Bristol Cultural & Historical Foundation
BEFORE THE BEGINNING
The years prior to 1681
By Paul Feguson
As Bristol observed its Centennial in 1781, the Revolutionary War was still being fought. Bristol was a thriving market town, destined to become a famous resort and then a bustling commercial and industrial center.
With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the Revolutionary War ended and life settled back to normal conditions.
Bristol was first famous as a resort, a "watering place" called the Bath Springs. Wealthy and distinguished people traveled by boat and stagecoach to the Bath Springs to enjoy the mineral springs and the fine accommodations. In 1810, Dr. Joseph P. Minnick built a hotel and a racecourse. Bristol's fame and fortune grew as hundreds of people came to vacation, to dine and to enjoy the horseracing at the Bath and Badger course.
As the Bath Springs were enjoying popularity and prosperity, Bristol's business community began what was to become a thriving shipbuilding industry. Located at the Wharf and Mill Street areas and at Jones Shipyard on Radcliffe Street, shipbuilding became the preeminent business in the area. Shipbuilders became wealthy and success was enjoyed by merchants, traders, chandlers and hotelkeepers. Among the hotels serving vacationers and shippers were the Fountain House (originally the King George II Inn). The General Brown, the King of Prussia, the Cross Keys, the Rising Sun, the Patton House, the Cottage Hotel (originally the Temperance Hotel but changed to the Cottage for want of patronage), the Farmers' Hotel, the Exchange Hotel (later the Clossen House), the Bath, and the Yellow Tavern.
Not the least of those who flourished were Bristol's sailors and captains. Capt. John Green was the first American to carry America's flag to China. Other prominent Bristolians where Captains Sims, Stackhouse, Fenton and Hawk. Among those building ships where John Reed and Captain Stackhouse. Reed built the Morning Star, considered to be the finest schooner in America.
As steam replaced sail, Bristol's location and business climate kept it at the forefront of the shipping industry. John Fitch tested his first steamboat here, on the Delaware, in 1787.
Besides industry and commerce, Bristol also led in government. The Court House which stood on Cedar Street was the Bucks County Seat in 1705. The county's first Post Office was opened on Mill Street in 1790 with Col. Joseph Clunn as Postmaster.
Bristol, and the United States, developed and gained strength following the inauguration of Washington in 1789. That growth continued under Adams and Jefferson while Bristol continued to expand as a market town, a trade and shipping center, and a resort.
During Jefferson's term, the famous duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton took place and Bristol played a small part in that saga. Following the duel, Burr fled through New Jersey and crossed the Delaware on the Bloomsdale ferry. He spent the evening at the Yellow Tavern on Radcliffe Street.
During the early 1800s, Bristol continued to grow. The Bath Springs reached their height of popularity and business and industry thrived. The War of 1812 did little to slow that growth. The Farmers Bank, Bucks County's first, was opened in 1814. Joseph and Abraham Warner opened a wooden mill in 1815. In 1816, the first black church group, Bethel A.M.E. was formed.
In 1827, a major event occurred in Bristol's economic development when ground was broken for the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. By 1830, when the New Hope to Bristol section of the canal was completed, Bristol was lively town of 1200 people and a prinicpal Eastern coal port. Active coal merchants ere the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co., Asa Packer & Co., Lewis Audenreid & Co. and the Buck Mountain Coal Co. Coal merchants and shippers thrived, as well as retailers, barge workers and boatman. Hotel, particularly the Beaver Meadow House on Radcliffe Street, were kept busy, and farmers did a good business selling grain and hay for the many mules used in the coal business.
Because so many of its people were employed, still another business grew in Bristol. Building associations were formed to grant mortgages to the many workers who desired to buy their own homes. The first of these was the Bristol Building Association, then came the Franklin, the Union, the Home, the Fidelity Building Association, and the Merchants & Mechanics' Building Association.
During this period, Bristol's development continued. The Town Hall was built in 1831. By 1834, the horse-drawn railroad had arrived. Its route took it from Trenton down Market Street to the Wharf where passengers to Philadelphia boarded a steamboat for the balance of the journey.
In 1837, the first public school house was built on Wood Street. James Anderson taught 126 boys and Annie N. Smith taught 120 girls in the disciplines of English grammar, geography, history, arithmetic, expositor, writing, spelling, reading and weighing. Mr. Anderson was paid $65 a month and Miss Smith $30 a month.
A silk factory was opened at Radcliffe & Washington Streets in 1844. Mulberry trees were planted for several blocks and their leaves were used to feed the silk worms. The factory lasted only a few years.
By 1850, Bristol had grown to more than 2500 people, Millard Filmore was President and Bristol citizens were getting their news in the town's first newspaper, the Bristol Gazette, published by William Bache (a great grandson of Benjamin Franklin).
Towards 1860, Bristol's fortunes took a decided turn for the worse. The Bath Springs no longer enjoyed great popularity and the market town was not what it once was. Worst of all, Bristol had declined drastically as a coal port because of competition from other ports and from the railroads. To match Bristol's sad decline, the country itself was in turmoil. It was 1861 and the United States was torn by the Civil War.
Heeding the call of Lincoln and the country, Bristol men fought in great numbers and with much gallantry. From a town of 3000 people, 505 soldiers and sailors, and 34 officers answered the call to arms. So great was Bristol's turnout that three full companies were formed with just Bristol men. Those proud companies were:
Company I, 3rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserves,
Company I, 17th Regiment, Reynold's Division of Pennsylvania Millitia, and
Company G, 43rd Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division (which was led by Capt. Burnet Landreth . . . although proud of the courage and spirit of his men, he was not above some mild criticism of their vanity . . . "How vain were many of these Officers in their new blue coats with brass buttons and shoulder straps sometimes sashes, swords and spurs").
The highest ranking Bristol man was Brigadier General William H. Montgomery, a West Point graduate and commander of the 1st New Jersey Brigade.
Charles Ellet, Jr., born in Falls Township, moved to Bristol at the age of eight. Trained as a civil engineer, he was asked by Secretary of War Staton to assist in the technical aspects of the war. Ellet devised ram-boats which were instrumental in taking Fort Pillow and later, the City of Memphis. For this great contribution, Ellet was commissioned a colonel in the Union Army. Charles Augustus Conn, a Bristol shoemaker and barber, serviced under Gen. Mott of Bordentown and Col. Burling of Burlington. Conn was wounded at the Battel of Olustee in 1864. In later years, he served as Steward, Sunday School Superintendent and Trustee of the Bethel A.M.E. Church on Wood Street.
By all accounts Bristol's greatest Civil War hero was Capt. Henry Clay Beatty. A successful lawyer, Beatty was among the first to join the Pennsylvania Reserves at the outbreak of the war. He was assigned to Company I, 3rd Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserves and was soon named company commander. Beatty and his company fought gallantly at Richmond. Later, at the Battle of White Oak Swamp, Beatty was severely wounded but stayed with his men throughout the fighting. Such was Beatty's courage that the Regimental Commander, Col. Sickles, wrote a letter of commendation to Gov. Curtin citing the Bristol captain's devotion and spirit.
At Bull Run, Beatty was again wounded while leading his men. Again, he stayed on the front throughout the battle. So serious was his wound that Beatty's arm had to be amputated the next day. Unable to continue as a fighting soldier, Beatty was assigned to Washington but illness and injury had taken a devastating toll. He died quietly during the steamship journey. Henry Clay Beatty was brought back to Bristol and was buried in St. James Cemetery.
As the Civil War ended, Bristol faced the task of rebuilding its spirit. The Bath Springs were little more than a memory. The coal port and shipbuilding businesses had waned.
Into this breach stepped Bristol's great industrialists first Joshua Peirce, William H. Grundy, Thomas B. Harkins, Charles Peirce, James M. Slack, Thomas Hughes, Samuel Appleton, Frederick Nevegold, Joseph Sherman, Francis Fenimore and William Wilson.
In 1876, Joshua Peirce founded the Bristol Improvement Co. and that organization went on to develop the Keystone Mill, the Star Mills, the Wall Paper Mills, the Corona Leather Works, the Patent Leather Co. and the Standard Cast Iron Pipe & Foundry Co. The Bristol Carpet Mills were built for Thomas L. Leedom & Co. and the Bristol Forge, the Keystone Forge Co. and the Bristol Woolen Mills were founded. More new business flourished the Livingston Mills, the Bristol Foundry, the sash mill of Peirce & Williams and the Bristol Rolling Mills. The Bristol Worsted Mills were founded and were later taken over by William H. Grundy & Co. Mill Street was a brisk retailing center and the entire community boomed.
As Bristol closed its second hundred years, the town was a vibrant industrial and commercial center. Swain, Linden, Locust and Maple Streets had just been opened and a new gristmill was operating at Mill and Pond Streets. Bristol had two brass bands and a drum corps, and its best baseball team was the Keystone Club. A waterworks had been built, there was a circulation library and the town had three weekly newspapers.
By 1880, Bristol was a busy town of 5000 people; Allen L. Garwood was its burgess and Rutherford B. Hayes was the country's president.
FOUNDING TO REVOLUTION
by Paul Ferguson
REVOLUTION TO PROSPERITY
The Second Hundred Years
by Josepy Larrisey
A RENAISSANCE BEGINS
by Harold Mitchener
GROWTH AND EMERGENCE
1881-1980 The Third Hundred Years
by Lois Gratz
Much had happened in what is today Bristol before its official recognition as Buckingham in 1681. The first inhabitants probably came during the last Ice Age. The Paleo-Indian Man descended from the immigrants who crossed the Bering Straits into North America. They were hunter who settled in this region as the last glacier withdrew, between twelve thousand and twenty thousand years ago. They knew of fire, used flint tipped spears, and they probably used animal skins and lived in temporary shelters.
The Archaic Epoch followed in which the inhabitants used more diverse tools and knew how to make flour. Villages became larger and more permanent as agriculture became prevalent. The population grew and with it came cultural development, trade and ideas.
The Woodland Epoch followed and it was these inhabitants that the European settlers encountered. The Lenni Lenape Indians came to this region then. They were members of the Algonkian language group, which also included the Blackfoot, Arapaho and Cheyenne. The Lenni Lenape were divided into three groups with the Unami somewhat dominant among them. The Unami settled in Bucks County. Their symbol was the turtle. "Lenni Lenape" directly translated into English means "Original People". They believed they were ancestors of mankind to whom all others were related. Their respect among other tribes was unusual. They were call "grandfather", a sign of great respect. One Lenape story was that "The Great Spirit" was akin to the Delaware River. Their crops were the "Three Sisters": corn, beans and squash. The Lenape also started a fine Bristol tradition: during the summer months they made journeys to the shore of the ocean, where clambakes were held. William Penn suspected they were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
Before the Europeans came to Bristol, Radcliffe Street was an Indian path and the tall trees that lined it held nest of eagles. The incursion of civilization drove the eagles first from the Bristol area, and subsequently from Bucks County. One Indian story relates that in the days before noise pollution, the Delaware River was used to carry messages. That is, on a quiet day when the river was calm, an Indian "below the falls" could kneel by the river, cup his hand and speak onto the river. The spoken message could be heard by another Indian at Bristol, with his ear held near the water's surface.
William Penn's pledge of peace and harmony with the Indians lasted only during his lifetime. Today only a few Lenape Indians may be found. A handful, who practice the tribal customs and speak the language, live in Oklahoma.
The History of Bristol as told by our Residents
Samuel Clift founded Bristol. He did so after arriving in Burlington, NJ from England. The date was March 4, 1681 (old style), or March 14, 1681 (new style). He received a grant from Gov. Andros of New York. The grant was to become effective with William Penn's Charter from King Charles II of England. And so, our town, our county and our state share the same birthday. Our town was first called Buckingham. And following English tradition, our county was named for its principal town: "Buckinghamshire". Shire, for county, was abbreviated, and the result was "BUCKS".
Clift was required to start a "ferry against Burlington" and to maintain a public house in order to receive the grant of 262 acres which is included in today's Bristol. He started the ferry, which was probably discontinued only in the early years and which lasted until the construction of the Bristol-Burlington Bridge (sic). The inn he was required to start was the Ferry House in early years and is believed to be the oldest inn in continuous service in the United States. It has subsequently been known as the King George II, the King George III, the Fountain House, the Delaware House, and again the King George II. George Washington is reputed to have slept there, although not as President, but as a young man enroute to Connecticut to seek a commission. Clift died in 1684 and today is memorialized in the street that bears his name at the Mill Street Wharf.
From 1695 to 1697 a series of real estate transactions occurred, resulting in the "staking-out" of the town plot. This formed the basis for the streets and plots to the present day. Town fathers Anthony Burton, Thomas Brock and Peter White were the early entrepreneurs. The original draft of the town plot has been lost. In 1911, John Cutler's copy from the year 1715, was found and then lost as well. The original town was twelve blocks, including the streets Water, Radcliffe, Cedar, Wood, Pond, Mill, Market, Mulberry and Walnut.
Samuel Carpenter was the wealthiest man in Pennsylvania in 1701. A philanthropic Quaker born in Surry, England, he came to this country by way of the Barbados to become a shipping merchant in Philadelphia. He built the Bristol Mills, later known as Carpenter's Mills, Rogers' Brothers, J&A Dorrance and Plavin's . A strange stroke of good fortune seems to go with the building, as all who have labored there have prospered. Carpenter lost heavily in the French and Indian War of 1703; however, he still built a mansion on Burlington Island and made significant gifts to the Bristol Society of Friends. He contributed the ground for the Meeting house, Cemetery and pasture. Bristolian and Civil War hero Charles Ellet was his descendant.
In 1705 the first Court House in Bucks County was built on Cedar Street, behind the Presbyterian Church. Prior to that time justice had been dispensed from taverns and private homes. A gallows and whipping post adorned the two-story brick structure. The building was later used as a voting place, a tax office, a jail, a school, and reportedly as the first home of the Bristol Masons. According to the report of Alexander Graydon in 1811, a Quaker Meetinghouse, a small Episcopal church with a lonely graveyard and an old brick jail constituted the only public buildings in Bristol in 1760.
Bristol Friends Meetinghouse was started in 1711 and was completed in 1713 with brick brought from England. St. James Episcopal Church was started and completed in 1712. Rev. John Talbot of St. Mary's Burlington was the first rector of this parish, founded largely through the efforts of John Rowland and Anthony Burton. St. James fell into a state of neglect and disrepair during the Revolution because of its association with the Church of England. It was used as a stable by American troops. Buried in the churchyard are such notable persons as: Dr. James DeNormandie, first resident physician in Bucks County; Capt. John Green, first American to carry the flag around the world; Thomas Cooper, Shakespearean actor; and Col. Joseph Clunn, Revolutionary War hero and first postmaster in Bucks County. The church resumed worship after the Revolution and outgrew the old wooden structure. It was replaced by the present Byzantine edifice of Trenton Brownstone in 1857.
Buckingham had become known as New Bristol and by 1720 became incorporated as Bristol, the third oldest town in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia (settled after Bristol and Upland (now Chester) preceded Bristol in order of incorporation dates. Town Council consisted of a council of six, a constable, two burgesses, two assessors and a pound keeper. There was a fine for elected officials who did not serve. Town meetings usually consisted of the council only.
A period in the mid 1700's was known as "The Golden Age" due to the prosperity and tranquility that possessed this town. The soil was fertile, crops prospered and industry gained a foothold. There were still few luxuries, but that which produced locally was abundant.
A House of Correction was built in 1722 at Beaver and Garden Streets. Bristol was a Market Town, one of only three in Pennsylvania. The Fairs were also held in Bristol, having been authorized by Provincial Council. They were held in Market Street for two days in May and three days in October. The people of the county came to buy and sell and celebrate, which they did to excess. In 1773 Council decreed that the Fairs were useless on account of "debauchery, idleness and drunkenness" consequent on the meeting of the lowest class of people together.
Bristol Methodism got its start about the year 1771 when Capt. Webb, a licensed preacher in the English army, addressed a crowd of Bristolians under a chestnut tree on Wood Street. A fearsome sight, he preached in full military uniform with his sword across opened sciptures and a dark patch across one eye. The second of two Methodist churches stands on that site. It has now divided into private residences.
As Bristol approached the Revolution, it mirrored in many ways the political balance of the colonies. Its citizens lived in a Quaker town, county and state. Some were Tories. Some were neutral. Some espoused the cause of liberty. The war ebbed and flowed. It washed over Bristol time and time again, slowly unifying. There were no battles fought here except for an isolated American ensign wounded during a British occupation. Washington headquartered the southern third of his army here under Col. Cadwalader (he became a general the following April) during the Delaware Crossing campaign.
With Cadwalader comfortably quartered at the King George Inn, the remainder of his troops were spread as far as Dunce's Ferry. Some were quartered in the stone houses diagonally opposite the Meetinghouse, then used as a hospital. Famous portrait artist Charles Willson Peale was here, as well as the entire U.S. Marines. Bristol was the first base camp for the Marines in the U.S., who previously had seen action only in the Bahamas. The order was given to cross the Delaware on Christmas Day eve, 1776. Whereas Washington's principal force succeeded in crossing, the wider river and heavier ice floes prevented Cadwalader and his men. They evenally seueeded and participated in the victory at Princeton.
In September 1777, the Marquis de Lafayette was brought to Bristol en route to Bethlehem to recover from wounds received in the Battle of Brandywine.
In 1780, Bristol Lodge No. 25 Ancient York Masons, was granted a warrant. The first Master of the Lodge was John Clark, a British officer, sympathetic to the revolutionary cause.
In 1780, Bristol had a population of less than 300 housed in about 50 dwellings. The burgesses were Phineas Buckley and John Bessonett, having been elected in 1774. The Federal authority was the Continental Congress, and the Articles of Confederation would be signed the next year.
Before the turn of the century, Bristol was well-established industrially. Joshua Peirce had set the pace in 1876 when he developed the Bristol Improvement Co.
In 1882, the Wilson and Fennimore Wall Paper Co. was built. The Thomas L. Leedom Carpet Co. came to Bristol in 1887; in 1889 the Corona Leather Mills were established.
Later, the David L. Landreth Seed Co. would move its operation from Bloomsdale (Landreth Manor) to join the industrial town. The Edward Steel Wool Co., Superior Zinc and Manhattan Soap also joined the "mill-town".
By 1883, an ordinance was passed by the borough council authorizing construction of a bridge across the canal at Jefferson Avenue. Soon houses began to appear on the northern end of town.
Phone bells first started ringing in Bristol in 1883. The telephone office, a one story building, was at 232 Mill Street.
The Bristol Electric Light and Power Company had the streets lighted by incandescent electric lamps in 1889.
In 1893, the Goodwill Hose Company No. 3, the Beaver Fire Company No. 4 and the Enterprise Fire Company No. 5 were organized. The following year, 1894, the Bristol Fire Company was organized.
The dedication of Bristol High School, on the corner of Wood and Mulberry Streets, was held on November 10, 1894.
A trolley line connecting Bristol with Trenton and Philadelphia was constructed in 1903. Another trolley line was also built from Bristol through Newtown to Doylestown.
The Italian Presbyterian Mission was founded in 1905. It was housed at the old Presbyterian Church on Radcliffe Street until a chapel was built in 1910 on the corner of Wood Street and Lincoln Avenue.
St. Ann's R.C. Church was also started in 1905. A new church was built in 1908 on the corner of Pond and Washington Streets. A new rectory was built next to it.
In 1908 the cornerstone for the Jefferson Avenue School was placed. Mrs. William H. Grundy presented the school board with a check for $4,200 the exact amount paid for the property.
In 1910, the Grundy Woolen Mills erected a seven-story concrete storehouse, surmounted by a large clock. The structure was the first of its type in the county.
Also in 1910, the Bristol Courier, originally a "weekly" switched to a daily newspaper. In 1954, a merger between the Courier and Levittown Times brought the paper to its present status as the Bucks Country Courier Times.
On November 11, 1911, the Pennsylvania Railroad was rerouted to new-elevated tracks and the passenger station moved to Market and Pond Streets to Beaver and Prospect Streets.
Bristol Borough purchased the Bristol Water Works in 1912. The borough sewer system was established in 1913.
The Rohm and Hass Chemical Company came to Bristol in 1916. Its business at the time was manufacturing chemicals for tanning and textile trades. Due to Bristol's excellent transportation facilities, the site selected was ideal for a growing industry. The company moved in, built a few buildings and purchased more land for future development. Homes and recreational facilities were built for company employees. Rohm and Hass has grown and has been a continuous factor in the growth of Bristol.
The Zion Lutheran Church on Jefferson Avenue was formed through a merger between the German Lutheran Mission and an English Lutheran Million in 1917.
The American involvement in World War I may have been a short one; nevertheless, it had a lasting effect on Bristol.
The Emergency Fleet Corporation entered into a contract for the construction of 40 cargo carriers. The 260-acre property just upriver from the town's limits was turned into a shipyard and village known as Harriman.
Buildings were constructed; a dozen shipways built and electrically operated boom-type cranes were installed. An 1135-foot fitting-out pier was built.
The population grew to over 3000. Housing accommodations consisted of single homes, apartments and barracks for unmarried workers. The town's layout was oval, with an East and West Circle at each end.
Harriman had its own police force, fire department, water and sewage systems, heating, lighting, schools and hospitals. It also had the "Victory Hotel" with nearly 500 rooms and the Merchant Restaurant, which served 12,000 meals every 24 hours.
After the war, the buildings were sold at a public sale and the village was annexed to Bristol Borough in 1923.
Dr. George T. Fox purchased the Harriman Hospital. In 1922, it was opened to the public.
In 1924, the Community Church of Harriman became the Harriman Methodist Church.
The Pentecostal Church on Wood and Walnut Streets was built in 1927.
Also in 1927, the Municipal Building was built and presented to the Borough by Joseph R. Grundy.
In 1930, Bristol bid a fond farewell to the ferry. The Burlington-Bristol Bridge was built. It was considered to be the largest bridge of its type at the time.
The borough council ordered that the Old Town Hall be torn down in 1938.
By the time of the Second World War, Rohm and Hass and the Fleetwings Corporations, as well as other industries located just outside the borough limits, were geared up to maximum production. The Fleetwings Corporation manufactured airplanes and airplane parts. "The Seabird", an all-aluminum single engine seaplane, was a favorite among the townspeople. Rohm and Hass were manufacturing Plexiglas and other acrylic products to meet the needs of the armed forces.
With so many of the men serving in all branches of the service, women took their place in industry. They worked the "swing shift" and "Rosie the Riveter" became a reality in Bristol.
Aside from rationing coupons for gas, food and clothing, the Red Cross was very active. War Bond rallies were held, Civil Defense Units were established, and "blackouts" were practiced. Small satin banners with blue stars on a white field began to appear in windows; too many of those blue stars would turn to gold before the war was over.
On November 13, 1945, the Honorable Joseph R. Grundy gave 14 acres of land on Jefferson Avenue to be known as the War Memorial Field. In addition to the land, he also presented the town with a $2500 check.
In 1948, the Jewish Center renewed its charter and built its present Temple on Pond Street. The Jewish Community had been founded in Bristol in 1908.
The period between World War II and the Korean Conflict was a time of unequaled prosperity for Bristol.
It was a time for expansion. Fleetwings Corporation became Kaiser-Fleetwings Corporation and was revived as an airplane parts plant, employing up to 14000 workers.
The U.S. Steel Corporation was building a new plant just a few miles north on the river, while the Danhurst Corporation and William Levitt were purchasing nearby farmland for housing developments.
Bristol, a town of significance between the Delaware River and the county seat of Doylestown and between Trenton and Philadelphia, continued to be an important center. The economy couldn't have been better. Mill Street was flooded with shoppers. Shop owners remodeled their stores and carried merchandise never seen before in Bristol.
The fifties also brought the John Kenley Players to Bristol. Opening night at the Grand Theater on Mill Street was June 20, 1955. The show, "A Street Car Named Desire" starring Diana Barrymore, was a success. The town loved the smell of greasepaint, enjoyed many Broadway shows, and welcomed Broadway stars into their homes. Gloria Vanderbilt, Chester Morris, Pat O'Brien and Ethel Waters were among the celebrities to appear on stage. The old theater then stood idle for several years until Norman's Stationery purchased it when its owners remodeled its store.
With the conclusion of Bristol's Tricentennial Celebration in 1981, the town embarked on its fourth century as a continuously settled community. It was not long before residents and visitors alike recognized a gradual change in the town's appearance, a Renaissance that would be visible as a result of many physical changes. Along with these changes, a sense of pride became evident. Bristol's inhabitants started to realize the historical significance of the town to the region and "local history" became a topic that would become much "in vogue." The Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library recognized that there was a need to identify, classify and preserve pictures, documents and other written materials pertinent to the town's history, so a special project was begun to do this task. The importance of local history was also being mirrored by many towns and cities throughout the nation, especially following the Bicentennial Celebrations of the United States.
The "Welcome Friend" arch (which was hung across Radcliffe Street near the bridge at Adams Hollow Creek to greet General Lafayette on his Farewell Tour of America In September of 1824) was given a place of honor on the wall outside of the Bristol Borough Council Chamber. Those same words began to appear on metal signs at the entrance streets of the Borough. This became the unofficial "logo" of the community.
Soon costumed guides, sponsored by the Bristol Cultural and Historical Foundation, started to provide free summer walking tours for visitors wanting to learn more about Bristol. The Lions Club created a waterfront park between the Mill Street parking lot and Market Street, which featured a gazebo for bands and other performers. Weekly summer concerts provide musical entertainment with the Delaware River as its background. Prospective brides and grooms sometimes select part of Lions Park as the setting for their summer weddings.
Recognizing the ethnic diversity found within the borough limits, the larger groups exhibit their heritage by sponsoring summer festivals with music, crafts, dancing, a variety of goods and lots of good community spirit. By the year 2002, festival groups included CelticAmericans, Hispanic-Americans, Afro-Americans, and Italian-Americans. These festivals can be enjoyed by the entire community.
To help highlight the cultural differences within Bristol, monuments began to appear in Lions Park. The first was in 1992 when the "Italian 500" organization, erected a monument with the bust of Christopher Columbus atop. This new addition recognized the 500th Anniversary of his first voyage to the Americas. A Celtic cross was erected on a monument in 1997 to serve witness to the various immigrants of Celtic Heritage (Irish, Scottish, and southwestern English) who made Bristol their home. By 1998, a third group erected a monument to celebrate the Hispanic influence, particularly the people from Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans first settled in Bristol when farms outside of the town attracted workers. Many people from Puerto Rico found Bristol a desirable community in which to establish a new home. Members of the Afro-American community are making preparations for a monument recognizing their contributions. It was announced in 2001 that a monument of Harriet Tubman (the well-known slave who led many to freedom by her tenacious spirit in the nineteenth century) was being planned. Bristol has a number of families that are able to trace their family roots directly to Harriet Tubman.
To further solidify the community in their rebirth, a weekly newspaper; "The Bristol Pilot" was first published in 1986. This publication serves to highlight "happenings" in Bristol Borough and nearby Bristol Township.
In the 2000 United States Census, Bristol's population was listed as 9,923 and of that number 83.5% were listed white, 11.5%-Hlspanic, 8.8%-black and 0.3%-Aslan. The median age was 36 and 18.6% was age 60 or older. A family with a child at home under 18 years of age was 28% and the average household size was 2.48. The Friends' Meeting House built in 1711, is one of sixteen houses of worship serving the community. A number of service clubs and fraternal organizations are active in the Borough.
Computer technology can be found in both public and parochial schools and at the Margaret Grundy Memorial Library. Introductory instruction has been offered in the library to further help citizens with the new electronic media.
One of the more visible changes that can be appreciated by many neighborhoods is the Spur Line Park. The old railroad spur line was removed and a paved path created in its place. Students from the two public schools and two parochial schools are able to use the Spur Line Park to shorten travel distance. Often out-of-town visitors walk the Spur Line pathway for exercise.
In various locations around the town were created small pocket playgrounds and parking areas. The parking lots have helped relieve some of the parking problems in various neighborhoods and the play lots have provided recreation areas within neighborhoods. The newest park is the Ross-Bragg Play Park at the end of Spruce Street.
A project of restoring the canal path, from the river through the town has been ongoing during the opening years of the 21st century. It is possible to begin in the Mill Street parking lot, which formerly had been the canal basin, and follow the path of the canal, including four lock sites, until reaching the actual canal where water begins at Washington Street and extends to Green Lane. The canal started in 1827 and operated until 1931.
The former bridge over the canal on Old Bristol Pike below Mill Street was replaced; however the outer sides of the bridge, which first served the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and then Old Bristol Pike, were set aside. With the completion of the bridge, the restored sides were set into place making the bridge appear as it formerly looked when first constructed.
Walking on Radcliffe Street, one can now rest on benches and enjoy a fountain at the corner of Walnut Street. This site, adjacent to the water intake plant, was added by the Suburban Water Company, which purchased Bristol Water Works in the 1990's. The water plant was updated and completely renovated on the exterior.
There was a time in the latter 19th century when the bicycle was a unique conveyance. Bristol Police Department, which has 18 members, added a bicycle patrol in 1998 to help their members more carefully patrol the neighborhoods. Bilingual patrolmen are also available in the community.
As the electric trolley lines through Bristol were discontinued after 1932, bus transportation through the town connecting Philadelphia and Morrisville and extending to Newtown became available. The Neibauer Bus Company helped to fill this void; however, the increased use of private automobiles soon made this transportation obsolete. Beginning in the 1980's Bristol was once again linked with Philadelphia and the out-of-town shopping malls in Langhorne and Bensalem Township by bus. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) serves the region and bus transportation also meets the SEPTA commuter trains on the R-7 line, which connects Philadelphia and Trenton, NJ via Bristol.
In 1970, the Grundy Foundation helped fund an outdoor ice rink adjacent to the actual water area of the Lagoon on Jefferson Ave. By 1975 the ice rink added a roof and soon was enclosed. In 1976, to help celebrate the Bicentennial of the nation, a banquet and ball were held at the rink building. The ice rink was very popular; unfortunately, a fire destroyed the complex in 1995. Two years later, land was procured at the site of the former Leedom's Carpet Mill on Beaver Street and a new recreation center constructed. By 2000, that center was doubled in size. The canal lagoon area was free of structures not originally located there and the idea of improvements to the lagoon surfaced.
Team effort by the various construction unions in the region was responsible for the restoration of the lagoon of the Delaware Canal at Jefferson Avenue. They joined together to donate time and labor; with grants and donations, the lagoon was completely restored including a new bridge that would make the island handicap accessible. (The park land was originally donated by Senator Joseph Grundy in the 1920's.) Memorial donations for trees, shrubs and benches completed the setting. An electric fountain was placed in the water to provide a column of water to add to the beauty. In 2002, a monument to Michael Dougherty (1844-1930), one of Bristol's Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from the Civil War, was dedicated. Michael Dougherty survived long imprisonments during the war and was the only member of his Irish-American Regiment to survive the war. One of his greatest contributions was keeping a diary of his experiences in the war and having it published later.
An example of cooperation was exhibited when various service clubs in the town and the Bristol Cultural and Historical Foundation joined together to form a group that would be responsible for the restoration of the Bristol Railroad Station ticket office. It is at ground level and could easily be given an alternative use. Following its restoration, the station was opened as a coffee shop offering various foods including bagels and sandwiches. The objective had been accomplished; the 1911 station was saved and restored.
Other examples of restoration in the community have been the conversion of Jefferson Avenue public school into condominiums; the restoration of Bristol Fire Co. No.2 building into an office building; the restoration of the former McCrory's 5 & 10 cent store on Mill Street where the building was subdivided into several businesses and offices; and the restoration of the former Barker and Williamson factory (now called Canal Works) into spaces for offices, art galleries and businesses.
Bristol's first bank came to town in 1823 from Hulmeville. There are four banks in the old historic section of town, the newest being First Service Bank, which located in the empty bank building formerly owned by CoreStates Bank, which merged with First Union Bank. Fidelity Savings and Loan Bank, which started in 1885, kept their bank building on Radcliffe Street as their office and loan site and opened a new banking location on the triangle of land between Pond, Market and Old Bristol Pike. This had been the site of the Pennsylvania Railroad's passenger station until 1911. On Mill Street near Radcliffe Street is First Federal Savings, also tracing their start to 1885.
On Farragut Avenue, near Green Lane, American Hose Hook and Ladder Company No.2 built a new facility and moved their location from Mulberry and Pond Streets Bristol Fire Company. No.6 on Hayes Street joined with No.2 and vacated their building. The combined two companies now offer water rescue along with fire protection. Adjacent to the fire company had been a lumberyard, which was replaced with a service station. In the late 1980's a convenience store called "Wawa" opened there. (Wawa originally started as a dairy on U.S. Route #1 in Delaware County.) Three other volunteer fire companies continue their service to the community.
In 1981, Delaware Valley Medical Center (formerly Harriman Hospital) moved to a new location outside of the borough and the former hospital was reopened as Mill Run, an assisted living facility. Lower Bucks Hospital, just outside the borough limits, was expanded and associated with Temple University Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Riverfront North" remained a headline topic in the local news media, especially during the 1990's. This area of 80 acres had been the former site of the Standard Cast Iron Pipe and Foundry, the Merchant Fleet shipyard, Huff-Daland Aircraft, Keystone Aircraft, Fleetwings Aircraft and Kaiser Fleetwing between 1900 and 1962. When Kaiser-Fleetwing closed, the site was eventually prepared for 56 housing units for people age 55+. In 2001, all 56 units were inhabited on Bristol's newest street called Seabird Drive, named for the model of seaplane once manufactured there.
In 2000, the last remaining building on the site, at the opposite end from the houses, was vacated by the Dial Soap Company and plans are being made to renovate the former building into an office complex named Island View. Between the office building and the houses a number of acres are being considered as a possible site for a satellite campus of the Bucks County Community College and possibly some business sites. Being adjacent to the river also provides an opportunity for riverfront use such as a marina. Across Radcliffe Street, on a lot formerly part of the shipyard, a distribution center for the Simon and Schuster Book Company was opened in 1989.
On part of the land that once provided Bristol with a mineral spa in the 18th and 19th centuries, a golf course (c. 1960-1990) once existed. With the water table rather high in this area, flooding was a problem. In c. 1989, with the closing of the golf course, a small lake was created and Commerce Park, a shopping center built. Superfresh supermarket occupied one end and Caldor, a department store, the other. Between were various smaller stores and restaurants. McDonald's and Pizza Hut located on the outer edge along U.S. Route #13. A bank opened at the intersection of routes #413 and #13. Caldor was replaced by an Ames Department Store, which closed in 2002 nation wide. Negotiations are in progress for another large store to occupy that location.
U.S. Route #13 which was constructed following World War II, has always been a highway for commercial buildings. One of the largest is the Golden Eagle Diner and Restaurant located where part of the Bath Springs Spa once stood at Bath Street. Also on Route #13 at the corner of Beaver Street is Burger King. It is adjacent to a former Fleetwing building (plant #2) now occupied by Columbia Lighting Inc.
Bristol's last privately owned pharmacy, Fabians', closed in May of 1998 leaving the pharmacy business to three large chain pharmacies, RiteAid on Pond Street, Eckerds' in Commerce Park, and Superfresh Pharmacy in Commerce Park. Fabians', which had operated at Mulberry and Radcliffe Streets from 1909 to 1998, was replaced with a gift shop.
There were times when a business was completely destroyed by fire, as in the case of the Walnut Hill Wax Company (originally constructed as the heating plant for homes in Harriman) on Wilson Avenue and Green Lane. In 2002, the remains of the building were removed and a green space occupies that site. At the opposite end of town on Mill Street in the 400 block, five business buildings were purchased by the borough and removed. A green space now occupies that location and it may become a commercial building, including a visitor's center. The final use of this is still being decided.
Bristol's Renaissance continues and one of the sites that attracts a continual flow of out-of-town visitors is the award-winning Bristol Riverside Theatre. In its 16th season, located at the corner of Radcliffe and Market Streets, the theatre provides plays of high quality. It continues to win awards and positive reviews from critics and attendees alike. Patrons often combine a visit to the theatre with dinner at one of two nearby restaurants either the historic King George II Inn or Stock's Waterfront Grill.
Bristol's "Welcome Friend" sign continues to beckon visitors in the twenty-first century.