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.