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Editorial

PennDOT project in Langhorne will destroy monument to African American history

Posted

I wish to express my concern regarding the impact on the historic character of Langhorne Borough’s National Register Historic District caused by PennDOT’s current plan for the restructuring of US Route 1.
This plan will cause a dramatic increase in traffic on Route 413, threatening the borough’s Historic District.
Langhorne was originally settled in the early 1680s by Quakers. A tavern and hotel, now the Langhorne Hotel was built in 1704. In 1738 Joseph Richardson built a store and residence at the southeast corner of what are now Bellevue and Maple avenues.
During the Revolutionary War, soldiers from Washington’s Army, wounded at the Battle of Trenton were treated at the Richardson House and the Hicks House on the southwest corner of Bellevue and Maple Avenue. A gravesite for Colonial soldiers is located at the corner of Bellevue and Flowers avenues, registered now as the Revolutionary War Burial Site. All three of these buildings are still prominent structures in Langhorne Borough and are among the most significant early 18th-century buildings in Bucks County and Pennsylvania; these are just a few of the many 18th-century structures in Langhorne Borough.
One of the most significant aspects of Langhorne’s history and of its Historic District results from the development of a prosperous African community within the borough starting in 1788, the year in which the members of the Middletown Meeting of Friends released their slaves. The Quakers also assisted with their former slaves’ integration into society by signing mortgages to purchase small plots of land in the area known as “Washington Village.”
“Washington Village, located at the intersection of Pine Street [Route 413] and Flowers Avenue was laid out in 1783 and was the first planned community in Pennsylvania outside the City of Philadelphia at that time. The ground was divided into 91 measured lots, reserving areas for churches and a meadow for grazing cattle. Those building lots still retain their original scale and plan, even to the meadow, which remains open, now known as the Mayor’s Playground.
Within this quadrant, Lot 69 was purchased by the newly founded Society of Colored Methodists who built a log cabin for worship in 1809. Soon after, they forged an alliance with Richard Allen in Philadelphia at the beginning of first independent Black denomination in the United States: Bethel African Methodist Church. Of the 16 men who attended the first meetings, three were from Langhorne.

The Bethlehem AME Church has historically been the religious and political center of activity for the African American Community in all of Bucks County. Courageously, during the 1840-1860s Bethlehem was a member of the Black-on-Black Underground Railroad. Their continued significance cannot be denied as the Bethlehem AME became the foundation for other Black congregations in Bucks County: Yardley AME, Mt. Gilead and others.
This community within this town comprises generations of African-American descendants who have family origins from those first purchasers.
Within the Washington Village district and just one block away at 215 E. Richardson Avenue is the First Baptist Church of Langhorne built in 1922.
These two churches represent a major focus of the spiritual and cultural life for the African American Community of Bucks County.
The PennDOT project as proposed not only diminishes the National Register Historic District of Langhorne Borough but will also destroy a monument of African American History not only for Langhorne or even Pennsylvania but for the nation as a whole.
African American history has been marginalized and destroyed many times in our past. I am sure that we all want to make sure that this does not happen again.

Bob Wharton has lived in Langhorne Borough more than 40 years. A professor at Fordham University, he is chair of the Langhorne Borough Historical Architectural Review Board.


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