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Morrisville Borough History

History of Morrisville [1]

Morrisville, situated on the Delaware River opposite Trenton, New Jersey, is, next to Bristol, Pennsylvania, the oldest borough in Bucks County.

The "Falls of Delaware" was one of the first localities in the county to come into notice, and several tracts of land were taken up on the river, just below, under the government of Sir Edmund Andros. It was on the great highway of travel between the lower Delaware and New York half a century before William Penn's arrival, and here the overland route crossed the river by ferriage. The first settlement of Europeans in Bucks County was made by the Dutch West India company, on a small island just below the falls, near the western shore, where there was a trading-post, with three or four families, from 1624 to 1627. The remains of the island is now a sand-bar, nearly opposite Morrisville, containing some seventy-five acres, and is called Fairview.

The land on which Morrisville is built belonged, originally, to John Wood, one of the earliest immigrants among the Friends. In 1703 a patent was issued to Joseph Wood, probably a son of John, for six hundred and sixty-four and a half acres, and the tract, all or in part, remained in the family until 1764, when seventy acres were sold to Adam Hoops, including an island in the river opposite. There were reserved, within this purchase, a school-house lot and a landing on the river at the lower corner of the village, two and a half perches wide. This was at the terminus of the old ferry road, and was probably the landing of the original ferry below the falls, the oldest on the river. Oldmixon, who crossed at this ferry in 1708 and passed down the river, says, " Falls town contains about fifty houses," probably referring to the settlement on the New Jersey side of the river, for there is no record of any settlement at the falls on this side at so early a period.

The first mill at Morrisville was built in 1772-73, while the property was in the possession of the widow and sons of Adam Hoops. In April, 1773, it was conveyed to Richard Downing, including the island and the right of landing. In 1780 the mills were called the " Delaware mills." Patrick Colvin bought the ferry and a considerable tract of land in 1772, which he owned until 1792, and for those twenty years, what is now Morrisville, was known as Colvin's Ferry. He built the brick ferry-house in 1792, the stone part having been built several years before.

Morrisville took its name and received its early impetus from Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution. The 11th of December, 1789, he purchased the mill property, Delaware works, with the island, containing some four hundred and fifty acres, and some vacant lots of Samuel Ogden and wife. On the 16th of November, 1792, he purchased of Patrick Colvin and wife two hundred and sixty-four and a half acres, adjoining the tract he already owned, which had come down by descent and purchase from the Harrisons, Acremans, Kirkbrides, and Blackshaws all original settlers. This tract extended from a point on the river, south of the mill property down more than a mile, and embraced the fine land west of the Philadelphia road. While Mr. Morris resided here, he lived in the large house in the grove, which he probably built, and it is positively asserted that he built the brick stables, and also several small houses where the village stands. On the 9th of June, 1798, the real estate of Mr. Morris was sold at sheriff's sale to George Clymer, the signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Fitzsimmons, of Philadelphia, for forty-one thousand dollars. Mr. Clymer, the son of Christopher Clymer, was born at Philadelphia the 10th of June, 1789. On his mother's side he descended from the Fitzwaters, among the earliest immigrants to the province. Losing his parents when a month old, he was brought up by his uncle, William Coleman, the husband of his mother's sister, who left him the bulk of his fortune at his death. His ancestors being shipping merchants he was brought up to that business, and entered into co-partnership with Reese Meredith and Samuel Meredith, whose daughter and sister, Elizabeth, he married. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, member of the convention that framed the constitution of the United States, and also of the first Congress. He died at Morrisville, at the house of his son Henry Clymer, January 23rd, 1813, and was buried in Friends' ground at Trenton. His widow died at Northumberland, Pennsylvania, February, 1815. Messrs. Clymer and Fitzsimmons erected a new grist-mill in 1799, and in 1800 the two ferries fell into the possession of John Longstreet and Samuel Spencer, by deed. What is now Green Street was then called the Post Road and led down to the ferry. The old ferry house stood on the north side of Green Street just west of the stone building. George Clymer owned the farm and mansion in the western part of the borough overlooking the village and the city of Trenton, and now owned by John H. Osborne. He died in that house, and John Carlile, the grandfather of the present John Carlile, was one of the pall-bearers at the funeral. Henry Clymer, the son, bought a farm in Lower Makefield, on the river adjoining the Kirkbride Ferry Road, which was the family residence many years after his death, and is now owned by S. Dana, formerly of Wilkes-Barre.

A portion of the Robert Morris property next fell into the hands of the distinguished French general, Jean Victor Maria Moreau, who made his home there several years. He landed at Philadelphia, September 24th, 1805, accompanied by his wife and two children, and after looking around the country for some time for a place of residence, he found none that pleased him so well as Morrisville, where he located. It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte, while looking over the map of the United States, some years before, had pointed out the falls of the Delaware as a desirable place of residence, but whether that opinion influenced Moreau in selecting this spot is not known. On his arrival, General Moreau took up his residence for a time at the seat of a Mr. LeGuen, who lived in the vicinity. On the 11th of March, 1807, he purchased three lots of land of Paul Seiman, J. B. Sartori, and J. Hutchinson, including mills and water-power. This property was bounded by Mill, Green, Washington, and Bridge streets, except a small corner at Bridge and Mill and Green and Mill. General Moreau lived in the large house in the grove, in which Robert Morris resided, until 1811, when it took fire on Christmas day and was burned down, when he removed into the brick building known as the ferry house. He resided there until 1813, when events summoned him to Europe, and his tragic death at the battle of Leipsic is well-known to every reader of history. By his will, dated January 9th, 1813, Moreau left his Morrisville property to his wife and infant daughter, but without power to sell, the executor being J. B. Sartori. On the 5th of March, 1816, the legislature passed an act authorizing the sale of the real estate, which was advertised in the Pennsylvania Correspondent, now Bucks County Intelligencer, and the Herald of Liberty, at Newtown, and exposed to public sale June 27th, 1816. It was bought by J. B. Sartori and James Vanuxem, for $52,000. All of the Moreau, and other, real estate at Morrisville that once belonged to Robert Morris, was purchased by John Savage in 1823, which remained in his family nearly half a century.

The bridge between Morrisville and Trenton was the first built across the Delaware River. The charter was granted in 1801, the bridge commenced in 1804, and opened to travel January 30th, 1806. Before its completion a freshet proved that the abutments were too low, and they were raised about one-fourth higher than contemplated. The length was eleven hundred feet, and the cost $180,000. The opening of the bridge to travel was made a festive occasion. A large concourse of citizens marched in procession across from Trenton under a salute of seventeen guns, fired from two fieldpieces. The president of the company delivered an address of thanks to Theodore Burr, the architect, and to the mechanics. Governor Bloomfield, and other distinguished persons, were present, and the celebration was concluded by a good dinner, speeches and toasts. The receipts from tolls for the first six weeks were $754. After the completion of the bridge the ferry fell into almost entire disuse. The great freshet of 1841, probably the heaviest since the first settlement on the Delaware River, carried away the bridges at Easton, Rieglesville, New Hope, Taylorsville, and Yardleyville [Yardley], which passed under the Trenton bridge without doing any serious damage. The terminus of the Philadelphia and Trenton railroad was at Morrisville for several years, when the passengers were taken across the bridge in horse cars. In 1851 a passage way for steam cars was added on the south side, and since then trains have run across regularly. The old wooden bridge has been removed, and on its site the Pennsylvania railroad company has built a handsome double-track iron bridge.

The ferry below the falls was established by act of assembly, May 31st, 1718, after there had been a ferry there three-quarters of a century, and a new ferry, about half a mile above the falls, in 1782. The latter was known by the names of the Trenton and Beatty's ferry, and no doubt this is the same that used to be called Kirkbride's ferry. The Trenton Gazette of August 14th, 1782, contained the following notice in reference to this ferry:

"The subscribers, having, at length, obtained a road, laid out by authority from Bristol road to the new Trenton ferry, the shortest way, a pleasant, sandy, dry road at all seasons of the year, inform the public that they have good boats. Whoever pleases to favor them with their custom, please turn to the left at the cross-roads, near Patrick Colvin's ferry, to Colonel Bird's mill sixty rods above Colvin's ferry, thence near half a mile up the river to the ferry above the falls, and almost opposite Trenton, where constant attendance is given by their humble servants.—John Burrows, George Beatty."

Morrisville was erected into a borough by act of assembly of March 29th, 1804, the same year the bridge was built, and the turnpike to Bristol and Philadelphia was made. The early records of the borough have been lost through carelessness, and it is impossible to give the names of the original officers.

It was in contemplation at one time to establish the capital of the United States on the Delaware River where Morrisville stands. Previous to the adoption of the Federal constitution, the sessions of Congress were principally held at New York and Philadelphia. In June, 1783, Congress appointed the first Monday of October following to consider such offers as might be made to them from places which aspired to be the capital of the Republic. About this time Trenton offered a district twenty miles square and a grant of £30,000, in specie, to assist in the purchase of land and the erection of public buildings. October the 7th, 1783, Congress resolved "that the Federal town should be erected on the banks of the Delaware at the "falls near Trenton, on the New Jersey side, or in Pennsylvania on the opposite," and a committee of five was appointed to view the respective locations. The site of the capital now became a bone of contention between the North and the South, and motions were made in favor of Trenton and Annapolis; but on the 21st of October, 1783, it was resolved that Congress shall have two places of meeting, one on the Delaware River, and the other on the Potomac River near Georgetown, and that until buildings can be erected at both places, Congress shall meet alternately at Trenton and Annapolis. The effort to have Annapolis substituted for Georgetown failed. When Congress met at Trenton, in November, 1784, it was resolved "that measures shall be taken to procure suitable buildings for national purposes." On the 23d of December three commissioners were appointed "with full powers to lay out a district not less than two, nor more than three, miles square on the banks of either side of the Delaware, nor more than eight miles above or below the lower falls thereof, for a Federal town." They were authorized to purchase the soil and enter into contract for the erection of public buildings "in an elegant manner," and to draw on the treasury for a sum not exceeding $100,000. Congress adjourned to New York soon afterward, and we hear no more of the committee. It is said that the high land to the west of Morrisville was the chosen location if the purpose of the resolution had been carried out. "We found in a bag of old papers what purported to be a draft of the proposed Federal district, but some of the lines were too indistinct for it to be copied, which embraced the site of Morrisville and adjacent country. About this time Washington, in a letter to the president of Congress, gave his advice against the proposed location, and the project was dropped altogether. The site on the bank of the Potomac was fixed in July, 1790.

Morrisville, lying on the line of two states, has occasionally been made the place to settle personal difficulties at the pistol's mouth. Such was the case in 1816, when, on the morning of November 20th, Golden Cooper, of New York, and Christopher Roberts, Jr., of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, repaired to its shady haunts and fought a duel that resulted in the death of Cooper, who fell on the field. The cause of the fight we have not been able to learn.

The situation of Morrisville, at the head of navigation on the Delaware, with ample water-power at its command, is a very eligible one. If these privileges were in New England instead of conservative Pennsylvania, it would long since have become the seat of extensive manufacturing. The first impetus that Morrisville received in the march of improvement was after the death of General Moreau, when his real estate was laid off into town lots and brought into market. It is now a place of about a thousand inhabitants. Among the improvements are a number of handsome dwellings, three churches — Presbyterian, Methodist, and Advent, and a lodge of the Knights of Pythias. It contains several industrial establishments, among which are two saw mills, a manufactory of cases for packing leaf tobacco in, making twelve thousand a year, grist and merchant mills, turning-works for all descriptions of wood turning, planing mill, and a manufactory of Indian-rubber car springs, tubing, soft rubber goods, etc., also three taverns, several stores, mechanics, etc. In 1874-75 a new iron railroad bridge of the Wilson pattern was built across the river, above the old one, the iron work being made at Pittsburgh. When completed the whole structure was moved fifteen feet up the river. The bridge rests on rollers, to counteract the expansion and contraction of the iron during the extremes of heat and cold. A fine grove in the village makes Morrisville quite a resort for picnics and other parties of pleasure.

At the first census after the borough was organized, in 1810, the population was found to be 266; in 1820 it was 391; 1830, 531, and 91 taxables; 1840, 405; 1850, 565; 1860, 784; and in 1870, 813, of which 51 were foreign-born, and 25 colored.

  1. Adaptation of — W. W. H. Davis, A.M., The History of Bucks County Pennsylvania, from the Discovery of the Delaware to the Present Time, Democrat Book and Job Office Printing, Doylestown, 1876. — adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

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