Court Street Pocket Park

Looking into the future pocket park site from the corner of Mercer and Court streets. (BucksLocalNews.com photo)

NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> The borough’s future pocket park at Mercer and Court streets now has a name.

At its August 4 work session, the Newtown Borough Council unanimously selected the name “Patriots Park,” honoring the memory of the Revolutionary War soldiers who were killed during a 1778 Loyalist raid at the Bird-in-Hand.

The borough reached out to the community in June asking them for naming suggestions. They received 35 anonymous submissions, according to Councilor Julia Woldorf, who is spearheading the park project.

The borough then enlisted the advice of Jeffrey Marshall, the retired president of the Bucks County Heritage Conservancy, in the naming process. After reviewing the suggestions, he recommended the name, “Patriots Park,” reflecting the property’s history. Read more about the raid below.

“Thank you to all the people who anonymously submitted their suggestions. There were a lot of very interesting names,” said Woldorf. “There were no prizes, but whoever submitted the name we picked will have that warm feeling of knowing that they were the one who chose the name of the park.”

During public comment, two residents expressed concern with the name, worried it could be misconstrued as support for the New England Patriots.

“I like the name. It’s appropriate to connect to the site, however, I don’t want it to be confused with the New England Patriots. This is an Eagles town,” he said.

Another resident, Courtney Lang, agreed. “The first thing I thought when hearing that name is anyone that doesn’t know the history - teenagers or someone from out of town - and sees that name we might be dealing with vandalism in the park, especially in the fall during football season.”

Councilor Julia Woldorf allayed those fears, saying the name of the park will be downplayed and there would be nothing to indicate that the park has anything to do with football.

“First of all there’s not going to be a great big banner. The name will be on a sign inside the park. There will be signs around the park that explain the history and the environmental amenities that are in the park. So I don’t think there’s anything that’s going to call attention to it.”

In other park related news, the borough council scheduled a “Paint the Fence” day to be held on Saturday, August 14 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with a rain date of Saturday, August 21.

Calling it a “Tom Sawyer moment,” Woldorf said community volunteers - young and old - are invited help give the fence that surrounds the pocket park at Mercer and Court a fresh coat of paint.

“This is just a temporary measure. It’s looking kind of shabby,” said Woldorf of the fence line. “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.”

Woldorf invites people to come out that day to help. “Bring paint brushes. We will supply the paint and some refreshments,” she said. “We can probably take care of this in four or five hours.”

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.

“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.

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.”

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 Patriots were killed, four were wounded and others were captured.

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.

About the Loyalist Raid 

On the evening of February 18, 1778, a raiding party of 40 Loyalists in the Light Dragoons and Bucks County Volunteers left Philadelphia and marched 26 miles to Middletown, Bucks County, where they surprised and captured a guard and some cloth at Jenk’s Fulling Mill. They then continued to Newtown, where they over-powered 16 Pennsylvania militia men, led by Francis Murray, in a house known as “Bird-in-Hand,” where the miltia men were guarding tailors who were making uniforms for Washington's troops at Valley Forge. Five of the Pennsylvania militia men were killed in the raid.

The Loyalists then returned to Philadelphia, carrying with them 2,000 yards of material, two wagons filled with timber, and 32 prisoners.

The Bucks County raid, 56 miles traversed in only 22 hours, was a bold stroke by the Loyalists. In addition to depriving poorly-dressed soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania Regiment of cloth they desperately needed for uniforms, it was the most daring and successful military venture undertaken during the British occupation of Philadelphia.

A Tory newspaper in Philadelphia called the “Newtown Skirmish,” as it would later become known, a “gallant action” that “must certainly meet with the applause of the public, and do great credit to officers who conducted it, and the men who, under their direction, accomplished it.” It also showed the commitment of Americans loyal to the Crown to fight for their beliefs. (Source: www.explorepahistory.com)

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