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Heralding Our History: Benjamin Parry unwittingly gave New Hope its name


By the time 25-year-old Benjamin Parry arrived in Coryell’s Ferry around 1782 with his older brother, Thomas, the tiny village on the Delaware River was already in its third generation, and third name — following “Wells Ferry” and “Canby’s Ferry.”

The Parry brothers were well-trained in the grist mill business by their father, John Parry, whose mill in Upper Moreland Township (then part of Philadelphia) was well known. He sent his sons to Coryell’s Ferry to assist with the operations of the Hope Flour Mill, owned by his friend, Dr. Joseph Todd. When the physician passed away, Benjamin and Thomas purchased the mill operations and more than 16 acres in what is now the town’s center.

Within a few years, Benjamin bought his brother’s share of the grist mill and property.

Tragedy struck, however, in 1790, when a fire destroyed the grist mill. Undaunted, the young, ambitious Quaker hired Joshua Van Sant to rebuild it and, within a year, the Hope Flour Mill reopened under its new name — “New Hope Flour Mill.”

Meanwhile Parry had completed his mansion, hiring Matthias Hutchinson — who had also built the Buckingham Friends Meetinghouse where Parry married Jane Paxson in 1787.

Why is Benjamin Parry known as the “Father of New Hope”? After all, he didn’t show up in town until more than five decades after New Hope founder John Wells built the first tavern and opened a ferry to New Jersey, and 75 years after Robert Heath built the first grist mill.

Parry quickly expanded his operations along the river to include a sawmill, lumber mill, and flaxseed oil mill. Then, partnering with local entrepreneur John Beaumont, Parry built dozens of houses for mill workers along Ferry Street.

In 1810, his invention of a kiln process to preserve corn and grain for long-distance shipping increased profits for businesses around the young nation. That same year, he teamed up with Josiah Coates to establish a flour exporting business in Philadelphia, shipping products as far away at the West Indies and South America.

Arguably, Parry’s greatest contribution to Coryell’s Ferry was his leadership in getting the bridge to Lambertville constructed, exponentially increasing travel and shipping through the thriving town.

The Delaware River Bridge Company obtained a license to operate the first bank in town enabling it to sell bonds for the construction of the bridge, which opened in 1814.

A few years later, Parry joined Lewis S. Coryell, John Beaumont, and William Maris — all community tycoons — in constructing the Union Mills at the southern end of town.

Benjamin Parry was a community leader whose activity and leadership attracted investments by an increasing number of businesses, to such an extent, that by the mid-19th century, Coryell’s Ferry had become the industrial and manufacturing capitol of Bucks County.

For decades after Parry rebuilt his burned-out mill, farmers and industrialists throughout the area referred to the town as New Hope, adopting the name of Parry’s new and expanded flour mill.

When his nephew — John Childs Parry — became the First Burgess, or mayor, and the town was incorporated in 1837, it was officially named New Hope, and Parry lived to witness the historic occasion.

Benjamin Parry’s grist mill continued to operate for a century after his death in 1839. It was incorporated into the Bucks County Playhouse in 1939. His Georgian-style mansion remains the centerpiece of the town.

Not only did Benjamin Parry unwittingly give the town its new name, but his community leadership over a half century helped put New Hope on the map for its industry and vitality.

Roy Ziegler is the New Hope Historical Society’s historian and a member of its board of directors.

“Heralding Our History” is a weekly feature. Each month, the Herald delves into the history of one of its towns.

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