NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> The Borough Council at its June 8 meeting got its first peek at formal designs for its future pocket park at 112 Court Street.
At its monthly Zoom meeting, Council Vice President Julia Woldorf offered the community a glimpse of what the future Park will look like when it is built and landscaped sometime next year.
The council voted earlier this year to hire NAM Planning and Design of Lumberville to create a formal design for the park. In addition, NAM will be overseeing the construction of the park and coordinating a community planting of perennials as the project progresses.
The park is designed with two entrances - a main entrance at the carriage house on Court Street and a secondary entrance at Court and Mercer streets.
A brick patio area will be created in front of the carriage house on Court Street with the northern half designated for handicapped parking.
The other half of the patio will become the main public entrance to the park and to the carriage house, whose use has not yet been determined.
The brick area will be separated from Court Street by a series of bollards to delineate the entrance and to protect pedestrians from traffic.
From the brick courtyard pedestrians will enter the pocket park through an arbor that will lead them to two pathways along the perimeter of the park’s open lawn area.
One pathway will run along Court Street to Mercer Street where pedestrians can enter and exit the park through a second arbor.
The other pathway will take pedestrians deeper into the park running alongside the carriage house to an inner quiet lawn area.
Along the pathways, which will be made of a crushed, porous stone material, pedestrians will find handicapped accessible wrought iron benches, several rain barrels and a chess table with stools.
At its heart, the park will feature an open lawn area dominated by an existing large white oak tree.
The white picket fence along Court and Mercer streets will be retained, but will be repaired and painted. And a new wrought iron fence will be installed along the western property line.
“It looks really good,” said Councilwoman Susan Turner. “But the one thing I was disappointed with is that there’s no bench under the white oak tree. Looks like a great place to go sit and read a book,” she said.
Woldorf said the borough could invest in some movable benches for use around the park, including under the tree.
NAM recently designed the Newtown Common pocket park at the base of Green Street. That project earned statewide recognition from the Governor’s office.
The Court Street project has a budget of $110,000, funded by a $70,000 grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and a borough match of $40,000, including a generous donation from the Newtown Historic Association and an in-kind donation of volunteer labor for a community perennial planting.
In addition, in late March PECO announced it had awarded a $10,000 Green Regions grant to the borough for the pocket park project. The money will be used toward the match.
Once the final design is complete, the borough council will solicit bids for the construction of the park, which Woldorf said will benefit the community by increasing accessibility to the area through the creation of pedestrian walkways, while also making improvements to the grounds that will highlight the historic Bird in Hand building next door.
“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.”
Woldorf said 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.
Among the next steps will be to come up with a name for the new park site.
Woldorf announced at the June 7 meeting details of a contest to name the park and said the borough would be soliciting potential names for the from borough residents and business owners through July 9.
Borough residents are encouraged to start thinking up potential names for the pocket park and to submit them to the borough by downloading the registration form from the borough’s website at BoroughofNewtown.com.
The Bird in Hand property is 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 sometimes called 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.”
It is also the site of the only Revolutionary War skirmish in Newtown, a 1778 Loyalist raid on the Bird in Hand Tavern where tailors were making uniforms for the troops at Valley Forge. Five American soldiers were killed, four were wounded and others were captured.
The borough purchased the property known as Lot B 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.
Newtown’s first Post Office opened here on July 1, 1800 and the Newtown Library Company was housed there in 1818. The Newtown Reliance Company for the Detection and Apprehension of Horse Thieves and Other Villains was also founded there in 1819.
During World War II, the building served as the headquarters for the Local Selective Service Board, Ration Board and various other civilian defense agencies.