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.