The Uhlerstown Village and Rural Historic District [†] is significant for commerce and transportation criteria, for the influence of Michael Uhler who was chiefly responsible for the village's commercial development, for architecture for its representative early 19th to early 20th century architectural styles.
The village of Uhlerstown is significant for its association with the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal and for its commercial and industrial impact on the region. The district has a town core on the canal with surrounding worker's houses and agricultural fields. There are also several hotels, inns or boarding houses which took advantage of traffic brought by canal and river travel as well as the Belvidere-Delaware Railroad via the Frenchtown Bridge over the Delaware River. The village of Uhlerstown is listed as part of the Delaware Canal National Historic Landmark, although the boundaries have not been delineated. Uhlerstown represents the finest canal related collection of buildings in the county. It combines the commercial center, clusters of worker's housing, farm buildings and agricultural lands woven together by historic transportation routes. The integrity of the resource is excellent, and the agricultural lands surrounding the buildings make Uhlerstown the best representation of the canal period in the county. The village's period of significance was c. 1832 to c. 1932 and corresponds with that of the canal.
The significance of the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal is supported by its designation as a National Historic Landmark. Uhlerstown is one of the finest representations of the canal in Bucks County. Unlike other canal related villages in Bucks County, Uhlerstown is virtually a canal-period island, with little visual intrusion. High palisades serve as a backdrop to the small commercial village and flat agricultural land which stretches from the village center to the River Road buffer the village from twentieth century buildings and land uses.
For such a small village, Uhlerstown is rich with canal related buildings and structures. There is a canal lock with its associated locktender's house and canal boat yard. The village's lime kilns, and mills and a hay press which used the canal for water power and lumberyard could not have existed without the canal. Other buildings and properties such as the hotel and store were dependent on the canal trade.
The village, formerly known as Mexico, was renamed Uhlerstown in honor of Michael Uhler when he became postmaster on July 26, 1871. Michael Uhler was the force behind the transformation of Uhlerstown into a complex commercial venture that prospered by being able to process raw materials and transport them on the canal. According to an article in the June 10, 1937 edition of the Bucks County Intelligencer "In 1853 Michael Uhler, came to Mexico, as it was then called. He was successful in his venture and built a thriving town. Employing many men in his industries, he had a line of boats, lime kilns, bringing the stone from above Easton, and burning it in his kilns, supplying the farms in that vicinity and Hunterdon County N. J. He bought hay which he bailed and sold in Philadelphia and points along the canal. He also bought grain of all kind, and ground it in his large mill, into flour and feed."
Michael Uhler built the mansion, which was one of the show places along the canal. He built the hotel, a number of houses, a large barn for storing hay, stables for his mules, and a store. The mills, lime kilns, hay press and lumber and wood yard were all operated under Uhler's direction. In addition to the post office and general store, Uhler ran a boat building yard and operated a fleet of canal boats, known as the Michael Uhler Line. His son, Taylor M. Uhler owned the T. M. Uhler Transportation line carrying freight from Philadelphia to Mauch Chunk. Michael Uhler also owned extensive farm lands from which grain and hay were supplied to the canal trade and metropolitan markets. After Michael Uhler's death in 1896 at age 74, his property was sold to Theodore Moyer. Uhler's boat building activity was not limited to the canal and canal boats. He also owned a lot within the district located along the Delaware River where he constructed boats. This lot was the southwest corner of the intersection of Uhlerstown and River Roads. According to the "Frenchtown Star" newspaper of April 18, 1880, Uhler's workmen had just completed building a boat on the Delaware bank, opposite Frenchtown, which was to be launched that day. The boat was constructed for a firm in Philadelphia despite the fact that the site was 30 miles above tidewater.
The commercial activity in Uhlerstown strongly influenced the development of the surrounding countryside. Clusters of worker housing were built along the canal and at the intersection of River Road and Uhlerstown Hill Road. Old time residents recall that the houses along the westerly side of the canal, north of the town core, were occupied by boatmen, laborers, and village workers.
The prosperity of Uhlerstown benefited local farmers and brought development opportunities to land owners. The part of the village east of the canal and stretching to the river on both sides of Uhlerstown Road was purchased by Levi Ruth in 1853. It was Ruth who sold off small lots along the canal and River Road which allowed for the construction of many of the village's houses. Levi Ruth's 77 acre property included a hotel along the Delaware River.
The hotel was built on the site of an older ferry tavern. With the construction of a covered bridge (partially swept away in 1903 and totally destroyed in 1931) over the Delaware River in 1844, Uhlerstown was linked to New Jersey. Three taverns or hotels have stood on this site. The earliest one, which served the ferry trade, was constructed in the early nineteenth century and replaced after an 1849 fire. An 1849 Tavern License petition indicates that the old buildings were recently removed and a new tavern was constructed. According to a notice in the Doylestown Democrat, the hotel was rebuilt after another fire in November, 1852. The brick hotel was owned by Levi Ruth from 1853 until his death in 1897. The current hotel appears to have been remodeled circa 1890. A photograph of the building exists with Michael Uhler who died in 1896 standing on the porch. The name Delaware River House is clearly visible on the building. An earlier, undated photograph shows the building prior to the third floor addition. When the post office in Uhlerstown closed in 1935, its postmaster of over fifty years, Jonas Sigafoos, was interviewed for the July 27, 1935 edition of the Bucks County Intelligencer. He recalled that President Grover Cleveland came to Uhlerstown and "had his headquarters with James Carver at the Delaware Valley House" hotel.
The Belvidere Delaware Railroad, across the Delaware in Frenchtown, New Jersey, was accessible from the Uhlerstown area by the bridge. The line opened in the 1850's. Traffic to and from the railroad greatly benefitted the hotel, but also challenged the Delaware Canal as the primary transportation route for commerce. Over time the railroad surpassed the canal in importance.
Also taking advantage of the river and numerous transportation routes was the large property to the north of the Delaware Valley House then owned by Patrick McGee. The house on the property was, according to a July 20, 1888 Bucks County Intelligencer newspaper notice, "fitted up into a summer boarding house and is under the management of William Hoff. The new aspirant for public favors, is known as Riverview Mansion, and every room in the house is already engaged. The utmost capacity of the house is about thirty." The list of guests include a number of Philadelphians as well as residents of Bethlehem, Easton, and Williamsport.
As the canal was declining in importance during the 1920's, Uhlerstown was "discovered" by city people looking for a rural retreat. Artists moved into the old hotel and the Redman's Hall. Postmaster Jonas Sigafoos noted in 1937 that approximately one third of the property in and around the village was owned by persons from large cities. Several worker houses along the canal became summer houses, and two summer bungalows from this period survive along River Road. There were probably other bungalows between River Road and the Delaware river that were lost to the large 1955 flood. Steps that lead to empty lots and small lot subdivisions serve as evidence of these homes. The Uhlerstown Village and Rural Historic District is a rare surviving example of a village and surrounding countryside that conveys an understanding of the development of a commercial village in a rural area. The pre-canal agricultural land use continued and prospered as Michael Uhler developed his vast business enterprise. Throughout the history of this area the role of transportation as a determiner of economic prosperity was dominant. The roads, Frenchtown Bridge, Delaware Canal and access to the Belvidere Delaware Railroad in New Jersey all formed a progression of transportation routes that influenced the opportunity for economic development. But the canal was the most important. The 1937 Intelligencer article about Uhlerstown concludes with the statement that "The lime kilns are no longer used and the place has lost its prestige since the canal closed."
Bucks County has a number of towns which were dramatically influenced by the Delaware Division Canal. These include large towns such as Bristol and New Hope, medium sized villages such as Point Pleasant and Yardley and smaller villages or hamlets such as Erwinna, Lumberville, Phillip's Mill and Center Bridge. Uhlerstown compares most closely with the latter group. Bristol, New Hope, Pt. Pleasant, and Yardley were all established by the time the canal arrived. While they showed increased development and prosperity because of the canal, the canal itself wasn't the impetus for the town. Uhlerstown, on the other hand, was not located at a crossroads, mill seat or other favorable town site. Even the ferry crossing of the Delaware River did not result in much growth beyond the initial ferry tavern.
Unlike the larger villages, the core of Uhlerstown, much like the nearby village of Erwinna, is located away from the river; and it seems unlikely that they would have developed without the canal. Certainly, Michael Uhler's canal boat building operation, and canal powered mills could not have been established without the canal. The location by the canal probably made the location economically viable for Michael Uhler and others to purchase and develop their properties. Therefore almost all of the buildings directly relate to the canal or ancillary functions unlike other villages which relate to other commercial activities. Even the tiny village of Phillip's Mill is significant for its association with the twentieth century artist colony which settled there as much as for its association with the canal. Many of its resources are related to that activity.
What really distinguishes Uhlerstown is the topography and landscape. The village of Uhlerstown is located on a wide river flat which ends abruptly with large palisades almost directly behind the resources on Uhlerstown Hill Road. The cliffs form a dramatic backdrop to the village and visually separate the village from the land to the west. The remainder of the village and rural district is located on the river flat. The majority of this land is still in agricultural use and forms a key component to the historic setting of the district. The villages of Lumberville, Phillip's Mill and Centre Bridge are located in a more densely settled portion of the county and lack the historic context or setting. Architecturally, Uhlerstown is primarily a vernacular village. With the exception of Michael Uhler's house and the Jacob Stover house along the Delaware River the houses are primarily frame vernacular houses which date from the mid nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. Most of the houses were owned and occupied by canal workers and were not highly ornamented. The two larger houses are both brick, the use of which was generally limited to the finer buildings until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Later brick structures include the Redman's Hall and the Delaware Valley House hotel. Overall, the buildings represent the architectural, largely vernacular evolution of Uhlerstown from 1832 to 1932.
† Jeffrey Marshall, Bucks County Conservancy, Uhlerstown Village and Rural Historic District, 1992, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.