Burn Bridle Press – Bucks County History

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The Baby Beneath the Floorboards – 1789

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In the March of 1789, John Carcaddon made a grisly discovery beneath the floorboards of Hanna’s Brew House in Newtown. Stuffed into a drain beneath the floor was the month-old body of a dead child. He later testified:

he took up a pine Board of the floor to throw the water into it being a drain, and after throwing of a considerable quantity of Water off, the passage appeared to be stopped and upon examining the cause found a hair Cloth under which I found the Infant wrapped in an old piece of Calico

The coroner called an inquest, and a jury was convened to determine the circumstances of the child’s death. Witnesses were called, and suspicion soon fell on a woman named Phebe Stover. Catherine Clucker was called before the jury and testified:

that Phebe Stover was taken Ill in the night about a Month ago, that her husband proposed sending for a Doctor, that she would not consent to it, next day she came into my room continued Ill, that Doct. Torbet was sent for, that he came two different times, that Doct. Asked her how long she had been with Child she answered about four Months and a few days—that she and her Husband frequently quarreled—that she [illegible] this deponent that she thought she had miscarried but would not tell her

The doctor, Samuel Torbet, confirmed her story, reporting:

that he was called upon by the Husband of Phebe Stover that he went with him and found her very Ill, her symptoms I thought were such as threatened a Miscarriage—and found she had been in that situation for some time—and proceeded to treat her as one in that situation—she told me she had been pregnant about four Months and a few days to the best of her knowledge—that he saw no symptoms of her having Miscarried that he told her if she had not already Miscarried she certainly would

It seems clear that the Phebe Stover miscarried, but it’s a mystery why she would attempt to dispose of the body in this disturbing manner.

Today, the County Coroner looks into the death of anyone who dies without being attended to by a doctor. In the early years of Bucks County only exceptional deaths were investigated, and the early coroner’s records are far less frequent and are mostly dedicated to violent, accidental, or otherwise suspicious deaths.

(Source: Bucks County Coroner’s Reports, #20, March 13th, 1789. In the collection of the Bucks County Historical Society)

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Written by Moses Doan

October 31, 2013 at 5:58 pm

The Lenape Building

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Dominating the intersection of State Street and Main Street, Lenape Hall is one of the most distinctive buildings in Doylestown. The building was dedicated on November 17th, 1874, and according to the late Doylestown historian Wilma Brown Rezer in her book Doylestown And How It Came to Be, it was originally designed to provide Doylestown with a town hall, a concentrated store area, and a much-needed indoor market. Before the construction of the indoor market, farmers came to town at 4am and lined the streets with their wagons, selling produce outside regardless of weather. The addition of an indoor market presumeably alleviated wagon traffic and protected the vendors and customers from inclement weather.

The construction cost was $50,0000, and it was built using a half million locally pressed bricks and trimmed with stone from Milwaulke and Ohio. It’s grand staircase was eight feet wide, made of ash planks two inches thick, with hand-carved railings and walnut balusters. Local jeweler Lewis Spellier built the gold-lettered clock at its peak. A wood awning was installed in 1876 and replaced with tin in 1898. The corner store was occupied by a drug store from its construction in 1874 until at least 1980, when Rezer wrote her history of Doylestown.

Writing in 1876, shortly after the Lenape building first opened, W.W.H. Davis reports:

The handsomest improvement, as well as one of the most useful, in the borough is the Lenape building… Its features are a market-house and six stores on the first story, a handsome and convenient hall that seats nearly eight hundred persons, and a stage equipped with beautiful scenery, four offices and dressing-room, on the second, and a beautiful lodge-room on the third. The building is brick, with stone trimmings, and is surpassed in beauty and convenience by but a few of the kind in the state.

The Lenape building remains a fixture of downtown Doylestown. The first floor still contains a number of shops, but the upper floors have been converted into apartments. It’s served different functions over the years, and it once even contained a bowling alley, as pictured below:

A child looks on as workers remove the Doylestown trolley line.

The Ship Tavern

The site of the Lenape building was originally the home of the Ship Tavern. In 1774, Samuel Flask purchased property south of present day East State Street and built the Ship Tavern at the crossroads. It stood for a century until it was demolished to make way for Lenape Hall in 1874.

The Ship Tavern

The crossroads brought a lot of business to Doylestown, and The Ship Tavern competed for tipplers with two other bars at the intersection: Doyle’s Tavern (built 1752), now the Fountainhouse, and Magill’s Tavern (1805), now partially incorporated into building that houses the Paper Unicorn.

The cornerstone of the Ship Tavern was incorporated into the rear wall of Lenape Hall, and is still visible. The words “Doylstown 26 Miles to Philadelphia” are still visible on its surface. If you look up the alley between the Lenape Building and Finney’s Tavern, you’ll find the old milestone on the back of the Lenape Building where the stone foundation meets the brick, about eye level.

Notice the omitted "e," an old alternate spelling of "Doylestown."

Written by Moses Doan

June 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Slobbery Run

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The other day I paid a visit to Slobbery Run, a small stream that cuts down from the hillside on River Road and flows into the canal. It wasn’t very slobbery when I came to visit, but I imagine after a hard rain the water flows a bit more impressively through this rocky valley.

From MacReynolds’ Place Names in Bucks County:

Slobbery Run – Small short steam in southeastern Plumstead Township, tumbling through a rocky ravine about a quarter mile east of Lower Black Eddy and emptying into Delaware Division Canal. The water foams over the rough boulders, hence its name. It is a venturesome climb from Delaware River Road up this steep valley, to be paid upon reaching the top with magnificent waves of river scenery.

It’s located just north of Devil’s Half Acre, an unlicensed distillery that operated along the canal in its early days and acquired a raucous reputation. One of the reasons I visited Slobbery Run was to try to pinpoint the plot of land on the boulder-covered hill that a black farmer cleared and cultivated, which I read about in this article by Cyrus Livezy, published in the Doylestown Democrat on November 28th, 1876, and reprinted by MacReynolds in Place Names:

 On the hillside after leaving the old Devils Half Acre house is a modest dwelling erected many years ago by ‘Old Black John,’ who by a vast amount of labor and with more patience and perseverance than is often found in the African race succeeded in rendering a small stony patch susceptible to cultivation, and just beyond this we come to the famous high rocks towering grandly at least eight feet above them. The sun is not visible here and the wintry atmosphere that prevades [sic] this place gives us a taste of that season, and we remember finding a block of winter ice here late April, 1830. Advancing a few rods we pass Rattling Run Cascade and are opposite Moss Giel Rock, which rises from the side of the hill some distance above the road. The ascent is very steep and the distance from the road to the summit of the rock is about three hundred feet. Our fraternal guide offers to lead us up by a circuitous route without difficulty, but climbing steep hills was a favorite amusement fifty years ago, and we resolve to have a taste of it now and in a few minutes, panting for breath, the summit of the rock is reached. Here after resting awhile we contemplate the scenery below, around and far away. On the eastern side is the cascade, so called from a small steam of water flowing through a wildwood glen and over a ledge of rocks. The run formerly bore a name that was rather uncongenial to modern refinement and was changed a few years ago to suit the taste of some Philadelphia ladies; and, although we are generally disposed to accept names as we find them, beg leave to demur on this case (as the steam flows through a thickly wooded glen) to call it Sylvan Run and Sylvan Run Cascade. Moss Giel Rock was dedicated by an ederly [sic] gentleman and some schoolboy companions in 1865, the ceremony consisting of reading Bayard Taylor’s account of the great Burns Festival at Moss Giel in Scotland in 1845. The Broad surface of the rock is smooth and pretty well covered with inscriptions by numerous visitors. Although many years of our life were passed within two miles of this place, we never stood upon the rock before and knew not of its sublimity. To the eastward the head of the Delaware and Raritan Canal feeder, Readings Hollow, Bulls Island and Raven Rock are visible.

It’s amazing to me that, following the rules of politeness in that era, Livezey dances around the word “slobbery” but doesn’t think twice before dropping offensive racial stereotypes.

I didn’t have much luck, and I have no idea if any evidence remains of this old homestead. I looked at an 1876 map of Plumstead, and it seems like the land at the top of the ridge was one large plot, while there were a couple thin strips of separately owned land running between the hill and the canal, one including Devil’s Half Acre and the other with one building shown across the road. It’s possible that John lived there, and that before River Road was widened he had enough cultivatable land to subsist on. I also haven’t been able to identify any African Amercian named John on the Plumstead census records from this era.

UPDATE: I met the owner of what is probably John’s homestead. The old house is gone, but until the 1930’s, it was an old wooden shack raised up on stilts. When the homeowner tore down the house that replaced it (a confused jumble of additions and alterations cobbled together as a residence) to build a new home, the bases of the old wooden stilts were still visible. There’s a small flat area adjacent to the house big enough for a garden.  The other houses immediately past Devil’s Half Acre weren’t built until after World War II, and are therefore unlikely candidates for John’s home site.

The owner of John’s plot also told me that, rather than Slobbery Run, the old-timers used the name Sloppy Gulch.

Written by Moses Doan

June 8, 2011 at 1:47 am