SOLEBURY >> The Friends of the Delaware Canal on Sunday, July 18 feted longtime executive director Susan Taylor during a retirement celebration held at the General Sullivan Pavilion in Washington Crossing Historic Park.
Taylor, who joined the Friends organization in 1991 as its first executive director, retired July 16 after 30 years at the helm of the independent, nonprofit organization working to restore, preserve and improve the Delaware Canal and its surroundings.
The event drew a gathering of current and former officers and members of the Friends of the Delaware Canal, politicians, state park officials along with colleagues, family and friends of the retiring executive director.
“For three decades, Susan, with the board behind her, has been getting things done for the Delaware Canal,” said FODC President Brett Webber. “She’s been a great advocate for the canal with state officials and in our local communities, bringing people together. She’s been the glue for the organization.
“She has also helped us grow,” added Webber. “And we’re looking forward to doing her legacy justice by moving forward with our new executive director who has some rather large shoes to fill.”
During her three decades as executive director, Webber said Taylor has been an important voice for the organization advocating for the state park’s support of the canal and for ongoing projects and maintenance of the historic waterway.
Some of the key accomplishments under Taylor’s watch have been fundraising for the restoration of the canal’s famed camelback bridges, including the Thompson Neely Bridge, which was rehabilitated and reopened during the pandemic, and the upcoming restoration of Spahr’s Bridge in Upper Black Eddy, which the Friends will be financially supporting.
Out of the 100+ bridges that once crossed the Delaware Canal, Spahr’s Bridge is one of only six that retains its authentic and iconic camelback structure. The Friends spearheaded the restoration of four of the other camelbacks, encouraged the fifth, and have had Spahr’s on its to-do list for years.
In addition, following back-to-back floods in 2005 and 2006 that heavily damaged sections of the canal and park, Taylor led advocacy efforts to restore the historic landmark, promoting its beauty, recreational uses and its history.
On behalf of the Friends, Webber joined Vice President Laure Duval in presenting Taylor with a Moravian Tile emblazoned with a canal scene designed by Henry Mercer.
“This is a gift from the board to Susan who for years has given every departing board member a small Moravian Tile from the Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown. So we thought it only appropriate that the board give back a Moravian Tile,” said Duval.
A copy of the same tile, featuring a mule, a barge and a canal locktender blowing a conch shell, is inlaid in the floor of the State Capitol in Harrisburg.
“Susan, we thank you. For all you have done for us, our families, our friends and the Delaware Canal we thank you very much,” said Duval.
Taylor noted that the scene on the tile is a Henry Mercer original design. “It shows how important the canal was to the Bucks County community.”
Taylor was also recognized at the event by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick who presented her with a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol and announced that he would be including her service and retirement in the Congressional Record.
“Since 1991, Susan Taylor has served as the first, founding, and only Executive Director of the non-profit Friends of the Delaware Canal,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “For over 30 years, Susan helped preserve and protect this canal, which helps link our community to our shared history and our area’s natural beauty. As we celebrate Susan’s official retirement, let us honor her legacy of dedicated service to this historic treasure.”
Also on hand to congratulate Taylor were officials from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages the 58.89 mile long Delaware Canal State Park, which parallels the Delaware River from Easton south to Bristol.
“I’d like to thank you for everything you have done over the last 30 years,” Jason Zimmerman, assistant director of the Bureau of State Parks told Taylor. “I’ve had the honor of working with you since 2016. You are an advocate and a champion for this national historic landmark. You are the ultimate professional.
“We have two great Friends group here in Bucks County - the Friends of Washington Crossing Historic Park and the Friends of the Delaware Canal,” Zimmerman continued. “You guys keep us grounded. Whenever we want to do something with the Canal, the internal question is always, ‘What would Susan do or what would Susan say?’ Every time something comes up whether it’s history-related or something else, we ask that question and it keeps us rounded, it keeps us out of trouble.”
On behalf of State Rep. Wendi Thomas, Delaware Canal State Park Manager Devin Buzard presented Taylor with a citation from the state House of Representatives recognizing her on her accomplishments as executive director and on her retirement.
Taylor began her commitment to the Delaware Canal in 1988 as a Yardley Borough representative on what was then known as the Roosevelt State Park Advisory Committee.
In 1991 she was appointed executive director of the Friends of the Delaware Canal. Since then she has worked toward the goal of restoring, preserving and improving the Canal.
“When I look out my window and see someone reading an interpretive sign, I think, ‘Oh yeah. They are appreciating what the Friends have done,’” said Taylor. “Retiring gives one the rare opportunity to look backwards and there are a lot of very good memories.
“I do want to thank my husband, Jerry. And as quite a few people have said, ‘They got two for the price of one one.’ In fact, Jerry is the one this morning who was lugging around a kayak so we had enough kayaks for the activity this morning.
“The Delaware Canal has come quite a way in the 30 years since I started,” said Taylor. “I distinctly remember when I came on board the Friends were raising $100,000 to buy dredging equipment for the park. And at that point, DCNR went, ‘They’ll never be able to do that.’ But the Friends did indeed do that.
“And 30 years ago I can truthfully say that DCNR thought the canal was a big problem, sucked money like you couldn’t believe and no one realized its value. Today, that’s entirely different,” she said.
“Yes, they still think it sucks money, but I don’t know a single person involved with DCNR who can’t rattle off all the virtues of the Delaware Canal. And that’s a sea change from where it used to be,” said Taylor. “That’s a credit to all of you for being such fervent advocates for the canal and to DCNR for listening and doing its very best to keep this sometimes difficult resource going.”
In retirement, Taylor plans on remaining active, continuing to serve on the Delaware Canal Advisory Board and as an at large member of the Friends, continuing her advocacy and projects for the Delaware Canal.