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The early mills of Lower Bucks County


by Samuel C. Eastburn

Delaware Valley Advance, 1929

These early mills, roads, fords and ferries were of daily interest to the whole community and might be called the Public Utilities of that time. Bucks County had so many streams running down from the hills to the Delaware on two sides that it was easy to have water mills. On account of this many were built very early on its smaller streams, the damming of the Neshaminy for that purpose, being much more of a job at that day. The New Jersey streams had little fall, and they therefore had few mills, and the settlers there brought their grain over to the ground "at the Bucks County Mills."

The First Mills

There is a record of a man near Burlington "taking a load of grain over to Bucks County to be ground, the whole journey being about nineteen miles." This is almost the exact distance to Richard Heaton's Mill near Rocksville which is thought to have been built in 163 and probably was the first mill in the County. It was on what is now known as Mill Creek. It is said the Heaton Brothers, Robert and Richard, were among the earliest settlers and were millers. A little later Robert Heaton, who was located near "Four Lanes End." built a mill on Chubb Run, the water-works run just north of the present Boundbrook Railroad, on land now owned by J. Hibbs Buckman, 1929. I remember the pile of stones which was its ruins and the line of the dam can yet be plainly seen. This may have been on the Langhorne lands, at least I have records which show that the grain from the Langhorne - Growden Farms was ground there.

The road from Philadelphia crossed at Galloway's Ford, and came by way of the mill over to the Durham Road, and then up over the hill to "Four Lanes End." this section. from the first took up, had "mills streams" on them. One of Robert Heaton's tracts was near Glen Lake. Whether he built the dam from which it takes its name, and the log and grain mill, afterwards known as "Flowers Mill" we have no sure record. This was a very old mill, and early there was a passage from the Yardley Road and also from the Trenton Road, to this mill. As it lies along the property lines, this was probably "a neighborhood easement." that years later, with some changes in the line, was made a public road and was locally known as "the Mill road."

"overcome by Strong Drink"

The exact location of Richard Heaton's mill is in some doubt but that Richard Heaton had a mill there and was doing business in 1689 is confirmed by an acknowledgement made by a member of Middletown Meeting who lived about two miles from it. When he was brought before the Meeting for "being overcome by strong drink." he says, "About the time called Christmas taking a sack of grain on my back through the woods to Richard Heaton's mill to be ground and Richard not being in the mill house, the morning being cold, I went to the house, where he gave me somewhat to drink. It being liquor to which my stomach was not accustomed, I cast it from me, to the disgrace of the Meeting to which I belong, and to the cause of the Lord which I profess."

Burlington Island a Peninsula

The man who brought the "load of grain to be ground over into Bucks County" probably crossed at either the Bristol or Landreth's Ferry. The river was not so wide there, then as now, as what is know as Burlington Island, was then part of the New Jersey mainland (and still belongs to it), but it was a peninsula with water on the back of it. This was probably torn through, and it made an island by the "great irruption of 1692" of which Phineas Pemberton writes and which showed them the place for Penn's Greentown" which they had laid out there was not safe.

Hauled a Hundred Hundred

Some two years later, "a larger and better mill was built" on the banks of the Neshaminy to the west of the ford." This mill was later known as the Vansant and Janney Mill. If it was built on the "bank of the Neshaminy," the creek must have always or frequently covered the low meadows, for its ruins are now five hundred feet or more back from the Creek. I have the records of much grain from the Growden - Langhorne Farms being ground at this mill, up until and after, the time that Joseph Galloway had fled as a Tory to England. Its flour was hauled to Philadelphia by a "a four horse team." I have heard from my forbears, who lived right next to it, that the teamster was very proud of the pulling qualities of his team and on one occasion when in this cups, he made a best with another man, that he could haul "a hundred hundred" of flour with it to Philadelphia. This he did but it took him two days to get back. There was no S.P.C.A. in those days, and the kindly Quaker neighbors declared that he should be given a dose of his "black snake cartwhip" for so cruelly over-burdening his animals. To-day, after a comfortable breakfast, a man would take that to Philadelphia in a truck and easily be back to dinner.

Neshaminy Dams

The first dam across the Neshaminy for mill purposes was probably the Hulmeville Dam, to run a flour and plaster mill which was there very early, and there was a ford there also and the place was called Milford. The building of this dam was fiercely objected to by the farmers of Southampton and Northampton, who on two occasions threatened to band together, and "tear it out," because "it would prevent the shad and herring, and other fish, which were part of their comfortable living from coming up the stream."

The second dam abut here that was built across the Neshaminy was the one at Neshaminy Falls, which furnished power by a long raceway to the Vansant mill. I might say here, that the first bridge across the Neshaminy was built near Bridgewater on the River Road from Philadelphia to the Falls. The second was probably the stone bridge still in use at Edison on the York Road. Previous to the building of this first bridge, passengers had been ferried across by one John Baldwin, who charged a penny apiece.

About 1701 "one Jona Pidcock from New jersey" bought 500 acres of land near the end of now Bowman's Hill "and built a house and a mill" on Pidcock's Creek. This was probably the first mill further up the Delaware in Bucks County, Mahlon Stacy had a mill "which served the English settlers on the upper Delaware" near the mouth of Assanpink Creek on the other side of the river in1680. Pidcock appears to have had a sort of a store there also, as it is on record that "one Thomas Bowman had a warehouse on the back of Burlington Island" and from it he went up the river selling his goods to the settlers on the banks as far as Jona Pidcock's. He sometimes stayed as long as a week with his friend there, and it is said in looking over at the beautiful hill in front of them, he expressed a desire to be buried on its top, saying, "it was as near Heaven as he ever expected to get," and the hill was named after him. This story is much easier of verification than the one of a mythical Dr. John Bowman, who was said to have been with Captain Kid "and tiring of his sinful life retired to its top with some of his loot and lived and died there." The Indian name of it was "Winna-ca-haw-chunk."

Years later, before 1781, Jonathan Woolston built the mill at Oxford. There was another mill down this stream, probably near the "Three bridges" or possibly at Newportville, run by one Ezekial Everitt, who also bough grain, "white wheat, yellow wheat, Indian corn" from the Langhorne-Growden Farms. The mill at Bridgetown was first built about 1709 by the Heatons or their sons. There were five miles on Core Creek, all running, since I can remember. One known as Hampton's Mill, to the north of Newtown and Yardley Road; one at Silver Lake, built very early by the Janneys; one on the Gage Ellis farm.

Thomas Jenks, who was then a very active man and large landholder, built a "fulling mill" on it about 1740, which made up the farmer's wool into tweeds and blankets. It is now the barn on the Anderson farm. I can remember going there with my father to take our wool. We received for it some money, and a piece of tweed, which we took home and had a tailoress make up suits for all of the men folks, and sold the balance to some of our neighbors.

Big Business at Bridgetown

The mill at Bridgetown was greatly increased in size by the Jenkses, who owned much property around there and over in Northampton. In my time it was a much more active place than now, with large blacksmith and wheelwright shops and other houses. The mill, run night and day by my grandfather. Samuel Comfort, had teams hauling flour to Philadelphia three times a week. He had a flour store on North Front Street. In the winter, when hauling was very bad, it was hauled by the farmers to a warehouse on the bank of the creek near Grundy's Corner, and stored there until spring, when the canal boats came down the Lehigh Canal with coal and unloaded it at Bristol or Flushing and then loaded the flour and took it down to Philadelphia. In the Irish Famine 1845, he ground corn to ship to them. as the voyage was long, and the meal sometimes damp, it would spoil before reaching there, he built at the end of the mill a "dry mill" to thoroughly dry it before grinding, latter it was used for the same purpose to supply a shortage of grain in Cuba. After it came into disuse it got on fire and was pretty well burnt and afterward torn away.

Ruined by a Flood

There was an early mill on the Neshaminy on the East side at the crossing of the Bucks Road. This was later known as "Mardon Wilson's mill." He was an active and ambitious man, and he wished to have the "most water power of any mill on the creek." He built a great dam across it up to the farthest limit of his own land, and a long raceway to conduct the water, the whole at a great expense at that time. The raceway and ruins of the dam can still be seen. He had not counted on the great freshets, which then frequently occurred in the creek, and one came about the time he had it completed, and the water backed up so far, it covered the first floor of the Bridgetown mill, which then belonged to the Jenkses, and because of a slow demand was filled with flour, had ruined it. The Jenkses sued him for $10,000 damages and won, beside a decree that the dam should be taken down. This happened the poor business year after 1835, and he never recovered. His mill some years after, at another freshet, was washed down the stream.

These mills were relatively small. It is said some of their machinery was brought from England. The streams on which they were built seem to us impossible, in their present shrunken condition, to have been power for these mills. I remember as a very small boy, going with a log to a saw mill on Comfort's Run. This now goes through a two inch pipe to water the railroad. The Bridgetown mill being nearest its mouth now gets all of the water of Core Creek, which is only occasionally sufficient. These mills seem to have filled the needs for many years, until the increased settlement and the demands of the growing city of Philadelphia warranted the building of larger ones. The miller was a very important man in those days, as his occupation had much to do with the comfort of living.

Mill a News Center

In the days of few newspapers "the Mill" was the place for neighborhood news and gossip. All roads led to the mills. The Yardley mill was built in 1769 replacing Wm. Yardley's first small mill. There was a small mill in the bank of the Neshaminy below the cut-off railroad arch, owned by Tunis Schwartz. It was run by water power from the stream that crosses down by the Arch Bridge. it was dammed back of "Paxson's Spa Woods." This dam was known as "Tunis Dam," and was the favorite skating place for the neighborhood, as on account of its shielded position, if once frozen over, it rarely broke up until spring, and was so shallow it was safe if it did. This was a "turning mill" at which wood and tool handles and barrel bungs were made. Schwartz was a tall, thin saturnine man, and always wore a mashed down plug hat, sprinkled with the dust from his work, and when he walked up daily to his dam on the creek to let the water on, you were reminded of a heron. Many times have I sat and watched his pieces of wood grow into shape, and listened to his quaint remarks. All of the mills of that time were run by large over shot wooden water wheels.

When the "grist's" of neighboring farmers were ground the miller took his pay in "toll" from the product, the amount of this depended upon the "rule of thumb" measurement and the honesty of the miller. This was rarely disputed, though there were some carping spirits as always, who declared he took too much , and that was why "the miller's hogs were always fat," but in the main "the honest miller" was spoken of and held a high place in neighborhood regard.

Early Roads

When the first settlers came here they found Indian trails only. These were often along the streams, and by them, they went back into the country. There was a trail down the Neshaminy from its forks to its mouth, and thence by the Delaware to the sea. This was said to have been greatly used by the Indians in their annual excursions from the "Upper Country" to the ocean. There is some evidence of this in the fact that oyster and clam shell are found plentifully at the different Indian encampments along it. it is said that they spent a month perhaps, catching fish, and eating oysters and clams, and when they returned they brought these with them and ate them at their various stopping places.

William Penn Provides for Roads

Wm. Penn made early provision for roads. In each 100 acres, 6 acres was allowed for roads and "never to be taxed." They were his continual interest, even after he returned to England. On more than one occasion, he wrote to his agents or James Logan and others, that the lands which were intended for roads and the roads themselves were encroached on by the farmers with their fences, and he says "this must not be allowed."

There was a trail down the Delaware from the Falls. The early settlers from Bristol called this the "Kings Path." Later, Wm. Penn ordered it cleared of stumps and stones and made passable for carts and he established a mail route on it, the first in the state.

In 1709 the Assembly or Council in Philadelphia ordered "a better road to be laid out to "The Falls" and this was the road that crossed at Galloways Ford, came up over the hill to Four Lanes End, and thence by "Oxford" to the Falls. A little later, a road was laid off from the River Road through Hulmeville to Kirkbride's Ferry, and called the "King Highway."

Delaware Valley Advance, 1929

Eastburn's Attleborough

The Sons of Temperance

Milestones

Crossing the Neshaminy

Ferries


1. Davis History of Bucks County. . . 1876
2. An Illustrated History of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Wm H. Egle, M.D. (1876)
3. Place Names of Bucks County . . . 1942
4. History of Bucks County Pennsylvania Volume I, William W. H. Davis, A.M.
4a. THE JOURNAL, NOVEMBER 1998, PUBLISHED BY THE BUCKS COUNTY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
5. History of Bucks County Pennsylvania Volume II, William W. H. Davis, A.M.
6. History of Bucks County Pennsylvania Volume III, William W. H. Davis, A.M.
7. Battle's History of Bucks County. . . 1887

This website was created as a guide to the history and genealogy of Bucks County Pennsylvania . All efforts have been made to be accurate and to document sources. Some of the material has been contributed and published, with permission, in good faith. I am always open to suggestions. Enjoy! Nancy
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