One Time In Bucks County . . .

Bucks County Bits

Even though his father fought with the Union Navy, Grayson Stratton couldn’t even get a job with Bucks County newspapers because of his skin color. Finally, Wanamaker’s Store hired him as an elevator operator, honored to transport Mr. Wanamaker himself to his top floor office. Grayson was asked to join the store band, playing the sax, and a career was born. He played with the Sid Stratton Orchestra &  Sid Stratton & the Four Horseman. The band was featured in the silent film “Scar of Shame”, now playing at the County Theatre in Doylestown.

In Bensalem, Sara & Robert Logan created “Sarobia“, a Sanctuary for Human Beings, Birds & Animals. It was a haven for cats, to please the Goddess Bastet, had an Alice in Wonderland themed sculpture garden, and an artist’s commune. They wore white cotton, neither eating nor wearing anything from animals. Their land was left to the State of Pennsylvania to be preserved for wildlife, especially birds. It is now Neshaminy State Park & Playmasters Theatre.

William & Daisy Meyers arrived in Dogwood in 1957, the first black family in Levittown. This led to weeks of racial attacks so violent the Bristol Township Police, County Sheriff & Pa State Police couldn’t control it. Streets were closed, meetings were held, committees were formed & crosses were burned. The rioting finally died down after an officer was attacked. The Meyers lived with continued harassment until moving out four years later.

February is Black History Month

When the Schuykill Fishing Co moved from Philadelphia to Eddington, Bucks County in 1888, they actually brought their building with them. It was dismantled, each piece numbered, then reassembled next to what was known as the Clock House. After reconstruction, however, there was a piece left over. No one could figure out where it belonged.

Robert Green of Carversville was the fashion director for Playboy for 20 years. He was known for his wild parties, colorful ties and wavy, silver hair. He could be seen around town in a yellow Rolls Royce driven by his chauffeur, Roy.

There are 16 bridges that cross the Delaware from Bucks County. Just one, the Lumberville-Raven Rock Bridge (aka the Lumberville Foot Bridge) is designated for pedestrians only. It crosses from Lumberville to Bull’s Island. Originally made of wood in 1856, it was rebuilt as a suspension bridge by Roebling & Son in 1947.

There are 2 railroad bridges, 2 suspension bridges and 1 vertical lift bridge.

Here’s to a new month, a new year, and a new decade. Let’s make this one the best ever.

William Penn founded Bucks County with the hope that its inhabitants would live as the Society of Friends do; with Peace, Simplicity, Integrity, Equality, and Caring for the community and the World. 

 Welcome Friend Peace

George Fell was standing on a Delaware River bridge when the Flood of 1841 destroyed it. He clung to a piece of driftwood, floating down the river until being rescued in Yardley.

The Flood of 1955 pushed the Upper Black Eddy Post Office down River Road and into the Delaware.

At her kitchen table, Joyce Byers  made Christmas carolers from tissue paper, wire & clay. People kept asking her to make more, & soon she had a production company in Chalfont (Byers Choice), making over 500,000 pieces a year. There is a Christmas Museum, a cobblestone street to stroll on, & a trip to the North Pole & Santa’s Workshop. You can even watch the figures being made from the Observation Deck. Fun for all, & all free

Walter Sobusiak (Bristol Township) was on guard in Pearl Harbor. When his shift ended, his replacement never arrived, leaving Walter on duty for several days. His barracks and mess hall had been bombed, killing 200.

Radford Ferland (Newtown Township) was named for the USS Radford, the ship that rescued his father from the water five days after the USS Helena was sunk.

Remember Pearl Harbor

Edward Hicks, born in Attleboro (Langhorne), was a Quaker minister and painter of signs and stage coaches. His talent lay in art, which conflicted with Quaker beliefs. He gave up the ministry to paint Bible themed works, including over 60 versions of “The Peaceable Kingdom”. The painting was meant to illustrate that there are no physical barriers among the world’s inhabitants and they should all live and work together in peace.

After retiring from the Dallas Cowboys, “Dandy” Don Meredith purchased the Central Bucks Broadcasting Company and helped run WBUX radio station. He lived on a horse farm in Bedminster Township and frequented the Elephant Hotel.

In just 15 months starting in 1918, one third of the world population got infected with the “Spanish Flu”. Millions died as it spread through the military (WWI). An Elks Home and a local boarding house were converted to hospitals. A 16 year old Bristol Courier carrier was the first to die in Bucks County, and it was illegal to spit on the ground.

Two hundred and sixty years ago,  William Rodman came home and stuck his riding switch into the ground near a stream at what is now Libertae in Bensalem. It rooted and grew to become one of the largest Buttonwood trees east of the Rockies. With a hollow base and a circumference of 30 feet, the entire grounds crew could stand inside of it.

Unfortunately, it dropped its last leaf in 2012.

If you see a woman in a gown hitchhiking near Manor Lake in Tullytown, beware! She may be Gertrude Spring, AKA Midnight Mary, who died when the car she was riding in went into the lake. She is known to get into passing cars, dripping wet. She is buried in the St. James Cemetary in Bristol.

Lit by the full moon, a figure dressed in black, wearing a tri-cornerd hat, a mask and a cape was seen galloping on a black horse across the bridge between Jamison and Hartsville. It was the Mysterious Phantom Rider of Dark Hollow.  Feared as a devil, he was shot by Goethe Norwood. Later, it was discovered that he had killed his own son, Nathan, who had been trying to impress a girl. Some say the Phantom can still be seen crossing the old bridge over the Neshaminy Creek.

The Black Bass Hotel in Lumberville is haunted. As the story goes, a woman caught her husband in bed with another woman. She shot them, and then herself. She can still be seen occasionally in the hotel holding a pearl handled revolver. The scent of lavendar follows her.

To stimulate business growth in Bristol Boro, the Bristol Improvement Co. was formed in 1876. Industry boomed. We got the Keystone, Star, Wallpaper, Bristol Carpet (Leedom), Bristol Woolen, Livingston, Bristol Rolling, Bristol Worsted & Pierce & Williams Sash Mills, as well as the Patent Leather Co, Corona Leather, Bristol Forge, Bristol Foundry, Keystone Forge & Standard Cast Iron Pipe. Today, we revitalize again with Raising The Bar & the Bristol Boro Business Association.

The Village of Ferndale used to be called Rum Corner, after the rum distillery that attracted travelers riding the electric trolley on the Old Easton Road. Rum was cheap, made from local ingredients and served either hot or cold. The distillery is long gone, but the old hotel still thrives as the Ferndale Inn.

In 1959 Bristolians flocked to Auto Boys Department Store three nights a week to see RCA demonstrate color TV. Two years later, Walt Disney featured “The Wonderful World of Color”, prompting people to buy this modern marvel. The first patent for a color TV was issued in 1904.

Stovertown (Tohickon), the first village in Bedminster Township, is buried under Lake Nockamixon. Pennsylvania decided to build a state park within 25 miles of every resident, so they demolished the town and flooded the area. It took six months to fill the lake and destroyed 290 properties, including a school, post office, several mills, a blacksmith, quarry, creamery, general store, and most importantly, homes. The only thing left under the lake is a stone bridge.

Until Vincenzo LaRosa founded his LaRosa and Sons Macaroni Company in 1914, pasta was sold bulk to stores. He was one of the first to create individual packages for direct sales to the consumer. The company makes over 40 varieties of pasta in its plant in Warminster.

Poet and teacher Alexander Wilson taught briefly at the no longer existing Milestown School in Bristol Township in the late 1700s, where he fell madly and secretly in love with a married woman. To protect them both, he quit his job and moved to Philadelphia, where he was inspired to begin drawing detailed images of all the birds of North America. His “American Ornithology” preceded Audubon’s works. Five birds and and entire species of Warblers are named for him. 

W. Atlee Burpee started a mail order livestock company in 1876. When his customers requested seed and feed for the animals, he quickly learned it was easier to ship seeds than live animals. He bought Fordhook Farms in Doylestown & used selective breeding & hybridization techniques to make his plants better. Burpee soon became the largest seed company in the world, because “Burpee Seeds Grow”.

In 1689, Otter and Adams Hollow Creeks were dammed to create a pond to power local mills. The spring water was brown from iron and tasted like spoiled eggs. Later, Dr. Benjamin Rush said bathing in the water could cure over 15 ills, and “The Baths” became a resort spa, featuring a hotel, a racetrack & a bathing beach. The pond is now  Silver Lake (Nature Center) and the original spring is buried under Lower Bucks Hospital.

When  Benjamin Parry moved to Coryell’s Ferry, he bought the Hope Flour Mill. After expanding and rebuilding, he renamed it the New Hope Flour Mill, thus changing the name of the town. His mill in New Hope is now the home of the Bucks County Playhouse.

At one time, Bucks County was the cigar capital of the country, with more than a million pounds of tobacco harvested annually, and about 85 cigar making plants, mainly around Perkasie and Sellersville. An average person could roll 300 cigars a day, but a machine did 6500. We were known for the 5 cent Cinco, better known as the Stinko.

Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger performed in over 200 movies, TV shows and fairs. He was very good, but he sometimes needed a stand-in. Enter Gold Zephyr, a “yellow” or Palomino raised on King’s Orchard in Richland Township. He could dance and perform tricks like Trigger, and looked just like him, only shorter. Roy called him Trigger, Jr. Although he became famous, he came back to Bucks County to visit and cheer up his old owner who was ill in Grandview Hospital.

Playwright George Kaufman named his Holicong farm Cherchez La Farm and hosted many celebrity guests Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx and Moss Hart. Kaufman helped John Steinbeck while writing “Of Mice and Men”, & Steinbeck later came up with the idea for “The Grapes of Wrath” on a road trip west. The property is now Barley Sheaf Farm, named for a Native American story of a barley sheaf floating underground three miles on a magic spring on the property.

Due to bad weather, Capt. Zebulon Pike never made it all the way to the summit of El Capitan in Colorado, but it was still renamed for him – Pike’s Peak. After spending some of his childhood in Bucks County in Cutaloosa, he joined the U.S. Army and led two expeditions through the new Louisiana Territory. On the second expediton, he “accidently” crossed into Mexico, was captured and later released by the Spanish. He was killed later by falling rocks after an explosion at the Battle of York in the War of 1812.

During the Revolutionary War, the British attacked Philadelphia, the new government seat. Continental Congress sent the State House Bell to Allentown for safekeeping. On the way, it was hidden overnight behind Evan Foulke’s house in Quakertown which is now Liberty Hall. Forty-three years later, abolitionists, noticing the engraving on it “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”, began calling it the Liberty Bell.

At 17, Michael Dougherty  joined the 13th PA Calvary to fight with the Union during the Civil War. He fought in many battles and was eventually captured and imprisoned along with 127 others from his unit. By the time of his release, he was the sole survivor. On his way home to Bristol, the ship he was on exploded, killing 1100 men. He survived. He later was awarded the Medal of Honor, married and had 12 children. The Bristol Ancient Order of Hibernians is named for him and he has a monument at the Bristol Canal Lagoon.

When RCA was contracted by the U.S. government in 1959 to build Tiros ( Television & Infra-red Observation Satellite), one of the first satellites used to forecast weather, it turned to Newtown Boro’s  Lavelle Aircraft to do the actual construction. Lavelle became a trusted aerospace contractor, later building six Tiros satellites, Telstar and Ranger VII, as well as Apollo 13’s air cleaning canisters and vital parts of the Lunar Excursion Module.

“Drive down Route 1 and turn left at the airplane.” That’s how we used to give directions in Penndel when Flannery’s Restaurant was there. For 30 years, a Lockheed Super G Constellation airplane “flew” over the restaurant. Owner Jim Flannery was a WWII Air Force pilot. He purchased and converted the plane into a cocktail lounge when he took over from his mother. After many successful years, the restaurant changed to Amelia’s in the ’80s, and the Airplane Family Diner in the ’90s, before closing and sitting idle. Then Amoco bought the property and donated the plane to the Air Mobility Museum in Dover, De.

In the 1700s, rivers were the main mode of transportation. Unfortunately, it was difficult to travel against the current, so John Fitch, while living in Warminster, created a steam powered boat that could easily travel upstream – at an unprecedented 3 mph. For years he struggled to get a patent and financial backing. He gave an impressive live demonstration on the Delaware, and finally won a patent…at the same time as James Rumsey. This infuriated Fitch, who moved to Kentucky and later committed suicide. Ten years later, Robert Fulton  became famous for his steamboat invention.

Buffalo Bill Cody, known for his Wild West show, was also an army scout, namesake of the Buffalo Bills football team, a freemason, and a Pony Express Rider. His show’s winter quarters were right here in Bucks County, in a building that later became Levittown’s first post office (on Route 13). His nickname came from killing over 4000 buffalo in 18 months, to supply meat to railroad workers.

The  Newtown Theatre began as a town hall, then a church for traveling ministers, then a performance hall, and now, what is most likely the oldest operating movie theatre in the U.S. Originally built in 1831, movies were first played in 1906. More recently, it played M. Night Shyamalan’s movie “Signs”, which was partially filmed in Newtown, and getting back to its roots, silent films accompanied by live music.

An octagonal shaped building stands at the corner of Second Street Pike and Swamp Road in Wrightstown Township affectionately known as The Eight Square. It was a privately owned schoolhouse built in 1802 by Quakers. The eight sides allowed for multiple windows to provide light, though they were built high on the walls, so students wouldn’t be distracted by what could be seen outside. A stove was positioned in the center of the room to evenly provide heat. Once one of over 100 of its type in the Delaware Valley, it is now the last of its kind in Bucks County. The shape is often called “ink bottle”.

Benjamin Franklin believed that lightning had an electrical charge and that “drawing electric fire from clouds by means of pointed rods of iron” could be a means of protecting houses from fire caused by it. He experimented by flying a kite attached to a string with a metal key on the end. The kite had a metal rod on top to attract the lightning. During a storm, he stood on a hill on the property of Growden Mansion, home of his friend Joseph Galloway, overlooking what is now Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem. Electricity flowed down the string to the key and was captured in a Leyden Jar. Placing his hand near the key transferred the charge to his body, showing that the charge could be redirected. This led to his invention of lightning rods.

Route 13 was originally a Native American path. Once paved, it became known as the Kings Highway (after King Charles II). It was run as a private turnpike, starting in Fayetteville, NC and terminating in Morrisville, Pa. It is the oldest road in continuous use in the U.S. Old Route 13 ran through Bristol to Pond, Farragut and Radcliffe, then Main in Tullytown and Fallsington Avenue. It became a public highway in 1926 when the U.S. Highway System was created. It was briefly called the Queens Highway during the reign of Queen Anne.

In the 1700s, Bristol was known as a Market Town. People came from all over to shop and have fun. Fairs were held on Market Street in May and October that lasted several days. Many came to buy, sell and celebrate, which they did in excess. In 1773 Council decreed that the fairs were useless, as they created “debauchery, idleness and drunkenness”.

Lassie, star of TV and movies, got his start right here in Bucks County. The original story was written by Eric Knight who lived with his dog Toots on Springhouse Farm in Springfield Township. Lassie, a female, was played by Pal, a male Rough Collie. The show earned two Emmys. Future Lassies were all played by males, who were all direct descendants of Pal (Lassie Jr, Spook, Baby, Mire and Hey Hey). The show ran for 19 seasons (1954-1973). Toots is buried on his family farm.

During The Revolutionary war, Abraham Doan joined his handsome and athletic cousins Moses, Aaron, Levi, Mahlon and Joseph in the infamous Doan Gang. Originally from Perkasie, they became renowned throughout the colonies as spies for the British, horse thieves, robbers and possibly even murderers. The Government labeled them traitors. The gang stole money from the tax collectors and robbed the Bucks County Treasury in Newtown. It is rumoured that the money is still buried somewhere in Wrightstown. When the war was over, they kept up their life of crime, triggering a massive manhunt. Moses was killed, Mahlon and Joseph escaped prison and made their way to Canada, Aaron was eventually pardoned and exiled to Canada, and Levi and Abraham were hanged. Many stories are told about the gang, most of which are probably not true, but keep looking for that stolen money!

In the winter of 1776, General Washington asked Dr. William Shippen, Surgeon General, to create a military hospital for the men suffering from disease, hunger and battle injuries. This was done at Four Lanes End (now Langhorne Boro), which was the crossroads between stagecoach lines. The Isaac Hicks house on Maple Avenue was used, and subsequently, about 166 soldiers who died there were buried in mass graves behind it. A recent archeological dig fond remnants of the graves, and the area is now designated a National Historic Place.

In 1961, a group called “The Brooktones” were recording in a studio when their manager came in all excited about a new dance he saw kids doing at the Goodwill Hose Fire Company No. 3 in Bristol, Pa. They stomped their feet so hard he was worried the floor would cave in. The group sat down and wrote a song to go with this new dance. They called it the Goodwill Stomp. Their manager changed the group’s name to The Deauvilles, after a hotel in Miami Beach, and they shortened it to The Dovells, because they thought it sounded better. Then they changed the name of the song to the Bristol Stomp, got a spot on American Bandstand, and history was made.

Over 338 years ago that Samuel Clift received a grant for land along the Delaware River. As part of his grant agreement, he was to maintain a ferry service to Burlington and an inn for visitors to stay and eat. This was the beginning of Bristol Borough. Since then, Bristol has been known for its woolen and textile mills, war ship and seaplane manufacturing, seed company, leather and wallpaper mills, radio and cast iron factories, and, of course, the infamous Bristol Stomp.

Pearl S. Buck was an author, humanitarian, adoption advocate, and women’s rights supporter. Having grown up in China as Sai Zhenzhu (Precious Pearl), she fought for the rights of mixed race and Asian people, especially women and children. Her outspokenness eventually got her banned from China. She then spent many years at Green Hill Farm in Dublin, PA, now the  Pearl Buck House. Ms. Buck won a Nobel Prize for Literature and a Pulitzer Prize for her book “The Good Earth”.

The Dorrance Family built a home at 715 Radcliffe Street in Bristol. In 1876, Arthur Dorrance became president of the Campbell’s Soup Company, keeping it in the family until at least 1940. While at a Cornell football game, a company executive was so impressed with the team jerseys that he decided to use their colors (red and white) on his soup cans. In 1904, the “Campbell Kids” were born for an advertising campaign, and in 1990, Campbell’s produced their 20 billionth can of tomato soup.

President Lincoln was in Bristol Boro at least twice. Once in 1861 on his way to be inaugurated. Once as a train carried his body home in 1865 after his assassination. He was the first president to have a beard. He was 6’4″ tall. George Washington visited Bristol a few times, most notably during the Revolutionary War. Did he stay at the King George II? He was 6’2″ tall. Neither had middle names.

The First Association of Spiritualists of Philadelphia created a summer resort area in Parkland to “spread the philosophy and religion of spiritualism”. Up to 10,000 people a day would come for the carnival rides, sports, picnics, boating on the Neshaminy, and, of course, seances, hypnotism and a chance to speak with spirits from the beyond.