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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

 

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