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Humphrey Orr House

7483 Old Easton Road

Pipersville, PA

 

Description

This property is a pointed fieldstone and frame house, the original portion of which was constructed in approximately 1720. It is situated on nearly 4 acres of park like grounds along the Tohickon Creek in Pipersville, PA. The last remaining unpaved portion of the Durham Road runs through the property. The route of the infamous Walking Purchase of 1737 went through the property on this road. The property enjoys the protection of a Conservation Easement. The home boasts random pine floors, 2 mantled fireplaces and an additional walk-in fireplace. There are many newer renovations and a screened porch overlooking the creek.

 

 

 

 

Provenance

In approximately 1720, Humphrey Orr immigrated to Bucks County from Ulster, County Donegal, Ireland to escape the conditions of the time. He established a 200-acre farm along the Tohickon Creek in what was then Plumstead and built this house about that time. The house was originally of log construction, and was converted to stone on the existing foundation some time later. The house was located along the Durham Road, an important 43-mile highway in colonial times that connected the port of Bristol with the iron furnace in Durham. In fact, the unpaved roadway in the front of the house is the last remaining unpaved portion of the original Durham Road. This roadway was extended to the Orr property by petition of the owners of the Durham furnace in 1732, and served as a portion of the path taken by the Penn runners in 1737 during the Walking Purchase. The location of the house, at the intersection of the Durham Road and Tohickon Creek, was the point where the Lenape Indians expected the ‘walk’ to end. The Lenapes claimed all land north of the Tohickon to be stolen, making this the northernmost legal house in the state from their perspective. It can also be considered the site of the Walking Purchase incursion into Indian territory.

Humphrey Orr died about 1736, leaving his wife Elizabeth. In 1737, Humphrey’s only son John, still in county Donegal, Ireland, initiated proceedings to receive the estate left to him by his father. Shortly thereafter, John immigrated to America and settled on the farm, which was now part of Bedminster. John lived in the house until he died in 1762. The property became known as "John Orr’s ford", as travelers on the Durham Road had to cross the Tohickon Creek there. In 1765, a bridge was built across the stream. In 1744, John Orr was one of 30 persons licensed to operate a tavern in Bucks County. The house was probably the first tavern licensed in Bedminster, and continued as a tavern under the proprietorship of John’s son Thomas until shortly after the bridge was built in 1767 (or 1765?).

In the 19th century, the Ralph Stover family operated the Orr property as a farm. The adjoining old stone home was originally built by Ralph Stover about 1790. Sometime in the 19th century, the Fretz family acquired the property and continued to operate it as a farm.

In November 1901, Aaron Kratz, Samuel H. Rosenberger, Harry J. Shoemaker, and Samuel Hellyer bought a 153-acre parcel containing the Orr house from the Fretz estate for $6100. Aaron Kratz had a large carriage factory in Plumsteadville, and he joined with the other businessmen to develop Tohickon Park on the new trolley line between Doylestown and Easton into a resort area. During the construction of the park, a porch was added to the Orr house, and the interior was changed. It is possible that the dividing walls in the original portion of the house were removed during this period, creating the large open rooms of today. It is also possible that the stone arch at the south gable was etched with ‘1777’ during this period. Another possibility is that the 1777 engraving was done at the time the building was converted from logs to stone. It is expected that this was done to enhance the historical feeling of the park for visitors, but without having completely researched the property. The park opened as a resort in May 1904.

At some point prior to April 1925, John E. Martin acquired the Tohickon Park property. Two men, Walter Cassel and Leonard Blatt, were living at Tohickon Park at that time. It is unknown whether one or both of them occupied the Orr house. It appears from the deeds that Mr. Martin was not paying his debts, and the property was sold to the Workmen’s Circle, via Howard Dager, at sheriff’s auction in October 1926. The sheriff’s sale was the result of a suit brought against Mr. Martin by Lincoln and Mary Kratz.

According to newspaper articles, in March 1927, a 65-acre portion of Tohickon Park that included the Orr house and the Stover house was sold to the Workmen’s Circle School Camp Hofnung, Inc of Philadelphia for $18,000. It was used as a summer school camp, Camp Hofnung. My version is that this took place on October of 1926 for a price of $7,200, and the parcel size was 71 acres, based on the recorded deeds. In any case, Workmen’s Circle, also known as the Arbeiter Ring, was a Jewish culture organization founded in 1892. It was officially a socialist worker’s organization, though its activities were mostly social in nature – picnics, camps, cultural education, etc. The group ceased operations in 1973. Camp Hofnung was owned by Workmen’s Circle from 1927 – 1967. Several camp buildings were erected, and the infirmary and one of the dormitories are recorded in The Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project, having been designed by Louis I. Kahn. The shed currently on the property of the Orr House is believed to be the last of the camp buildings remaining, and probably served as a bathhouse.

The 71-acre property was sold to Buttonwood Farms in August 1967 for $75,000, and transferred to Allen Green in June 1984 as a 31-acre parcel and a 40-acre parcel. James M. Neill purchased both in June 1989. The 31-acre parcel included both the Orr house and the Stover house. At some point in the period between the summer camp and the ownership of James Neill, according to the recollection of local residents, the Orr house had fallen into disrepair and had been taken over by squatters. The 31-acre parcel was subdivided into a 6-lot subdivision known as Tohickon Park in January 1997, with Lot 1 being the Orr house and adjoining Lot 2 being the Stover house. In September 1997, the parcel was placed under a conservation easement with the Bedminster Land Conservancy. This agreement ensures maintenance of the old road and buildings in an authentic manner in perpetuity.

Lot 1 was sold to Thomas and Richanna Frank in August, 1997. Tom was a renovation contractor, and did some work on the house. However, the couple divorced not long after buying the property. It was purchased by Marc Naids and Richard Burd in May 2000 for $339,000. They were a gay couple, and split up shortly thereafter. The property was deeded solely to Mark in April of 2001, and was then sold to Steven and Margaret Nagy in January 2002.

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Distinguished Orr family of South Carolina claims descent from Bucks County ancestry. The Orrs were in this county early. The first of the name was Humphrey Orr, who took up near two hundred acres on the Tohickon, then in Plumstead, but now in Bedminster, at the point where the Durham road crosses that stream, which was known as "John Orr's ford" until a bridge was built. What time Humphrey settled here isnot known. He was probably there as early as about 1730 and perhaps earlier and died about 173, leaving a widow, Elizabeth. On the 13th of June, 1737, John Orr, of county Donegal, Ireland, the only son of Humphrey Orr, appointed his friend Andrew Henderson, merchant, his attorney, to collect and receive all estate left him by his father, the said Humphrey, lately deceased, '"of Bucks county, Pennsylvania". Soon after, John Orr immigrated to America and settled on the farm he inherited from his father in Bedminster, where he lived to his death in 1762. His will is dated December 4, 1761, and probated June 16th the following year. In it he mentions his wife, Jane, son Thomas, daughter, Isabella Patterson, and grandchild, Rebecca, but no others.



This document and photos are a work-in-progress courtesy of "Steve Nagy" at nagys@comcast.net who recently purchased the property.