The Official Mistress

No comments yet

Categories: Demography, New Hope, Tags: , ,

Another interesting find in the 1880 New Hope census:

Relationship Status: Mistress

Elias Wood was a 55-year-old black laborer born in Maryland. Hannah Peterson was a 29-year-old mulatto woman born in New Jersey. They were both illiterate. There is little question of the children’s parentage, as the census indicates their father was born in Maryland and their mother in New Jersey (click on the image for an expanded view).

Given that their eldest daughter is 13 years old, it appears that their relationship began at least thirteen years and nine months earlier in the autumn of 1866, when Elias was a lecherous old bachelor in his forties and Hannah was a young girl of 15 or 16. Perhaps these circumstances explain why they never married.

Interestingly, Hannah is listed as a “House Keeper.” Women who work in their own home are listed as “Keeping House” in the census, while women working as servants in other peoples homes are sometimes listed as “House Keeper.”

As a further insult, the census enumerator John Pidcock listed their relationship status as “single” to drive home the point that the government does NOT recognize their relationship. John may have had some inside information since he lived down Mechanics Street from them:

Mr. Pidcock the Nosey Enumerator

Fifty-nine years old and boarding in another guy’s house? Unemployed for a third of the year? Maybe John should have refrained from name-calling.

Note: The possibly illegitimate children living in a boarding house in my previous post share the surname Wood, but beyond their name I’ve found no connection.


New Hope Boarding House, 1880

No comments yet

Categories: Demography, New Hope, Tags: , , ,

For the last couple weeks I’ve been wading through New Hope census records conducting demographic research. Today I found this gem in the 1880 New Hope census:

It appears to be a boarding house on Main Street in New Hope with an interesting list of tenants.

  • Eliza Kitchen, 74, incapacitated by apoplexy and attended to by her unmarried 38-year-old daughter Mary Ann.
  • Ana Maria Peaker, 42, a black domestic servant with her five daughters. Her children have the surname Wood and her relationship status is not filled out. Are the illegitimate?
  • Charles B. Knowles, 76, a retired merchant boarding with his wife Margarett, 75, listed as insane due to “Softening of the Brain.”
  • Ruth Ann Parry, 85, a spinster.


Sugan Road

No comments yet

Categories: Infrastructure, Mills, Solebury

Sugan Road is one of the oldest roads in Solebury Township. It was first laid out to allow farmers as far north as Plumstead to bring their grain to be ground into flour at the Heath gristmill, which was the first to be built in the area in 1707. The ruins of the old Heath mill are still visible where Sugan Road crosses the Aquetong Creek:

According to my grandfather, the road gets its name from the sugan sacks that farmers used to transport their grain to the mill. I had a hard time finding the definition for the word “sugan” online, so I opened up my thirteen volume Oxford English Dictionary (formerly the property of Bryn Athyn College), and looked it up:

Sugan is a hand-braided rope made of straw, usually used for seat covers or cheap saddles. In this case, the resourceful early farmers of Solebury harvested their grain and then used the remaining stalks of straw to weave their grain sacks.

I had a film professor named Adolphus Mekas who grew up in rural Lithuania before World War II. When telling us about his childhood, he would always bring up the hours upon hours his family spent braiding rope in the evening. I imagine the early settlers of Solebury had a similar experience, forced by their remote location to manufacture any materials they required.

We now pronounce Sugan as “soogan,” but my grandfather tells me it used to be pronounced “soogun.” The change occurred when they installed the first phone lines. To place a call at that time, you had to speak to the operator and ask them to patch you through on their switchboard by street and number (ex. “Sugan Road 55”). A few houses shared the same phone line, and a call to one house would ring in all of them. To distinguish between houses, the operator could employ a pattern of short and long rings. Because they shared the same line, however, the telephone was not considered a private means of communication. Any snooping neighbors could pick up their own telephone and listen in.

Due to the poor audio quality of the phone lines, the operators at the telephone exchange in Doylestown found it easier to enunciate the second syllable of Sugan as “gan” instead of “gun,” and eventually their incorrect pronunciation replaced the original.

In this way Sugan Road, originally constructed to accommodate Solebury’s agricultural infrastructure, was re-named to accommodate its communications infrastructure.


Abbie Hoffman

No comments yet

Categories: Death, Infrastructure, Point Pleasant, Solebury, Tags: , , ,

A little after 8pm on April 12th, 1989, Michael Waldron peered through the window of the cinder block turkey coop he rented to Abbie Hoffman off Sugan Road in Solebury. Abbie’s girlfriend Johanna hadn’t been able to reach him all day, so she’d asked Waldron to check on him.  He saw Abbie in bed and rapped his hand against the glass to wake him up. When Abbie didn’t respond, Waldron used his key to open the door.

“Abbie, Abbie. Come on. Johanna’s on the phone. She wants to speak to you. Get up.”

He found Abbie curled up under his quilt, fully clothed in a red plaid flannel shirt and corduroy pants, his hands above his head. He looked comfortable, as if taking a nap. His body was cold.

Sometime the night before he canceled a speaking engagement at Loyola College, sent in his taxes, and dissolved 150 pills of phenobarbital into a glass of Glenlivet. He followed it with four or five more glasses, and tucked himself into bed. He may have put on his favorite movie, The Godfather (found in his VCR) while he slipped into a coma and died in his sleep at the age of 52. In the hours and years that followed, his friends, his family, and the generation he inspired have struggled to make sense of his death.

Was it an accident? Or was it a message, one last act of political theater whose meaning we struggled to grasp?

The newspapers that eulogized him followed a nearly identical narrative: While his old friends had turned from Yippies to yuppies, Abbie Hoffman struggled to remain the wild-eyed activist that helped organize the riotous protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention and once disrupted trading at the New York Stock Exchange by throwing fistfuls of fake dollar bills from the gallery onto the trading floor. He was getting old and losing steam.  The years he spent living underground had taken their toll, and he had been diagnosed with manic depression in 1980. Without fail, the papers rattled off the normal marks of age he experienced as a 52-year-old man (a bald spot, a paunch, an injured foot that just wouldn’t heal) as if for Abbie Hoffman middle age was a particularly terrible affliction.

But how did this all this add up in a way that led to suicide? He had been taking lithium to manage his manic depression, but his brother said Abbie had been experimenting with alternative treatments. He was also writing a book about it, chronicling his changing moods (200 pages of the manuscript were found in his apartment). He had told people he was upset about his elderly mother’s diagnosis with late stage lymphoma, but was that enough to drive him to take his own life?

His friends and family told a different story. Despite his occasional boughts of depression he was always full of energy, only sleeping a few hours a night. He was making plans for the future, was still writing and lecturing, and his fighting spirit hadn’t waned. It was inconceivable that Abbie, a prolific writer and expert media manipulator, would have killed himself without leaving the note.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that radical lawyer William Kunstler, who defended Hoffman during the Chicago Seven trial, compared Hoffman’s death to the self-immolation of Bhuddist monks during the Vietnam War. “If he did [commit suicide], it was probably a personal protest of his own.”

Abbie Hoffman: Jewish Road Warrior

Older news articles from before his death depict Hoffman’s struggles with middle age, still fighting the good fight with great determination, refusing to relent to the forces of commercialism that tempted him to cash out and retire. A 1986 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

The forces of commercialism are pursuing him, apparently in vain. The Disney people called him last spring about doing an ad on MTV for the film Ruthless People, but he said no. Friends have told him that he’d be a hot item if he did an anti-drug ad. No way, he says. Hollywood has even sent screenwriters to live with him, in the hope of doing a flick on his life. Another washout.

He wouldn’t mind a movie – as long as it hewed to his left-wing line. The problem is, Hollywood keeps messing with his story. “The last time the writers tried,” he moans, “they had me as a gay dope-dealing comedian. This was maybe four years ago. They gave me a male literary agent and put us in bed. Now, I got nothing against gays, but that ain’t me, and when I asked them about it, they said there was a ‘big gay constituency’ out there. Give me a break. If I played the game, I could be a millionaire.”

Hoffman refused to sell off his principles. He made about $60,000 each year from the college lecture circuit, but he gave most of it away to the causes he supported. When he died his estate consisted of an $8,000 checking account, a motor boat, and a %15 share of a property his father left him. According to his lawyer Gerald Lefcourt, Hoffman had “turned over hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in his life – maybe millions – and he gave it all away.”

He did experience what he described as a mid-life crisis, but he tried to work through it. While many of his old activist companions went yuppie (Jerry Rubin got rich as a business man, Tom Hayden got elected to the California State Assembly), Hoffman never gave up the cause. In 1986 he told Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Know that flick, The Road Warrior, where the character Mad Max is fighting alone for justice in a postnuclear world? Trying to hold on to his can of gasoline so he can keep going? That’s me, man. I’m the Jewish Road Warrior, and it’s lonely out there with just a can of gasoline. I’m the Jewish Road Warrior, and I don’t fit in.”

Hoffman stuck with it, protesting against the CIA, the involvement of the US military in South America, and campaigning for environmental issues. In February, 1987, he told the New York Times, ”I have the fire in the belly. But I’m in it for the long haul. I’ll be doing for the next 25 years what I’ve done for the last 25”. Little more than two years later, however, he was dead.

Del-AWARE in The Lambertville Beacon - June 20th, 1985

Save the River – Dump the Pump

In Bucks County, Abbie Hoffman is most remembered for his involvement in the campaign prevent the construction of a pump that would draw millions of gallons of water from the Delaware River for the Philadelphia Electric Company’s Limerick nuclear power plant. He joined a local group, Del-AWARE Unlimited, and worked with them to mobilize against the project. With his help, the residents of Bucks County passed a non-binding resolution to stop the pump project in 1983. The pump activists later played a pivotal role in the election for County Commissioners, voting out the Republicans in power and replacing them with a Democratic majority that opposed the pump. The new commissioners fought a three-year legal battle to stop the project, but lost in court when a judge ruled that Bucks County was bound by their previous contract with Philadelphia Electric to proceed with the project.

The activists responded to this ruling by picketing the construction site and attempting to physically prevent construction of the site. Dozens were arrested and hauled away in buses. The New York Times describes the ongoing protests in June, 1987:

“Each day the trucks and crane and trailer have been met by picketing protesters chanting, ”Save the river, dump the pump,” and carrying signs reading, ”No need, just greed.” Some sat down and blocked the vehicles. One protester climbed up on the mobile crane. Another handcuffed herself to a truck. In all, 66 protesters have submitted to peaceful arrest by helmeted sheriff’s deputies.”

I’ve been told that the activists even set up round-the-clock surveillance of the construction site, watching for any sort of building violation they could report to slow down construction.

Ultimately, the protesters couldn’t bring a halt to the project without the intervention of Governor Casey, who had publicly stated his opposition for the project during his campaign, but didn’t live up to his promise. The pump was built, and you can find it south of Point Pleasant, disguised as a fake historic barn:

Bucks County Legacy

True to his nature, Abbie Hoffman continued to stir controversy even after his death. When Del-AWARE asked to use Washington Crossing Park to hold a memorial service for Hoffman, the request was denied by park commission chairwoman Ann Hawkes Hutton. She thought they shouldn’t be allowed to use the park to honor a drug using former fugitive, at one point saying with regard to his memorial service, “I think we stretch the whole business of free speech a little far.” The group had to bring their request to the full board, who voted to allow it under pressure from the governor’s office of General Counsel.

Veteran’s groups protested the event. Some of them wore fatigues, and they held signs that read “This Land is Red, White and Blue. No Place for Yellow Pinkos” and “Thank You Abbie’s Pharmacist.” The Philadelphia Inquirer described the events as “Sign wavers and stilt walkers, graying hippies and angry war veterans gathered at the banks of the Delaware River yesterday to praise and scorn the controversial life of Abbie Hoffman.” American flags were ubiquitous on both sides. Allen Ginsberg, William Kunstler, Bernardine Dohrn, Richie Havens, and Bobby Seale were all in attendance.

These contrasting opinions extended to other members of the community. At Apple Jack’s in Point Pleasant, where Hoffman organized protests with the members of Del-AWARE, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the following exchange two days after his death:

Abbie Hoffman In Black And White In A Bucks County Tavern, Polar Opinions
April 14, 1989|By Jeffrey Fleishman, Inquirer Staff Writer

Mention Abbie Hoffman’s name in the Apple Jack Bar and Hotel in Point Pleasant and beer pitchers halt at half-pour.

Some eyes squint hard, others open warm. Twenty years ago, Hoffman helped divide a nation. But it was only six years ago that his brand of Peck’s bad boy radicalism raised hostilities and parted friends along the quiet banks of the Delaware River.

Hoffman is dead. What he did in Bucks County is not.

“You talking about that idiot ass Abbie Gabby?” asked Rocco, clad in blue jeans and denim jacket, his ponytailed hair tucked underneath a yellow construction hat.

“Well, you don’t want to talk to me. I’m a Vietnam vet. If Hoffman had heart and honor, I sure didn’t see it. I just didn’t love the cat.”

Dale Stauffer, owner of Apple Jack, glared at Rocco from under his straw hat.

“If you’re of one viewpoint that’s fine, but you gotta listen to the other side,” said Stauffer, a big man whose beard and bright eyes make him seem younger than his 53 years.

“For me, personally, he fought for the rights of the little person. Sure he did it in crude ways, but sometimes you gotta be crude.

“Abbie was more American than most people,” said Stauffer.

Rocco – he did not want his last name used – bit his lip.

“Dale, you and me we go back a long ways, but we just disagree on this one,” he said. “He called the families of soldiers killed in ‘Nam and said he was glad they were killed. And now they want to make this guy a martyr.”

Rocco was referring to one of Hoffman’s tactics designed to trigger outrage at the war.

During Hoffman’s unsuccessful fight against the Point Pleasant pumping station, he spent many evenings at Apple Jack. He played a lot of pool. Threw some darts.

“He wasn’t a big drinker,” said Stauffer. “Tap beer mostly. He was pretty conservative when it came to drinking and eating.”

Hoffman, usually surrounded by friends, would sit by a window across from the rectangular pinewood bar, at a table that unfolds below an American flag. Today, less than a half-mile from that window, construction workers are building the pump station.

When he wasn’t sipping beers in the dim, basement-level bar, Hoffman and other protesters would gather upstairs in larger rooms of the 300-year-old hotel.

“He was always meeting, always thinking of strategy,” said Stauffer, a founding member of Del-AWARE Unlimited Inc., the main anti-pump group.

When Del-AWARE members were late for a meeting, Hoffman, who lived in Solebury Township and had an apartment in New York, had a special saying. ”He’d say, “Well, this is Bucks time,’ ” said Stauffer. “Bucks time is one or two hours late.”

Del-AWARE was founded in 1981, but until Hoffman joined two years later, it lacked recognition.

“We were climbing mud walls,” said Stauffer, “but then Abbie came and we got the push we needed.”

As far as Rocco was concerned, Hoffman exploited the pump issue for his own gain.

“He was good at gaining national attention and he was intelligent. I’ll give him that,” he said. “But he had no respect for the people who fought in the war.”

Stauffer’s passions for the Vietnam era are less intense.

“During the 1960s, I worked day and night in a foam rubber plant. I barely stuck my head out the door,” he said.

Stauffer, struggling with the contradiction Hoffman had become, said, “He knew when to step on people and he knew when to be easy. He could be nice to you and treat you like dirt. One time he told a girl she had a face like crap.

“The good story is he worked damn hard for the cause of the underdog. We need those kinds of people in this country.”

A couple years ago I went to Apple Jack’s with a friend of mine whose father was involved with the Dump the Pump movement. We saw a Dump the Pump sticker on the wall of the bar, and we got to talking about it with Dale. I asked him about Abbie Hoffman’s involvement, and he told us some interesting things. I learned, for example, that Hoffman insisted that people show up sober to their protest meetings. I asked Dale if he thought Abbie actually killed himself and he responded without hesitation.

“The CIA got him,” he told me, and cracked a smile.


Her Lips Are Copper Wire

No comments yet

Categories: Art, Black History, Doylestown, Poetry

Jean Toomer

The other night I left work and found State Street abandoned and heavy with wet spring air. Rainwater dripped from the County Theater‘s neon marquee and fog dulled the orange glow of the street lamps. It reminded me of my favorite poem by former Doylestown resident Jean Toomer:

Her Lips Are Copper Wire

whisper of yellow globes
gleaming on lamp-posts that sway
like bootleg licker drinkers in the fog

and let your breath be moist against me
like bright beads on yellow globes

telephone the power-house
that the main wires are insulate

(her words play softly up and down
dewy corridors of billboards)

then with your tongue remove the tape
and press your lips to mine
till they are incandescent

An influential participant in the Harlem Renaissance, his most famous publication is the novel Cane, which compares the experiences of African Americans living in the North and South. He and his wife moved to Doylestown in 1940 and became Quakers. He withdrew from the public eye and remained in Doylestown for the rest of his life. Last Wednesday marked the 44th anniversary of his death in 1967.


Solebury Swindlers: “Honest Bob” Boltz

No comments yet

Categories: Crime, Industry and Technology, Mills, Solebury

The mill race ran from the stone platform on the left to another platform next to the mill house. From there it ran into the chute (you can see its rotten end sticking out of the building) and poured over the wheel.

The property is full of these metal plates. Some line the creek and mill race, others are in open ground. My grandfather says they were installed to keep muskrats from burrowing into the banks.

A number of years ago I was walking around the woods next to my family’s farm, now owned by the Audubon Society, and I found something odd. The upper part of the creek was full of metal plates, long strips of rusted metal jutting out of the ground, some lining its banks. There was also a raised square block of cement with a manhole access point on top.

I asked my father about their origin, and he told me that the embezzler that owned the property had rerouted the creek to operate his mill.

I didn’t think much more of it until this year, when I moved into the property’s carriage house, a stone’s throw from old water wheel. I began to wonder, who was the man who commissioned this project?

Robert “Honest Bob” Boltz

Robert Joseph Boltz was born in 1886 to a wealthy and highly respected family from the Germantown area of Philadelphia. His first ambition as a young man was to attend West Point, but he was denied entry due to color blindness. He then dabbled in a series of career paths that he never quite took to. He studied engineering at MIT, ran his family’s Cuban cigar business into the ground, and studied law for a couple of years before getting into the business of real estate law. In the late 20’s he started playing the stock market and discovered his true calling: the Ponzi scheme.

He opened up shop as an investment counselor in downtown Philadelphia and easily found investors among his friends in Philadelphia high society, eventually swindling 160 “clients” out of more than $2,500,000. At first they seemed to be making out okay. When the stock market crashed, he was still able to make payments to his investors out of their initial capital. Eventually the SEC got wind of his activities and, knowing his game was up, Honest Bob withdrew a few grand, drove his wife to Philadelphia, and fled. He was eventually found in Rochester, NY, and arrested. The government was only able to prove their case for $832,000 of the $2,500,000 he stole, and he went to jail until 1956.

Between 1934 and 1939 Boltz used his stolen money to purchase 260 acres in Solebury Township, becoming one of the early “gentlemen” to play farm in the township. He once joked to a client that he’d just spent his $1,000 “investment” on a tractor for his farm, and now it was worth only $500. This seems to be how he actually disposed of large amount of his ill-gotten gains; when he went bust, the authorities had a hard time identifying any assets other than the farm. He truly spared no expense on his elaborate estate.

[Sources: Time Magazine and Solebury Historian Ned Harrignton’s Swindlers’ Gulch (2005)]


Campbell’s Mill

The elaborate farm Boltz cobbled together from smaller properties has long since been divided back into smaller parcels. His old house has recently been restored, and the Audubon Society inhabits one of his barns, but perhaps his ambitious project is now in ruins.

Walking around the ruined mill I found the remains of the mill race buried in briars, now only recognizable as two stone platforms and some rotten boards. Inside the mill house, I found the old machinery in remarkably good shape after decades of neglect. My more mechanically-inclined brother immediately identified the block of cast iron as a pump.

The cement block has room for more machinery, and there are attachment points on the slab. Another piece may be missing.

The internal parts are remarkably well preserved thanks to a healthy coating of motor oil:

The rotational force of the wheel is converted into linear force by this cam.

The mill was built by famous millwright John Campbell, whose clients include Henry Ford. A 1941 essay on Campbell describes the Boltz project:

Boltz was spending fabulous sums of his 260-acre estate overlooking the Delaware River at Solebury, Pennsylvania – he built one corn crib, metal-sheathed against rats, costing $10,000, and there were twenty-two telephone wires connecting his farmhouse, stables and barns. He insisted on an old-fashioned wooden wheel, instead of the more permanent steel, and told Campbell to spare no expense. Campbell first located a stand of Pennsylvania white oak with three-foot trunks and had the trees cut and dressed: water-wheel timber must never be green and always seasoned. The finished wheel was fifteen feet high and thirty inches broad, with a solid white oak shaft twenty inches though the core. The bearing casings, usually made of iron, were of lignum vitae… Soon after this job was completed, but only partly paid for, “Honest Bob” Boltz was arrested on charges of defrauding his customers of more than $2,000,0000 and is now serving a twenty-year jail sentence. Boltz’s water wheel – which cost $2,500 by itself – plus some $35,000 worth of fancy mill races, stone spring houses, antique wooden water troughs, locks, stream moving, and conduit laying that Campbell did for him, were probably financed in the same way. All of his completely bewilders Campbell, who doesn’t see how a man with such taste in water wheels could be a crook. ” I just cain’t understand it,” he says, shaking his head sadly.

Since no one else seems much interested now, Campbell sometimes drives forty miles from his office in downtown Philadelphia just to look at his Boltz masterpiece. It is still working steadily at its job, filling a concealed hilltop reservoir with 30,000 gallons of fresh spring water each day.

Ultimately, Campbell lost $4,000 on the project due to non-payment after Boltz went to prison.  The mill certainly was well made. My grandfather says it was running well until the 70’s, when the pond that fed the mill race burst. After it stopped running, it quickly began to rot.

The author's cat exploring the spring house.


Springdale, Huffnagle, Rosenthal… Darkey Town?

No comments yet

Categories: Black History, Demography, Maps, New Hope, Racism, Solebury

Segregated housing or unfortunate surname?

Today while poring over J.D. Scott’s Combination Atlas Map of Bucks County (1876), I discovered this detail in the map of New Hope Borough. The row of houses on Stoney Hill Road above Joshua Whiteley’s cotton mill (now the Inn at the Ruins) is labelled Darkey Town.

At different times the larger hamlet was known as Springdale, Huffnagle, and Rosenthal, but none of the sources I’ve checked make any mention of Darkey Town. MacReynolds’ Place Names in Bucks County provides some details about the development of the hamlet. Robert Heath built Solebury’s first grist mill here in 1707, and the William Maris moved here in 1812 and built the cotton mill (owned by Whiteley on this map) and the mansion known as Springdale.  When the railroad line was put in, Springdale became first stop southwest of New Hope. Maris sold the property to the Huffnagle family (Dr. John Huffnagle appears on this map). The hamlet was then called Huffnagle until it was renamed for artist Albert Rosenthal who purchased the ruined mansion in 1928 and set up a studio. The houses on Mechanics St. and Stoney Hill probably belonged to the skilled and unskilled laborers that worked at the mills.

I hate to jump to conclusions, but of course I’m wondering if the name Darkey Town is being used in the pejorative sense to label a section of New Hope Borough where black families resided. There are two bits of evidence that reinforce this idea. First off, one of the residents is listed only as “Old Bob.” Every other resident I’ve found in this atlas is listed by surname or at very least by first and last initial (compare this to J. Huffnagle, M.D. a few houses to the west). Why was Old Bob not afforded the same respect and formality given to every other resident and landowner? More importantly, the building labelled “M.E. Ch.” may be a Methodist Episcopalian Church. This might be related to the Mount Gilead African Methodist Episcopalian Church, founded by former slaves on Buckingham Mountain in 1835.

Of course, this hypothesis is discordant with the standard narrative of race relations in Bucks County. You always read that the area was remarkably tolerant thanks to the salutary influence of the Quakers. It’s conceivable that some less educated mill workers in this industrial valley had a different stance on race relations than the Quaker farmers.

My biggest question is why this name doesn’t appear elsewhere. George MacReynolds was the librarian of the Bucks County Historical Society, so he must have seen this atlas. Did he omit this place name on purpose? This map was published in 1876, when minstrel shows were a popular source of entertainment and played a significant role in exporting the stereotypes of Southern racism to the rest of the country. A quick Google search reveals that the term “Darkey Town” was used in the South to describe black neighborhoods, such as this one on the outskirts of Lebanon, Virginia. By the time MacReynolds published Place Names in 1942 the name would have been downright offensive. Likewise, MacReynolds may have purposefully omitted it because the Darkey Town label was a spurious editorial flourish by the mapmaker rather than a name that locals actually used to describe that area.

The next time I’m at the Spruance Library I’ll see what else I can find.

For a modern view:

If you enter Google Street View there are a few images of the ruins.


Another Dead Stranger Identified

No comments yet

Categories: Death, Graves, Solebury, Tags: ,

Our Stranger Found Dead (10-28-1880) has been identified. Cold and alone he took refuge in the warmth of a lime kiln, but the gas from the cooking lime asphyxiated him in his sleep. He left in search of work and wound up dead, another unknown body buried in Strangers Row.

From the Doylestown Democrat from November 2, 1880:

An unknown man was found dead at John Conner’s lime kiln, in Solebury, on Thursday morning [this] week. He had visited the house of Jacob Parson the evening before, and said he was on the way to Lambertville, where he had the promise of work. This was the last that was seen of him until the next morning, when he was found dead near the kiln. A jury was summoned, and after due deliberation returned a verdict of death by suffocation. The body was placed in the hands of Wm. Large, overseer of the poor, and was buried in Solebury Friends burying grounds on the following Saturday.

This was apparently a common hazard. I found another article about an unknown tramp found dead near a lime kiln around this date, and I know that Albert Large (the so-called Hermit of Wolf Rocks) was found and saved after he passed out next to a kiln.

And what about Albert’s relative William Large, overseer of the poor? He died in 1888 and is buried at Solebury Friends Meeting. His title certainly lends credence to the idea that people were buried in Strangers Row out of charity.

At some point I need to track down some old property maps to figure out where our two strangers died. I’m not sure where Parson and Conner lived, but because the man was travelling to Lambertville I’d bet they lived along Lower York Road. Our previous dead stranger was found in Huffnagle’s woods, and I believe the hamlet near the old Heath mill where Sugan Road meets Stoney Hill was known as Huffnagle.


Strangers Row Takes Shape

No comments yet

Categories: Digitized Data, Graves, Methodology, Solebury, Tags: ,

After hours of slogging through data to construct a database of graves for Solebury Friends Meeting, I’m finally able to sort the data to reveal some interesting patterns. The map below shows Strangers Row, listed as Section B of the graveyard. As you can see from the aerial photo, it’s nearly empty. The rows follow the same trajectory as the lines of headstones below it in Section C.

Note: The row numbers begin at the lane and count up going east. The plot numbers begin against the wall and count up going south. The grave location is recorded as Section-Row-Plot, so the grave listed as B-01-02 is Section B, Row 1, Plot 2.

The green arrow marks the grave of our Stranger Found Dead, 1880. As you can see, headstones finally appear consistently in Section B, Row 6.

This is what I’ve learned so far by analyzing the information in my database:

  • The plots were first come, first serve. When I sorted the graves by row and plot number (B-01-01, B-01-02, etc.), they were almost perfectly chronological. This is a significant difference from other sections, where families purchased plots and were buried sequentially in a line. (ex. in Section A members of the Blackfan family are buried in A-08-01 through A-08-08, even though their death dates range from 1825 to 1905.) The one regular exception to this rule is that when a spouse died, a plot was sometimes reserved next to them. This exception is responsible for most of the out-of-sequence graves. This pattern begins to break down in Row 10 around the 1930’s.
  • Graves are undated until the late 1860’s. Assuming the undated graves were also dug in chronological order, all but three graves before 1866 are undated. Only four graves after 1866 are undated. This roughly corresponds to the oldest section of the graveyard, Section A, where only a handful of dates are listed in the 1860’s and earlier.
  • Headstones appear consistently in the 1880’s. There are virtually no headstones in Section B until Row 6, which begins in the 1880’s.
  • Strangers Row is full of children. In the undated section, children account for 52% of all graves. In the dated section, they drop to 31%. Many or most of them are buried without their parents. (ex. There are 4 Alcotts, 7 Birches (from 5 different fathers), and 8 Fishers, all children without parents.)
  • There are some families, but their graves are not contiguous. For example, Eli Doan is buried in B-01-11, his wife is in B-02-42, and his children are in B-02-01 and B-02-02.  There are 10 Kitchens, but only two are buried next to one another. This is the opposite of the rest of the graveyard, where adjacent plot numbers correspond to surname instead of date. There are no family plots in Section B.

An important question remains: Where does Strangers Row end? I pose this question both geographically and temporally. Is there an actual row of demarcating the end of Strangers Row? Is there a date at which Meeting decided to treat Section B like any other part of the graveyard? It’s possible that even after it was no longer Strangers Row in the older sense, Meeting found it convenient to use Section B to bury the “odds and ends,” people who did not own family plots.

I’ve got some more dredging to do. First of all, I’d like to compare family names in Section B to other parts of the graveyard and try to find the parents of some of the buried children. I’d also like to investigate the Moons, Doans, and Ely’s buried in Section B. As far as I know these families were Quaker, so I was surprised to find them buried here.

That’s all for now, but I’ve got a lot more work to do if I want to identify the social and economic factors that landed these poor souls in Strangers Row.


Data Crunching

No comments yet

Categories: Digitized Data, Graves, Methodology, Solebury, Tags:

My initial assessment of the Solebury Friends grave data presented a number of problems.

First, the online list is alphabetical by surname and broken up into nine pages. This was a total pain when I decided to count the children buried in the first three rows. I had to run a text search in my browser for the row numbers and read every grave listing, recording hash marks for those listed as children, then repeat the process twenty seven times (3 rows x 9 pages) and add up my results. To make matters worse, many of the graves are missing dates and names. A lot of them have a family relationship (son of, wife of) listed in lieu of a first name.

How can I extract meaningful information from this data?

I decided to organize the information in a database to  make it easily searchable and to allow me filter and aggregate the data more efficiently. Because many individual plots are missing information I hope to identify trends that will tell us about Strangers Row as a whole.

Can we establish a date range for the undated graves? Are there really a disproportionate number of children?

It’s been a grueling process, but the database is beginning to yield some interesting results. Look for an update later today.

1 2 3 4 5 6