The Flying Machine

HOTCHKIN(1892) p008 On the Old York Road

In the early 1970s, Diane and I rented a house in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione.  It was on a two block spur off route 202 on the edge of the borough — Old York Road.  We became friends with Rodney and Ragna Hamilton who lived across the street.  Sometimes they were our intro into New Hope society.

I remember Ragna introducing us to John Loeper, an educator, school administrator, and writer.  Among recent digging in my children’s book collection, I found and reread Loeper’s “The Flying Machine: a stagecoach journey in 1774.”   (It was published in 1976 in time for the bicentennial.).


“The Flying Machine” is the story of the Swift-Sure Stagecoach line that traveled between Philadelphia and Elizabethtown, NJ.   In NJ, passengers could take a ferry to or from New York City.  The “Flying Machine” route was “the Old York Road.”

Loeper writes for middle school students.  I bought several of his books and at the time thought I could write books like this.  Of course, I didn’t.

But the reread was fun.  Local history; memories.  A young boy, David, takes the Swift-Sure stage coach to NY to visit family.  The coach connects the Barley Sheaf Tavern on Second  street with Elizabethtown, NJ.  From there a ferry took passengers to NYC.  The trip took two days.  I particularly like the local references.  “Down the streets of old Philadelphia they went, past Christ Church, Walnut Street, the High Street (today it’s Market).

There was a mid-day stop a Crossroads Inn, another at Bogart’s Tavern in Buckingham.  They passed through Lahaska and the Great Spring, called Aquetong, to Well’s Ferry (now, New Hope).  “John Watson (the driver) halted the Flying Machine before the Logan Inn. ”  William Penn’s secretary was James Logan.  A ferry ride across the Delaware river brought the traveler’s to Coryell’s  Ferry on the New Jersey side (now Lambertville).  For me these are all familiar locations.

Similarly in New Jersey the stage coach passed through Mount Airy, Ringoes, Pleasant Corners, Centerville (overnight stop), Bound Brook, and eventually the Indian Queen Tavern in Elizabethtown.  These NJ names are new for me.  In the story, David takes the ferry to NYC, “his journey on the York Road was over.”  My journey living on Old York Road lasted four years.


I remembered and located a related book  “Along the Old York Road” (1965) by James and Margaret Cawley in my local history collection.  The couple has written several NJ local history books published by Rutgers University Press.  James Cawley recalls many personal experiences living close to the road.  The Cawley’s story leans heavy on colonial history and the use of the road by General Washington during the American Revolution.

They describe many field trips they take in the area.  One passes our New Hope house. “This part of the road retains some of the original stone and plaster buildings and, at the point were Sugan Road crosss our road, a left turn takes the traveler to and across Aquetong Creek, on the banks may be seen the ruins of an early mill, now being restored.  The mill was built by Richard Heath in 1702, and is believed to be the oldest one in Bucks County.”  When we lived there, the Jim Hamilton family lived in the Heath mill.

There are several Bucks County sites mentioned by the Cawley’s that I would like to visit.  Inghamdale and Rolling Green are houses outside of New Hope.  I could take a closer look at the Friends Meeting in Lahaska and General Greene Inn (Bogart’s Tavern) in Buckingham.  I need to check out Hartsville, the Log College, and Hatboro,  scene of the Battle of Crooked Billet.  In New Jersey there are many new sites to explore.

For me Old York Road carries so many personal memories.





Children’s books and local history


I can’t resist buying local history books.  If they are for children, all the better.  A few years back I discovered  “Skippack School” by Marguerite de Angeli.  The author- illustrator of several dozen books lived and died in the Philadelphia area.  “Skippack School” is Eli’s story.  As a young German Memonnite, he moves with his family to a farm outside of German Town, Philadelphia on the Skippack Creek.  Family and neighbors help construct the family’s log house.  Within months, crops, cows, chickens, pigs; they have a working farm.  And Eli has responsibilities.

There is a lot of detail about Colonial life in “Skippack School” — spider cooking pots like we recently used in Deerfield’s Open Hearth cooking class; split cedar shingles similar to those I made in Montpelier two years ago; processing flax into linen for clothing cloth.  There are references to local foods – cornbread, wild turkey, sauerkraut, and soft pretzels. Settled in, Eli begins to construct a bench with elaborate carvings for his mother.  But it’s also time for school.

Eli goes it’s to, well it’s the book’s title, Skippack School.  It is run by the Mennonite Christopher Dock.  In the 1970s, when I began teaching at Holy Ghost Prep, we played basketball against Christopher Dock, it had emerged into a local Prep school.  Eli was surprised that Master Christopher applied the rod much less than his German teachers.  At the same time he was more interested in creating things and being outdoors than classroom learning.  This could lead to trouble.

“Skippack School” references the Leni Lenape, local Indians treated fairly by William Penn.  Eli will take a trip to German Town with its market, shops, Meetinghouse, the Green Tree Inn, Rittenhouse Paper Mill and the office of Christopher Sauer’s printing press — all local history.  His spirit will get him in trouble but it will also save him as he grows into a responsible young man.


The Skippack School

My grandson, Eli, put this in the “to sell” pile of children’s books.  I’m not sure he’s read it.  Grandpop may put it into the reread pile before selling.  And it might be interesting to visit the Christopher Dock School and other sites in German Town.