NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> It was a Tom Sawyer moment at the borough’s newly-named Patriots Park on Saturday morning.
In a taste of things to come for the small pocket park at Court and Mercer streets about 20 volunteers came forward to help beautify a small, historic corner of their community by painting the white picket fence surrounding the site.
Among the volunteers were several members of the Newtown Historic Association including President Barry Fleck and member Lorraine Pentz. The NHA helped raise funds for the borough to purchase the site, saving it from future development and preserving the historic streetscape.
“I just wanted to help out the community, make this look a little prettier for Market Day and for people to appreciate the park,” said Fleck explaining why he came out to help.
“There’s a lot of history here,” added Fleck. “If that tree could talk,” he said motioning to a tree towering above the future park that has stood stalwart as Newtown has grown and change over at least the past 200 years.
Working nearby on the fence line was Court Street neighbor Rob Weiss. With paintbrush in hand, he soon had his portion of the fence covered in a fresh coat of paint.
“We have to be sure we do this right because he has to look at this,” laughed Fleck.
Also lending a hand were the Bird In Hand’s new owners, Glenn and Ivy Stock of Doylestown who purchased the property as an investment.
The building is the oldest extant frame house in Pennsylvania and was the site of a Revolutionary War raid in 1778. During that skirmish, Loyalists raided the building where tailors were making uniforms for the troops at Valley Forge. Five Patriots were killed, four were wounded and others were captured.
“It’s a great public project to be a part of. We love the vision for the park here so anything that we can do to help beautify it certainly goes a long way,” said Glenn. “It’s great to see all these other volunteers out today working hard. Now we’re just hoping the weather holds out for us.”
Glenn added, “We love the plans for the park. It looks very welcoming. It will be a nice focal point for the neighborhood. It has a nice design.”
Saturday’s painting event was organized by Newtown Borough Councilor Julia Woldorf, who is spearheading the development of the site into a pocket park for the community to enjoy. She has also secured thousands of dollars in grant money to carry out the project from design through completion.
“This is just a temporary measure. It’s looking kind of shabby,” said Woldorf of the fence line painting project. “We know the fence around the park is going to require a lot of repair and replacement as part of the park project, which isn’t going to start until next spring. In the meantime it does need to be spiffed up a bit.”
Slated to go out to bid this winter, the park project is tentatively scheduled for construction next spring.
The “paint the fence day” is a prelude to the redevelopment of the site next spring with new pathways, benches, tables and appropriate signage and landscaping. The project will also include the installation of a new white picket fence around its perimeter and a wrought iron metal fence along its interior property line.
“This is going to be a park where people can walk to and go and sit,” said Woldorf. “We don’t provide enough for the older population of the borough and the borough is getting older. We have playgrounds for younger kids, but we don’t have places for people who are more sedentary, who would like to walk somewhere and sit and enjoy the greenery.”
According to Woldorf, the landscaping will emphasize the plants that were used historically in medicine, cooking and in the textile industry to reflect the history of the site.
The future park is part of the original Bird in Hand property, one of the most historically significant properties in the borough and the last remaining lot of the original "six squares" laid out by William Penn. It was originally owned by Shadrack Walley, one of the first settlers in Newtown.
Walley was the largest single landowner and was sometimes referred to as the Father of Newtown. He built the wood frame house around 1686, with a post and beam structure and walls done in wattle and daub – woven young saplings covered with mud and straw.
More than 330 years old, it is believed to be the oldest frame building in Pennsylvania. It was renamed the Red Lion Inn by George Welch between 1726 and 1728 and was operated as Newtown's first tavern until 1858. It was also known as the Old Frame House. Since 1817, it has been called the Bird-in-Hand, after Edward Hicks painted a sign representing Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
The borough purchased the future park property in January 2019 to preserve the site’s historic significance and to create a public pocket park that will enhance the surrounding historic Court Street neighborhood, a section of tree-lined streets with brick sidewalks, Colonial-era buildings and period street lighting.