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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Bowman’s Hill Tower ~ Stimulating Jobs and Scenic Views

Bucks County lifer Mike Sodano has seen a lot in his 52 years.

One of his most enjoyable moments experiencing Bucks County was atop the 125-feet high Bowman’s Hill Tower.

“I’ve been there a few times,” he said. “(It’s) truly a gem of the county.  Wonderful views up and down the river. And I always loved seeing it from the New Jersey side.”

The tower, whose base measures 24 square feet, is within the 500-acre Washington Crossing Park and sits in Upper Makefield and Solebury.

The park is the site where Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army launched their boats across the cold waters of the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776, a turning point during the American Revolution – the fight for independence against the British crown.

During the war, the Union troops climbed a pile of stones as a look out point for the enemy, the Brit soldiers. There’s a misconception that a version of the existing tower was used during the war, but that’s not the case, park officials said.

Built on Bowman’s Hill, the tower was completed in June 1931 – after $100,000 and nearly two years of construction that started in September 1929 – as a monument to Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army, during the New Deal Era, said Ellen Petri, a founder of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. No one knows for sure where the name Bowman came from.

In 1917, Pennsylvania created Washington Crossing Historic Park, and two years later the Washington Crossing Park Commission was established with its main focus to administer and develop the park.

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. So the group has taken upon themselves to keep the park running and providing tours and educational services with the help from donations and volunteers.

For them, it was about preserving history for the locals and the country.

For Sodano visiting the tower, which is about 380 feet above sea level, is a great visit.

“It’s just a really nice, clean, natural looking park,” said the Penndel resident, who lives about 12 miles from the site.

At one point, visitors had to walk up 125 feet of narrow, winding steps to reach the top. But now, an elevator has been installed in the center. The elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top, so visitors still must walk up 23 steps to get on the tower’s roof.

That number coincides with the number of graves of unknown soldiers buried at the state park, not far from Bowman’s tower, Petri said.

Atop of the stone tower, on a clear day, the view of the Delaware River Valley stretches at least 14 miles in each direction of the Delaware River Valley, she said.

There are three main views. Facing north, visitors can see the river snake through lush landscapes up to New Hope and Lambertville, an area once called Coryell’s Ferry. That area was the mid-point of the two-day journey from Philadelphia to New York in the 18th century, according to the Lambertville Historical Society.

“During the Revolutionary War, Coryell’s Ferry served as an outpost and crossing point for Gen. George Washington and his troops,” the Lambertville Historical Society wrote on its website, http://www.lambertvillehistoricalsociety.org/about.php3 

Straight ahead a large American Flag is flown. On the riverbank of the Delaware are the graves of 23 unknown American Revolution soldiers.

To the right, visitors can peek into Trenton, New Jersey, and beyond on a clear day, Petri said. From that view point, visitors can how see much river the American troops covered on December 1776 when they crossed the icy, frigid Delaware in a surprise attack against the Hessians, who were British-hired German soldiers.

From the top of the tower, homes look like Monopoly pieces – some larger than others – such as the small 18th century stone farm house, the Thompson-Neely House.

Also visible are two bridges: the New Hope-Lambertville and the Route 202 bridge.

To create the observation deck it took man power and money – two things that U.S. government officials were more than willing to provide across the country to help stimulate the economy to shake off the Great Depression.

The project generated work for unemployed men in the area.

They collected stones from a nearby hill and stone fences. They also cut stone used for the sills and balustrade from surrounding quarries in nearby Lumberville and across the river in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

Builders used more than 2,400 tons of materials during construction. That included 1,200 perch of stone, 517 tons of sand and 225 tons of cement. An excavation 15 feet deep was made so that the base rests on a foundation of native rock, according to the tower’s website, www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing/.

The job-creating project ended up costing $100,000, including labor and materials. The labor was done by Washington Crossing Park Commission employees.

The project also included reforesting the area. In 1932, 28,300 seedlings were planted. Then, the following year, a roadway was constructed to connect the tower and the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, which was an additional cost.

The preserve sits at the foot of Bowman’s Hill. Set among the bucolic countryside of Bucks County’s riverfront communities, the preserve showcases 800-plus species of native plants and is adored by locals. It is set in what is known as the Upper Park of Washington Crossing Historic Park. The waters of the Pidcock Creek wander through the area before emptying into the Delaware River.

The erection of the tower was among about a half dozen improvement projects completed at Bowman’s Hill under the Civil Works Administration and Works Progress Administration of the New Deal, executed by President Franklin Roosevelt, according to the tower’s website.

Friends of Washington Crossing Park are planning a facelift to the area surrounding the tower, such as a better driveway and a friendly gateway, Petri said.

The last time the tower experienced any work was in the 1980s, when the elevator was installed.


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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Robert Morris ~ Behind-the-Scenes Hero

Every Fourth of July Americans remember the popular heroes of the American Revolution.

Sure, there’s Gen. George Washington, who victoriously led his army across the frigid waters of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey on Christmas night in 1776 to surprise the Hessians that were hired by the British. Washington’s crossing was a pivotal turning point of the Revolutionary War.

Then there’s Paul Revere and his midnight ride. In a hurry,Revererode a horse fromCharlestown,Mass., toLexington,Mass., to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were making way to arrest them.

But little is known about the war’s financier, Robert Morris, who ironically wasn’t American born. He was a hero of the war nonetheless.

Morris didn’t only help finance the American Revolution; he signed the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

“When one who hears of Morris reflects on his career, I would imagine most think of him in the light of his elected offices. However, what many may not realize is that he was mainly responsible for financing the Revolutionary War from many sources,” said Greg Pezza, a political science professor atBucksCountyCommunity Collegeand history teacher atLowerMerionHigh School.

Morris was born inLiverpool,Englandin January 1734. In 1747, he leftEnglandto join his father inMaryland. Afterwards, he moved north toPhiladelphiaand became a wealthy and respected businessman.

“What I find most astonishing about Robert Morris is that this was a once exceptionally wealthy man, a patriot, and a nominee for Secretary of the Treasury who unfortunately ran into some bad luck died in virtual poverty,” Pezza said.

He died penniless inPhiladelphiain May 1806.

Although influential inAmerica, with universities and towns names after him, Liverpool residents don’t know about Morris, said Larry Neild, a journalist and broadcaster inLiverpool.

“Many people in our city, including some prominent politicians, have also never heard of him,” Neild said. “So here was a guy, born in Liverpool, who was a key figure in the creation of theU.S.and hardly anybody here has heard of him.”

But he’s changed that.

Neild has put Morris on theLiverpoolmap. Kind of.

The veteran journalist, who also does public relations work on the side, was ignorant about Morris until he saw Morris’ name on a plaque.

“In 2008, wearing my public relations hat, I had to write some press releases about a large 1930s office complex which was changing hands,” Neild said. “In the lobby I saw a plaque saying the site was the birthplace of Robert Morris. I’d never heard of him.”

But it wasn’t until 2011 that Neild went public with Morris inLiverpool.

On July 4, he published a column about Morris with pictures of statues of the Brit around theUnited Stateson his political column liverpoolconfidential.co.uk.

There are statues of Morris near Independence Hall inPhiladelphia, as well in Chicago andMorrisville,Pa.There’s an elementary school inPhiladelphianamed after him, as well as two universities:RobertMorrisUniversityin suburbanPittsburghandRobert Morris UniversityIllinoisinChicago. And there’s a village inPennsauken,N.J., named Morrisville.

The following day, Neild incorporated Morris into a speech that mainly involved his Sept. 11 coverage fromNew York. He connected the terrorist attacks and Morris by telling a ladies group in Liverpool, that one of the last timesAmericahad been attacked on its own soil was during the American Revolution byEngland.

“Not sure whether you are aware of this, but the surrender document that finally ended the American [Revolutionary] War was not, as most people would expect, signed in theU.S.In was signed inLiverpool,England, … in a warship anchored in the River Mersey just in front of our waterfront. I wonder how many Americans would know that,” Neild said.

Most delegates signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, but not Morris. He held off for a few weeks hoping that the two countries would reconcile.

During the war, Morris served in many capacities for the American government; he was a member of the Continental Congress, Pennsylvania Legislature and the Safety Committee.
When talks of independence from the British crown started brewing, Morris wasn’t sold. However, when the war began in 1775 Morris came through for the 13 colonies, although he didn’t believe it wasn’t the right time to leave the crown.

Morris managed to borrow money fromFranceand pitched in his own money to finance the war.

“When his efforts were put to the test, he contributed $10,000 of his own money which helped withWashington’s crossing and the win atTrenton,” Pezza said. “Washingtonwas so impressed with Morris that he nominated him as secretary of the treasury after the Constitution was ratified. He declined and recommended Alexander Hamilton.”

Once the war was over and the colonies started forming a government, Morris strongly lobbied to makeMorrisville,Pa., – then Colven’s Ferry – the country’s capital, said Jim Murray, a Morrisville historian.

Because Colven’s Ferry was midway betweenPhiladelphiaandNew York– the two political hubs of the era – he argued it was a good location for the capital to be established.

Morris lost the capital city by two votes because southern delegates wanted the principal city closer to them. SoWashington,D.C., was created.

As a successful businessman, Morris purchased properties. One was the Summerseat estate in Colven’s Ferry, which he owned from 1791 to 1798. Morrisville’s historical society still maintains the the Georgian mansion at Hillcrest and Legion avenues in the borough. Built in the 1770s, Summerseat housed numerous high-ranking military and government officials, including Gen.Washington.

Washingtonstopped there before leading the Continental Army in the infamous Christmas crossing of theDelawarefor the Battle of Trenton.

Morris purchased more property after the war, but later found himself in financial hardship and unable to pay much of his debt.

It was then that the behind-the-scenes war hero was sent to debtor’s prison for more than three years and was released in 1801,Murraysaid.

After being released from prison, he remained in Philadelphia, where he died at 72 year old.

 

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Uncategorized