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A brief history of Newtown and surrounding environs

Newtown

As the tale goes, Bucks County founder William Penn was on a search for a new community after he had finished laying out Philadelphia in 1682.

Nearly 30 miles north of his “Great Town,” Penn grew fond of a site along a stream of water near the Neshaminy Creek.

“This is where I propose to build my ‘new town,” he proclaimed about his newly purchased land from the Lenni Lenape Indians.

By 1684, Penn’s surveyor, Thomas Holme, began planning the 640-acre tract called New Township, which straddled what would later be named Newtown Creek.

Eventually the name of the township would be shorted to Newtown, and a borough at its center would be incorporated in 1838.

At present day State and Sycamore streets, a common sat in the middle of town until lots were sold in 1796.

Out of the rural community grew taverns and inns with the relocation of the county seat from Bristol in 1725.

It’s historical significance was cemented during General George Washington’s stay at a home off Sycamore Street, where he penned two famous letters to Congress describing the Continental Army’s victory at the Battle of Trenton.

Even after the county seat moved north to Doylestown in 1813, the “flourishing village” of “wealth and culture” still featured banks, a fire insurance company, a hotel, lodges, businesses, academies and a library.

The roots of the town’s Colonial past are still evident today with buildings like the Half Moon Inn, of Court Inn – a favorite of tavern-goers during the time it served as county seat – still lining the streets.

Other historic buildings include the Brick Hotel (1764) on Washington Avenue and the Temperance House (1772) and White Hall Hotel on State Street.

Originally titled Indian Council Rock after a Native American counseling spot, the 300-foot Tyler Mansion would serve as a country home to Philadelphia banker Frederick Tyler and his wife Stella Elkins Tyler by 1930.

Following her death 1963, the Tyler’s 2,000-acre estate would be split to form Bucks County Community and Tyler State Park.

Upper Makefield

While William and Jane Yardley established Yardley and Makefield following the 1682 land purchase from William Penn, the northern portion of the township remained a wilderness for many years.

It wasn’t until 45 years after Makefield was incorporated in 1692 that settlers petitioned to have the Highlands, as it was called, separated from the lower portion of the municipality.
Upper Makefield, deriving from the English town of Macclesfield, would become the last township below Bedminster to be organized – mostly because settlement was discouraged due to its proximity to Pennsbury Manor to the south.

Eventually the villages of Dolington on the Lower Makefield line, Taylorsville and Brownsburg along the Delaware, Buckmanville to the north and Jericho, a hamlet at the foot of a range of hills, spawned throughout the township.

Upper Makefield would later be the staging site for one of America’s most historic moments.

It was here that General Washington led his troops on a surprise attack on Hessian soldiers in Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas Day 1776, tipping the tide of the American Revolution in favor of the colonists.

Wrightstown

Legend has it that the first settlers in Wrightstown took refuge in a cave.
The tale goes that John Chapman and his family migrated to Bucks from England in October 1684, trekked through the forest and built a “sod hut” near present-day Penns Park Road. Soon after, the family ditched their makeshift cave for a log cabin constructed by Chapman.

The family grew and expanded to other parts of the county, with descendants including Doylestown legend Henry Chapman Mercer.

Soon after others followed the Chapmans to Wrightstown, and by 1692 the township was officially established.

In 1719, properties were divided around a reserved park in the center of town. By the 19th century the villages of Penns Park, Pineville, Rushland and Wycombe were formed with each receiving its own post office.

The first was Penns Park, which was known as Logtown as far back as 1716 and later was referred to as Pennsville until 1862.

The name of Pineville, a town centered around an old tavern, was adopted in 1832 after the presence of large pine trees that surrounded a former school house.

Home to late 19th-century Victorian architecture, Wycombe was created in the 1890s after the Northeast Pennsylvania Railroad opened in Bucks. Townspeople originally chose the title of Lingohocken – the area’s Native American name – but were forced by postal authorities to change it to prevent from confusing it with another Pennsylvania town.

Known as Little Italy due to the migration of Italian laborers in the late 19th century, Rushland became home to a stone quarry following construction of a railroad along a rocky cliff.

Originally called Sackett’s Ford for Joseph Sackett’s grist mill store, it is rumored the village got its current name from the “scouring rushes” from nearby Mill Creek used by early settlers.

Parts of its history still stand within its borders today: an 18th-century log cabin at the corner of Penns Park and Mud roads; a 1920s castle-themed playground of Second Street Pike; and the last of its kind in Bucks, an early 19th-century octagonal schoolhouse at the intersection of Swamp Road and Second Street Pike.

Sources: History of Bucks County Pennsylvania by W.H Davis published in 1884, James A. Michener Art Museum, Bucks County Community College, Newtown Borough, Newtown Township, Newtown Historical Society, Wrightstown Township and the Village Library of Wrightstown.