for at least two African-American families on the one-acre plot. The ruins of the parsonage and houses still stand on the property today. As does the Bucktoe Cemetery, in which are laid to rest at least eight African American Civil War Soldiers, as well as approximately 120 local residents who lived during the Civil War era.
In the early 1900s, the former African Union Church on the site was destroyed in an act of arson known as White Lightning, which was attributed to the Ku Klux Klan. Salvaged materials from the original church were used to rebuild it on historic East Linden Street in Kennett Square, as the New Garden Memorial U.A.M.E. Church. While the church no longer stands at the site, the Bucktoe Cemetery and surrounding village ruins are still used as a living history classroom for groups of students.
Bucktoe & the Underground Railroad
Kennett Square contained over two dozen Underground Railroad sites, or “stations,” within an eight-mile radius, making it one of the most densely concentrated Underground Railroad areas in the country. Many of these stations still remain, and are celebrated for their historic significance. Local historians agree that the Bucktoe Cemetery and surrounding area were also a key part of the local Underground Railroad network, serving as a haven for the African American community and a transportation hub between Wilmington, DE, and Philadelphia. The goal of the Bucktoe Cemetery Education Program is to share and promote the site and its history as an African American community, ensuring that it is celebrated alongside the many historic homes of abolitionists that are recognized for their significance today.