Bristol dates from 1681 and the arrival of Samuel Clift. To take legal possession of his grant of 262 acres from Governor Edmund Andros of New York, including today's town, Clift was required to start a "ferry against Burlington" and to maintain a public house. The town was named Buckingham and the county, in English tradition would be named for its new principle town: Buckinghamshire, shire being the county. The mouthful would soon be shortened to "Bucks."
The settlement composed primarily of Quakers grew around the ferry, and in 1697 residents petitioned the Provincial Council to establish the community as a market town. During the last half of the 18th century Bristol gained prominence as a ferry landing and a way station for the New York to Philadelphia stagecoach. Between the 1780s and the 1820s it became famous for its spa, as people flocked to Bath Springs to take the waters. The curative powers were touted by Dr. Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin - a golden endorsement in Colonial Philadelphia. A number of wealthy residents soon settled in the area and built large grand residences.
In 1832 a 60-mile canal was completed between Easton and Bristol, making the Delaware River navigable for barges floating anthracite coal out of the Pennsylvania mountains to the prime markets of Philadelphia and New York. The main railroad line connecting Philadelphia to New York arrived two years later and all the elements were in place for Bristol's economic growth. Even after an outlet to the river from the canal was opened upstream in New Hope allowing barges with the black gold to slip out the back door and onto the Delaware & Raritan Canal to New York City industrial progress did not abate. The first of the larger manufacturers was the Grundy Woolen Mill, which began production in 1876. Other mills followed with a variety of manufactured goods including wallpaper, ladies’ garments, patent leather, fringe and braids, cast iron products, woolen rugs and carpets, hosiery, woolen cloth and wooden products.
Bristol, the third oldest town in Pennsylvania and most important industrial town in Bucks County, continued churning out manufactured goods well into the 1900s but by the time the town celebrated its Tricentennial in 1981 it was ready to turn the page. The canal was decades closed and its lagoon by the Delaware River filled in and converted to a park. A railroad spur into town also was closed and converted into a park. The land that had contained the famous mineral spas was a shopping plaza. As it looked forward to its fourth century, Bristol reached back into its past and created an historic district in its downtown. More than 300 residential and commercial buildings qualified for inclusion, some dating back to the early 18th century.
Our walking tour will commence at the confluence of the old canal and the Delaware River where a large parking lot provides easy access to the town, just as the water did centuries ago...
parking lot at Delaware River
Shipbuilding and completion of the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal in 1832 transformed Bristol into a transportation hub. Property along the riverfront soon filled with wharves, docks and warehouses to accommodate shipments arriving on the canal; and mills and factories were built along the canal where water provided power and transportation for goods. At a spot in the park marked by a concrete circle stood a giant crane that unloaded canal boats. Also in the park are statues of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, credited with the rescue of more than 300 slaves, and a replica of a Spanish guardhouse that lined the forts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, dedicated to the Puerto Rican people of Bristol.
LEAVE THE RIVER AND WALK UP MILL STREET, THE FIRST STREET NORTH OF THE PARKING LOT.
King George II Inn
102 Radcliffe Street, northeast corner of Mill Street
The King George II Inn is known as the oldest continuously operating inn in the country. It was established by Samuel Clift in 1681 as the Ferry House. After a damaging fire, the hostelry was purchased in 1735 by Charles Besonett who rebuilt it on a much larger scale. The inn was officially named the King George II inn in 1765 and subsequently licensed as a hotel in 1768. It set the standard for inns along the main route from New York to Philadelphia, providing refined hospitality, fine refreshments and a warm and friendly atmosphere for the discriminating and weary traveler in the fashion of royal inns throughout England. the name was scuttled during the Revolution and became known as the Fountain House and the inn catered to wealthy travelers drawn to Bristol, then a popular resort and spa, to bathe and drink from the nearby “Bristol Springs” which were known for their medicinal qualities. It wasn’t until the mid 1900’s that the name, King George II Inn, was restored.
Bristol Riverside Theatre
120 Radcliffe Street at Market Street
Bristol Riverside Theatre is a professional regional theatre located in a renovated movie house since 1986.
Fidelity Savings and Loan Association of Bucks County
237 Radcliffe Street
This Colonial-era building dates to the late 1700s; in 1791 this block, and the house, was conveyed to Robert Merrick who leased it to Don Louis de Onis, Spanish Ambassador to the United States. After a run of some two centuries as a residence it now does duty as a financial institution.
250 Radcliffe Street
This building started as a private residence, built in 1818 for Philadelphia merchant Joseph Craig. The house features an identical quartet of Ionic columns on both the street side and the river side. In 1833 if became the headquarters for the Farmers National Bankin 1833 and has served as a bank ever since. This building has been altered and enlarged on several occasions, most notably by the Philadelphia architectural firm of Heacock & Hokanson in 1927.
300 Radcliffe Street
The Dorrance Mansion is one of the grandest homes along Radcliffe Street. Finished in 1863, it is a distinctive example of residential Italianate architecture and the only example in the borough. The brick mansion is erected on a random coursed fieldstone foundation at river level. The home remains nearly unchanged since its construction, with a symmetrical front facade and proportionally decreasing windows on the upper floors, creating the illusion of greater height. A five-story center tower on the rear riverside facade adds a distinctive feature to the house. John Dorrance, Sr., owner of Bristol Mills, built the mansion while living across the street. Dorrance came to Bristol in the 1820s and purchased an interest in the Bristol Mills which dated back to 1701. He eventually bought out his partners to become sole owner. Prior to the Civil War, the mill supplied large amounts of corn meal to the South and the West Indies. When Dorrance’s sons sold the mill, following his death, the property was comprised of grist and saw mills, a lumber yard, canal stables, coal sheds, a blacksmith shop, a store, two dwellings and a mill race and pond. After his death in 1869, the home remained in the family until 1921 when it was acquired by the Bristol Knights of Columbus. In 1982, it became a private residence again.
339 Radcliffe Street at southwest corner of Walnut Street
This three-story brick structure was erected by a subscription stock company as a public hall for the people of Bristol. The lower story, known as the Lecture Room, was rented to any of the popular societies of the day; the first meeting was held on August 16, 1847.
Leopold Landreth House
430 Radcliffe Street
Horace Trumbauer, who would later gain fame for his classical designs, created this interesting late Victorian home for Leopold Landreth in 1894. Landreth was a partner in his family’s sowing and reaping machine business. David Landreth established 950 acres of seed farms outside Bristol back in 1752. Most of the county seats around Philadelphia were ornamented by trees from the Landreth nurseries; his son was among the founders of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 1827. Today, as for most of its history, the house serves as a funeral home.
Grundy Memorial Museum
610 Radcliffe Street
William Hulme Grundy, who had family ties in the Bristol area stretching back several generations, began in the woolen industry in Philadelphia in 1870. In 1876, at the age of 40, he moved his operation to the newly constructed Bristol Worsted Mills. It would become one of the county’s most important industries. Joseph Ridgway Grundy took over for his father and also dabbled in Republican politics. He represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate for a year in 1930 when he was 67 years of age. Grundy would live another 31 years, including three as the country’s oldest living Senator. When he died in the Bahamas, he left no heirs. Overlooking the Delaware River, the Grundy house as stated in his will, was left to be preserved as a museum and is open to the public for touring free of charge. The interior of the house is an elegant statement of luxurious living. Woodwork imported from Europe is prominent throughout the house, including the carved oak paneling and staircase of the entrance foyer.
Frank Bell House
824 Radcliffe Street
The estate is an excellent example of a late Victorian period mansion, with a unique blending of Second Empire, Queen Ann, and Romanesque Revival styles. The original section of the brick house was constructed circa 1875, almost 30 years after the development surge of Bristol. Frank Bell, a local businessman, politician, and architect, purchased the house in 1889 and made numerous alterations while retaining the integrity of the original design.
910 Radcliffe Street
The original southern portion of this brick Georgian house, dating to 1765, is considered the oldest private home standing in Bristol. The expansion came along in 1811.
John Reed House
921 Radcliffe Street
The main part of this building, a handsome two and one-half story brick house, was constructed in 1816 by John Reed, one of the town’s most prominent shipbuilders.
Church of Saint Mark
1025 Radcliffe Street
The Roman Catholic Church of Saint Mark was built in the year 1845. The commodious brick parsonage next door, now sporting a mansard roof, was built around the same time. The whole shebang cost the diocese of Philadelphia about four to five thousand dollars.
TURN LEFT ON LINCOLN AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON POND STREET.
Grundy Mills Complex (tower on your right)
Jefferson Avenue and Canal Street
The clock tower you see on your right as you walk down Pond Street is located in the mill district of Bristol; the buildings date from the town’s key period of industrial and population growth, from 1876 to 1930, and reflect Bristol’s role as a premier industrial center of Bucks County. The mill was the first of five large manufacturing facilities built by the Bristol Improvement Company beginning in 1876. This facility was the most successful of all the textile operations launched in Bristol in the 19th century and by 1920 it was the largest employer in Bucks County - approximately 30% of the town worked here. Grundy Mills remained in operation until 1946, when the facility was sold; it has since been converted to other industrial operations.
St. Ann Church
southeast corner of Dorrance Street and Pond Street
St. Ann Parish was founded by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1906 to meet the spiritual needs of the many Italian immigrants who had come to America and settled in this area. Prior to the founding of St. Ann Parish, the priests and people of St. Mark Church were caring for the Italian community in the area. The church building was blessed in 1917; in 1920 St. Ann School opened up in the convent, but had a separate building in 1927.
Abraham Lincoln Speech/Spur Line Park
305 Pond Street
In the presidential election of 1860, Republican politicians from Bristol teamed up with some others in West Chester to decide that favorite-son William Seward couldn’t win, so they backed Abraham Lincoln for the presidential nomination. On February 21, 1861, the train carrying the President-elect from Springfield, Illinois to his Inauguration in Washington, D.C., stopped briefly near this point. Mr. Lincoln appeared on the rear platform and spoke to the assembled crowd, estimated at more than a thousand people. According to local accounts, when the train arrived, the crowd surged around the rear platform of his car, cheering the President-elect and his family.
American Hose, Hook & Ladder Company Firehouse
southeast corner of Mulberry Street and Pond Street
This firehouse was constructed in 1906 to replace the company’s brick home that had been built in 1882.
Bristol Municipal Building
250 Pond Street
The town Municipal Building was constructed in 1927, designed by Philadelphia architects Heacock & Hokanson and paid for by local industrialist Joseph R. Grundy.
TURN LEFT ON MULBERRY STREET.
Bristol High School
northeast corner of Wood Street and Mulberry Street
The dedication of this ornate brick school building was held on November 10, 1894.
TURN LEFT ON WOOD STREET. TURN RIGHT ON WALNUT STREET.
St. James’ Episcopal Church
225 Walnut Street
Originally this church, Bristol’s first, was called St. James the Greater. The first church was consecrated for worship on St. James’ Day, July 25, 1712. The present Gothic Revival edifice came from the pen of Philadelphia-based architect Samuel Sloan was built in 1857 at a cost of $10,000. Built of Trenton fieldstone with beaded moldings and corbels, the floor in the church vestibule is composed of new ceramic tile and yet very old tile from the standpoint of composition and styling. The decorate pieces have been made from handmade molds, then baked in the old fashioned way at the Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown. This art is fast disappearing in American and can be found now in only one tile works in the Midwest. The rural cottage-style parish house was built in 1877 under the direction of the Ladies’ Church Aid Society.
Spotlight Deliverance Temple
119 Walnut Street
The First Baptist Church of Bristol Borough was chartered by the proper Court of Bucks County in 1850 and after their congregation - about 100 strong - held some meetings down the block in Washington Hall this ground was purchased. This brownstone church was designed by Thomas U. Walter, who would be rebuilding the United States Capitol in four years, in 1851.
TURN RIGHT ON CEDAR STREET. TURN RIGHT ON MULBERRY STREET.
Bristol United Methodist Church
201 Mulberry Street
This stone church began serving the Methodist congregation in 1895.
RETURN TO CEDAR STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Bristol Masonic Temple
219 Cedar Street
The Masons in Bristol trace their roots back to 1780; the first lodge was built on this property in 1815. It was razed to make room for this Greek Revival temple in 1853. Built of brick, the building was stuccoed in an imitation of stone.
TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET.
southeast corner of Market and Wood streets
This land was given to the Friends “for a Meeting-house, burying-place and for pasture” in 1711 and Bristol’s oldest extant building was soon erected. A “great fire” in 1724 apparently destroyed most of the town and accounts for the lack of other surviving settlement period buildings in the district. The meetinghouse probably received significant damage during this disaster, as records indicate that the building was partly taken down and rebuilt in 1728. This brick building, though somewhat altered by the infilling of windows and the application of stucco, is a direct connection to the earliest period of the community’s history.
TURN LEFT ON WOOD STREET. TURN LEFT ON MILL STREET.
The principle street in Bristol remained heavily residential in character throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the early residences on Mill Street have been greatly altered over the years.
CONTINUE TO THE END OF MILL STREET AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN BASIN PARK.