You just know a BMW tour is off to a really good start when an attractive toll-taker bats her eyes and says “I love your car. And you look really good in it!” It was the first of perhaps a dozen compliments I received. (Okay, all of them but one were for the car…)
The Delaware River beckoned for this trip, and I found a nice route up the New Jersey side and back down the Pennsylvania side in the March/April 2014 issue of RoadRunner Magazine (see City Escape: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). I added a number of side trips and variations of my own, and I was all set.
I got an early start at 5:45 AM on Wednesday, April 9, and managed to comfortably beat the Baltimore rush hour traffic—but not Philadelphia’s. My first stop was at this seemingly nondescript section of the CSX railroad, near Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.
Years ago—on July 17, 1856, to be exact—the first of two excursion trains left downtown Philadelphia, carrying approximately 700 Sunday School children and their parents toward Fort Washington for a picnic. The weight of the 10 passenger cars and all the people on board made it difficult for the locomotive to get underway, and the train had to stop several times to regain sufficient steam. As a result, it fell about 30 minutes behind schedule and failed to reach the Fort Washington siding on time.
A southbound passenger train from Gwynedd, PA noted that the excursion train was not in Fort Washington as scheduled, but proceeded cautiously ahead on the single track, with its whistle tied down to warn any approaching trains. Unfortunately, the whistle also prevented the Gwynedd engineer and conductor from hearing the Sunday School train approaching northbound. Meanwhile, to make up lost time, the crew of the church train went as fast as possible on the downgrades, expecting to get to a siding before the Gwynedd train arrived.
Tragically, the dangerous plan did not work. The result became known as the Great Train Wreck of 1856, with both trains rounding the same curve and unable to see each other until it was too late. Between 59 and 67 people were killed and another 100 injured in the horrific collision and resulting fire. It was the worst train disaster in the world up to that point and led to a massive public outcry for greater railroad safety. (Drawings courtesy of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.)
My somber thoughts regarding the train wreck began to dissipate as I approached the Borough of Ivyland near Warminster, PA. In the early 1870s, Edwin Lacey anticipated the need for a hotel along a planned extension of the North Penn Railroad, in part to accommodate overflow crowds attending the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He bought property in this rural area and established the railroad village of Ivyland. Only later did he realize that the lush vegetation covering his new town was poison ivy!
Lacey was a strict “teetotaler,” and construction on his Temperance House summer hotel began in 1873. A serious economic recession brought a halt to Ivyland’s development, however, and by the time the hotel was completed the Exposition was already over. Lacey had to sell his properties to avoid bankruptcy, but Ivyland eventually flourished. Today, the Temperance House has been carved up into apartments, but it still looks as elegant as ever. (Ranulph Bye sketch courtesy of Bucks County Inns and Taverns by Kathleen Clark.)
Now, as it happens, right across from Temperance House I spotted this very handsome 2013 BMW 335i hardtop convertible. After a moment, I remembered that it’s mine! Yes, I consolidated my 2006 BMW Z4 3.0i and 2005 Acura TL sedan into a single vehicle—and a handsome one at that, I must say. With 300 hp and massive wheels and tires, it was enough to cause strong women to quiver and grown men to faint dead away. (Me among them, once I started pouring through the complicated iDrive manual.) This is a brand-new (leftover) 2013 model. What better way to break in a new car?
Ivyland had many other beautiful old houses, with this one being my favorite:
The Southampton Baptist Church has served its congregation since its construction in 1772. Its only modernization since 1814 is said to be an electric light for the pulpit.
Like so many other towns, tiny Churchville barely registered on a map until the railroad came through. Then it prospered and grew rapidly—until the line shut down in 1983. The station lives on, however. (Did I mention what a beautiful day it was becoming, with the temperature steadily climbing to 60 degrees?)
With some hesitation, I took my pristine new 335i down this dirt lane to get a photo of the old barn and silo.
Naturally I couldn’t resist the temptation to venture a little further and see what else was around. Sure enough, I found this once-stately but now-abandoned farmhouse. Once again I felt the same way as Calvin and Hobbes in the cartoon below.
By now I was an hour and a half into my tour and had made 6 stops for photos while covering only 21 miles—in other words, about average for my trips. Next up was the one-room Wrightstown Octagonal Schoolhouse, from 1802. There used to be over 100 octagonal schoolhouses in the Delaware River Valley; the Wrightstown school is one of only six that have survived. It is almost completely original, right down to its interior plaster, wooden floor, and cast iron stove.
George Tyler was a wealthy banker and “gentleman farmer.” He and his wife Stella built their Council Rock estate in the early 1930s, including this 60-room mansion. It is said to be the last of the great estates ever built in the U.S.
The mansion is situated at the top of Indian Council Rock, overlooking Neshaminy Creek 100 feet below. Native American tribes had held periodic councils here for hundreds of years.
The back of the mansion was every bit as magnificent as the front.
Stella van Tuhl Elkins Tyler was an accomplished artist, having studied under Boris Blai—who himself was a student of Auguste Rodin. She sculpted in plaster and then had the works cast in bronze. About 30 of her statues adorn the estate’s gardens. Others are on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. (Photo of Stella in 1901 courtesy of Stella Elkins Tyler: A Legacy Born of Bronze.)
You may be wondering how I got away with roaming around the Council Rock estate without ending up in jail. Well, after Mrs. Tyler’s death in 1963, this section of the property was left to Temple University, which sold it in 1965 to Bucks County Community College. The mansion now serves as the Tyler Hall administrative building. My only transgression was to briefly park the 335i in the employees’ parking lot while I walked around.
So far, I hadn’t even made it to the Delaware River, let alone its New Jersey side. But I soon arrived at the town of Washington’s Crossing (formerly Taylorsville). On Christmas night in 1776, George Washington and his troops famously crossed the Delaware River in a surprise attack on the Hessian troops in Trenton, NJ. It was a daring move that succeeded brilliantly, helping to turn the tide of the war in favor of the Continental Army.
Washington’s troops were stationed at McKonkey’s Ferry in preparation for the attack. General Washington and his aides ate dinner at the McKonkey’s Ferry Inn before the late-night crossing.
The town of Taylorsville began some years later, in the early 1800s. Founder Mahlon K. Taylor’s house, general store, and related buildings are open to the public as part of the Washington’s Crossing Historic Park.
Across the river in New Jersey, the 1838 First Presbyterian Church of Titusville caught my eye. Like Washington’s Crossing and Titusville, there are a number of “paired” Pennsylvania and New Jersey towns on opposite sides of the Delaware.
The Delaware River was also bordered on both sides by canals, built in the early 1800s, and I encountered signs of them throughout my trip. This is a portion of the Delaware & Raritan Canal, in Lambertville, NJ. It was completed in 1834, having been dug by 4,000 Irish immigrants using picks and shovels. Dozens of these workers died from a cholera epidemic and were buried alongside the canal. The canal was used primarily to transport coal from Pennsylvania to New York City. It was made obsolete by railroads by the late 1800s but continued to operate until 1932.
Elsewhere in Lambertville, I found the boyhood home of James Wilson Marshall. It was built in 1816 and is now the headquarters for the Lambertville Historical Society. As for Mr. Marshall, he later became the first person to discover gold in California, at Sutter’s Mill, thereby setting off the legendary California Gold Rush of 1849.
“All that glitters is not gold” is once again demonstrated in this photo, this time by means of a beautiful BMW 328i convertible parked in the town. How often does a single photograph include two such cars? (My 335i is parked farther up the street.)
As the tour continued, along with my frequent stops for photos, I began to appreciate the “Comfort Access” feature of my new 335i more and more. No fishing around for keys, just open the door, hop in, and touch the Start button. It’s clear that a bridge once crossed the Delaware at Point Pleasant, PA, but why? There were no houses, businesses, or other roads on the New Jersey side where I took the photo. (Later investigation revealed that the bridge was built in 1855 and destroyed by Hurricane Diane in 1955. There had been a railroad station on the New Jersey side, but no sign of it remains.) Remember Ranulph Bye? Here’s his watercolor of the bridge ruins.
A proper tourist simply cannot pass a road called “Tumble Falls Road” without stopping to investigate whether there is indeed a falls. Sure enough… However, it could have used a bit more water.
I’d briefly passed through Frenchtown, NJ once before on another tour and had been disappointed not to see anything noteworthy. This time, I was determined to find something interesting. It wasn’t hard, and I happily wandered around spotting the 1869 Italianate Hunterdon House…
…this one-time carriage house that has been converted into a residence…
…Nississackaway Creek, complete with the old River Road stone bridge in the distance…
…and the striking Oddfellows’ Lodge on Bridge Street. Frenchtown, incidentally, was named for Paul Henri Mallet-Prevost, who had fought in the French Revolution. As it happens, M. Mallet-Prevost was from Switzerland.
The Frenchtown-Uhlerstown Bridge across the Delaware started life in 1841 as a covered bridge. It was partially destroyed by a flood in 1903, with the damaged portion replaced by a steel truss bridge. Eventually, the steel portion was extended fully, using the original stone pillars.
As I drove across the Delaware River on the Frenchtown Bridge, I thought the view warranted a photo. I’ll let you all decide which version you like best…
On the Pennsylvania side, I promptly encountered the Delaware Canal, locks and all. In the early 1960s, Pennsylvania planned to fill in the canal and pave it over to make a new road. Historic-minded residents protested, however, and were able to fend off the plans and have the canal placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
At Upper Black Edy (home of my old friend the “Ringing Rocks” county park), I recrossed the Delaware back into New Jersey at Milford. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first thing I saw there was this old mill.
River Road runs perilously close to the Delaware for miles, with some defunct Conrail tracks sandwiched in-between. It was one beautiful scene after another, but usually with no place to pull over for a photo.
I made an exception for this goose. Apparently he had decided not to fly home for Spring and to instead take the train. When no trains arrived, he chose to, uh, web it.
As the afternoon was wearing on, I began to think about where to stay for the night. The first place I came to had a vacancy, and the price was right, but it lacked secure parking so I continued on.
Likewise for the next couple of opportunities.
I stopped for a photo of the picturesque Riegelsville Bridge, with the Riegelsville Inn just visible to the right at the far end. The bridge was built in 1904, replacing an earlier covered bridge from 1837, which itself had replaced an oar-powered ferry.
There were many signs of past industry along River Road, including a number of iron furnaces and farms.
The Roseberry Homestead is the oldest building in Phillipsburg, NJ. It’s clear that John Roseberry, Sr. bought the land it sits on at a Sheriff’s sale in August 1787. It’s a lot less clear whether the house already existed at that time, and, if so, who built the house. Certain evidence suggests that John Tabor Kempe, a British loyalist, built the place sometime between 1766 and 1774. At the start of the American Revolution, all of Kempe’s properties were seized by the Patriots—along with his wife, Grace Coxe Kempe, who was later formally exchanged for the captured wife of a member of the Continental Congress.
On the other hand, dendrological (tree ring) analysis indicates that the wooden beams were likely hewn sometime between 1788 and 1800, in which case either John Roseberry or his son Joseph would have built the place. Another of history’s mysteries. The Roseberry Homestead sat vacant and rundown for many years, but a small group of volunteers recently joined forces with the local historical society to stabilize and renovate the mansion. The window sills, windows, and shutters have been restored or replaced to date, and work seems to be continuing at an active pace. (Interior photo courtesy of the volunteer organization.)
Many paintings of the Delaware, such as this one by Daniel Garber, portray the river in the background, with trees and bushes in the foreground. Not much has changed, and I often found myself searching for an opening that afforded a nice view.
In this instance, I scrabbled down a steep hill and found a smallish opening that revealed the old train tracks, the river, and the Martins Creek power plant in the distance. (Little did I realize that I would be standing directly next to the two gigantic cooling towers the following day…)
Given the canals, railroads, coal mines, banks, and other industries and businesses, many people in this area became quite well-to-do in the 1800s—and their prosperity led to a great many imposing mansions. Most survive, much to the delight of wandering photographers. This particular one is in Belvidere, NJ and has been featured in the town’s periodic Victorian celebrations.
The Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad built this bridge in 1914, in Delaware Station, NJ. It paralleled an earlier one from about 1860, which was no longer sturdy enough to handle “modern” rail traffic. It’s now a “bridge to nowhere,” having been abandoned in the 1960s. More interestingly, the DL&W Railroad sold the original bridge to one Rev. Henry V. B. Darlington for $5,000. The good reverend converted it for automobile use and charged $0.25 per crossing—and made a fortune. Then, for good measure, he sold the bridge to the Joint [PA-NJ] Commission for the Elimination of Toll Bridges for $275,000 in 1932, about 5 times the going amount for other bridges in the area. The States operated the bridge for another 21 years, toll-free, before closing it and tearing it down. Today, there is no sign of Darlington’s Bridge whatsoever.
And what of the talented Rev. Darlington? With help from ancestry.com, I learned that he was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1889, graduated from Columbia University in 1910, became an Episcopal minister, served as an Army chaplain in World War I, and married Dorothy Stone Smith in 1920. While at Columbia, he starred in an original comic opera, playing the role of Mrs. Bertram, a rich society widow. He traveled several times to Europe, including a trip on the RMS Lusitania in 1908, 7 years before it was sunk by a German U-boat soon after the start of World War I. By his early 30’s, he was the rector of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City. In 1924, he persuaded Louise Whitfield Carnegie (the wealthy widow of industrialist Andrew Carnegie) to sell valuable NYC property to the church, which needed a new and larger building. The imposing new Church of the Heavenly Rest was completed in time for Easter, 1929 and is still in active use today. By all accounts, Rev. Darlington’s sermons were innovative and controversial, and he was greatly admired by his parishioners, including Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
We’re not quite finished with the good Reverend. In 1941, the wealthy widow Anna H. Paton died, leaving 30 percent of her estate to Rev. Darlington and another 10 percent to his church. Her relatives promptly sued, alleging that the 51-year-old minister had wooed the 78-year-old widow to gain her fortune. They brandished assorted love letters to Mrs. Paton and testimony from her servants, but ultimately Rev. Darlington settled one suit and prevailed in the other, with the judge finding that Mrs. Paton was of a sound mind when she changed her will (for the fourteenth time!) in favor of her minister. I was never able to determine how a 25-year-old minister could afford $5,000 for a bridge—the equivalent of $118,000 today—but I suspect it involved a wealthy widow…
So, uh, speaking of bridges, this handsome example carries Brugler Road across Paulins Kill near Hainesburg, NJ.
With the shadows lengthening, I hiked back to the patient 335i and set off to find the long-lost Paulinskill Viaduct.
The viaduct had carried the DL&W Railroad and its successors across the river from 1910 until its abandonment in 1982—and I found it right where it was supposed to be. I was astonished by its magnitude, with a length of 1,100 feet and soaring from hill to hill 125 feet above the river. At the time of its construction, it was the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world.
This “then and now” comparison shows the Hainesburg railroad station that used to stand on the spot where I’d parked the BMW. (Look carefully—there is a BMW parked in the “now” photo; it’s just dwarfed by the bridge.)
I bumped into a couple of fishermen and a motorcyclist at the viaduct, and they told me that the viaduct has a series of interior passageways, built to facilitate engineering inspections. These passageways are said to be haunted, of course. The bridge was built using a new “continuous pour” technique, and legend has it that one or more of the workers fell into the concrete but could not be rescued, since it would interrupt the pouring.
It wasn’t hard to find images of the interior passages, which have been explored at great length (and at great risk) over the years. And the urban explorers, or the ghosts, have done an impressive job of decoration. In the first photo, note how the passageways follow the large arches of the viaduct, passing through the series of smaller arches above each large one. The iron rungs are needed for the near-vertical portion closest to each of the support stanchions. “After you, Claude…”
I left the monumental viaduct with some reluctance and promptly discovered that the setting sun had brought out several families of forest rats, uh, I mean cute deer. They were brazen buggers, not even bothering to run away when I stopped for a photo.
My next-to-last destination for the day was the extraordinary Hainesburg Inn mansion. It was built in 1820 by wealthy bachelor Joseph Andress and housed his relatives for many years. Subsequently, the mansion was used as an inn, a restaurant and antique shop, an “unsavory rock club,” and several other purposes, with lengthy periods of abandonment in between. It has now been restored and is the home of the Animal Mansion Veterinary Hospital.
With the last of the sunlight, I found my home for the night in the historic Moravian village of Hope, NJ, checked in, and had a bountiful meal in its dining room. After a full day of touring, I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.
I neglected to mention that my room was at The Inn at Millrace Pond, a 1770 Moravian gristmill that has been converted to a bed and breakfast. The food was great, the accommodations were spartan but very comfortable, and all of the staff were friendly and helpful. Definitely recommended!
The new 335i was eager to get going in the morning and practically started by itself. I crossed over the Delaware to the Pennsylvania side on the Portland Toll Bridge, leaving me $1.00 poorer. (Say, whatever happened to that Joint Commission?)
There I found the river in all its rural beauty, just south of the Delaware Water Gap cutting through the Appalachian Mountains. I think there was once a mill here, since a nearby stream is named Mill Creek—but these steps are all that’s left.
I’d tried—and failed—to find the Foul Rift rapids on the Delaware from the New Jersey side. These Class II rapids drop 22 feet in the space of just half a mile and are considered the most dangerous on the river. As a whitewater canoeist back in the days, I was eager to get a look at them. Consequently, as I was driving through Pennsylvania and happened to spot a sign for Degues Ferry Road and Foul Rift Road, I decided to give it a try. The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of a polite-but-no-nonsense guard at the Martins Creek Power Plant, immediately next to the cooling towers, explaining what I was doing on the property! (See the red arrow on this satellite image.) Contrary to my assumption, Martins Creek was never a nuclear facility; the huge nuclear-like towers were used with its coal-fired plants, which were both shut down in 1997. The facility continues with two other plants that can burn either oil or natural gas.
The guard informed me that there was no public access to the river from the power plant, but in the spirit of All Things BMW, I remained hopeful and discovered another way to Foul Rift Road. There, at long last, I found a remarkably quiet stretch of the Delaware. As best I can tell, the rapids are a good half mile upstream from here. I felt just like Snoopy in the cartoon below.
In consolation, I stumbled across Three Church Hill in Lower Bethel Township. This is the 1864 Trinity Lutheran Church, one of at least five churches that have graced Three Church Hill over the years. As it happens, the cemetery shown here belongs with the nearby Presbyterian church.
The best views come from Three Church Hill itself. Ironically, this cemetery isn’t associated with any of the three churches. It was a scenic but confusing place…
Continuing on, I learned that Martins Creek bisects the small town of Lower Mount Bethel, shortly before emptying into the Delaware.
When I wander well away from the 335i with the top down, I usually lock the car. Coming back, I put my camera in the passenger seat—and discovered that there are motion sensors in the car! The “spaceship” noise created by the anti-theft system was also entertaining—for a while… Fortunately, unlocking the car silenced the alarm. (I know, I know: Read the flippin’ manual.)
A few miles downriver brought me to Easton, PA. I detoured off the RoadRunner route to find the William Heller house, which proved to be unphotographable thanks to a short, fat, ugly tree planted right in front of it. However, College Hills was practically crawling with stately mansions, including the four shown below. The first, Oakhurst, was the home of John Eyerman; it’s now used as dormitory space for nearby Lafeyette College. The second one was Dr. J.D. Updegrove’s residence (spires and all). I couldn’t learn anything about the other two.
While I was disappointed not to see much of the Heller House, almost next door I learned about the Rineks from a friendly landscaper. The Rinek Mansion no longer exists, unfortunately. Howard Rinek owned and operated the Rinek Cordage (rope) Company and built the beautiful home shown in the historical photo below. He was an early proponent of electric lighting, and Mr. Rinek’s house was the first to have incandescent bulbs (60 of them) in Easton, powered by his own personal generator. He was later instrumental in bringing electric streetcar service to Easton.
Mr. Rinek’s son, C. Norvin Rinek, built the house shown below, and his descendants still live there. Note the unusual roof sections, which are formed around large curved wooden beams. This view is of the west side of the house; Norvin built the front of the house away from the road and facing his parents’ house—so that he would “never turn my back on my mother.”
Norvin was apparently quite a prodigy. At the age of 18, not long after the Wright Brothers’ pioneering flight, Norvin built a modified French Voisin biplane, becoming the first person to use lightweight chrome-moly steel tubing for the frame instead of wood. He successfully flew the plane the following year. Moreover, he developed an all-aluminum V-8 engine for airplane use—in 1909! After building and testing a number of aero engines, Norvin and his father decided not to pursue the engine business further. Norvin’s plane was disassembled and stored in the rafters of the rope factory, where it was discovered some 60 years later. The aircraft has been restored and was exhibited at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC for several years. (It’s now at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum in Rhinebeck, NY, which I hope to visit in June.)
I tell ya, any place you run across is going to have a fascinating and often-unknown history.
Leaving College Hills, I continued down the mountain in search of the Zeta Psi Fraternity House at Lafeyette College. It is one of nine “palatial” fraternity houses on the campus and was constructed in 1909-1910, when the fraternity members decided they needed a more upscale frat house. (Just imagine if Bluto had gone to college here…)
Unfortunately, the building was undergoing renovations on the day of my visit and was covered in great sheets of plastic. I made do instead with this photo of nearby Pardee Hall, which was built in 1857.
I stopped in downtown Easton just long enough to grab (i) a couple of cupcakes from the Sweet Girlz Bakery and (ii) a photo of the First Reformed Church from 1777. George Washington visited here while the church was being used as a hospital for Continental Army soldiers.
The Lehigh River flows into the Delaware at Easton, crossing this low dam in the process.
The little park at the confluence was closed for renovations, unfortunately, but a circuitous walk and a bit of discreet fence-hopping brought me to the scenic parts anyway. Several railroads competed for the lucrative coal-transport routes that passed through Easton on their way to Philadelphia and New York City, resulting in a confusing array of tracks and bridges. This bridge across the Delaware is no longer used. Note the other railroad bridges nearby in the historical photo.
The Lehigh Canal started in Mauch Chunk, PA and terminated here at the Delaware, with this lock having been used to lower boats to the river’s level. From there, coal barges could either cross the Delaware to the Morris Canal and continue on to New York City or turn south and run parallel to the Delaware. The canal operated until 1940, making it the last surviving towpath canal in the U.S. In the background is part of the 1902 Lehigh Valley Railroad Bridge over the Lehigh Canal and Delaware River, with its unique “fish belly” trusses. This bridge is still used by the Norfolk Southern system, although, frankly, it looks pretty dilapidated.
Everywhere I looked, there were remnants of stone houses or other signs of civilization along the banks of the Delaware. Each could tell a story about the people who lived and worked there, trying their best to make a living or to strike it rich. Some succeeded, judging by the number of mansions in Easton and elsewhere, but this site ultimately failed.
The Delaware Canal ran 60 miles from Easton down the west bank of the Delaware River to Bristol. Most of the canal and its locks are still in place, although floods have damaged portions. This area is near Raubsville. The old hotel is still in good shape, although its last guests would have been more than 80 years ago!
The building in the center of this photo is the Coffeetown Gristmill, which was built in 1762 by Jacob Reich. It’s an unusual “banked” design, being built into a hillside. Following its days as a mill, it served as a schoolhouse, a post office, a candy store, and a fertilizer factory before finally being converted into a private residence. It used to be 3½ stories on the downhill end, but a dirt fill was added up to the level of the second story when it was converted to a home.
Remember the cupcakes from Sweet Girlz Bakery? Well, the red velvet one disappeared immediately, since I’d skipped lunch. But I was saving the “peanut butter bomb” for later—like right now! Them Girlz does a great job, I have to say.
The Delaware Canal was an impressive engineering feat, running so close to the river and often at a significantly higher elevation. In the distance in the modern photo is the Gilbert Generating Station of the Jersey Central Power and Light Company.
This slightly psychedelic photo of the 335i was taken to highlight the Nockamixon Cliffs in the background—but it ended up displaying some colorful lens flare instead. The cliffs were formed 250 million years ago during the Triassic Age, when North America separated from Africa. A mere 50 million years later, molten diabase magma heated the Nockamixon rocks to a high temperature, baking them into an unusually hard shale that even the mighty Delaware River could not erode. The cliffs are 300 feet high, and in the winter they are covered in dramatic icicles, as illustrated by the photo by A Tidewater Gardener.
Riverside Farm started life as a 2-story, 3-bay home for William Erwin in the late 1700s. In about 1870, owners Jordan and Rachel Stover added the 3 bays to the left in this photo, plus a third story over the whole works, turning the residence into a resort hotel for fishermen, artists, and sightseerers. Members of the famous Barrymore Family are said to have stayed here (e.g., Lionel, Ethel, and John—but not great-grandaughter Drew). The Riverside Farm Inn continued to operate as such until 1930, when the Great Depression put an end to the business. Today it is once again a private residence, located in between the Delaware River and Delaware Canal.
Back in the day, Cuttalossa Creek was large enough to support 5 separate mills. Everyone loves a good mill ruin, of course, but I was also looking for the artistic side of the Cuttalossa Valley. I started off by driving up the remarkably steep and narrow Armitage Road, which went by the restored and aptly named Hill House, which was built in the early 1800s. It also offered dramatic views of Cuttalossa Creek far below—but no place to stop for a photo, dang it.
Eventually I reached the top of the mountain and took Cuttalossa Road to return back down the valley. This gravel road ran directly alongside the creek, crossing and recrossing it several times. The size of the creek pales compared to its former self, but it was quite pleasant all the same.
The name Cuttalossa comes from the pre-1700s Native American Lenape village here, meaning “place of three springs.” Quaker settlers, escaping religious intolerance in England, first lived here in about 1704, and Samuel Armitage’s mill was built in 1748. (It’s the only intact mill left in the valley, although I couldn’t find it.) By the mid-1800s, tourists and artists began visiting the Cuttalossa Valley, including the poet John Greenleaf Whittier who stayed with the Armitage family a number of times in the 1840s. His visits contributed to the formation of a local poets’ association, which would meet at “Poets’ Rock” on the west side of the creek. I think this is Poets’ Rock, but I could be mistaken.
John Kenderdine was an extraordinary businessman who early on recognized the importance of the Delaware Canal and built a grist mill, saw mill, bone mill (for producing fertilizer), lumber yard, and other businesses at Cuttalossa in the early 1800s. His son Watson Kenderdine built this house in 1850, along with a large barn and other facilities.
In 1907, noted American artist Daniel Garber bought Watson Kenderdine’s property and converted the barn into his studio. He also built a small mill structure, as a tribute to the many mills that had operated in the valley over the years. (I believe the objects next to the pond are the rear wheels and timing gear from Fred Flinstone’s car…)
Daniel Garber painted at his Cuttalossa studio until his death in 1958, becoming one of the country’s best-known impressionist painters. Here is a sample of his work, including a self-portrait, painting of the old Kenderdine gristmill, his wife Mary, and his daughter Tunis.
I had the pleasure of meeting Geri and Violet while photographing the Kenderdine/Garber property (which, incidentally, is for sale in case you happen to have a spare $2,495,000). Geri taught fifth grade for many years in nearby New Hope, PA, and Violet was one of her students. They were enjoying the pleasant day in Geri’s Miata—and celebrating the publication of Violet’s first book, The Frangipani Hotel, a collection of Vietnamese ghost stories that has already received glowing reviews. Violet graduated from Mount Holyoke in 2011 and spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar teaching and doing research in Vietnam. Congratulations! (My copy has just shipped from Amazon, and I can’t wait to read it.)
Back at the mouth of Cuttalossa Creek, I found the Hard Luck Tavern, built circa 1750 and now serving as a private residence…
…the dam and waterfall that governed the flow of water to John Kenderdine’s mills…
…the 1875 general store and post office, which was later converted to the Cuttalossa Inn, and later still expanded with a modern restaurant section that served visitors until a few years ago…
…and the ruins of Kenderdine’s lumber yard, next to the inn. Efforts appear underway to stabilize and perhaps rebuild these ruins.
All in all, I was entranced with the Cuttalossa Valley and would like to return for further exploration. On this day, however, I was hopelessly behind schedule and wanted to get to Doylestown before sundown. (This was not the first time I wanted to get to Doylestown before sundown, as chronicled in The First of the Roller Coasters, the Last of the Covered Bridges.)
I continued on to New Hope, PA, where my parents had visited many times over the years. Somehow, I’d never been here before. The place was milling with tourists and traffic, even on a late Thursday afternoon, but I managed to find the old train station. The dining car looked especially inviting, given my two-cupcake lunch.
Outside of New Hope, the 1816 Cintra Mansion has been deteriorating for a number of years. It was built by architect William Maris, reportedly based on a section of a Portuguese castle of the same name that he greatly admired. Plans were recently approved to convert the mansion into four apartments, which sounds like a mixed blessing.
I finally left the Delaware River after 2 days of touring and headed vaguely in the direction of Doylestown. Far behind schedule, I naturally stopped almost immediately for this picturesque barn and pond.
“Gravity Hill,” near Holicong, has been perplexing travelers for decades. Descending rapidly southeast from Buckingham Mountain, the road temporarily turns uphill for a short stretch. Here, I’ve stopped on the uphill section and enlisted the assistance of a passing bicyclist. She should be able to coast down the road towards me, but in fact she had to pedal hard to counteract the reverse gravity of this place. Likewise, in neutral and with my foot off the brake, the 335i would start rolling right up the incline. It’s not quite as impressive as “Spook Hill” outside of Burkittsville, MD, but it was still enough to give you goosebumps. Further on, the road continues its downward path without interruption or Unusual Forces o’ Nature.
Further up the Buckingham Mountain from Gravity Hill is the historic Mount Gilead African Methodist Episcopal Church. Prior to the Civil War, slaves escaping from the south could shelter in nearby limestone caves and overhangs as part of the Underground Railroad. A number of them remained in this area and built a log church in 1835. As the community grew, the residents expanded the church around the original foundation, completing the new stone edifice in 1852. The church’s first minister was Moses Hopkins, and some of his descendants still live in the area. After mostly continuous use since 1852, Mount Gilead now holds services five times a year.
Did I mention that Mount Gilead has also been called “The Haunted Church” and “The Devil’s Church”? A legend going back to the 1800s says that you can challenge the Devil to a footrace from the church’s front door, around its cemetery, and back to the starting point. If you win, you will have a full year of good luck. But if you lose, then it will be a year of bad luck—perhaps very bad, according to some versions of the legend.
For whatever reason, my luck was in excellent shape when I arrived and found the front door of the church wide open. Inside, I met John and Mary Rinehart. John is the “moderator” of the church, a position that combines both lay minister and caretaker duties. He and Mary have worked tirelessly to preserve and renovate the historic old church for the last 15 years, ever since Moses Hopkins’ great-grandson, Bill Hopkins, passed away after having been the caretaker well into his nineties! John and Mary were busily involved in preparing the windows and frames for new paint the following day. I spent a fun hour helping them out and talking about Mount Gilead.
John told me the history of the church and its role in the Underground Railroad. He also noted that in the 1970s teenagers used to hang out in the cemetery late at night, drinking and taking drugs. In 1977, the body of Shaun Eileen Ritterson was discovered in a nearby ravine. She had been brutally murdered, and the killer was never identified or captured. The full story is downright shocking, and represents a very sad commentary on modern society. Matt Coughlin and Laurie Schroeder have carefully documented the case in a recent series of articles in the Bucks County Courier Times, available at Rayna Polsky’s history website (see The Girl on Church Hill: A Murder Mystery).
Following Shaun’s murder, wild rumors about the church and Satanic rituals began to circulate, followed by acts of vandalism at the church and cemetery that continued for years. Fortunately, drawing on local community resources, John Rinehart was able to have a state-of-the-art alarm system installed and to arrange for an increased police presence. Before long, several vandals were caught in the act and sentenced to jail terms, and Mount Gilead is once more a tranquil setting.
John and Mary have continued their dedicated efforts on behalf of the African American community church, including new interior paint, a new furnace, and other improvements. They have been able to stretch the church’s limited financial resources to an amazing degree, with much voluntary assistance from local residents. Here’s hoping that Mount Gilead will continue to prosper for many more decades to come.
Although the Buckingham Friends Meeting House was built long ago in 1768, it is actually the fourth one at this location, with the first having started in 1705. This one was the first Friends meetinghouse to incorporate the “twin cell” design, where the men’s and women’s sections were nearly identical. The Buckingham design served as a model for other such structures for the next 100 years. By Quaker standards of simplicity, the Buckingham meetinghouse is relatively elaborate, reflecting the prosperity of the Quaker community here in the late 1700s.
I finally reached my last tour destination at about 6:30, with very long shadows but still plenty of light. You know that something special will be at the end of a tree-lined drive like this one…
Sure enough: The Fonthill Castle outside of Doylestown has 44 rooms (including 10 bathrooms), 32 stairwells, and 36 alcoves, plus 18 fireplaces and over 200 windows—no two of which are the same size. It was built by Henry Chapman Mercer in 1908-1912, and he lived here until his death in 1930 at the age of 74. Mercer was an archaeologist and tile maker, with his Moravian Pottery and Tile Works situated nearby. He designed the mansion himself, starting with the interior and then conforming the exterior as necessary. He used only sketches, rather than the customary architect’s blueprints, and he directed the workers himself. Some of the various chimneys are round, others square, and a few are octagonal. Per the Historic American Buildings Survey and the Fonthill Castle website, the building is an eclectic mixture of Medieval, Elizabethan, Gothic, Byzantine, and Jacobean motifs—which still seems to be putting it mildly!
Unfortunately, I was too late for a tour, but I happily gazed at the exterior of this magnificent and whimsical mansion for quite some time. Oh, did I mention the nearby stables / garage?
With a last photo of the mighty (but un-eclectic) 335i, it was time to “give it some welly” and reel off the 137 miles back home.
I guess it’s fair to say that this was one of the more eclectic trips I’ve made. It certainly offered an unending stream of interesting places and things to see, fascinating and occasionally bizarre stories, and a great opportunity to drive some excellent roads. I’ll miss the Z4 roadster, but the new 335i convertible seems equally willing to search out fun and adventure.