Durham Township municipal offices are located at 215 Old Furnace Road, Durham PA 18039; phone: 610-346-8911.
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Settlers began arriving in the area when the first iron forge was founded in 1698. A blast furnace was built in 1727. Durham was organized as a township in 1775. During the Revolutionary War the furnace made shot and shell for the Continental Army.
The original blast furnace stop operating in 1789. Things were quiet in the area until 1848 when two new furnaces were built near the mouth of Durham Creek. These, and a subsequent replacement, saw use through 1908. The first Durham Boat was built by Robert Durham at the mouth of Cook's Creek. These boats were used to transport pig and bar iron down the Delaware River to Philadelphia markets.
Source: Villages of Bucks County, Bucks County Planning Commission
Durham Township comprises 6,410 acres and is one of the smallest of the 31 townships of Bucks County. It is located in the extreme northeast corner of the county. It is bounded northwest by Northampton County, northeast by the Delaware River, southeast by Nockamixon Township, and southwest by Springfield Township.
Prior to its establishment as a township on June 3, 1775, it was a quasi-organization known as the Durham Tract. The land tract shares virtually the same boundary lines as the township today. Evidence points to settlement as early as 1698. Durham Tract was populated faster than the surrounding counties due to the iron deposits located in the Durham Hills. Even though this area was growing at a fast pace, private ownership of the land by Durham Iron Company hindered its development into a "township."
It was not until 1727 that a blast furnace was erected in the village of Durham. Power for the furnace was derived from the nearby Durham Creek. This historic landmark is preserved at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The Iron Works provided cannon shot for the Provincial government, presumably for the French and Indian War. The Continental Army was also supplied shot shells and cannon from Durham. The great chain stretching across the Hudson at West Point in the Revolution was made here. Each link weighed 250 pounds.
Little is known about the operations at Durham Iron Works. It began operations sometime in 1727 and on December 24, 1773, the owners of the company decided to partition the land. The partition divided the land into forty-four (44) tracts. One tract included the Durham Furnace itself and was apportioned to Joseph Galloway, his wife Grace, and daughter Lawrence Growden. Mr. Galloway leased the iron works to George Taylor, who operated it from 1774 until 1780. During this time, Galloway had become the leader of the Tory side of the movement opposing Independence, and promptly sided with the British. He was accused of treason; his properties were seized and sold in 1779 to Richard Backhouse. Mr. Backhouse and his associates operated the furnace from 1780 through 1789. Thereafter, the furnace was not in operation and was sold to Judge William Long in 1819. The original furnace was demolished and replaced by a gristmill, which still stands.
In 1847 Joseph Whitaker and Company purchased the remaining 894 acres of the furnace tract. They built two (2) new blast furnaces located near the mouth of Durham Creek where it empties into the Delaware River. This company produced mainly pig iron and shipped their product by water and by train from Riegelsville, NJ. In 1864 the Whitakers sold the property to Edward Cooper and Abram Hewitt. Mr. Cooper was an engineer and inventor, and designed the hot blast stoves and double bell and hopper used at Durham.
After only 17 months, the property again changed hands and was deeded to Lewis Lille & Son of Troy, NY. Lillie & Son then transferred their safe making operation to Durham. They enlarged the plant and derived power by damming the Durham Creek and digging a mile long rave. Lille & Son operating both blast furnaces in conjunction with local mines and quarries. Financial difficulties led to the takeover by creditors who operated the company under the name of The Lillie Safe and Iron Company. The company was later sold to its previous owners, Cooper and Hewitt, on October 1, 1870. The new owners modernized the plant and added two (2) new blasts.
On December 27, 1901, the property was transferred to Col. John Jamison and Aaron F. Baker, who transferred the property in one (1) week to the newly chartered Durham Iron Company. This company was in operation for approximately 7.5 years, prior to shutting down on June 23, 1908. The plant was dismantled in 1912 and the real estate was later divided and sold. The history of the Durham Iron Works spanned 181 years, including suspensions. This company took its place in history from supplying shot in the Revolutionary War to the discovery and invention of new metallurgy processes.
Other early industrial efforts throughout the region directly related to the agricultural economy. Scores of gristmills and sawmill operations were erected along the streams of the county that provided the necessary power for the mills. The great abundance of forests provided a natural lumber resource. The lumber was shipped downstream, where shipbuilding became an important industry in Philadelphia and other cities along the Delaware River. Robert Durham built the first Durham Boat in Durham Township, which was used to ship the iron product to Philadelphia. He is also credited with building the ship George Washington used in his famous crossing of the Delaware. (see Washington Crossing)
Durham Creek flows through the valley and is bounded on either side by high hills. There is a gradual ascent to the hills that permit cultivation of the land. There have been frequent discoveries of Indian relics in this area, suggesting the early occupation of the American Indian race.
The "Old Durham Furnace School," erected in 1727, was the first school built in Upper Bucks area. Children met in this small log house, located on the east side of the road leading from Easton to Philadelphia, approximately 100 yards north of Durham Creek. Many other schools were then built in the area, including the present-day Durham School built in 1865. The original school consisted of 2 rooms. In the 1920s, two (2) more rooms and an all-purpose room were added.
Source: Durham Township Environmental Advisory Council (DTEAC); "Cooks Creek Watershed Conservation Plan," March 2003. (excerpt from material found at www.dcnr.state.pa.us; Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)