Today New Hope is seen as a
tourist town with its heritage rooted in theater, arts, and the antiques, but
it was not always this way.
New Hope used to be an old industrial town with its economy driven by transportation and water power, and its original citizens were employed by its mills which ground grain into flour, manufactured paper, and quarried stone.
Around the 18th century, artists moved into the neighborhood, enchanted by the beauty of the Delaware River valley, old stone farmhouses, barns and mills.
The town wasn’t always called New Hope– the area went through a number of name changes as time passed.
It has been called Well’s Ferry, Canby’s Ferry, and Coryell’s Ferry since it was first settled around 1715.
Benjamin Parry, considered by many as the “Father of New Hope,” was a key figure in the growth of the town as we know it today.
Benjamin led a group that built the first bridge to New Jersey from New Hope, established the first New Hope bank, and helped finance the construction of the Delaware Canal through town.
Parry also purchased the mill
located on what is now the south side of the Bucks County Playhouse, and
expanded the flour mill operations to include a flax mill and saw mill.
Unfortunately Parry’s mills burned to the ground in 1790, but he was undaunted and rebuilt the mills, naming them “New Hope Mills,” which is how the town got its lasting name.
Parry’s mansion, built in 18th-century Georgian style in the center of town on South Main Street, is still considered the jewel of New Hope and currently owned and operated by the New Hope Historical Society.
New Hope’s claim to fame in the art realm began with two revered painters, William Lathrop and Edward Redfield, who both created their work during the late 19th to early 20th century.
A group of artists gathered around them and became known as the New Hope Art Colony, practicing plein-air painting, or painting outdoors, as well as capturing light and focusing on themes that showcased everyday modern life and landscapes.
Nowadays much of the attraction to New Hope lies with its artistic background, as one of the birthplaces for Impressionism during the 19th century and a haven for artists of all kinds.
It’s also the location of the Bucks County Playhouse, one of the nation’s oldest theatres.
America’s tale couldn’t have been written without one of Bucks County’s most treasured sites.
Washington Crossing, just a few miles south of New Hope in Upper Makefield, was home to the turning point of the American Revolution.
With his Continental Army weary and himself disgruntled from losses to the British in New York, General George Washington retreated to Bucks to regroup while British General William Howe and his infantry settled up north for the winter of 1776.
With moral low and desperate for a win, Washington hatched a “daring plan” at a home in Upper Makefield to cross the Delaware River by boat to attack Hessian outposts standing guard in Trenton.
Under the cover of darkness on Christmas, Washington and roughly 2,400 troops took off near McMconkey’s Ferry through the “ice-choked river” for the New Jersey town.
Washington and his men fought through sleet and a blinding snowstorm to cross the river and march into the Trenton on December 26th to secure a decisive victory over the Hessians, giving the Revolution a much needed boost.
Today the site serves as a 500-acre park to preserve the crossing that turned the tide of the war.
Special places of interest:
- Coryell’s Ferry;
- Parry Mansion;
- Delaware Canal State Park;
- Phillips’ Mill;
- New Hope & Ivyland Railroad;
- Washington Crossing Historic Park.
Sources: New Hope Historical Society, Greater New Hope Chamber of Commerce, Encyclopedia Britannica, Washington Crossing Historic Park