9 Suburban Towns Pushing the Boundaries of the Philadelphia Region
There was a time when you could clearly tell that you’d left Philadelphia’s orbit. But as the suburbs continue to grow and push outward, those things that defined the edges of that orbit — the farms, the small roads, trees — have gone by the wayside.
Now we’re left to grapple with the bigger question — what does it mean to be from here? And what does “here” even mean? A look at the increasingly popular communities stretching the bounds of Greater Philadelphia.
The Philly Suburbs Are Bigger Than Ever — Literally
To get from Philadelphia to Allentown, you have two highways to choose from: the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension or Route 309.
Anne Mosher is familiar with both. She’s an associate professor of geography and the environment at Syracuse University, and even though she lives in New York, she has close ties to this area: Her late husband grew up in Philly’s northern suburbs, in Hatfield and Lansdale. She has devoted her career to urban historical geography — how cities and their environs have evolved and competed for influence and resources over time. So she’s keenly interested in how the relationship between the Delaware and Lehigh valleys has changed over the years.
She and her husband got to see the change firsthand on a 2019 trip to Schuylkill County from Philadelphia. They’d ordinarily take the Northeast Extension, but because it was closed, her husband had to drive up 309 instead. And he was astonished at what he saw along the highway.
“He said, ‘God, I can remember when this was just all cow fields, and now it’s little McMansions,’” Mosher recalls. Keep reading …
Suburbs on the Border
As the suburbs grow, these communities have gone from far-flung to next-door — and are worth checking out.
Berks County | Bucks County | Chester County | Lancaster County | Lehigh County | Montgomery County
- Settled: 1720
- Typical house value: $296,485, up 9 percent from a year ago
Named for the man who in 1828 built the inn that still stands at its central intersection, Boyertown was originally known as Colebrookdale, a name that survives on the tourist railroad (pictured above) that runs south to Pottstown from here.
Places to go
Planes, trains and automobiles — Boyertown has them all. In addition to the railroad, the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles has everything from Amish buggies to vintage cars, a restored diner, and a 1920s Sunoco gas station, while the General Carl Spaatz National USAAF Museum honors the legacy of the Boyertown native who became the first chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. Eateries include vegan takeout Firefly Cafe and Outpost, bourbon and meatball paradise Grind, and iconic neighborhood bar Iezzi’s on 3rd.
- By car: US 422 to the PA 100 interchange, then north on PA 100.
- On public transit: SEPTA bus route 93 from Norristown Transportation Center to Pottstown, then Pottstown Area Rapid Transit (PART) Orange Line to the Boyertown Shopping Center.
- Settled: 1832
- Typical house value: $435,285, up 7.2 percent from last year
The northernmost place in Bucks County and its New Jersey sibling across the Delaware are both named for Benjamin Riegel, a German who established several mills in the two towns in the 1830s. The Bucks community is closer to Easton than to Philadelphia and — as its 18077 ZIP code indicates — has long been more closely tied to the Lehigh Valley than to the Delaware Valley.
Places to go
Riegel also built the Riegelsville Inn, which has been serving fine American fare since opening in 1838. It has live music with no cover three nights a week, including a Monday open-mic night, and sits right next to the historic Roebling suspension bridge that spans the Delaware and connects the two Riegelsvilles.
- By car: Get to Doylestown via the highway of your choice, then head up PA 611; Riegelsville is 22 miles to the north.
- On public transit: Forget it.
- Settled: 1734
- Population: 9,359
- Typical house value: $374,416, up 9.9 percent from a year ago
Members of the Society of Friends settled around “The Great Swamp” in the early 18th century, and the settlement — named for its founders in 1801 and incorporated as a borough in 1855 — grew thanks to its location at the junction of roads leading to Allentown, Bethlehem, Newtown, Philadelphia and Pottstown. The roads have gotten wider, but the community remains a busy crossroads today.
Places to go
Route 309 runs up Quakertown’s west side and is chock-full of strip malls and roadside restaurants. Locals, however, hang out at several lively restaurants and bars in the town center, including the Proper Brewing Company, Two Rivers Taproom in the Trolley Barn Public Market, and McCoole’s at the Historic Red Lion Inn.
- By car: PA 309 from the city (see above); a right turn at PA 313 puts you on Broad Street, headed toward the center of town.
- On public transit: The North Penn Railroad made Quakertown take off, and an interurban from 69th Street Terminal to Allentown once passed right through it. But you can’t get there on transit now.
- Settled: 1729
- Population:4,125 (Sadsbury Township)
- Typical house value:$331,829, up 10.3 percent from a year ago
A crossroads on the Lancaster Turnpike — America’s first smooth-paved highway — Sadsburyville remains a bucolic crossroads even as development pops up all around it. Well, mostly: Arcadia Land Company has developed a neotraditional community called Sadsbury Park a short distance from its southwest corner.
Places to go
There’s really only one: Harry’s Hotdogs. Housed in an early 1800s tavern, this family-run eatery offers much more than fancy hot dogs: It has a full restaurant and bar with an extensive menu of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and upscale entrées from all over. And you can walk to it from Sadsbury Park.
- By car: US 30 west to the Chester County Airport exit. Turn left onto Airport Road, then right onto Lincoln Highway at its end; continue west on Lincoln Highway to Old Wilmington Road.
- By public transit: SEPTA bus route 135 from West Chester, Exton, Downingtown or Thorndale to Coatesville, then Chescobus Coatesville LINK to the Sadsburyville U.S. Post Office stop.
- Settled: 1754
- Population: 5,736
- Typical house value: $398,100, up 10.9 percent from last year
Chester County’s southwesternmost borough is close to two borders — the Lancaster County line and the Maryland state line. A historic crossroads since the 18th century, it sat on the main road route to Baltimore until I-95 opened in 1963. Even though it’s been bypassed, the community retains its bustling crossroads character.
Places to go
Just northeast of Oxford is the campus of Lincoln University, the second-oldest HBCU in the country and part of the top tier of Pennsylvania’s state higher-education hierarchy. The borough itself has plenty to hold your attention as well. Two historic inns sit at its central intersection: the Oxford Inn, in business since 1868, and the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern, which has been hosting travelers and serving up hearty fare since 1827.
- By car: US 1 from Philly bypasses Oxford to its north; take the exit for PA 10 and follow it south to the borough.
- On public transit: Since the Pennsylvania Railroad stopped passenger service in 1935, there’s been no mass transit to Oxford. The old train station is now the borough hall.
- Settled: Late 1700s; incorporated as a borough in 1911
- Population: 1,330
- Typical house value:$422,283, up 9.9 percent from last year
While Elverson is named for a former owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it sits on the Chester-Berks county line; Reading, to which it’s more closely tied, is only 18 miles away, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Morgantown interchange is even closer. The one-square-mile borough grew prosperous on commerce in northwestern Chester County.
Places to go
In Berks County, not far from Elverson, is the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, an “iron plantation” dating to 1771. In between the two are state game lands and French Creek State Park. Route 345, which meets Route 23 in Warwick, to Elverson’s east, takes you to all three.
- By car: Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) to the Morgantown interchange; follow the signs for PA 10, then turn left onto PA 23 east at the end of the ramp. Elverson is about three miles east of Morgantown. Or, for a more scenic drive, simply take PA 23 all the way from Philadelphia.
- On public transit: No way.
- Settled: 1833
- Population: 1,112
- Typical house value (17509): $352,134, up 8.3 percent from last year
Lancaster County’s smallest borough was originally known as Nobleville, after one of its first settlers, before it was renamed for his wife. In 1851, it was the site of a spark that lit the fuse for the Civil War: The “Battle of Christiana” broke out when 38 local residents defended a fugitive slave with firearms, killing his enslaver. Abolitionist attorney (and later U.S. Representative) Thaddeus Stevens successfully defended those responsible against treason charges in the first challenge to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.
Places to go
Christiana honors its history at the Christiana Underground Railroad Center at Historic Zercher’s Hotel. If you want to dine out, you’ll have to drive a ways; the nearest sit-down restaurants are in Gap to the north and Parkesburg, in Chester County, to the east.
- By car: US 30 to Gap, then PA 41 south to Christiana.
- On public transit: You can’t get there from here.
- Settled: circa 1737
- Population: 2,447
- Typical house value: $427,106, up 8.5 percent from a year ago
Six miles north of Quakertown, Route 309 enters Lehigh County, and Coopersburg is the first community it passes through. Its history stretches back as far as those of its Bucks neighbors, but it’s smaller and homier than Quakertown. It’s also the headquarters for Lutron, the company that makes those sophisticated lighting systems for your home.
Places to go
The actual town center lies to Route 309’s west and, as befits a homey community, consists mostly of houses and similarly small buildings. The community gathering place is Good Jake’s, the restaurant housed in the Coopersburg Fire Company No. 1 clubhouse.
- By car: From the city, continue on PA 309 past Quakertown for another six miles. Turn left onto State Street to reach the center of town.
- On public transit: The Lehigh and Northampton Transit Authority runs an on-demand shuttle service in Coopersburg that connects with LANTA bus routes at the South Mall and Mountainville Plaza in Allentown.
- Settled: 1752–’53
- Typical house value: $304,878, up 10.6 percent from a year ago
This former steel town — the steel for the Golden Gate Bridge was made here — has been pulling itself up by its bootstraps in the years since its industry left. The borough celebrates its heritage in numerous ways, including with repurposed factories and a growing number of restored Victorian homes that once housed the mill barons.
Places to go
Pottstown’s main street, High Street, has been attracting culture mavens and diners thanks to venues like the Steel River Playhouse and restaurants like the Blue Elephant, JJ Ratigan Brewing Company, and Stave & Stable, an upscale New American restaurant run by Ratigan’s pitmaster, Hiram Quintana. Kids and history buffs will love the Carousel at Pottstown, the second-oldest Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel still operating in the country.
- By car: Three exits from US 422 take you to Pottstown, with PA 100 the westernmost.
- On public transit: SEPTA bus route 93 from Norristown Transportation Center; PART operates five routes in the borough and its environs.
Typical house values determined using the Zillow Home Value Index.
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Published as “On the Border” in the March 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.