Preserve America Community:
Durham Township, Pennsylvania
Durham Township (population 1,313) is located in the northeastern corner of Bucks County, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia on the Delaware River. The first Euro-Americans were attracted to the area in 1698 because it contained the necessary raw materials for wrought and cast iron—iron ore, limestone, timber, and a river for water power. The founders of the Durham Ironworks assembled the 8,511-acre "Durham Tract" to supply charcoal to fuel the blast iron furnace, which was built in 1727 and remained active for 62 years.
In 1772, the Durham Tract was partitioned into 44 farm lots and in 1775, 75 percent of the tract was incorporated as Durham Township. Due to a lack of timber, the furnace was decommissioned in 1789. The economy of the township gradually shifted to farming, with the village of Durham and its 1820 grist mill at its center.
After the opening of the Delaware Canal in 1832, an extension of the Lehigh Canal to eastern seaports and markets, the economics of producing iron once again became attractive. Two anthracite furnaces were constructed in 1848 and 1859, and two larger furnaces in 1876, which remained operational until 1908. The village of Riegelsville on the canal, which seceded from Durham Township in 1916, became the economic center of the region, while Durham village remained quiet.
The canal was decommissioned in 1931, and in 1988, the U.S. Congress established the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. The canal was designated a National Historic Landmark, and the towpath a National Recreation Trail.
Durham Township is now a rural bedroom and farming community. Its five defunct mines, one of which is now a protected bat cave, limestone caves, and the partially-exposed base of the 1727 furnace, an important industrial archaeological site, tell the story of Durham Township's 200-year iron history.
The township is also in the process of restoring the Durham Grist Mill, which milled flour from 1820 to 1956, and whose interior is in near-working condition. The ongoing restoration is a collaborative effort of Durham Township and the Durham Historical Society (DHS), a nonprofit organization. Along with taking responsibility for regular maintenance, in 2003 the DHS commissioned the restoration of the circa-1910 Ceresota Flour advertisement painted on the mill. The mural measures 40 feet long and 17 feet high. Long-term goals for the mill, which also houses the Durham Post Office (founded in 1723 and the second oldest in the United States) include an active museum and community center.
For more information:
Durham Township: http://www.durhamtownship.org/
Durham Historical Society: http://durhamhistoricalsociety.org/
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary—Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor: http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/delaware/
Updated October 25, 2010