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.
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.
One day each year, Bucks County’s most unique National Historic District is open for public tours. In 2019, that day is Saturday, August 3, as a new non-profit dedicated to the regional impact of the Victorian-age Perkasie Park Camp-Meeting holds its annual Founders Day celebration.
The Perkasie Park Historical Foundation, a 501(c)3, will offer self-guided tours of selected cottages and the Park’s outdoor auditorium on 21 acres tucked away on Perkasie’s Ninth Street. The privately owned Park’s Victorian architecture and unique landscape never fail to give visitors a sense of stepping back to a simpler time.
Today, this National Historic District isn’t widely known outside of the Pennridge region, and even many local residents don’t know that 60 cottages and an acoustically perfect outdoor auditorium sit across from the Perkasie police station and Penn Community Bank on Ninth Street. But 130 years ago, the annual Perkasie Park assembly brought thousands of people to its rolling grounds. In Bucks County during the late 1880s, its attendance was only surpassed by the annual Bucks County fair.
On May 10, 1879, Perkasie officially became a Borough when the Bucks County Court approved a petition signed by 68 village residents. To honor the anniversary, here are 10 facts about the newly created Borough, which has grown just a bit in the past 140 years.
I recently posted an old aerial picture of the Perkasie Tunnel, one of Bucks County’s most historic landmarks. But that got me thinking about images of other places in the Philadelphia area we’ve lost since the 1920s and 1930s.
Starting today, I am changing the emphasis of my Perkasie blog to our Borough’s history and its preservation. Since 2015, I’ve spent a lot of time, and also some money, researching the Borough’s history with the intention of doing something meaningful with that research.
This week, Perkasie Borough starts the process of applying for the National Register of Historic Places for its Town Center overlay district. That was my project in Bucks County Community College’s Historic Preservation program from 2015 to 2017. You can see that project in the lower right column of this blog.
Our Borough Council’s Historical Committee is also working with the Perkasie Historical Society to save our covered bridge. My Masters in History project at Arizona State was the creation of the first extensive historical website about the county’s 51 covered bridges. Only 12 now remain. You can see the entire project at https://bucksbridges.com. This project represents 10 months of research and includes more than 100 images never seen in public. Thanks again to the Museum and the Bucks County Commissioners for all their support!
And as a bonus, I’ve included the first high-resolution, text-searchable PDF of the 1929 Perkasie Borough 50th Anniversary book. Ancestry.com and others have low-res versions, but I scanned this personally using the latest Adobe software, so it looks great. I also need someone’s help counting all the times the word “Moyer” appears in the book. I lost track after 100.
My hope is that these resources will keep the discussion alive about Preserving Perkasie. Our town is special for many reasons, and it reflects the work of generations of people who cared about our community. Please let me know if you have any history to share.
And we will have several events over the upcoming year where you can help Preserve Perkasie, if you’d like to participate.