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Happy to Be Here: An intersection with history


How could Patricia Mervine resist the urge to write about Boone Farm? Her parents, Richard and Louise Dougherty Bleiler, were part of its history – they lived in an apartment over the carriage house in the late 1950s.

The uniquely placed property is being transformed as the site of the African American Museum of Bucks County.

Nestled at the crossroads of Durham Road (Route 413) and Bridgetown Pike, the farm is in Middletown Township, just uphill from Langhorne Borough and beyond two stone-arched railroad bridges, where Neshaminy Creek meets its tributary, Core Creek.

Now more than 300 years old, the Godfrey Kirk House on the farm, original stone walls still standing, has suffered with time. The original section, 1¾ stories high, was completed in 1716. An addition three years later became a separate dwelling, with no access through the walls to the original building.

In the hamlet of Bridgetown, in the early 1700s, a tailor, a mason, a blacksmith, a weaver, a saddler, a joyner, a cooper, a harness maker, a tanner, a cordwainer, and millers lived in the area, Mervine says in her book, “Boone Farm: Its People and Place in Middletown History.”

”People passed through Bridgetown on the way to towns on either side of the area,” she writes, “and they traveled to Bridgetown because of its mills. Just as it does today, the farm had high visibility to travelers of the time.”

In all, 21 owners passed through the farm, Mervine discovered, and the record shows that two enslaved individuals lived there for a time. Most recently, Grace and Cheshire Boone, from Montclair, N.J., owned the farm. They bought it in 1914 – both scholars, they called it Bimini Farm. (Bimini was the mythological site of the Fountain of Youth.)

Cheshire taught manual arts in the Montclair public schools before joining the faculty of Montclair Normal School. He was a member of the Salamagundi Club, the arts organization in New York, and once treasurer of the International Congress on Art Education. He coordinated the writing of a series of books on the Montessori Method of teaching called “The Library of Work and Play.”

Grace, who had thrived as a professor’s wife in Montclair society, adapted well to farm living. She was as much at home with Newtown friends and the Langhorne Sorosis (the women’s club) as with “slopping around the farm in work clothes and boots...” A friend recalled that Grace seldom missed a New York theater opening and she dressed appropriately for the occasion.

At some point, probably in the 1920s, the Boones added to the house that had gone for 200 years with few changes. For one thing, they cut through the dividing wall and joined the two sections with french doors; for another, they wrapped a two-story frame addition around one end of the house. They brought it into the 20th century with a modern kitchen, bath, sun room and rooms upstairs.

Cheshire died in 1933 and Grace stayed on to manage the farm, cows, chickens and pigs included, for another 34 years. She sold the house and 32 acres to Bucks County in 1967, when the Neshaminy Water Resources Authority was undertaking its flood control plan and developing Core Creek Park. The county started restoration of the house but never completed it.

The house was in deep decay when the small group began meeting at the First Baptist Church in Langhorne Borough to form the African American Museum of Bucks County (AAMBC). It was officially founded in 2014. Free Blacks and slaves lived here as far back as Colonial times. There’s much history to be preserved.

In 2020 the Bucks County Commissioners voted to lease the Boone Farm for $1 a day for 30 years to AAMBC. Groundbreaking for the renovation began in November 2022.

AAMBC is growing its Building Our Dream Capital Campaign for the $2.4 million Boone Farm Restoration, not including landscaping. Anchored by a $250,000 state grant, and major donations, the campaign has reached its public phase. Pledges will be accepted through May 2025. Contact for information on donations.

“At this point, the grand opening will be in early 2025,” Mervine said in an email message, “although I believe the outdoor shell work is on track for completion this summer. The renovations are moving ahead at a good clip. ... Narrow winding stairways have been removed and are being replaced with wide straight stairs. Floors are being replaced. The elevator shaft has been built. Windows are on order. A basement was dug and the foundation has been reinforced.”

Mervine is looking forward to turning the farmhouse into “a proper museum with rooms of permanent and rotating exhibits, a classroom with computers and A/V technology, a library, accessible bathrooms, a kitchen, and more.” That phase will be funded by the AAMBC Capital Campaign.

Proceeds from Mervine’s book support the museum but “Boone Farm: Its People and Place in Middletown History” is only a beginning. Mervine is going further – exploring the Underground Railroad. “It’s the people I’m interested in,” she says.

Whatever history she uncovers will become part of the AAMBC resources. “War, slavery, religion, and the rise and fall of the rural industrial region of Bridgetown, are all part of this property’s past,” says the Boone Farm book’s back cover. “To become a welcoming center of learning and community – that’s the future.”

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