One Time In Bucks County . . .
Bucks County Bits
Erik Larson’s first newspaper job was at the Bucks County Courier Times. He wrote about “murder, witches, environmental poisons & other equally unpleasant things”. When passed over for a promotion, he quit, leading to a job at the Wall Street Journal & a series of non-fiction books with true stories from history so fantastic that you’ll be convinced they’re made up. His books include “Devil in the White City” (serial murders at the Chicago World’s Fair), “In the Garden of Beasts” (Nazi Germany), “Lethal Passage” (high school shootings), & “Dead Wake” (Lusitania sinking). You could say the Courier created his career.
Mount Gilead African Methodist Church was established on Buckingham Mountain by 15 free & escaped slaves. It was the last stop on the underground railroad before New Jersey.
Escaped 6’10” slave Benjamin “Big Ben” Jones was recaptured on the mountain, beaten & imprisoned, but could not be sold because of his injuries. A group of local Quakers raised $700 & bought his freedom. He remained in Buckingham Township, free at last.
The film “The North Star” is loosely based on him.
Strange Pennsylvania Laws…
No more than 16 women can live in a house at one time, or it is considered a brothel. Men can have 120.
You may not sleep outside on a refrigerator.
It is illegal to catch a fish with your hands, but your mouth is okay.
No singing in the bathtub.
No sweeping dirt under the rug.
No wearing make-up in Morrisville without a permit.
No juggling in front of an airplane.
New Year’s Day was on March 25th until 1751, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted. The day meant attending church & visiting family & friends for punch & New Year’s Cake. Eating pork symbolized moving forward.
Mummers (meaning the personification of satire & mockery), strolled the streets begging, “Here we stand before your door, like we did the year before. Give us whiskey, give us gin, open the door & let us in.”
Bucks County’s only Mummers group, the Uptown String Band, was formed in 1937 in Penndel.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of Peace on Earth, good-will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head
There’s no Peace on Earth, I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of Peace on Earth, good-will to men.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth he sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With Peace on Earth, good-will to men.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1865
Silkworms took over Bucks County in the 1830s. Samuel Whitmarsh advertised fast growing Mulberry Trees to feed silkworms. The worms would make cocoons which were harvested for silk thread. There were Mulberry Plantations, cocooneries & worms all over Bucks, including a two story building near George School in Newtown, and in Bristol, on Washington & Mulberry Streets.
Blight killed many of the trees, & the craze faded away.
Letitia Betts grew up on a farm in Solebury. Her father had forbidden pet cats, but one yellow kitten was dear to her heart. When Mr. Betts discovered it, he ordered the children to kill the cat. Heartbroken, they took it to the woods to be hung from a branch. At the last moment, the “Witch of the Woods” caught them and rescued the cat. Letitia later befriended the scary witch, discovering that she was really a nice old lady living alone in a cabin. The Betts children “adopted” her as their grandma, as they had none of their own.
During WWII, Hitler planned to hit several U.S. targets at the same time, including Bensalem’s Penna. Salt Manufacturing Co. The factory was secretly making Cryolite, used to produce lightweight aluminum for airplane frames. Crews from two U-Boat subs came ashore with explosives, only to be foiled when one spoke in German, triggering a Coast Guard sentry to report them. All of the men were captured.
The factory site is now the Waterside Townhouses.
There is a funnel shaped basin of water that the Lenape called “Holy Cong” & white men called “Conkey Hole”. The peculiar thing about this hole is that when an Indian shot a deer, it disappeared under the water, only to reappear three miles away at Ingham Spring in Solebury. There are vast subterranean channels, & it is so deep, the bottom has not yet been found.
Sugan Road was named for the sugan sacks farmers used to transport grain to the Heath Grist Mill, the 1st in Solebury Township (1707). Sugan is a hand braided rope made of straw. Farmers harvested the grain, then braided the remaining stalks to make bags, wasting nothing,
Bristol’s Civil War Hero, Capt. Henry Clay Beatty, loved the truth & duty to country. He led the Montgomery Guards in the Seven Days Battles & the Battle of White Oak Swamp, where he was shot in the leg. Refusing medical treatment, he continued to lead. Also shot at the Battle of Bull’s Run, & still refusing treatment, he later had his arm amputated. Going home on a steamboat, Beatty said he was feeling better, & then died. He is buried in St. James Cemetary.
A body was found by the Neshaminy Creek in Bensalem.
Ferryman Derrick Jonson was suspected of the murder when a large quantity of blood was found on his bedroom wall, streaming down onto the floorboards, soaking the straw in the bed. Although circumstantial, Jonson was convicted and hanged, becoming the first criminal executed by the State of Pennsylvania.
1856 Intelligencer post:
All persons who trespassed on the premises of the Society of Friends of Plumstead, disfiguring some of the graves, opening others, disinterring several corpses and taking them away without consent…are hereby requested to come forward and render satisfaction.
Put ’em back!
In 1696, Dr. John Bowman went to sea to capture pirate Capt. Kidd. Instead, he joined him. When Kidd was eventually arrested, Bowman built a cabin in Upper Makefield at the foot of a hill, now named for him. He asked to be buried at the top of Bowman’s Hill, “as that would be as near Heaven as he ever expected to get”.
There have been an unusual amount of lightning strikes near where he was buried, as well as on the tower, as if “Heaven was trying to purify the Earth”.
Or is it trying to find the buried treasure?
The Tate House at George School in Newtown was owned by surgeon James Tate during the Revolutionary War times. To practise his art, James dug up a Hessian soldier’s grave & dissected the body in the basement of the house. When finished, he re-buried the body parts in a hole in the basement floor. For years, walking over the spot with a lit candle would cause it to blow out. It remained lit if you walked around the grave.
Charles Beaumont operated a paper mill on his farm in Solebury Township, & also bred Brazilian Ducks. His sons, Andrew & Horatio, created a zoo with local animals (buffalo, raccoons, deer, etc.). This later became the Beaumont Deer Farm & Fish Hatchery. For 25 cents people could see the Shad, Brook Trout, Terrapin Turtles, deer & elk.
From 1890-1982, Robertson Art Tile Company was one of the top ceramic tile makers in the U.S. Their tiles were used in subways in Philly & Boston, & in almost all of the Levittown homes. They were known as the “King of White Wall Tile”. And now they are commemorated by a historic marker at Route 1 & South Pennsylvania Avenue in Morrisville.
Buddy Holly died in a plane crash in 1959, along with Ritchie Valens & “The Big Bopper” (J.P. Richardson). The movie “The Buddy Holly Story” was written in Bucks County by Bob Gittler (Doylestown). The songs were composed by Joseph Renzetti (Erwinna) & the film was produced by Fred Bauer (Carversville).
Happy Birthday Buddy! (September 7th)
Oscar Hammerstein thought a rainbow over Highland Farm in Doylestown was a good sign. He was right. He bought the property & proceeded to create The Sound of Music, The King & I, Carousel, Oklahoma & South Pacific. “Ockie”, as he was known, won 2 Pulitzer Prizes, a Tony, & is still the only person named Oscar to win an Oscar award.
The farm inspired him to write “O What a Beautiful Morning” & “The corn is high as an elephant’s eye”.
Beginning in 1962, Jan & Stan Berenstain & their son, Mike, wrote over 400 stories about the Berenstain Bears, a family of bears who handled everyday situations that many families face. They also wrote many other books, as well as cartoons. Much of the writing was done while living in Solebury Township.
Celebrate National Teddy Bear Day on September 9th!
Gaspare & Anna Bono operated Bono’s Store on Jefferson Avenue in Bristol for about 70 years. People especially liked the snails, artichokes & freshly killed chickens. If money was tight for some, sales were written down on a brown paper bag, or recorded in “the book” until they could pay. Instant credit!
The whole family worked in the store, & their granddaughter grew up to be the Borough Tax Collector.
The Durham Mill & Furnace smelted local iron ore into pig & bar iron & sent it down the Delaware River to be made into pots, stoves & similar items.
During the Revolutionary War, George Taylor leased the furnace from Joseph Galloway, a Tory. Ironically, Taylor produced cannon balls & ammo for the Continental Army, helping to end British rule.
Baseballs for the Perkasie Junior Legion (1940s) had 324 stitches, all hand sewn by the Hubbert family. A ball that went into the brook in left field was still in play. If it rolled into the woods in right field it was a double, & if it hit a tree, it was a home run.
Charles King, physician and school district director, inherited his extensive family home library. Over the years, he added to it, & decided to leave the collection to the Church of the Redeemer, creating the first public library in Bensalem (1882). He also left an endowment which helps keep the King Library going today with over 2000 books.
Charles Stewart, first post master in Doylestown (1802), carried letters he was delivering in the crown of his high top beaver hat.
“Folks are always looking down on Rosenberg, as well as looking up to him”, said Sports Illustrated of Allen Rosenberg, a 5’1″, 100 lb Olympic Rowing Coach who lived in Bucks County. Rosenberg’s teams won 2 gold, 2 silver & 1 bronze medal at the 1964 & 1976 Olympics.
The Summer Olympic Games should have begun this week.
Capt. Jonathan Cone ran steamboats along the Delaware River. A ride from Bristol to Philadelphia on the Columbia was .25 cents & included a full orchestra, a piano player, luxury seating, a serenade from Mr. Summerfield, a blind Bristolian, & often a moonlight cruise.
Other boats included the Burlington, the Thomas A Morgan
& the John Warner.
On July 11, 1804, Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilon in Weehawking, NJ. Burr & Thomas Jefferson were tied in the presidential election & Hamilton said of Burr, he was a “dangerous man who ought not be trusted with the reins of the government”. Burr took offense. After their duel, Burr, being charged with murder, escaped across the Delaware to Bristol, the Satterthwaite Farm in Falls Township, & what is now the Aaron Burr House in New Hope. The charges were later dropped.
The DAG (Doylestown Agricultural Works)made machinery powered by horses (horsepowers) & other farm equipment. Later, they produced decorative wrought iron pieces & the bronze gates that surround the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They also may have produced the first automobile made in Pennsylvania (Winslow Carraige Co.).
A flag designed by Betsy Ross was presented to General George Washington at his Revolutionary War encampment at Moland House (Washington Headquarters Farm) in Warminster in 1777. This is the first known incidence of the American Flag being flown.
To make money from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, Edwin Lacey decided to build a hotel in Warminster Township so people could stay in the country when they visited. To go with The Temperance House Hotel, Lacey planned an entire village. Streets were named for friends and famous people (Lincoln, Twining, Wilson, Gough, Chase). The town was named Ivyland, after the beautiful, glossy ivy plants that were found all over town. He envisioned houses all covered in this ivy. Unfortunately, he didn’t know the difference between English Ivy and Poison Ivy.
Bedminster Township is made of many small villages with interesting names. Elephant, consisting of two houses and one hotel, is named for the Elephant Hotel with a white elephant on its sign.
Owlsburg, not known for having many owls, was named because the people who lived there were very wise.
Two 12 year old boys playing with matches started a fire that destroyed down town Perkasie in 1988. A fire ball jumped across Seventh Street. Millions of gallons of water were used by 50 fire companies drawing water from the Perkiomen Creek & temporary pools.
On June 23, 1979, truckers blocked the Five Points intersection in Levittown to protest high fuel prices. Soon, a crowd of over 2000 set cars on fire, attacked police, destroyed a market and damaged a post office. President Carter asked, “Is this the shape of the future? Is this the kind of country we have become? Is this what it is going to be like from now on?”
Don’t mess with Eva Piper. She was in the Piper Tavern, ironing, when the Doan Gang attacked. She broke one man’s arm with her iron, and she chased another one away with her husband’s sword (Continental Army Colonel George Piper). The tavern is still located in Pipersville (both named after him).
Henry Ford made cars, not carpets. He couldn’t get his looms to work, so he sold them to the Langhorne Carpet Company in Penndel. The manufacturer has since placed carpets in the White House, Ford’s home, embassies, churches, and sold through Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck. Still in the original building, it is considered the finest and longest continuously operating carpet mill in the U. S.
During the Revolutionary War, more soldiers died of disease than battle wounds. Many are buried at the Thompson-Neely House in Washington Crossing. Smallpox, with its 14 day incubation period, killed millions. George Washington ordered his troops to be inoculated by making a small cut in the skin and inserting some Smallpox in the cut. The patient would then develop immunity. Many local governments feared the practice, but it proved to work, and helped win the war.
May Day (May 1st) is believed to be the anniversary of the Peace Treaty between William Penn & Chief Tammany. The Chief, highly expected by all, was full of virtue, hospitality, wisdom, charity, & every “good & noble qualification that a human could possess”.
He is buried in Bucks County, & Tamanend Middle School & Tamanend Park (Lower Southampton) are named for him.
Haven’t been to a tonsorial parlor lately? Egyptians used oyster shells & flint. Fortunately, today we have scissors & razors. In the past, barbers were highly respected & doubled as dentists, surgeons & even priests. Harvey Baum of Sellersville was well liked as a barber & a cigar maker.
A simple haircut would be nice right now.
The red & white on a barber pole is thought to represent blood & bandages.
When the Beartown Inn became the Greentree Inn, a new sign was needed. The “trees” on it looked more like bushes, and residents jokingly began calling the town Bushington. A nearby town had a similar name, so the Post Office required a new one. The Postmaster had a casual conversation about a furlong, and Voila! The town of Furlong was born.
A furlong was the length of field a team of oxen could pull a plough before resting, approximately 660 feet.
in 1784, Landreth Seed Co started Bloomsdale Farm in Edgely. They introduced over 1200 species of trees to the U.S., the first white potato and the first tomato. They provided seed to every president from Washington to FDR. They also created the first agricultural journal in the U.S. and the PA Hoticultural Society.
It’s planting time!
Milk consumption generally went down in summer, so in 1922, Groff’s Dairy in Bristol allowed Francis O’Boyle to make ice cream with the leftovers. Eventually, O’Boyle’s opened their own restaurant and had 32 ice cream trucks on the road. Their first truck had previously been a local ambulance.
Ice cream is a lifesaver.
In 1914, Charles Stromfels & Clarence Winters caught an 8 1/2′ long, 320 lb fish in the Delaware River. In the 20s & 60s, Bull Sharks were seen. More recently, a baby seal was spotted near Falls Township, a 12ft Beluga Whale near Morrisville, a Manatee between Bordentown & Falls, as well as “Waldo the Wrong Way” Right Whale swimming in the Delaware.
So far, no Loch Ness Monster.
St. Francis School got the first ever phone number in Bensalem – 100. Mary Stuhltrager ran the phone service, working from home. Her job included wake up calls to farmers, reporting what was playing at the theatre, “forwarding” calls by tracking down someone at a neighbor’s house, and saving lives. She talked to someone all night long to keep her awake after taking too much medication.
The CWS (Cornwells Exchange) ended in 1956 when the seven digit self-service system began. Call a friend!
Otto Rohm & Otto Haas created Oropon, a chemical to cure animal hides for fur and leather. It was the first product in their Bristol Township plant in 1917. Previously, hides were soaked in fermented manure, dog excrement & pigeon droppings. Oropon is made from pig pancreas – a little less smelly.
They also invented Plexiglas for military aircraft.
In 1943, over 500 Bucks County students were released from school to help with the asparagus harvest. They were paid 40 cents an hour, working mainly on the King Farm in the Morrisville/Tullytown area, which later became the U.S. Steel Plant.
Eat your veggies.
The Delaware Canal operated from 1832-1931. It had 23 locks, ran for 60 miles from Easton to Bristol, was 60′ wide, 5″ deep & had an elevation drop of 165″. Drivers blew a conch shell horn to warn the locktenders they were approaching. The Grundy Clock Tower marked the approach of the final bit of the 2 day ride ending at the staging area, which is now the Bristol Municipal Parking Lot.
Even though his father fought with the Union Navy, Grayson Stratton couldn’t even get a job with Bucks County newspapers because of his skin color. Finally, Wanamaker’s Store hired him as an elevator operator, honored to transport Mr. Wanamaker himself to his top floor office. Grayson was asked to join the store band, playing the sax, and a career was born. He played with the Sid Stratton Orchestra & Sid Stratton & the Four Horseman. The band was featured in the silent film “Scar of Shame”, now playing at the County Theatre in Doylestown.
In Bensalem, Sara & Robert Logan created “Sarobia“, a Sanctuary for Human Beings, Birds & Animals. It was a haven for cats, to please the Goddess Bastet, had an Alice in Wonderland themed sculpture garden, and an artist’s commune. They wore white cotton, neither eating nor wearing anything from animals. Their land was left to the State of Pennsylvania to be preserved for wildlife, especially birds. It is now Neshaminy State Park & Playmasters Theatre.
William & Daisy Meyers arrived in Dogwood in 1957, the first black family in Levittown. This led to weeks of racial attacks so violent the Bristol Township Police, County Sheriff & Pa State Police couldn’t control it. Streets were closed, meetings were held, committees were formed & crosses were burned. The rioting finally died down after an officer was attacked. The Meyers lived with continued harassment until moving out four years later.
February is Black History Month
When the Schuykill Fishing Co moved from Philadelphia to Eddington, Bucks County in 1888, they actually brought their building with them. It was dismantled, each piece numbered, then reassembled next to what was known as the Clock House. After reconstruction, however, there was a piece left over. No one could figure out where it belonged.
Robert Green of Carversville was the fashion director for Playboy for 20 years. He was known for his wild parties, colorful ties and wavy, silver hair. He could be seen around town in a yellow Rolls Royce driven by his chauffeur, Roy.
There are 16 bridges that cross the Delaware from Bucks County. Just one, the Lumberville-Raven Rock Bridge (aka the Lumberville Foot Bridge) is designated for pedestrians only. It crosses from Lumberville to Bull’s Island. Originally made of wood in 1856, it was rebuilt as a suspension bridge by Roebling & Son in 1947.
There are 2 railroad bridges, 2 suspension bridges and 1 vertical lift bridge.
Here’s to a new month, a new year, and a new decade. Let’s make this one the best ever.
William Penn founded Bucks County with the hope that its inhabitants would live as the Society of Friends do; with Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Equality, and Caring for the community and the World.
Welcome Friend Peace
George Fell was standing on a Delaware River bridge when the Flood of 1841 destroyed it. He clung to a piece of driftwood, floating down the river until being rescued in Yardley.
The Flood of 1955 pushed the Upper Black Eddy Post Office down River Road and into the Delaware.
At her kitchen table, Joyce Byers made Christmas carolers from tissue paper, wire & clay. People kept asking her to make more, & soon she had a production company in Chalfont (Byers Choice), making over 500,000 pieces a year. There is a Christmas Museum, a cobblestone street to stroll on, & a trip to the North Pole & Santa’s Workshop. You can even watch the figures being made from the Observation Deck. Fun for all, & all free
Walter Sobusiak (Bristol Township) was on guard in Pearl Harbor. When his shift ended, his replacement never arrived, leaving Walter on duty for several days. His barracks and mess hall had been bombed, killing 200.
Radford Ferland (Newtown Township) was named for the USS Radford, the ship that rescued his father from the water five days after the USS Helena was sunk.
Remember Pearl Harbor
Edward Hicks, born in Attleboro (Langhorne), was a Quaker minister and painter of signs and stage coaches. His talent lay in art, which conflicted with Quaker beliefs. He gave up the ministry to paint Bible themed works, including over 60 versions of “The Peaceable Kingdom”. The painting was meant to illustrate that there are no physical barriers among the world’s inhabitants and they should all live and work together in peace.
After retiring from the Dallas Cowboys, “Dandy” Don Meredith purchased the Central Bucks Broadcasting Company and helped run WBUX radio station. He lived on a horse farm in Bedminster Township and frequented the Elephant Hotel.
In just 15 months starting in 1918, one third of the world population got infected with the “Spanish Flu”. Millions died as it spread through the military (WWI). An Elks Home and a local boarding house were converted to hospitals. A 16 year old Bristol Courier carrier was the first to die in Bucks County, and it was illegal to spit on the ground.
Two hundred and sixty years ago, William Rodman came home and stuck his riding switch into the ground near a stream at what is now Libertae in Bensalem. It rooted and grew to become one of the largest Buttonwood trees east of the Rockies. With a hollow base and a circumference of 30 feet, the entire grounds crew could stand inside of it.
Unfortunately, it dropped its last leaf in 2012.
If you see a woman in a gown hitchhiking near Manor Lake in Tullytown, beware! She may be Gertrude Spring, AKA Midnight Mary, who died when the car she was riding in went into the lake. She is known to get into passing cars, dripping wet. She is buried in the St. James Cemetary in Bristol.
Lit by the full moon, a figure dressed in black, wearing a tri-cornerd hat, a mask and a cape was seen galloping on a black horse across the bridge between Jamison and Hartsville. It was the Mysterious Phantom Rider of Dark Hollow. Feared as a devil, he was shot by Goethe Norwood. Later, it was discovered that he had killed his own son, Nathan, who had been trying to impress a girl. Some say the Phantom can still be seen crossing the old bridge over the Neshaminy Creek.
The Black Bass Hotel in Lumberville is haunted. As the story goes, a woman caught her husband in bed with another woman. She shot them, and then herself. She can still be seen occasionally in the hotel holding a pearl handled revolver. The scent of lavendar follows her.
To stimulate business growth in Bristol Boro, the Bristol Improvement Co. was formed in 1876. Industry boomed. We got the Keystone, Star, Wallpaper, Bristol Carpet (Leedom), Bristol Woolen, Livingston, Bristol Rolling, Bristol Worsted & Pierce & Williams Sash Mills, as well as the Patent Leather Co, Corona Leather, Bristol Forge, Bristol Foundry, Keystone Forge & Standard Cast Iron Pipe. Today, we revitalize again with Raising The Bar & the Bristol Boro Business Association.
The Village of Ferndale used to be called Rum Corner, after the rum distillery that attracted travelers riding the electric trolley on the Old Easton Road. Rum was cheap, made from local ingredients and served either hot or cold. The distillery is long gone, but the old hotel still thrives as the Ferndale Inn.
In 1959 Bristolians flocked to Auto Boys Department Store three nights a week to see RCA demonstrate color TV. Two years later, Walt Disney featured “The Wonderful World of Color”, prompting people to buy this modern marvel. The first patent for a color TV was issued in 1904.
Stovertown (Tohickon), the first village in Bedminster Township, is buried under Lake Nockamixon. Pennsylvania decided to build a state park within 25 miles of every resident, so they demolished the town and flooded the area. It took six months to fill the lake and destroyed 290 properties, including a school, post office, several mills, a blacksmith, quarry, creamery, general store, and most importantly, homes. The only thing left under the lake is a stone bridge.
Until Vincenzo LaRosa founded his LaRosa and Sons Macaroni Company in 1914, pasta was sold bulk to stores. He was one of the first to create individual packages for direct sales to the consumer. The company makes over 40 varieties of pasta in its plant in Warminster.
Poet and teacher Alexander Wilson taught briefly at the no longer existing Milestown School in Bristol Township in the late 1700s, where he fell madly and secretly in love with a married woman. To protect them both, he quit his job and moved to Philadelphia, where he was inspired to begin drawing detailed images of all the birds of North America. His “American Ornithology” preceded Audubon’s works. Five birds and and entire species of Warblers are named for him.
W. Atlee Burpee started a mail order livestock company in 1876. When his customers requested seed and feed for the animals, he quickly learned it was easier to ship seeds than live animals. He bought Fordhook Farms in Doylestown & used selective breeding & hybridization techniques to make his plants better. Burpee soon became the largest seed company in the world, because “Burpee Seeds Grow”.
In 1689, Otter and Adams Hollow Creeks were dammed to create a pond to power local mills. The spring water was brown from iron and tasted like spoiled eggs. Later, Dr. Benjamin Rush said bathing in the water could cure over 15 ills, and “The Baths” became a resort spa, featuring a hotel, a racetrack & a bathing beach. The pond is now Silver Lake (Nature Center) and the original spring is buried under Lower Bucks Hospital.
When Benjamin Parry moved to Coryell’s Ferry, he bought the Hope Flour Mill. After expanding and rebuilding, he renamed it the New Hope Flour Mill, thus changing the name of the town. His mill in New Hope is now the home of the Bucks County Playhouse.
At one time, Bucks County was the cigar capital of the country, with more than a million pounds of tobacco harvested annually, and about 85 cigar making plants, mainly around Perkasie and Sellersville. An average person could roll 300 cigars a day, but a machine did 6500. We were known for the 5 cent Cinco, better known as the Stinko.
Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger performed in over 200 movies, TV shows and fairs. He was very good, but he sometimes needed a stand-in. Enter Gold Zephyr, a “yellow” or Palomino raised on King’s Orchard in Richland Township. He could dance and perform tricks like Trigger, and looked just like him, only shorter. Roy called him Trigger, Jr. Although he became famous, he came back to Bucks County to visit and cheer up his old owner who was ill in Grandview Hospital.
Playwright George Kaufman named his Holicong farm Cherchez La Farm and hosted many celebrity guests Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx and Moss Hart. Kaufman helped John Steinbeck while writing “Of Mice and Men”, & Steinbeck later came up with the idea for “The Grapes of Wrath” on a road trip west. The property is now Barley Sheaf Farm, named for a Native American story of a barley sheaf floating underground three miles on a magic spring on the property.
Due to bad weather, Capt. Zebulon Pike never made it all the way to the summit of El Capitan in Colorado, but it was still renamed for him – Pike’s Peak. After spending some of his childhood in Bucks County in Cutaloosa, he joined the U.S. Army and led two expeditions through the new Louisiana Territory. On the second expediton, he “accidently” crossed into Mexico, was captured and later released by the Spanish. He was killed later by falling rocks after an explosion at the Battle of York in the War of 1812.
During the Revolutionary War, the British attacked Philadelphia, the new government seat. Continental Congress sent the State House Bell to Allentown for safekeeping. On the way, it was hidden overnight behind Evan Foulke’s house in Quakertown which is now Liberty Hall. Forty-three years later, abolitionists, noticing the engraving on it “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”, began calling it the Liberty Bell.
At 17, Michael Dougherty joined the 13th PA Calvary to fight with the Union during the Civil War. He fought in many battles and was eventually captured and imprisoned along with 127 others from his unit. By the time of his release, he was the sole survivor. On his way home to Bristol, the ship he was on exploded, killing 1100 men. He survived. He later was awarded the Medal of Honor, married and had 12 children. The Bristol Ancient Order of Hibernians is named for him and he has a monument at the Bristol Canal Lagoon.
When RCA was contracted by the U.S. government in 1959 to build Tiros ( Television & Infra-red Observation Satellite), one of the first satellites used to forecast weather, it turned to Newtown Boro’s Lavelle Aircraft to do the actual construction. Lavelle became a trusted aerospace contractor, later building six Tiros satellites, Telstar and Ranger VII, as well as Apollo 13’s air cleaning canisters and vital parts of the Lunar Excursion Module.
“Drive down Route 1 and turn left at the airplane.” That’s how we used to give directions in Penndel when Flannery’s Restaurant was there. For 30 years, a Lockheed Super G Constellation airplane “flew” over the restaurant. Owner Jim Flannery was a WWII Air Force pilot. He purchased and converted the plane into a cocktail lounge when he took over from his mother. After many successful years, the restaurant changed to Amelia’s in the ’80s, and the Airplane Family Diner in the ’90s, before closing and sitting idle. Then Amoco bought the property and donated the plane to the Air Mobility Museum in Dover, De.
In the 1700s, rivers were the main mode of transportation. Unfortunately, it was difficult to travel against the current, so John Fitch, while living in Warminster, created a steam powered boat that could easily travel upstream – at an unprecedented 3 mph. For years he struggled to get a patent and financial backing. He gave an impressive live demonstration on the Delaware, and finally won a patent…at the same time as James Rumsey. This infuriated Fitch, who moved to Kentucky and later committed suicide. Ten years later, Robert Fulton became famous for his steamboat invention.
Buffalo Bill Cody, known for his Wild West show, was also an army scout, namesake of the Buffalo Bills football team, a freemason, and a Pony Express Rider. His show’s winter quarters were right here in Bucks County, in a building that later became Levittown’s first post office (on Route 13). His nickname came from killing over 4000 buffalo in 18 months, to supply meat to railroad workers.
The Newtown Theatre began as a town hall, then a church for traveling ministers, then a performance hall, and now, what is most likely the oldest operating movie theatre in the U.S. Originally built in 1831, movies were first played in 1906. More recently, it played M. Night Shyamalan’s movie “Signs”, which was partially filmed in Newtown, and getting back to its roots, silent films accompanied by live music.
An octagonal shaped building stands at the corner of Second Street Pike and Swamp Road in Wrightstown Township affectionately known as The Eight Square. It was a privately owned schoolhouse built in 1802 by Quakers. The eight sides allowed for multiple windows to provide light, though they were built high on the walls, so students wouldn’t be distracted by what could be seen outside. A stove was positioned in the center of the room to evenly provide heat. Once one of over 100 of its type in the Delaware Valley, it is now the last of its kind in Bucks County. The shape is often called “ink bottle”.
Benjamin Franklin believed that lightning had an electrical charge and that “drawing electric fire from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron” could be a means of protecting houses from fire caused by it. He experimented by flying a kite attached to a string with a metal key on the end. The kite had a metal rod on top to attract the lightning. During a storm, he stood on a hill on the property of Growden Mansion, home of his friend Joseph Galloway, overlooking what is now Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem. Electricity flowed down the string to the key and was captured in a Leyden Jar. Placing his hand near the key transferred the charge to his body, showing that the charge could be redirected. This led to his invention of lightning rods.
Route 13 was originally a Native American path. Once paved, it became known as the Kings Highway (after King Charles II). It was run as a private turnpike, starting in Fayetteville, NC and terminating in Morrisville, Pa. It is the oldest road in continuous use in the U.S. Old Route 13 ran through Bristol to Pond, Farragut and Radcliffe, then Main in Tullytown and Fallsington Avenue. It became a public highway in 1926 when the U.S. Highway System was created. It was briefly called the Queens Highway during the reign of Queen Anne.
In the 1700s, Bristol was known as a Market Town. People came from all over to shop and have fun. Fairs were held on Market Street in May and October that lasted several days. Many came to buy, sell and celebrate, which they did in excess. In 1773 Council decreed that the fairs were useless, as they created “debauchery, idleness and drunkenness”.
Lassie, star of TV and movies, got his start right here in Bucks County. The original story was written by Eric Knight who lived with his dog Toots on Springhouse Farm in Springfield Township. Lassie, a female, was played by Pal, a male Rough Collie. The show earned two Emmys. Future Lassies were all played by males, who were all direct descendants of Pal (Lassie Jr, Spook, Baby, Mire and Hey Hey). The show ran for 19 seasons (1954-1973). Toots is buried on his family farm.
During The Revolutionary war, Abraham Doan joined his handsome and athletic cousins Moses, Aaron, Levi, Mahlon and Joseph in the infamous Doan Gang. Originally from Perkasie, they became renowned throughout the colonies as spies for the British, horse thieves, robbers and possibly even murderers. The Government labeled them traitors. The gang stole money from the tax collectors and robbed the Bucks County Treasury in Newtown. It is rumoured that the money is still buried somewhere in Wrightstown. When the war was over, they kept up their life of crime, triggering a massive manhunt. Moses was killed, Mahlon and Joseph escaped prison and made their way to Canada, Aaron was eventually pardoned and exiled to Canada, and Levi and Abraham were hanged. Many stories are told about the gang, most of which are probably not true, but keep looking for that stolen money!
In the winter of 1776, General Washington asked Dr. William Shippen, Surgeon General, to create a military hospital for the men suffering from disease, hunger and battle injuries. This was done at Four Lanes End (now Langhorne Boro), which was the crossroads between stagecoach lines. The Isaac Hicks house on Maple Avenue was used, and subsequently, about 166 soldiers who died there were buried in mass graves behind it. A recent archeological dig fond remnants of the graves, and the area is now designated a National Historic Place.
In 1961, a group called “The Brooktones” were recording in a studio when their manager came in all excited about a new dance he saw kids doing at the Goodwill Hose Fire Company No. 3 in Bristol, Pa. They stomped their feet so hard he was worried the floor would cave in. The group sat down and wrote a song to go with this new dance. They called it the Goodwill Stomp. Their manager changed the group’s name to The Deauvilles, after a hotel in Miami Beach, and they shortened it to The Dovells, because they thought it sounded better. Then they changed the name of the song to the Bristol Stomp, got a spot on American Bandstand, and history was made.
Over 338 years ago that Samuel Clift received a grant for land along the Delaware River. As part of his grant agreement, he was to maintain a ferry service to Burlington and an inn for visitors to stay and eat. This was the beginning of Bristol Borough. Since then, Bristol has been known for its woolen and textile mills, war ship and seaplane manufacturing, seed company, leather and wallpaper mills, radio and cast iron factories, and, of course, the infamous Bristol Stomp.
Pearl S. Buck was an author, humanitarian, adoption advocate, and women’s rights supporter. Having grown up in China as Sai Zhenzhu (Precious Pearl), she fought for the rights of mixed race and Asian people, especially women and children. Her outspokenness eventually got her banned from China. She then spent many years at Green Hill Farm in Dublin, PA, now the Pearl Buck House. Ms. Buck won a Nobel Prize for Literature and a Pulitzer Prize for her book “The Good Earth”.
The Dorrance Family built a home at 715 Radcliffe Street in Bristol. In 1876, Arthur Dorrance became president of the Campbell’s Soup Company, keeping it in the family until at least 1940. While at a Cornell football game, a company executive was so impressed with the team jerseys that he decided to use their colors (red and white) on his soup cans. In 1904, the “Campbell Kids” were born for an advertising campaign, and in 1990, Campbell’s produced their 20 billionth can of tomato soup.
President Lincoln was in Bristol Boro at least twice. Once in 1861 on his way to be inaugurated. Once as a train carried his body home in 1865 after his assassination. He was the first president to have a beard. He was 6’4″ tall. George Washington visited Bristol a few times, most notably during the Revolutionary War. Did he stay at the King George II? He was 6’2″ tall. Neither had middle names.
The First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia created a summer resort area in Parkland to “spread the philosophy and religion of spiritualism”. Up to 10,000 people a day would come for the carnival rides, sports, picnics, boating on the Neshaminy, and, of course, seances, hypnotism and a chance to speak with spirits from the beyond.