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Heralding Our History: Progress flowed from Neshaminy Creek dam


Hulmeville is one of the oldest communities in Bucks County. It is also one of the smallest. Its current boundaries cover less than half of a square mile.

The land that became Hulmeville was originally sold by William Penn to four different landowners as part of Middletown Township in the 1680s. Each of the land grants had some frontage on the Neshaminy Creek but stretched for two miles into Middletown Township. These lands were not developed by the first owners. Instead, in time, they were sold to other settlers.

Sometime around 1720 a group of six investors led by Jeremiah Langhorne purchased land along the creek. They constructed the first dam across the Neshaminy to create a steady source of power for mills that they also constructed.

Documents from the colonial legislature show that for a time, this place was called Langhorne’s Mills.

Not everyone was happy about the dam. Settlers upstream on the Neshaminy threatened to destroy it. They complained to the colonial legislature that the dam kept fish from migrating upstream and unsuccessfully petitioned for its removal.

The first mills were at the site of an old mill building that stands on Hulme Street today. The original mills burned down. The existing building was constructed in 1880.

Near the mill, there was a ford in the creek which provided a place for travelers to cross. By 1750, the existence of the mills and the ford gave the location a new name — Milford Mills. The first road that crossed at the ford was called Oxford (later Trenton) Road.

In the early days, much of the mills’ output was shipped on a flat raft down the Neshaminy into Bristol Township to a spot where the creek was navigable for larger boats. There, the mill owners constructed wharves where goods could be transferred to the larger boats, which would take it down the Delaware River.

Another major factor in the development of Hulmeville was that Johannes (John) Praul moved to Middletown in 1720 and began purchasing hundreds of acres of land. Praul was part of a wave of Dutch settlers arriving in Bucks County from Long Island, N.Y.

Praul established a large farm and purchased a stake in the ownership of the mills. He built his home on top of a hill that overlooks present day Hulmeville and owned most of the land that makes up the town today. In his 1771 will, 50 years after he arrived, he left the house that he built to his son, John.

The Praul family farmed the land and lived in that house for another 150 years before they sold it to the Bunting/Black family in 1922.

Now more than 250 years old, the farmhouse still stands. Its age and its architectural features make it a unique historical building in Hulmeville and Bucks County.

Over the years pieces of the large farm were sold off until it was composed of slightly more than 40 acres. The remaining acreage of the farm and the historic house have been sold to a developer. Discussions are ongoing about the final plans of the development and the future of the house.

In the 1740s, the mills became the property of Steven Williams. Williams attempted to sell the property in the 1750s.

Newspaper advertisements show that he was using enslaved people to do the work at the mills. One ad describes a house that was built at the mills. In later deeds, it’s called the Mills Mansion House. We believe this is the house that is now 2 Water St.

Water power from the dam fueled multiple mills, including a fulling mill, sawmill and flaxseed mill.

At the time of the America Revolution, Milford Mills was a busy place, but bigger changes were on the horizon.

The mills changed hands in the 1780s then on April 1, 1796, John Hulme bought them from Joshua Woolston.

Hulme and his wife Rebecca came to Milford Mills with a large family and lots of energy. John Hulme built an inn and a store and added new houses to the village. He became influential in Pennsylvania politics and was able to get a bridge built across the Neshaminy.

Hulme’s son-in-law, Joshua Canby, established a carriage shop and hired a young, talented Quaker named Edward Hicks to paint his carriages. Hicks lived in the village for 10 years. He built a house which still stands on Green Street.

In 1809 John Hulme was able to get a post office established in town and the village became known as Hulmeville or Hulme Ville.

A few years later, in 1814, Hulme successfully lobbied to have the first bank in Bucks County established in Hulmeville. John Hulme became its first president. The bank operated out of his son George’s house on Water Street, the same building that was previously called the Mills Mansion House.

Hulmeville was well on its way to becoming an industrial center in Lower Bucks County, all the result of a dam and the water power it created. The dam was damaged in numerous floods but was always repaired and, in the 1870s, it underwent a complete reconstruction. It still stands today but, of course, its water power — and the mills — are no longer in use.

Joe Coleman is the Hulmeville Historical Society’s archivist 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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