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Monthly Archives: March 2012

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 ushistory.org, 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 ushistory.org.

“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 ushistory.org. “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 ushistory.org.

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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Delaware Canal ~ Bygone Times

Susan Taylor is amazed that she learns something new about the Delaware Canal every time she gives a tour of the long narrow strip of water and towpath that for nearly 100 years served as an important thoroughfare.

“The canal itself has changed or someone on the tour has something to share” of the canal that took five years to complete construction in the 1800s, she said. “The stories that people tell me about the canal keep me going. This long, but narrow strip of water and towpath is so many things to so many people.”

The 60-mile waterway, where thousands of mule-drawn boats traveled until 1931, has been closed for nearly 81 years, but the memories live on in photos, journals, letters and word-of-mouth stories.

Completed in 1832, the canal was originally constructed to be about 60 feet wide and 5 feet deep and drop 165 feet in a series of waterway steps through 23 locks. In addition, 10 aqueducts carried the waterway over streams and valleys. The locks raised and lowered the water levels of the canal, allowing boats to navigate the stream up and down.

The Delaware Canal stretches from Bristol in Bucks County to Easton in Northampton County, where it connects with the Lehigh Canal. The primary purpose of these two waterways was to transport anthracite coal from the northeastern Pennsylvania coal regions to the cities along the eastern seaboard, according to Taylor.

For Taylor the canal is historic, educational and environmentally important. That’s why she leads the fight to keep it open and alive in Bucks County and surrounding areas. She founded Friends of the Delaware Canal, of which she runs the daily operations as executive director.

“The Friends of the Delaware Canal exists because the canal needs people to stand up for it and proclaim that it is worthwhile,” she said. “We offer ways through which people can discover and learn to appreciate its value and many virtues.”

During spring and summer, visitors will find themselves surrounded by tall tress, chirping birds and a relaxing ambiance that surrounds the National Historic Landmark.

But that serenity quickly vanishes when heavy rains and snow melt from up north flood the canal, resulting in millions of dollars in damage.

Every year, Taylor keeps a close eye on snow and rain falls. And when they are high she keeps her fingers crossed hoping the damage will be minimal to her beloved canal.

In recent years, she’s had significant financial help from state and federal grants for the repairs that total more than $5 million, spending that some say is uncalled for.

“In editorials we’ve argued against spending millions to repair the canal because inevitably Mother Nature will ruin what we fix – at a huge cost. (It) happened in back-to-back years when floods decimated millions’ worth of repairs and upgrades,” said Guy Petroziello, editorial page editor for the Bucks County Courier Times. “In a tongue-in-cheek way, I’ve advocated paving the canal over or filling it in to create an extra-wide path that could accommodate hikers, runners and bikers all at the same time. That incited angry responses from humorless tree-huggers and bark-eaters. Guess I’d be mad, too, if I had a mouth full of wood chips.”

But Taylor never minds the critics, and she goes on with her preservation goals.

The canal caused Bucks County to change, she said; the canal’s history is the story of expansion of America during the Industrial Revolution.

“We are more than our colonial/Revolutionary War heritage,” Taylor said. “I think that the canal’s history is also important because it is a story about how people can work together to preserve and improve something that they hold dear.”

Inspired by the tremendous success of New York’s Erie Canal, thePennsylvaniabegan building a 1,200-mile system of canals to connect Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lake Erie. The new transportation routes carried raw materials and manufactured products that powered the country’s industrial revolution, according the Friends’ website, fodc.org.

“When the canal was built, the old made way for the new because opportunity flowed with the canal,” Taylor said. “The settlement in Smithtown, business and all was demolished when the canal came through. The Neely Gristmill at Washington Crossing Historic Park was moved upstream because the canal disturbed the flow of Pidcock Creek.”

In the most productive years just prior to the Civil War, more than 3,000 mule-drawn boats traveled up and down the canal, moving over one million tons of coal a year. A mule-powered boat loaded with 80 tons of cargo traveled 30 miles or more each day, she said.

Boats also carried smaller quantities of goods such as lumber, building stone, lime, and produce, Taylor said.

The work shifts for the men, women and children who worked on the canals weren’t easy. Their work days began at 4 a.m., grooming and harnessing the mule-team. They would work up to 10 p.m. or even later until the locks stopped being operated and boats weren’t allowed to go through.

Because people traveled the canal in the boats, communities such as Yardley Borough were created along the canal to serve those workers and passengers.

“Towns had growth spurts after the canal was built because it offered business opportunities. An entrepreneur could service the canal trade by opening general stores or providing shelter for the crew and their mules, or building boats,” Taylor said. “Farmers, quarrymen, and craftsmen could use the canal to transport their products to a wider, more lucrative market. In New Hope, there was very little development beyondMain Streetbefore the canal came through.  The canal was just ‘the ditch up on the hill.’”

The days of the canal came to an end as railroads took over the transportation of goods and passengers. The railroads were competitive to obtain the freight contracts, which lowered the canal revenue.

“In 1858, the decision was made to sell theDelawareCanalto private operators,” according to the website. “From 1866 to 1931, theDelawareCanalwas run by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, which also owned of the Lehigh Canal.”

Taylor said the “iron horse” finally beat the mule, when the last paying boat locked through on Oct. 17, 1931. That same day, 40 miles of the Delaware Canal was deeded to Pennsylvania and was named RooseveltState Park.

Then, in 1940 Pennsylvania obtained the outstanding 20 miles of the canal. And by 1989, the park was renamed to Delaware Canal State Park by popular demand.

The Delaware Canal was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1978, and is preserved today as the most intact and fully watered ofAmerica’s towpath canals, Taylor said.

“Older people, who lived close to the canal, have such great stories about learning to swim in it,” she said. “Veterans of the Boy Scout camp onTreasure Islandpositively glow when they recount their accomplishment of walking ten miles north on the canal and then canoeing back down the river to the camp.”

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Abraham Lincoln ~ A Hero in Bristol

Hundreds of commuters drive by it.

Dozens of people walk and run passed by it everyday day. And they might not know the historic ground they are tracking.

The blue post with a plaque that reads “Abraham Lincoln” on top is a pride and joy of Bristol. The plaque, which was dedicated on Jan. 1, 1991, reads in yellow lettering, “On Feb. 21, 1861, the train carrying the President-elect from Springfield, Ill. to his inauguration in Washington D.C. stopped briefly near this point. Mr. Lincoln appeared on the rear platform and spoke to the assembled crowd, estimated at more than a thousand people.”

On Feb. 21, 1861, near the commemorative post close to the intersection of Bristol Pike and Pond Street, President-elect Abraham Lincoln waved and greeted Bristolians during a brief scheduled train stop while on his way to Washington to be inaugurated on March 4, 1861.

“In those days inaugurations weren’t in January like…now,” said Harold Mitchener, a Bristol historian. “The inaugurations in those days were in March.”

Because several states in the south had withdrawn from the national government after Lincoln’s election, in an effort to gather support to preserve the Union, Lincoln launched an inaugural tour with stops in northern states on his way to the White House, according to explorepahistory.com.

“Elected with less than 40 percent of the popular vote in a four-way contest for president, his legitimacy as chief executive was literally at stake,” the website states.

The 16th president of the United States left his Illinois home on Feb. 11, 1861, and made a few other brief stops along the way before arriving at Bristol’s train depot, near what is now a bank building, Mitchener said.

According to Doron Green’s 1911 book “History of Britol, Pennsylvania,” Lincoln left his home with his family and “started on his long journey to Washington, via New York, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, (PA) and Baltimore, (MD).”

But it wasn’t the first time such a dignitary would appear in the square-mile borough.

Because Bristol sits on a well-traveled corridor between New York and Philadelphia, many politicians stopped in the town. During the Victorian Era, the wealthy and politicians such as Presidents John Tyler, John Adams, James Madison, and Millard Fillmore visited the King George Inn, which opened in 1681 in the borough.

Through word of mouth, Bristolians learned that Lincoln was in New York and would stop in their small town before heading to Philadelphia in the afternoon. So a large group of Bristolians gathered to wait to see the president-elect, including a group of students who attended the towns’ only school then.

Before becoming president, Lincoln was a practicing lawyer and served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig for Illinois. He ran under the Republican presidential ticket a few years after Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, leaving it up to territories and individual states to determine whether to allow slavery. The act repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which allowed Missouri to be a slave state, and Maine and portion of Louisiana to be non-slave.

Although Lincoln believed that slaves were not equals to the white population, he was a strong believer that all people were created with inalienable rights, a political stand that wasn’t popular among slave states.

Lincoln’s train stopped, and out came the tall and slender man from the rear platform of the last train car, in which Lincoln was traveling with his family – his wife Mary and their three sons, Robert, Willie, and Tad.

“They made the welkin ring with their cheers for the new president,” Green wrote in his book, which described the entire event in one paragraph.

Mitchener said the train didn’t stop for Lincoln to get off it, rather it was merely for the president-elect to brief show his face to the American people.

In the book, a man only identified as Frank Woodington, Sr., walked towards the soon to be head of state and reached for this hand and said, “Mr. Lincoln, when you get to be president , enforce the laws.”

Lincoln shook the man’s hand and said, “That I will try to do, my friend.”

According to explorepahistory.com, Woodington was a young laborer who was the first Bristol resident to shake Lincoln’s hand.

Then a black man proceeded to meet Lincoln. However, Green’s book doesn’t mention the black man’s conversation with Lincoln.

The last area resident to see Lincoln up close was carpenter Gilbert Tomlinson, who was a former school board director, leaped from the moving train as it departed Bristol, according to explorepahistory.com.

As the train traveled away from Bristol’s train station, Lincoln stood on the doorway waving to the roaring crowd until he disappeared from view, Green wrote.

Four years later, Lincoln’s casket made the same route, Mitchener said. That time, the train didn’t stop, though, he said.

“It just passed on by,” he said.

After winning the Civil War (1861-1865), Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865 by Confederate sympathizer John Booth at the Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2012 in Uncategorized