Doylestown's origins date to 1745 when William Doyle obtained a license to build a tavern on what is now the northwest corner of Main and State Street. Known for years as "William Doyle's Tavern", its strategic location at the intersection of the road linking Swede's Ford (Norristown) and Coryell's Ferry (New Hope) (now U.S. Route 202) and the road linking Philadelphia and Easton (now PA Route 611) - allowed the hamlet to blossom into a village. The first church was erected in 1815, followed by the establishment of a succession of congregations throughout the 19th century.
In 1838 the Borough of Doylestown was incorporated.
An electric telegraph station was built in 1846 and in 1856 a branch of the North Pennsylvania Railroad was completed to Doylestown. The first gas lights were introduced in 1854. Because of the town's relatively high elevation and a lack of strong water power, substantial industrial development never occurred and Doylestown evolved to have a professional and residential character.
During the mid-nineteenth century several large tracts located east of the courthouse area were subdivided into neighborhoods. The next significant wave of development occurred after the Civil War when the Magill property to the southwest of the town's core was subdivided for residential lots.
In 1869 Doylestown established a water works. The first telephone line arrived in 1878, the same year that a new courthouse was erected. 1897 saw the first of several trolley lines connecting Doylestown with Willow Grove, Newtown and Easton beginning operation. A private sewer system and treatment plant was authorized in 1903. The Borough took over and expanded sewer service to about three-quarters of the town in 1921.
In the early 20th century, Doylestown became best known to the outside world through the "Tools of the Nation-Maker" museum of the Bucks County Historical Society. Henry Chapman Mercer constructed the reinforced poured concrete building in 1916 to house his collection of mechanical tools and utensils. Upon his death in 1930, Mercer also left his similarly constructed home Fonthill and adjacent "Moravian Pottery and Tile Works", to be operated as a museum. The home was left on the condition that his housekeeper be allowed to live there for the rest of her life. She lived there and gave tours until the mid nineteen-seventies.
As with many small towns across the country, the growth of the post war decades also brought a new competitor to the downtown business district—the shopping mall. By the 1960s, the toll could be seen in Doylestown by the numerous vacant buildings and dilapidated storefronts in the center of town. The Bucks County Redevelopment Authority responded with a federal urban renewal scheme that called for the demolition of 27 historic buildings. The local business community objected to such wholesale clearance and responded with its own plan called Operation '64—the Doylestown Plan for Self-Help Downtown Renewal. This private initiative was successful in saving Doylestown's old buildings and historic character, while improving business at the same time. One historic landmark that could not be saved was the 80-year-old courthouse and clock tower, which was replaced by the present county complex in the early 1960s.
By the end of the 1980s, the downtown business district was again showing the toll of massive new competition from the latest wave of suburban shopping centers, as well as the recession that hit hardest in the northeastern states. In response, the Borough Council established a volunteer group of civic-minded representatives from business organizations, government, and the residential community to begin to formulate plans for the downtown area in 1992. This effort resulted in streetscape improvements composed of cast iron street lamps and brick pavers, facade improvements and other beautification efforts, and the establishment of a Main Street Manager Program.
This development goes hand in hand with the broader development of the region; as the Philadelphia metropolitan area expanded from southern into central Bucks County, the fields and farms of the communities around Doylestown quickly began to sprout housing developments. This development brought thousands of people to the area, but the neighborhoods created often lacked longstanding institutions or discernible centers. Doylestown, more centrally located than Delaware River border town, New Hope, PA, which had traditionally served this function, was able to position itself as the regional center of culture and nightlife.
The Doylestown Historic District, Pugh Dungan House, Fonthill, Fonthill, Mercer Museum and Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, The Fountain House, Oscar Hammerstein II Farm, James-Lorah House, Mercer Museum, Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, and Shaw Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.