Sol Feinstone ~ A revolutionary collector

The Ellis Island official misspelled his last name, but the 13 year old boy didn’t put up a fight.

Sol Feinstone, as the officer named him that day in 1902, had a heart full of dreams and a penny in his pocket that he had found on the boat during his journey from Lithuanian.

That penny would turn into millions of dollars with in decades.

Son of a Jew script, Feinstone became a businessman, philanthropist and collector of one-of-a-kind Americana literature, which he later donated to the American people before his 1980 death. He was 92.

His entire Americana collection is housed at the David Library of the American Revolution, what used to be his sanctuary, in Washington Crossing, Upper Makefield Township, in Bucks County.

“As he studied the founding era, he really fell in love with those founders,” said Meg McSweeney, chief operating officer at the library. “He recognized their genius, their master organization. First the Declaration, the Revolution, then the creation of the Constitution, he was madly in love with those ideals. He worshiped George Washington, he saw him as an ideal human being with attributes that we all can learn from and benefit if we followed. He believed he was the perfect leader. That was his personal hero.”

There he stored his valuable collection that focused on Washington, his military, his personal business in Mount Vernon, and political compatriots – such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton – from the start of the American Revolution (1775-83) against the British crown until the founding father’s death on December 14, 1799 from a throat infection less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon.

Eighty percent of Feinstone’s collection is comprised of documents from between 1774 and 1800. He contributed some 2,482 manuscripts, originals he had collected throughout the decades, to the collection. The originals are now stored at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, but the Library retains ownership and control of the collection, and has copies of the entire collection onsite for use by researchers and scholars, McSweeney said.
Beyond Feinstone’s collection, the library also owns additional manuscript materials, in microfilm and published form, from across the country, Britain and Canada.

Feinstone had a deep respect for America, especially the founding fathers. He admired them and considered them geniuses ahead of their time.

As a child in Lida, Lithuania, he dreamed of living in America. But before moving west, Feinstone lived through some emotional wounds.

He was born Solomon Bialagrudsky in 1888.

“In the Napoleonic area, Jews in central Europe didn’t have last names,” said Francine Lida Stone, Feinstone’s granddaughter. “They were referred to as …Joseph the scribe…Napoleon barged his way around making the modern world in his model, the government of the day in greater Lithuania said ‘Alright Jews you all have to have a name, tomorrow you have to get yourselves a name. At that point a name was chosen for our family. Bialagrudsky. Nobody really knew what it meant. Nobody really knew how to spell it.”

Feinstone deeply adored his loving mother, Rose. For his strict father, Joseph, he had respect. He had several siblings, Stone said, adding that the family is unsure how many.

His father was a trained scribe, who wrote the written word of the Torah and respected the act of writing and the art of the parchment paper, she said.

Feinstone scrapped the skins and prepared the parchments for his father, so it was natural for him to find the beauty in the manuscripts. His later collection manifested two of his loves – America and parchment.

When he was nine years old, his mother died. A year later, his father remarried. He and siblings were unable to develop a relationship with their stepmother, so Feinstone’s older siblings left for America. They worked relentlessly to save enough money to buy their little brother’s boat ticket to America.

Feinstone left Lida against his father’s wishes and lived and work with family and, at 14 years old, he boarded a ship to America.

He never looked back.

Upon his arrival to New York City, he started working at a sweatshop in the city’s Lower East Side, where he was first hired to sweep floors.

“Then, he persuaded a man who did coat sleeves to hire him,” McSweeney said. “He was very short. He graced 5’2’’ at his tallest in life. He had to persuade the man at the sweatshop to hire him because (the work station) was like stationary bike with pedals. They told him ‘You’re to short.’ And he said, ‘If I sit at the edge of the seat and point my toes.’ He ended up being very productive because he was paid by the piece. He could produce something like 600 coat sleeves a week. He became very active in the sleeve-makers union…

“Till his dying day he always had a soft spot for immigrants because in his view, he saw that the immigrants were the ones who wanted it the most and fought for it and he gave a lot of time and money to causes that would help the immigrants. He strongly believed the influence of so many cultures is what made America great and strong,” McSweeney said.

He used the earnings from his day job at the shop to pay for evening English classes, and he eventually got the equivalent of a high school diploma.

He was headstrong about being educated, so at 23, Feinstone began forestry studies at the University of Missouri, but later transferred to New York School of Forestry at Syracuse University, where he also studied chemistry and received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, according to his The New York Times obituary from Oct. 19, 1980.

“He was constantly working to better himself…” McSweeney said. “He was an early conservationist. The reason he wanted to be a forester because he had read the words of Gifford Pinchot, who was an early environmentalists. When he was writing, Sol was in school.”

Out of college, Feinstone got a job at Philadelphia’s Navy Yard working on a syphilis case study. After a couple of years, he quit without having another job.

He picked up an issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he noticed a job posting for a secretary position at a real estate firm. He was hired, although the bosses deemed him overqualified for the position. Within a few years Feinstone was a partner in the firm.

“He really was bright guy. He could figure things out. He was a quick study. Just widely intelligent,” McSweeney said. “He apparently also had a canny knack for investing. He actually made money in the stock market during the depression…when everyone else was losing money there was opportunity for him to make money. It’s also when he started collecting his manuscripts because some of the fine families of Philadelphia who had these things (were selling off the collectables).”

McSweeney said Feinstone’s collection started with bargain hunting.

“He had appreciation for good things, but he didn’t like to pay top dollar. So he has cash during the depression, people were selling good things he starts going to estate sales and initially to buy furniture for his house in Philadelphia. Suddenly, he sees ‘Oh these people have a letter from Benjamin Franklin,’” McSweeney said, adding that he initially only made purchased in Philadelphia.

Eventually, he started to attend auctions and East Coast dealers were reaching out to Feinstone. Where did his fascination for American delicacies come from?

“He had deep gratitude to this country because of the opportunities he had here that he would have never had in Lida,” McSweeney said.

Once Feinstone had wealth, he resigned from the real estate firm, enrolled at University of Pennsylvania, where his thesis was comparing the Russian Revolution and the American Revolution. He finished the course work, but didn’t submit the thesis, so he didn’t graduate.

“He referred to that as the richest intellectual period of his life,” McSweeney said, adding that despite his bank account at that time, he was involved and supported the Socialist movement.

Feinstone was involved in the Socialist student club and took a trip to Russia with them in 1927 to interface with Communists. He later changed his political views, “because he believed in individual responsibility…it eventually clashed with his personal philosophy, and toward the end of his life he got more conservative… (was) an anti communist. He was always for civil rights,” McSweeney said.

He had an eye for fine property near sites with historical value.

In 1945, he purchased Buckstone Farm, a 200-acre working dairy farm in Bucks County, which was considered the Hamptons of the country in those days.

During this time, he was semi-retired and he began focusing more on his developing his collection.
Then, in 1959 he founded the David Library, which he named after his grandson David Golub, who was born developmentally disabled, McSweeney said. Feinstone initially set up the library inside the visitors’ center at Washington Crossing Historic Park.

After some disagreements with the management, he removed his collection from the center. Feinstone searched for a new home for his valued collection at educational institutions, but those attempts turned out fruitless. Feinstone was adamant that he wanted his collection to be easily accessible to the public; had he turned the collection over to educational institutions there would have been limited access to them.

Determined to relocate his collection on a site where the public would be able to view it, Feinstone turned his barn into a library. It was one mile north of the visitor center and just outside his Upper Makefield home.

In 1974, Feinstone started the construction of the library; he sold off acreage along the peripheries of Buckstone Farm to finance the Library’s endowment, so now the library owns 118 acres.

Stone, his granddauther, remembers seeing her grandfather delicately handling the 18th century manuscripts of Gen. George Washington, as if they were the sacred texts.

World scholars visit the library to research the collection for history and biographical books of the great revolutionaries.

The library houses the 2482 original manuscripts that Feinstone purchased himself.

Among the collection is 260 letters written by Washington, many of which are handwritten by the general. Additionally, there are some 40 letters that were sent to Washington.

The collection also includes 55 letters written by Alexander Hamilton, another 65 letters by Thomas Jefferson and 40 letters by the Marquis de Lafayette. There are between 10 and 20 letters each in the handwriting of John Adams, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox and James Madison.

Beyond Feinstone’s collection, the library also owns additional manuscript materials, in microfilm and published form, from across the country, Britain and Canada. That includes more letters, diaries, military records, newspapers and books. The letters and dairies were written by British officials and soldiers, American patriots, and the British-hired mercenary soldiers, Hessians.

In addition, the David Library also collects biographies, atlases, guides, and indexes. It also has a reference collection of more than 40,000 books and pamphlets, 10,000 reels of microfilm containing about eight million pages of documentation, some of which is British material that can’t be found anywhere else in the country, as well as American political government documents and military records.

Feinstone once owned 126 letters by Washington that focused on his farm and business in Mount Vernon. He purchased them for $250,000 at an auction; he later donated them to the Ladies Society of Mount Vernon, McSweeney said. For his contribution, he was thanked by President Gerald Ford during his White House visit in 1976.

That was just one of his many philanthropist moves. He built a school in Upper Makefield, which bears his name. He leased property to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for a yearly sitting of toast and milk. And he later donated the 118-acre library to Pennsylvania.

“He loved this country, and for what it stands for,” McSweeney said.

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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


Edward Hicks ~ Artist or Preacher?

Millions flock to museums to get a glimpse of European paintings by Dutch post-Impressionist Vincent Van Gogh. Others rush to see the masterpieces of Frida Kahlo, while other art enthusiasts and wannabes bolt to capture the craft of Diego Rivera’s paintings and murals.

Van Gogh’s personal life generated as much interest as his paintings, perhaps even more. He had cut off a portion of his ear in his later days and eventually committed suicide. Kahlo and Rivera – both 20th century Mexican artists with radical political views – had a tumultuous marriage, that involved Rivera having several affairs, including with Kahlo’s sister.

The life of Bucks County 18th century painter Edward Hicks was a lot more passive and his art less popular to the masses.

To art insiders, though, paintings of the self-taught, naive artist are most valuable and hard to come by.

“They are expensive,” said Connie Kimmerle, curator at the James A. MichenerArt Museum in Doylestown in Bucks County. “There aren’t many on the market.”

His oil canvas paintings are market driven, making it difficult to put price tags on them, she said.

What makes them so valuable?

Hicks is considered an American primitive folk painter, Kimmerle said.

He died at 69 years old. The paintings of his last 10 years are considered his best, such as the “The Grave of William Penn,” “The Cornell Farm” and “PeaceableKingdom” – all are owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Before painting on canvas, Hicks painted coaches for a living, and became a devoted Quaker minister. It wasn’t until he was middle aged that he started to make easel paintings, some of which had moral messages that derived from his Quaker roots.

“Although he feared that art was contrary to religion, he testified that it could sometimes bring meaning to life,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Kimmerle said the Michener museum would “love” to have a Hicks painting in their permanent collection.

The museum, however, has had Hicks’ “The Landing of Columbus” on loan from the National Gallery of Art for more than five years, Kimmerle said, adding that loan is under annual renewal.
The painting depicts about a half dozen dark-looking men arriving to a land with palm trees in a small-wood vessel. A man is standing on the bow holding a white flag. In the background there are two large caravels waiting.

The museum does own a portrait of Hicks, which is part of its permanent collection. The art piece was painted by Thomas Hicks, his younger cousin, who he taught to paint.

It’s a dark shadowed portrait of Hicks sitting down holding a color palette and he’s dressed in a time-period three piece outfit.

Hicks was born in Attleboro – now Langhorne Borough – on April 4, 1780.

In the town’s council chambers there’s a large reproduction of Hicks’ most admired and notable art piece – “Peaceable Kingdom.”

Hicks was devoted to his Quaker faith and drew about farm life, landscape, animals and peace. In “Peaceable Kingdom,” he portrayed just that.

He painted more than 60 versions of it between 1820 and his death, according to Worcester Art Museum, the owner of the most popular version.

“The theme of this painting, drawn from Chapter 11 of Isaiah, was undoubtedly attractive to Hicks and fellow Quakers not only for its appealing imagery but also for its message of peace: ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them,’” reads the museum’s website, “Into many versions, including the Worcester painting, Hicks incorporated a vignette of William Penn’s treaty with the Indians, an image he adapted from a popular painting by Benjamin West. Hicks may have viewed parallels in the two parts of the composition, inasmuch as Penn, who had introduced Quakerism into Pennsylvania, had also brought about a measure of the peaceable kingdom on earth.”

Worcester Art Museum officials did not return phone calls to BucksCountyInTime after leaving several voice messages.

Scholars say “Peaceable Kingdom” portray the artist’s, “feelings and beliefs depicting the conflict between the inward spiritual and religious life and the outward worldly life” and Hicks “was driven by his need to visualize the lessons he learned from Isaiah’s prophecy and the importance to Quaker quietism, such lessons centered on denying or relinquishing the willful self,” according to

Very much a Bucks County man, Hicks lived nearly 40 years in Newtown Borough, where he died on August 23, 1849.

In the Newtown area – Newtown Borough abuts Newtown Township – Hicks is recognized not only for his talent of crafting works of art, but also for his leadership in the Quaker faith.

Hicks came from humble and tragic beginnings. During the American Revolution, Hicks suffered major financial losses. His mother, Catherine Hicks, died when he was a year old. He was sent to Newtown Township, where he was raised by the Twining family, who were Quakers.

Because he didn’t have any scholarly interests, he began an apprenticeship at 13 years old with the Tomlinson brothers, who were coachmakers in Attleborough, according to National Gallery of Art.

His artisan skills took off from there.

“This apprenticeship furnished him with the technical skills he would apply to the easel paintings he executed fairly late in his life,” according to the National Gallery of Art website,

At age 20, Hicks ventured into setting up his own shop. He closed it, though, to help a doctor from Northampton Township craft a new carriage style. During his time working with the doctor, Hicks would have religious discussions that lead him to rediscover his Quaker faith. After suffering from a severe illness, Hicks began to attend Quaker meetings, which lead him to become interested in ministry.

In 1801, the young Hicks moved to Milford, now Hulmeville, where he was employed by another coachmaker. In his twenties, Hicks painted items such as signs, furniture and coaches.

In 1803, Hicks wedded childhood friend Sarah Worstall; they had four children.

By spring of 1811, he moved his family to Newtown Borough. That same year, Hicks started his ministry tour, one of many.

“He moved into the house with the brick front on Court Street near Tucker’s Tavern (the Court Inn), which he had bought from Abraham Chapman (a prominent attorney at the time,)” reads Newtown Historic Association website, “He soon opened a shop in his back yard and carried on his business of coach and sign painting. A few months after this move, he became a Friends minister.”

During his tours, he reportedly allured crowds, has been “described as one of the most popular and leading ministers of his time,” according the National Gallery of Art website.

“From this point on his religious interest would dominate his life,” reads the website. “Nonetheless, he continued painting, which he described as ‘one of those trifling insignificant arts’ and principally a way to ‘get an honest living.’ He briefly left the painting trade for farming in 1813 but had returned to it by 1815, when he began to produce elaborate signs with the help of several assistants.”

When he moved to Newtown Borough, the Quaker faithful was determined to establish the town’s first Friends Meeting House, which ultimately was erected onCourt Street on a two-acre lot. Hicks was the first speaker at the first meeting in 1817.

“Through serving on Friends’ committees he became involved with the major social concerns of his day: peace, temperance, relations between the sexes, education, poverty and race relations,” reads the historical association’s website.

Hicks was cousin to Elias Hicks, who was a liberal Quaker and abolitionist advocate. He broke off from the old school Quaker teachings after a theological quarrel in 1827-28, and created his own sect and his followers referred to as Hicksites.

Hicks supported his cousin’s religious movement and visited him 1820.

“Several of his paintings reveal how profoundly this controversy affected the artist’s life. Elias Hicks appears in all of the canvases, and two of them include a verbal allusion to Hicksite doctrine,” according to the National Gallery of Art.

Ten years after moving to the borough, Hicks built a stone house on what is now Penn Street. There, he built his coach shop in the back yard and his paint shop above the carriage house adjoining his home. Local businesses went to him for their storefront signs, according to historical association.

The stone house has been preserved without any drastic changes. The public can visit it.

He lived in quaint Newtown until his death and is buried in the Friend’s cemetery in the borough. There were about 3,000 mourners at his funeral, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


Levittown ~ The All-American Community

The end of WWII was the start of the Philadelphia suburb – Levittown.

Levittown has significance beyond the local area. It is of interest nationally and internationally because it is the archetype of modern suburbia and as such gets attention from the political, academic and media communities,” said Rich Wagner, Levittown historian and director of the Levittown Museum.

After the war, millions of veterans were coming back to the states ready to put to use their government issued GI Bills and start a picture-perfect family.

There were two problems: housing was tight and expensive.

The U.S. economy was recuperating from the dark decade of the Great Depression (1929-39). WWII broke out in 1939 with Germany’s notorious dictator Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in September. The U.S. entered in 1941, after the bombing the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor by Japanese air forces that year without warning; the war ended 1945.

Savvy businessmen knew the war would eventually be over and the service personnel would have the financial backing of the GI Bill of Rights, which provided them a series of benefits, including low-interest mortgages.

Enter William Levitt. And say good-bye to hundreds of acre of farmland.

Levitt, then owner of the family New York-based developing company Levitt and Sons, built thousands of affordable cookie cutter-home communities in Hempstead, N.Y. (1947-1951); Bucks County (1951-1957); and Willingboro, N.J. (1958-1962). He named them all Levittown.

Levitt revolutionized the housing industry using his knowledge and techniques that he learned during WWII while serving as a Seabee in the Navy’s Construction Battalion, which constructed anything from air strips to bridges for the military, said Wagner, runs, a website dedicated to the community’s history.

This year, the Pennsylvania Levittown celebrates its 60thanniversary, a milestone to the community that was built in five years – from 1952 to 1957 – for the middle class, fueled by the steel industry, and whose goal was to live the American Dream without war.

Levittowners started moving into their newly built homes in June 1962. Many Philadelphians left behind their row homes and family tradition of city life to move into the new all American town, Levittown.

In Bucks County, the single-family-home-with-a-yard development has homes in Tullytown Borough, Bristol, Falls and Middletown townships, some still occupied by families that moved in directly after WWII.

And in those municipalities, Levittown is broken into 42 sections with names such as Snowball Gates in Middletown, Pinewood in Falls, Indian Creek in Bristol, and Stonybrook in Tullytown.

Albert DiGiovanni is one of the oldest residents in Stonybrook. He bought the 22ndhome out of 17,311 built in the housing development, which DiGiovanni said he helped construct.

I worked on the first house to the last house,” said the 93-year-old Tullytown resident.

The daily goal was to build 40 houses a day, with 26 contractors per house working around the clock seven days a week, said DiGiovanni, adding that his job at 32 years old was to do anything that needed to be done.

For DiGiovanni, Levitt was “a genius” of a developer turning farmland to a booming community in five years.

Levitt was the Henry Ford of home building, Wagner said.

He bought forests and sawmills all across the country, set up local manufacturing factories to precut and prefabricate the lumber and piping. So when material arrived at construction sites, contractors assembled the homes without the hassle of measuring or cutting, he said.

Wagner added that Levitt pioneered the standard 4-by-8 plywood roof, making it faster for contractors to built the track homes. He created infrastructure in the development.

That’s how he was able to sell them so cheap,” he said.

With the homes came a boost of developments that included strategically located parks, schools and churches. Levitt didn’t stop at homes; he knew the new residents would need shops, so he built strip malls.

Even before the homes were built, there were lines of people waiting to purchase their plot of land. Levitt would not sell to blacks, though.

And once homes were built, many came with some features, including curtains, patio furniture, appliances, trash cans and well-manicured lawns.

Buyers had a few cookie-cutter options.

In 1951, the housing company started with the Rancher, which was the smallest with two-bedrooms, one bath and an unfinished attic for the selling price of $8,990. For veterans and their families received special deals such as zero down payment and $57 per month, Wagner said.

Later, that type of home was upgraded to a Big Rancher, which included four-bedrooms, two baths and a finished attic for $10,500.

Also in 1951, the Levittowner was being sold for $10,990 for three-bedrooms and one bath. Veterans were paying $67 per month for their mortgages.

Then, in 1954, Levitt and Sons started selling the Jubilee at $10,990 for four bedrooms and two baths. The monthly payments were $70.

Also available that year was the Country Clubber, the largest and most expensive of all Levittown homes in Bucks County. For $16,900, buyers got five bedrooms and two-and-half baths. The down payment for veterans was $1,000 and $99 per month.

These were only built in Middletown in the sections of Snowball Gate, Forsythia Gate, Snowball Gate, Red Rose Gatewhich are considered the Beverly Hills of Levittown. The developing company initially wanted to build the Country Clubers in Bristol, however, the local government did not approve them. Middletown welcomed the bigger homes.

Then, in 1956, the company put out the Pennsylvanian, which ran for $14,500 for four-bedrooms and two baths. Veterans put down $1,100 and paid $96 a month.

These were steals, Wagner said, adding that such deals will never be again.

It was a different economy back then,” he said. “Banks were a service; they didn’t drive the economy like they do now.”

The Levittowns weren’t only the talk of the nation, but internationally they received much attention.

The BBC featured the Levittowns because they were considered revolutionary and modern suburbia. For the 60thanniversary, the British news organization published a series of features of the Levittowns.

Throughout the years, the communities have been featured in different publications, including in the June 2007 edition of Old House Journal, which spotlighted neighborhoods in a five-page spread that covered from their history to their designs.

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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


Unknown Soldiers ~ American Heroes

Thousands of men died across the 13 colonies fighting against the British crown.

While many were shot and killed, others died from the area’s harsh weather conditions, poor nutrition and diseases.

In Bucks County, there are several spots where soldiers took camp – including what is now Washington Crossing Historic Park, where Gen. George Washington led the Continental Army across the Delaware River into New Jersey to surprise the German soldiers known as Hessians hired by the British. The 1776 Christmas night surprise attack was a pivotal point during the American Revolution in favor of the revolutionaries.

Dozens of soldiers died before, during and after the crossing.

Of the many soldiers who died and were buried in the area, only 23 gravestones of unknown soldiers have been located at the park, which sits along the bank of the Delaware River.

During the early 1800s construction of the Delaware Canal, which runs through the park, workers discovered body remains. More remains also surfaced during other construction projects in the area of the Soldiers’ Graves site at the 500–acre park in Upper Makefield.

“It is speculated that the remains of 40 to 60 unknowns are buried throughout the Soldiers’ Graves area of the park,” according to the park’s website,

The 23 gravestones are a memorial and representation of the many soldiers who died during the American Revolution, said Ellen Petri, a founder of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park.

Disease and illness accounted for more lives to the Continental Army than battle casualties — estimated between 6,500 and 10,000, according to the website.

“Doctors saw a variety of illnesses from dysentery to smallpox and everything in between,” reads the website. “The common problems of malnutrition and exposure could have fatal results to soldiers on fatiguing marches and in camp environments.

“Though the military tried desperately throughout the war to regulate cleanliness of camps and bedding as well as provide what was considered a balanced diet in the form of rations, keeping the camps supplied with a proper diet and clean and substantial clothing was difficult throughout the war’s duration. In this environment, diseases ran through the camps at an alarming pace.”

The 23 graves lie along the banks of the Delaware River and are on a strip of wooded land filled with oak and pine trees, where wildlife call home. A tall flag pole bearing a large American flag flies over them. The base of the flagstaff is made out of native stone from the 13 colonies as a tribute to the soldiers, who could have been from any of the colonies, Petri said.

The rest of the site is decorated with flowers and well-manicured green grass. It’s a patriotic scene, a peaceful atmosphere. The Delaware Canal towpath runs passed the area. The memorial site was dedicated in May 1954.

But it hasn’t always beautifully kept throughout the years.

In 1998, Petri, a local resident, her husband and then one-year old son were taking a stroll down the towpath and they stopped in the area. A stone caught her eye that was covered by weeds. As they began clearing the weeds, they realized that they were gravestones, Petri said.

Two years later, her husband, Scott Petri, became the Republican state representative for the 178th district in the commonwealth. He took measures to have the area cleaned up.

The 23 gravestones are made out of the white marble, the same material as the sarcophagus for the tomb of the Unknowns – also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., she said.

“The Tomb sarcophagus was placed above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. West of the World War I Unknown are the crypts of unknowns from World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” reads the cemetery’s website, “Those three graves are marked with white marble slabs flush with the plaza.”

Tomb Guard sentinels look after the tomb every hour of every day of the year, rain or shine. The guardsmen are elite members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, which is the oldest Army active-duty infantry unit serving since 1784.

There isn’t an elaborate Changing of the Guards ceremony at Washington Crossing Park for the American Revolution soldiers who gave their lives to help free the 13 colonies from British rule. There aren’t any guards at all.

It’s the members and donors of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park who look after the tombs.

The Friends group was created in 2010 after Pennsylvania budget cuts threatened to cancel the traditional reenactment of Washington’s crossing in 2009, tours and other programs. The group took upon themselves to keep the park running and provide tours and educational services with the help from donations and volunteers.

For the Friends group, it about preserving history for the locals and the country, Petri said.

Those buried might have been patients at the Thompson-Neely House, which served as a temporary military hospital. That house is still preserved today.

The house sits along a narrow two-lane road that winds north through bucolic Upper Bucks County. The Delaware Canal runs through the backyard of the house. The graves are in a small strip between the Delaware River and the Delaware Canal. The house and the graves are a few hundred yards apart. To get to both locations, the only way is to driver down scenicRiver Road.

The Thompson-Neely House was owned by a well-to-do miller. Like many surrounding houses, the home of the Thompson and Neely families was turned into a hospital on December 1776 when Washington and his defeated army arrived toBucksCounty, many of them exhausted, malnourished, diseased and wounded.
The names of almost all of the soldiers who died at the Thompson-Neely house during that winter are unknown, according to Petri. It’s unknown the total of soldiers who died at the family home.

She added that the only soldier’s name that is known is of Capt.-Lt. James Moore, who is also buried at the park. He held that military title for nine months before dying at the Thompson-Neely house on Dec. 25, 1776 of camp fever. Before holding that rank, Moore was named Lt. of Lamb’s Company of New York artillery on June 1775.

Because names of soldiers involved in battles in the Washington Crossing area haven’t been well recorded, people who are interested in researching their family’s involvement in the war can visit the David Library of the American Revolution, which is a mile north of the Soldiers’Graves site.

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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


Underground Railroad ~ The Channel to Freedom

For black slaves the “Promise Land” wasn’t the United States. Instead it was Canada.

Before President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and even decades before the Civil War (1860-1865), black slaves wanted freedom, especially from slave owners in the South, who considered black men, women and children their property.

Many slaves got their freedom through the national Underground Railroad movement that started 30 years before the Civil War by black and non-black abolitionists. Most of the non-black abolitionists were Quakers, an
affluent community at that time, said Millard Mitchell, whose grandfather was a slave.

In Pennsylvania, Bucks County was a hub for the movement, which locally spread from Bristol to Yardley and up to New Hope. Those communities are along the Delaware River and Delaware Canal, along which fugitive slaves used to travel on barges and as travel guides, said Mitchell, who’s been researching the Underground Railroad since hearing stories of the movement in the area after he moved to Yardley in 1956. The retired aeronautical engineer is also an avid student of black history.

Pennsylvania was a major player in the Underground Railroad. Several routes went from Philadelphia to Bucks County, then to Trenton, N.J., and New York before ending in Canada.

Because of Pennsylvania’s long standing against slavery and its geographic position as a border state, the Commonwealth was an ideal hideout for fleeing slaves, Mitchell said.

The undercover movement had nothing to do with the train system. Railroad terminology was used for code words that were made up by abolitionists.

“Sometimes, routes of the Underground Railroad were organized by abolitionists. More often, the network was a series of small, individual actions to help fugitive slaves,” according to “Using the terminology of the railroad, those who went south to find slaves seeking freedom were called ‘pilots.’
Those who guided slaves to safety and freedom were ‘conductors.’ The slaves were ‘passengers.’ People’s homes or businesses, where fugitive passengers and conductors could safely hide, were ‘stations.’ ”

Stations were set up quietly and advertised by discreet word-of-mouth. Fugitive slaves traveled by night and hid during the day. They identified safe houses by lights in windows, Mitchell said.

Most of the hideouts were in properties owned by Quakers, who set up tiny spaces well underneath their structures with some connecting to tunnels to avoid people seeing the fleeing blacks.

Few records were kept of the movement and stations in order to protect homeowners and the fugitives, according to the website. It was a federal crime for slaves to escape, as it was to harbor and help fugitive slaves.

If caught, black people on the run from southern slave owners were forced back to enslavement. And those who aided them ran the risk of being jailed. This applied to people living in states that supported slavery as well as
those living in free states, according to

One of the leading black organizers was Harriet Tubman, who, according to legend, helped some 300 slaves escape from the Southern states to “free” states in the North and Canada, which Tubman referred as “the Promise Land.”

Tubman knew all too well the desperation to escape. She was born into slavery in Maryland, from where she escaped at 12 years old. Tubman was born Araminta Ross, but after marrying John Tubman, a free black man, she took his last name and adopted her mother’s name, Harriet.

After escaping, Tubman moved around and ended in Philadelphia, where she helped pioneered the Underground Railroad movement in the region with the help of other abolitionist movers and shakers.

Tubman started the Bucks County’s contribution to the Underground Railroad in Bristol, Mitchell said.

In Bristol, there’s a Tubman statue commemorating her efforts of helping fugitive slaves. Bristol resident Louise Davis is a descendant of Tubman. The BucksCountyInTime was unsuccessful in reaching Davis for comment after several phone calls.

Charles L. Blockson of Gwynedd has the largest private collection of African-American historical items in the county and is an expert in the Underground Railroad. He is quoted in a Bucks County Courier Times newspaper article as saying, “Mount Gilead Church in Buckingham, along the canal, all the way down to Bristol, up to Easton, there’s some stations in New Hope, all along the river there . . . Pennsylvania was a key state, Bucks County was a key.”

In Yardley, there a several locations that likely served to hide fugitive slaves, Mitchell said. In his research, he has concluded that those sites include a white-columned mansion on South Main Street; a shop on Afton
Avenue; a South Canal Street house, which was moved for a convenient store; the Old Library; borough Baptist and AME churches; and a River Road stone house, which Mitchell believes was used as a lookout point, he said.

In addition, Mitchell said there’s a good chance the Continental Tavern, the Grist Mill and Lakeside, a Lake Afton historic house were also Yardley stations. He strongly believes the three structures were connected by a
tunnel system because they are in close proximity to each other.

Continental Tavern owner Frank Lyons believes Mitchell makes a good argument.

During renovations of the bar/restaurant, some sort of potential tunnel system was discovered deep underground of his business.

Underneath the kitchen a basement room was found with 18 inch stone walls and there was no way in from the basement. Eventually a way was made.

“What we also discovered in the corner of this building was a 90-degree quarter circle wall,” Lyons said. “We wondered what was behind the wall, so we took a couple of stones out and put a light down and put some cameras and took some pictures. And what we found was a tunnel that went down to the ground.

“This tunnel may have been at one time a sistern to hold what they call gray water, it wouldn’t have been used for sewer underneath the building. So we when we got it opened, we began digging. We dug about 25 feet and we ran out of rope ladder.”

So he had Mitchell take a look. At that time Mitchell made the case that there were three hidden chambers.

“Right behind us was the Grist Mill and next to us is Lake Side and the Continental contained chambers of sorts that were used to hide fugitive slaves as they fled north in the Underground Railroad,” Lyons said.

The second oldest Quaker meeting house in Pennsylvania is in Yardley.

“It would have been logical that it would have been the Quakers to be the leading abolitionists,” said Lyon, who is a history buff and an American Revolution re-enactor. “And it was logical that there would be a robust way
station here on the Underground Railroad. Now, (Mitchell) claims there was a tunnel that came up from the area of the canal and connected these three buildings. So this tunnel that we found may in fact be a part of a larger
tunnel system that was down there.”

Other than the tunnels, Lyons hasn’t found artifacts that would better cement the argument that indeed the Continental Tavern was a station for the Underground Railroad.

He’ll keep on digging, Lyons said.

But his daughter Coleen has come across a room of ghosts that appeared to have been involved in the Underground Railroad, he said, adding that he does believe that his daughter has had contact with ghost.

During a ghost cleansing of the tavern a couple of years ago by a third party, Coleen, then 11, told Lyons that she could see a black boy, about 7 or 8 years old, wearing worn out and dirty clothes and who wanted to be
reunited with his parents.

At the other end of the room there was a group of black people.

Lyons asked Coleen to ask them the location of the Underground Railroad tunnel or hideout.

They refused because it was a secret.

But Coleen heard the ghosts mumbling among each other.

It’s by the kitchen, she told Lyons.

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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Uncategorized


Continental Tavern ~ Yardley’s Dirty Little Secret

Between 1920 and 1933 the Continental Tavern in Yardley was the place for a drink.

The business had all the charm that many Americans needed during those 12 years – it was a speakeasy.

But the moral police had been strong long before the Prohibition Era, which banned the production, transportation and sale of booze under the 18thamendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In the mid 1800s, the business was a temperance house. However, owner Samuel Slack was eager to get a liquor license.

He tried. And tried.

But a local women’s group fought fiercely against his attempts to obtain a liquor license in the Quaker town.

After several number of years of petitioning for the license, Slack managed to obtain the permit in 1864, said Frank Lyons, a self-proclaimed history geek and owner of the Continental Tavern for the past five years.

Then, 56 years later, the Yardley bar and those across the country were faced with the prohibition of alcohol as part of a national movement to improve Americans’ lives, protect families and society values from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse, according to

But instead, “thugs became celebrities, responsible authority was rendered impotent. Social mores in place for a century were obliterated. Especially among the young, and most especially among young women, liquor consumption rocketed, propelling the rest of the culture with it: skirts shortened. Music heated up. America’s Sweetheart morphed into The Vamp,” according to the website.

In the course of searching for Underground Railroad artifacts underneath the building, one of Yardley’s dirty little secrets was discovered: the Continental Tavern was a robust speakeasy, Lyons said.

It didn’t come to light until about 164 years later, when Lyons gutted the place to restore it. By digging several feet into the ground thousands of glass bottles were found that were used for whiskey and beer.

Lyons, with the help from a local historian, was able to conclude that the Continental Tavern had indeed been a speakeasy through newspapers and license plates that were also found among the bottles.

The initial structure was built in 1845 as a temperance house and store, said Susan Taylor, President of the Yardley Historical Association. Then, in 1866 the proprietor received a license to operate a hotel with 18 rooms. A fierce blaze destroyed the building in 1876. The following year, it was rebuilt.

Throughout the site’s history, seven people have owned it and have made changes to the building. The history buff that he is, Lyons tried to refurbish the building to its days before the blaze.

When he purchased the building five years ago, holding up the building were a couple of rotted cedar posts, he said.

When we first moved (to Yardley) 26 years ago, I’ve always had a fascination with the American Revolution,” Lyons said. “And when we moved here of course I realized we moved three miles down the road from where Washington crossed the Delaware (River).”

When he moved to the area, he had more reason to delve into research of that time in American history. About 10 years ago, Lyons got involved in the reenactment of Washington’s crossing on Christmas Day of 1776, which is something he’d always wanted to do. Then, he and about 15 to 20 re-enactors formed a company of the regiment out of Massachusetts that did the actual rowing on Christmas for Washington.

Reenacting is a progressive disease, the more you do it, the more you want to do it, the more you want to learn, the more things you want to do,” Lyons said during a recent interview while sitting on the newly renovated second floor of the Continental Tavern.

Buying the tavern had nothing to do with history for Lyons.

It wasn’t a history investment,” he said. “It was a real estate business investment. A nice adjunct of that was the fact that it has historical significant to the building.”

When he bought the building it was “old and tired. It needed a lot of work. It was kind of in disrepair. The second and third floors weren’t being used. There had been 18 boarding rooms, but it was called a hotel,” Lyons said.

He began doing the renovations in four phases. The first floor was the first phase so the restaurant could remain open while bringing the building up to code, which was a challenge because the building wasn’t built with a sprinkler, heating or air conditioning systems.

When this building was built it had no plumbing or electricity,” Lyons said. “It was the first building in Yardley that got electricity.”

Lyons didn’t know what would be found in the building’s foundation as contractors gutted the building and peeled its layers like an onion.

What we found to much to my surprise and please, underneath the kitchen is an area we call the pit, we nicknamed it. It’s a basement room with 18-inch stone walls, about 15-by-15 and there was no way in from the basement,” Lyons said. “It’s imbedded in the basement, but there was no way into it. There was an outside removal wooden window that was built in the 1930s, late 1930s. Whoever cut that window out of the foundation to get access put the date on the wet concrete. The only way to get into this pit was through a trapped door that didn’t exists when we bought the building. Since then we’ve installed the trapped door to get down into it.

What we also discovered in the corner of this building was a 90-degree quarter circle wall. We wondered what was behind the wall, so we took a couple of stones out and put a light down and put some cameras and took some pictures. And what we found was a tunnel that went down to the ground.”

The discovered tunnel may have been at one time a sistern to hold gray water, it wouldn’t have been used for sewer underneath the building, Lyons said.

So we when we got it opened, we began digging,” he said. “We dug about 25 feet and we ran out of rope ladder.”

Local Underground Rail historian Melard Mitchel made the case that the tunnel might have been used to transport and house slaves that fled north.

Mitchel claims there was a tunnel that came up from the area of the canal and connected the Continental Tavern with two other nearby buildings.

So because this tunnel may in fact been part of a larger tunnel system that was down there, Lyons began excavating hoping to find evidence of the Underground Railroad.

By this point, Lyons was doing the digging for his historical curiosity and for some building improvements.

The contractors kept digging, so 8-inch steel columns and heavy concrete footings could be put into place to help sustain the kitchen floor.

One of the guys digging said, ‘Oh my God, this place is full of stuff,’ ” Lyons said.

The digging continued, an archeological-type grid of the underground area was created along with a cataloging system for the different items that were coming out of the ground.

As they dug they were looking for evidence items of the Underground Railroad. However, after taking about 25 cubic yards of debris they found nearly 10,000 whiskey and beer bottles from the Prohibition era.

We also found old newspapers and license plates and a few coins,” Lyons said.”When we started digging we were in the mid 1930s.” Prohibition ran from 1920 to 1933.

As they kept digging they continue to discover older newspapers and license plates.

We have a New Jersey tag that’s like 2341 and it’s the two-thousand three-hundred forty first car registered in the state of New Jersey and it’s from 1913,” Lyons said. “Most of the whiskey bottles were broken because what they were doing was throwing the bottles down this secret pit and breaking them with river rocks, but they didn’t break all of them.”

When Lyons bought the Continental Tavern he knew there was some history, but he never imagined the amount of history that was beneath his feet, he said.

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Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


Graystones ~ The Treaty for Pennsylvania

William Penn died penniless, but he left Pennsylvanians with riches of history, including the steep wood Graystones in Morrisville.

At Graystones, located at what is now the borough’s northeast corner at Crown Street and Highland Avenue, Penn met with members of the Lenape Indian tribe under a white oak tree in 1682 to negotiate the first land-purchase survey in Pennsylvania.

The Lenape Native Americans, also known as Delaware Indians or the Delaware tribe, settled between the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and Hudson River in New York. When they first came in contact with Europeans, the Lenape worked on agriculture, and moved around during seasons for hunting and fishing opportunities.

Penn befriended the natives. As a Quaker, Penn opposed firearms and ensured the Lenape that the tribe would get paid fairly for their land. Although he came from an Anglican family and was son of an admiral under the British crown, Penn became Quaker when he was 22 years old.

“He was a good man to us,” said Bart “Standing Elk” Cartwright, who said he’s a federally recognized Native American. “We were the first to make any type of treaty with him.”

The white oak tree isn’t there today; that type of tree only lives up to 200 years. However, large rocks that stood nearby remain within six-acres of woods. They are the only remaining landmark showing where Penn made the purchase.

A bronze plaque near the rocks reads: “Near this spot stood the white oak tree that marked the starting point of the first tract of land purchased of the Indians by William Penn July 15, 1682, on land in the Tenure of John Wood and by him called Graystones over against the Falls of the Delaware.”

The site was named after the extraordinary outcropping of gray bedrock which protrudes from the ground at the northwest end of the site, said Bill Setzer, who is a member of the Friends of Graystones.

In the 1990s, that precious land was threatened by a proposed dense housing development.

The Morrisville community banded against the housing project, leading the Morrisville Borough Council to save the plot of land with the help of the Bucks County government, which generously pitched in and granted the area as preserved open space, Setzer said.

For Setzer, the Graystones aren’t only a gem in his town, or the county, the site is a statewide treasure.

“This is where it all started, land purchasing and preservation,” he said, adding that Penn wanted the land for farming.

Additionally, Setzer said, the plot has botanical and geological importance aside from its historic significance.

Within the six-acres of woods, there remain trees that date back to when Penn met the Indians for the purchase, he said.

A study conducted by Professor David Benner of Delaware Valley College and his students in 1977 concluded that the Graystones Forest was without question the second oldest hardwood standing in Bucks County, Setzer said. The first is a 22-acre track near Doylestown.

At the time of the study, at least 100 trees were more than 100 years old, 25 were more than 200 years old, and others were about 250 years old.

Benner concluded that the small forest was “rather unusual” and “should be preserved and protected as a natural area for future study and observation of a climax type forest situation similar to the virgin forests that once covered much of Pennsylvania.”

Knowing that, Morrisville Councilman Fred Kerner has repeatedly asked Google to put Graystones Forest as a landmark in the company’s Google Maps system, but to no avail, he said.

Kerner said the plot is a beautiful forest area with wildlife. Setzer said that within the woods’ boundaries thrives a variety of trees: hickory, tulip and beech.

Maybe Penn realized the beauty of the plot and decided he would set up his farm within the tract, he said.

Penn, an Englishman born on Oct. 14, 1644, founded Pennsylvania after the land was given to him by King Charles II of England, who had a large loan with Penn’s father, Adm. Sir William Penn. The king settled the debt with the young Penn by awarding him the territory on March 4, 1681 at the age of 36, according, which is run by the Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia.

Initially, Penn had named the land Sylvania– “woods” in Latin. However, the king renamed it Pennsylvania in honor of the Penn’s father.

After the younger Penn’s death on July 30, 1718, his family kept ownership of Pennsylvania until the American Revolution.

Bucks County was one of the first counties in the new Pennsylvania. The county was named after Buckinghamshire (Bucks) in England, “where the Penn’s family seat was, and from whence many of the first settlers came,” according to

“Penn had hoped that Pennsylvania would be a profitable venture for himself and his family,” the website states. “Penn marketed the colony throughout Europe in various languages and, as a result, settlers flocked to Pennsylvania.

“Despite Pennsylvania’s rapid growth and diversity, the colony never turned a profit for Penn or his family. In fact, Penn (was) later be imprisoned in England for debt and, at the time of his death in 1718, he was penniless.”

Penn spent two years in Pennsylvania from 1682 to 1684. During that time, he began to build his country home, Pennsbury Manor in Bucks County along the Delaware River.

He also started his building plans for Philadelphia, soon after that project was completed, he started to exercise his plan, and so he began to befriend the Lenape, even learning several native dialects for negotiating purposes.

Penn made a similar purchase deal as he had done with the Lenape with the other Indians at Shackamaxon, near Kensington, a neighborhood in Philadelphia. That deal was made under an elm tree.

“Penn introduced laws saying that if a European did an Indian wrong, there would be a fair trial, with an equal number of people from both groups deciding the matter,” reads “His measures in this matter proved successful: even though later colonists did not treat the Indians as fairly as Penn and his first group of colonists had done, colonists and Indians remained at peace in Pennsylvania much longer than in the other English colonies.”

After 1684, he visited the area one last time in 1699. Although he ultimately wanted to settle in America, his financial problems prevented him. His economic troubles stemmed from his accountant, who cheated him out of his fortune. For a decade Penn was in legal battles against him.

Penn suffered a stroke in 1712 that left him unable to speak or care for himself, according to

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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized