Bucks County – the name and the place evoke images of William Penn, the American Revolution, great artists and signature fieldstone houses and barns. The earliest residents to reap the bounty of Bucks were members of the Wolf Tribe of the Lenni Lenape Indians.
The Early Settlers ArriveIn the 1600’s, the first Europeans made their way up the Delaware River to what would become the port of Bristol in Lower Bucks County. Blocked by waterfalls, they explored the inner reaches of the county, following the streams and establishing small settlements as they went.
One of three original counties in William Penn’s Quaker Colony, Bucks claimed some of the richest farmland in the colonies. From these early settlements, and through 17th-century land purchases from the Indians, the large agricultural holdings of early Bucks County families developed. The rich yields increased their wealth. Wood houses were soon replaced by the larger stone homes for which Bucks County is famous.
The Revolution TurnsIts strategic location on the Delaware River drew George Washington to Bucks County after the disastrous Long Island campaign of 1776. The Delaware proved a natural barricade, behind which Washington planned his successful surprise attack on the Hessian garrison across the river at Trenton, New Jersey, a turning point of the war.
Commerce Brings ProsperityBucks County had become the major supplier of foodstuffs for Philadelphia, and its growing commercial interests altered the face of the region forever. The York Road, once a pre-settlement Indian trail, evolved into the major coach route between New York and Philadelphia. Where ferries crossed the Delaware, and later, bridges, many inns and taverns sprang up to serve weary travelers. It is not surprising that today’s visitors find an abundance of fine restaurants and country inns along the Delaware and throughout the county.
The Delaware Canal and major railroad lines firmly established Bucks as a major crossroads and link between Boston and Washington. Stage and rail stops developed into thriving communities, while river towns that had become industrial and mercantile centers reverted to their small town roots.
Into this turn-of-the-century scene stepped Dr. Henry Chapman Mercer. Lawyer, archaeologist, anthropologist and Bucks County native, Mercer was intent on preserving stone houses, log cabins and all the other physical evidence of the pre-industrial society.
He began to assemble a collection, “The Tools of the Nation Maker,” and built a museum 115 feet high with one million cubic feet to display them. Mercer regarded his collection as historical documents and artifacts of a vanished era.
He valued these tools as artistic expressions of their makers. Mercer also designed, built and operated the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. The tiles garnered international attention. After a period of disuse, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is again producing Mercer tiles, many of them made with Mercer’s original molds and methods.
Architecture, Art, Literature & TheaterThe architect in Mercer was impressed with the quality of concrete as building material; it allowed for fluid, free-form design, yet was practical because it was fireproof. Fonthill, Mercer’s home, his tile works, and his museum were all constructed from concrete. He allowed the shape of the interiors to dictate the overall design of the exteriors.
Together, the Mercer Museum, Fonthill and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works make up “The Mercer Mile,” a must-see attraction for any visitor.
While Mercer was busy collecting and building, the countryside around him was attracting landscape artists. In the 1920’s and 30’s, the village of New Hope became the center of a flourishing art colony spread among the farms and hamlets of the area.
Three prominent members of the group that came to be known as the “Pennsylvania School of Landscape Painting” were Edward Redfield, William Lathrop and Daniel Garber. Redfield’s dramatic, over-sized winter scenes were painted outdoors, even in blizzards.
Although painters of the Precisionist, Modernist and Surrealist schools were attracted to Bucks County, Realism enjoyed a surge in the region during the 1950’s.
In the 20’s and 30’s, people in the New York theater and literary worlds were also attracted to Bucks County by its scenic beauty, old stone houses and proximity to the city. Pulitzer Prize winners George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart along with Pearl S. Buck, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Parker, Katherine Porter, S.J. Perelman and Jean Toomer were drawn by the promise of a country retreat resembling Edward Hicks’ Garden.
Bucks County TodayBucks County is more than the sum of the history that runs through it. It is a place of enthusiasm for the future and respect for the history and creative energy of its past. It is a unique blend of pastoral countryside, colonial architecture, historic sites, museums, inns, shops, and activities that creates a sense of wonder, a feeling of being touched by history.