Getting to know Newtown
In 1682, William Penn set out north from Philadelphia, having just finished laying out the city. With the province of Pennsylvania still in its infancy, Penn made it about 28 miles northeast of Philadelphia, found a creek flowing into the Delaware River and, according to legend, announced, “This is where I propose to build my new town.” Two years later, Penn sent his surveyor Thomas Holme to the site, during which he created a plan for a 640-acre settlement that would straddle what is now known as Newtown Creek. Holme designed the town to resemble an open fan surrounding a narrow rectangular piece of property called the town common, and the boundaries he came up with are still in place today. The town’s original name, New Township, was of course, eventually shortened to Newtown.
Penn simply meant for Newtown to provide country homes for city residents while also providing a place to support farming communities. This was accomplished, but the town also proceeded to have a strong place in early American history, as it was named County Seat of Bucks in 1725, remaining the center of county government until the Court House was moved to Doylestown in 1813.
During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington made his headquarters in Newtown just after the Battle of Trenton and the famed crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776. In Newtown, he penned his two famous letters to Congress describing his victory at Trenton.
Newtown was later home to famous folk painter Edwards Hicks (1780-1849), who lived for 40 years in the town with his family. His work can be found in national galleries throughout the country, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art.
The house that Washington chose as his headquarters stood on South Sycamore Street until it was razed by developers in 1962. Community outrage at this event made residents more historically conscious and inclined to preserve several of Newtown’s bevy of old taverns, inns and other sites that came into existence during its days when it was the County Seat. In 1969, the Historic District was established, and it has since been enlarged twice, in 1976 and again in 1985.
Newtown still stands as a great place to visit and reside in, as Yahoo! Travel named it one of 2011’s 10 Coolest Small Towns in America – a prosperous little town in the Philadelphia metro area with strong historical roots.