Lost in the remembrances over the July 4th weekend was another event that defines our freedoms today – the anniversary of the epic battle at Gettysburg. Several founders of the Perkasie’s Grand Army of the Republic (or G.A.R.) post were probably on that battlefield, and there is one brief eyewitness account from them.
The confrontation at Gettysburg concluded on July 4, 1863 when General Robert E. Lee withdrew his Army of Northern Virginia from town. During fighting from July 1 to July 3, combined casualties were estimated at over 45,000, with nearly 8,000 deaths of Union and Confederate soldiers. It was the deadliest battle of the Civil War and effectively ended the chances of a Confederate victory in the Civil War.
In 1965, author and humanitarian Pearl Buck was asked to write a brief letter for a marketing brochure for the Pennridge region. This long-lost piece of history shows how much this legendary figure valued her neighbors.
Pearl Buck at Pennridge High School, 1969
By that time, Buck had lived in Hilltown Township for 30 years since moving there with her husband, publisher Richard Walsh. In fact, she was well-known as “Mrs. Walsh” in the community. In 1949, Buck along with several friends, founded Welcome House, an early effort to promote the adoption of biracial children. Richard Walsh passed away in 1960. But Buck continued to remain part of the Pennridge community.
When Buck formed Welcome House, she turned to Lloyd and Viola Yoder to help the first children placed in new homes become accepted. Today, Lloyd is better known as the legendary Pennridge football coach Poppy Yoder. When Yoder died in 1967, the Perkasie News Herald’s Buzz Cressman noted Yoder’s role in making Buck’s vision a reality. “The fact that Pearl Buck chose Poppy Yoder to train and guide her Asian-American children in his home was the supreme compliment to this man.”
The Nobel Prize recipient appeared at Pennridge High School on numerous occasions, as well as at PTA meetings, 4H gatherings and the Perkasie Lions Club. In 1957, the school invited Buck to its graduation. Buck was the first woman to address a local graduating class as a featured speaker, the News-Herald reported. She spoke to the largest crowd gathered, at the time, at the high school.
“You are ready to step out into the world, never lose sight of the fact that we are true Americans to the degree that we practice our ideals. … It is our belief in freedom, human equality, equal opportunity and the freedom to pursue our rights that makes us great. Everybody cares what we do because we stand for these ancestral ideals. Money doesn’t influence other nations as much as our practicing of our ideals. Our weak spot is where we fall down in our practicing of our ideals in race prejudice. The price of ideals is the practice of them. The price is high, but the rewards are great.”
In her letter to the Pennridge marketers in 1965, Buck explained why the community meant so much to her. “I shall always be grateful to the people of the Pennridge area. Why? For many reasons, for they have been good neighbors to me, allowing me to live here in peaceful privacy to do my work. I welcome this opportunity to express my love and appreciation,” she said.
“Yes, I have many reasons to be grateful to the people of this area, but foremost perhaps is the help they have given and do give to Welcome House, an adoption agency set up nearly nineteen years ago, especially for children of Asian-American ancestry, born in the United States. I had never thought of an adoption agency as part of my life and work. But I was given two babies, one Christmas, and these were what today we call Amerasian children, the name suggested by the State Department in Washington. My husband and I were already beyond the age of small babies, we had a house full of children as it was, and I looked for an adoption agency.”
“No one would accept these children of mixed race. I thought then of finding kindly families of our neighborhood who would care for these children, and others like them, in their own homes.”
“I did not wish to introduce a new element into our neighborhood, however, without finding out first how our neighbors would feel about it. Therefore I invited our leading citizens to meet in our home, and after describing the situation I said I could only bring these children into our area if the people here would welcome them and accept them as part of our life. I was happy when the elder Mr. Stauffer, owner of the store in Dublin, said, “We will be proud to have these children.”
“The first group of nine children joined the family of Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Yoder. They have grown up now, some are married and have children of their own. Some are going to college. All have been happy in our schools, and neighborhood activities, and I thank the kind people who have made this possible. I believe that it has been worthwhile for all of us, for these children, born Americans, though they are, have brought the world into our community, and for this we thank them. Not every community can learn so pleasantly, day by day, how to live together in one world.”
Buck concluded: “Two small lost children appeared in our neighborhood one day, and thanks to the kindness of the people in Pennridge, thousands of children in the world are finding new opportunities for life.”
The occasion of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was once called, is nearly as old as Perkasie Borough itself. While the holiday as evolved over time, its importance remains with us as a solemn reminder of the price paid for our freedoms.
Informal ceremonies to honor the war dead started regionally in America toward the end of the Civil War. Initially called Decoration Day, people made sure the graves of Union and Confederate participants were decorated with flowers on May 30 each year. That was the most-observed date for Memorial Day until 1971, when a federal act moved the federal holiday to the last Monday in May. (Not all states observed the date change and there is still some controversy about it.)
This 1899 photo is likely the annual Decoration Day parade, based on newspaper accounts
In late September 1918, the Pennridge region was deeply involved in the effort to end World War I. Little did people know the Spanish flu epidemic had arrived in their own backyard, starting perhaps the toughest five-month period in our local history.
Today, the 1918-1919 global influenza pandemic is getting new attention as America deals with the COVID-19 outbreak. To be sure, the coronavirus situation deserves public scrutiny and preparedness. But any comparison to the Spanish flu epidemic should be made with great caution.
As a public service, here is basic information about federal, state and local programs to provide financial help, along with social services, during the COVID-19 Crisis, to individuals, families, and businesses.
The list will be updated as more news becomes available about government and community charity programs related to Bucks County. Please check your community pages on Facebook about efforts related to your town run by more local groups.
There is one topic dominating local talk in the Pennridge region this winter, and it is not the upcoming presidential election. The fight over an old quarry containing naturally occurring asbestos is the talk of our region, and its 45,000 residents.
Mention the name “Rockhill Quarry” in East Rockhill Township at the grocery store, your church, a local restaurant, or on social media, and you will surely get a response. And the Rockhill Quarry is indeed old. The Perkasie Central News archives show granite was discovered there in 1888. By 1890, early quarry operators were “getting out blocks for building purposes and road paving,” at a time when few roads were paved. The General Crushed Stone Company began operations there in 1903, providing materials for “macadamizing, cement work and building purposes.”
In 1895, the residents of the upcoming Upper Bucks County village of Benjamin lost a court fight to form their own borough. Today, the region known as South Perkasie retains much of the history from that era.
In 1899, Perkasie and Benjamin residents rejoiced at the news of their merger.
Benjamin’s hotel, two mills, a general store and one of its churches still stand as do more than dozen of its houses. Its former turnpike is Walnut Street (Route 152). Its covered bridge was moved in 1958, however.
This month, Bucks County begins another set of repairs on Mood’s Covered Bridge in East Rockhill Township just outside Perkasie. It is the second covered bridge at that location, replacing one that lost in a 2004 fire.
The repairs are part of a $2.5 million project to update all seven covered bridges owned by Bucks County.
Mood’s Bridge in the 1950s. Photo by John C. Sinclair
Edward L. Smith was Perkasie’s town architect for nearly 40 years but his wife Katie served as a source of community inspiration as she battled an incredibly painful disease for 23 years.
On February 24, 1938, the Perkasie Central News announced that Mrs. Smith had passed away a few months short of her 51st birthday at the family’s modest home at 519 Vine Street. “Death, shortly after 9 o’clock on Tuesday evening, claimed Kate Smith, Perkasie’s most widely known resident,” the newspaper said. That wasn’t a boastful claim. Katie Smith kept a list of people who visited her after she was confined to her sickbed in 1918. Her last visitor, Mrs. O.B. Sellers, was visitor 49,364 in her bedside guest book.