River Road: Bristol to New Hope

 

 

“River road”  — conjures up a shaded, tight two lane, winding road running parallel to a scenic River.  There must be hundreds of river roads. Growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, our River Road follows the Delaware River.  Many associate it with Yardley or New Hope.  I’ve actually followed the river from Philadelphia — past industrial buildings, parking lots, railroads, parallel to interstate 95 —  Delaware Avenue, Tacony Street, then State Road to Croydon and Bristol.

 

I grew up on Mill Street in Bristol Borough about 70 miles from Delaware Bay, 22 miles from center city, Philadelphia.  The river was our back yard.  Let’s start our River Road tour in Bristol at Mill and Radcliffe, heading upriver. On our right is the King George, a colonial era inn and tavern.   Yes, General George Washington was a guest, as well as Presidents John Adams, Madison, Tyler and Filmore.  We’ve had many family dinners at the King George.  The enclosed porches in the rear have great river views. Although I thought it overpriced for a few years, the current owners have restored the qualily at acceptable prices.  During my high school years, the parents of a close friend managed the Inn (it was called the Delaware House for many years, Americans not wanting to hear “King George).  The family lived in rooms on the second floor; an invitation to dinner and we were served by a waitress.  John’s mom and dad were working, kitchen and bar.    We liked playing pool in the historic bar.  It was there that I last saw and talked my grandfather Profy. He was having lunch.

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Next door to the King George is the Bristol Riverside Theatre. Growing up it was the Bristol movie theatre.  I saw my first films there.  By 1970 it had become an “adult” movie house catering to a gay audience.  Diane and I home from the Peace Corps were living in the family apartment two blocks away.  Weekends there were frequent disturbances between straights and gays.  As I called the police I assurrred Diane, “it wasn’t like this when I was a kid.”  The Grundy foundation bought the building in the 1980s and a great regional theatre was born drawing New York talent.  I think the first production we saw was Pearl Bucks’s “The Good Earth.”  More recently, “Lost in Yonkers” and “Workings” based on a Studs Terkel book.  Anything we’ve seen has been a solid production.

Across the street is Annabella’s Italian Restaurant.  It’s very good Classic Italian, recently featured in the “Main Street — Small Business Revolution” program.  Another place for family celebrations; in fact the Profy’s are related to the owner, Robert.

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In Bristol, river road is Radcliffe street.  There is about a mile of historic houses.  My first introduction to local history, was reading Doren Green’s “Old Homes on Radcliffe Street.”  I knew families and had friends that lived in some of the homes.  It’s a book I need to reread.  One of the nicest homes is the Grundy mansion.  Joseph Grundy was the owner of a large woolen mill in town (the distinctive clock tower, a Bristol logo) and a United States Senator.  When he died in the 1960s, he established the Grundy Foundation which immediately built the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library.  Situated next to the Grundy mansion on the river, the library is a fantastic community resource for the town and county.  In addition to its collection of material, the library sponsors a variety of community programs.

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Continuing up Radcliffe we pass St. Mark’s RC Church, established in 1846 I thought the oldest Catholic Church in the county but recently learned it’s the second; the first in Ottsville.  Up the street, on the left is Cesare’s Restorante, a family classic Italian, another place where our family has had many gatherings.  Pizza is fantastic but also check out the homemade biscotti.  On the edge of the borough line at Green Lane is industrial property — ship building during WW I and airplane construction during WW I.  Nestled in the complex is the Radcliffe Cafe, a classic local breakfast hangout.

 

Leaving the Borough we continue through Bristol township, the village of Tullytown into a desolate area at a bend in the river.  US steel was located here in the 1950s; now its Waste Management with huge mounds of fermenting trash and garbage.  It’s also the location of Pennsbury Manor, William Penn’s country estate.  As a kid we would visit the historic property but interpretation was extremely limited.  I do remember that there was a brewery.  Penn made beer.  Today the State does a better job of interpretation; there are several “living history” events including Holly Nights in early December — with crackling fires, candles, carollers, and mulled cider.

There isn’t a road close to the river but it’s possible to continue north-west to Pennsylvania Avenue which goes into Morrisville Borough.  The “Trenton Makes; the World Takes” bridge is on the right.  Here Route 32 is truly River Road although the Road name will depend on the municipality.  The next bridge is the 1884 Calhoun Street bridge construcked by the Phoenixville Bridge Company.   It’s about five miles to the Yardley Inn on the corner of Afton Avenue and downtown Yardley.

 

Since 1977 we’ve lived on N. Delaware Avenue (River Road) several blocks above the Yardley inn. Founded in 1832 as the White Swan, the Inn is an award winning Bucks County restaurant; survivor of the historic floods including three in the early 2000s.   In recent years, Chef Eban Copple has started a restaurant garden, foraged wild plants like ramps, and buys local when possible.  We eat at the Inn several times a year.

In the block before the Inn is Charcoal BYOB ( formerly Charcoal Steaks and Things) the local hangout that has gotten solid reviews from the Inquirer food critic Craig LeBan. A detour on Afton to downtown Yardley is worth the trip.  Enjoy Lake Afton, fishing and ice skating. The picturesque carpenter Gothic building is the “Old Library,” now the home of the Yardley Historical Association.

There are a number of downtown restaurants including the Continental Tavern and The Vault — a micro-brewery. The Continental offers decent pub food and a lot of local history.  Possible a station on the Undergroun RR, Frank Lyons, the current owner has been conducting some pretty sophiscated archaeology.  He’s unearthed a large hidden room filled with bottles (many from the prohibition era) and other artifacts.  A serious historian, he displays many findings in the bar and restaurant.

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Yardley is also a good place to start an explore of the Delaware Canal State Park.  It began in Bristol and continues for sixty miles to Easton.

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Back on River Road we’ll pass the Yardley boat ramp.  At the next stop sign, we will be in Taylorsville, Washington Crossing Park.  There is a visitor center with a replica of Emmenuel Leutze’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”  The original became controversial during WWII since Leutze was German and the river in the painting was the Rhine.  Displayed for a few years in the park it was eventually returned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  A copy replaces the original. There are a number of historic buildings on the 500 acre State Park, opened for tours and special activities.  Decades ago we had a colonial cooked dinner in McConkley’s Ferry Inn. Unfortunately the park service has been less ambitious in its offerings.  The big event is the reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware on Christmas.  We’ve attended several years.  Weather and river permitting, reenactors cross the river in reproductions of the historic Durham boats that the Colonials used.

IMG_2751Just above the Park is David’s Library of the American Revolution.  It was founded in 1959 by Sol Feinstone, an immigrant in love with the revolutionary freedom.  The library is used by amateur and professional historians.  I’ve had several interesting days with pencil and paper reading about the Revolution in Bucks County.  They also present lectures and field trips. I took one following Washington’s route to the battle of Trenton.  During our first year of retirement, Diane and I attended a workshop on using the library for genealogical research.  Of equal interest was a presentation by the owner- founder of Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania’s s rye whispery distillery which is located in the old Grundy mill in Bristol. Fascinating history and tasty samples.

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We cross a red camelback bridge over Jericho creek, the crossroads of Brownsburg and arrive at the upper end of Washington Crossing State Park.  In the early 1900s there was a plan to create a greenway between the Crossing and Valley Forge.  What a grand plan but it never happened.  At this end of the Park is Bowman’s tower on a hill overlooking the river valley.  Growing up we would picnic in this area, climb the hill and then climb steps to the top of the tower.  Wow.  The state closed the tower for years and when it finally reopened about a decade ago there was an elevator and admission fee.  Some weekends in high school I drove an O’Boyles ice cream truck to the base of the tower and sold ice cream all day.

IMG_2740Also located in this section of the park is the Thompson Neely house, the house of decision where Washington made his decision for the Christmas crossing.  On the creek is a small grist mill — opened in 1976 for the bi-Centennial, closed for decades and only recently reopened.  Another great attraction at Bowman’s is the Wildflower Preserve, an interpretative center, trails, one of the best wild flower preserves in the country.  Diane and I frequently go to their annual native plant sale.

Growing up my close friend’s father, Doctor Romano brought us to bird banding programs at a house on the park grounds.  It was my first exposure to “birding.”  Many years later walking in the park I saw this large, yes, “woody” woodpecker.  My jaw dropped.  A park employee identified the bird, ” oh, that’s our Piliated Woodpecker.”  It’s my only sighting of one.

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Recently we had lunch at Bowman’s Tavern at the base of the hill.  It was a favorite in the 1990s (I was reintroduced to pork cooked on a wood fired oven after many vegetarian years) but as happens it changed hands and we stopped going.  We had a great meal and put it back on our list of not far from home spots for lunch.

 

 

If we take a left on Aquetong Road at the edge of the park, we will pass the home and workshops of George Nakishima.  During WWII, Nakishima, an architect, was in a concentration camp for Japanese.  A Bucks County architect sponsored him and brought him to Bucks County where he opened a furniture workshop studio.  He became one of the foremost furniture makers in the country.  I discovered Nakishima in the 1970s and have visited his studio several times.  I’ve seen one of his altars —  a huge oak table — in Saint John the Divine in New York City.  There is a studio in Old City Philadelphia that carries his work.  Although he died years ago his style and tradition is carried on by his daughter.  I am the proud owner of a Nakishima piece, an irregular polished piece of wood with holes for pens or pencils. It was a gift to our New Hope friend, Ragna Hamilton, that I inherited when she died.

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We can continue on Aquetong Road and enter New Hope from the back or return to River Road and on the New Hope.  The Aquetong route will take us past the old mill where Jim Hamilton lived in the 1970s.  Jim, a former New York set designer and owner of Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville died several weeks ago.  For several years we rented a house nearby on Old York Road with John and Barbara Paglione.  It was our back to the earth, intentional, communal living years.  Hamilton’s Grill in recent years has been our go to restaurant for special ocassions.

There’s a lot  in the New Hope area and up river.  But we’ll end this explore here and return to this River Road trip another day.

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Driving Vince

imageIn 1974, Diane and I spent the summer with the Bonnemas in Bethel, ME.  We loved the ME coast and the White Mountains that were so close.  In short, we thought Maine was beautiful, rural, rugged, forests you could (and I did) get lost in.

But I remember on our return to Bucks County saying to Diane, “Bucks County is beautiful.”  Certainly different from ME, but with rollinghills,  back roads, hidden streams, the Delaware River, old bridges — arched stone and covered.  The many working farms with field stone houses, barns, and other out building, colonial era villages, and classic rural post offices.  We really liked Bucks County.

Even before my recent surgery, a drive, an explore in the county was a favorite activity.  Diane usually drives and I navigate.  Some trips are photographic.  Stop. Take a picture.  In years past I was the photographer but since retirement Diane has been shooting with me.

Many trips are food related.  We have dozens of farms and markets where we buy local.  Sometimes stopping for a late breakfast or lunch.

Trips can also have a historic or cultural twist.  The Mercer Museum, Mitchener, Washington Crossing, walk around New Hope or Lambertville (in recent years, trips across the river in NJ become part of our Bucks County explores).  Maybe there is a craft fair in Tinicum Park, Newtown or Fallsington Days, a movie at the County Theatre, a Frenchtown (NJ again) street fair.

Since surgery, drives through Bucks have taken on a special importance.  Yesterday, Sunday, we left the house about 11, headed west on River Road.  A classic drive follows the Delaware to Easton and beyond, the Delaware Water Gap is a beautiful ride.  Washington Crossing Park, New Hope, Centre Bridge, Lumberville, Point Pleasant, Tinicum.  Winding along the river valley is the canal — various places to stop for a walk on the towpath.

But this trip we turn off River Road and take Taylorsville,  make a left on Woodhill.  We pass Ely’s Farm, known for its pork products.  I shouldn’t have bacon but maybe i could have a nice chop.  They also make cheese.  A mile up thebroad we turn and stop at the Milk House. A small farm store that started with eggs and now has a variety of produce and local products.  Some years the’ve  had several varieties of heirloom cooking pumpkins.  None yet this year.  In the Sping they also have some wild plants like ramps for sale.

We continue on to Pineville.  I discovered the Pineville Tavern in the 1970s when John Paglione and I worked up the road on the Paul and Ed Daniel’s farms.  Paul had a dairy farm and started to sell raw milk the years we worked for him. Ed’s Fairview Farm (still family owned) was primarily egg laying chickens.  Today Fairview raises lambs — I haven’t bought any yet but it’s on my list.

Back in the 1970s, the Pineville Tavern was a local bar.  John and I would stop for a draft ( no craft been back then). Now it is run by the Abruzzese family and is a destination restaurant.  Recently expanded with lots of outdoor seating and a creative Italian menu.  Interesting the original  tavern dates to 1742 — the front porch a gathering place for local.

Diane and I continue through Wycomb, a time has forgotten village, with its restored railroad station, Histand’s Supply, and the Public House.  Beyond Wycombe on the way to Doylestown, we are in rural Bucks County — the Wycombe and Rushland Wineries,  the church and Post Office village of Forest Grove, several large farms ( fields of pumpkins, this time of year),  Comly’s Turf Farm.  Several decades ago we stopped at a farm auction off of Forest Grove Road.  Everything was for sale, household goods, farm equipment, livestock.  It was sad.  A large suburban development fills the north side of the road.

We drive through Doylestown, stopping to take down the phone number of CR Notoris, Clocks and Coins.  I have proof coins and silverware I want to sell.  And clocks that need repair.  I’ve tried the Newtown Clock Shop but not happy with his work.

Diane has worked in this area and knows some back roads.  Sooner than expected we are in Peace Valley Park.  We take walks here and had plans to bring our kayak.  Not sure when, if, I will be kyacking.  We head to Tabora Farm and Orchard. The porch is lined with large wooden boxes filled with apples — Fugi, Delicious, Cartland, Gala, Granny Smith. There was also a box full of Butternut Squash.  Scattered on tables were decorative pumpkins and gourds and I identified several Long Island Cheese pumpkins.  These are a variety good for pies.  I get one for $4.

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Tabora is known for its fantastic bakery.  We can’t resist a loaf of sour dough bread and 1/2 dozen cookies.  It was like they were giving away the pastries, pies, cakes and cookies.  At the Deli we ordered a turkey and brie panini and a mushroom quiche for dinner.  Panini in hand we drove to Lake Galena and had our lunch.  Half a cookie satisfied our sweet tooth.  Nice watching people walking around the lake, kids, dogs.

For the rest of our Sunday explore we wandered.  I ignore the GPS and we follow a road, Callowhill            ( wonder about the Philadelphia name).  We end up in Perkasie.  Although we drive around town, not much catches our attention.  One interesting looking Cafe.  We discover Lake Tohee County Park.  Finally back to Route 611. Ottsville has a number of possible stops — Kimberton Whole Foods, WowCow ice cream, Linden Hill Nursery, we have a gift certificate to the Ottsville Inn. And we pass Vera’s Country Cafe — a place on my check it out list, rated as one of the best breakfast spots in Bucks.

It’s getting late, approaching 3 o’ clock.  I’m ready to head home but Diane can’t resist a side road headed toward the river.  We get a bit lost — still no GPS.  Follow a dirt road and eventually emerge on River Road just below Tinicum.  There is a lot of rocky, forested landscape.  Reminds us more of the Carmel-Kent, NY area than rolling hills Bucks County.

We are in familiar territory now and head down River Road.  It was a good explore — over 4 hours.  The day had it’s mix of the familiar and the new.  Despite the massive suburban development in Bucks since the 1950s, there is still significant rural landscape, farms, hidden roads, places to revisit, places to discover.

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