History of Durham Overview (page 1 of 2)

Durham is located in the northernmost section of Bucks County. It is bordered on the East by the Delaware River at Riegelsville, on the North by Northampton County, on the South by Nockamixon Township, and on the West by Springfield Township. It is the second smallest of Bucks County townships, consisting of some ten square miles. Cooks Creek meanders down the center with hills on each side thus forming the Cooks Creek Watershed. The hills that border the township watershed have been worked as farms almost since Europeans arrived in the latter part of the seventeenth century.

Durham remains a strong farming community even today. It has a Village Center within which is a large gristmill (circa 1820) which has remained unchanged except for an add-on section since it was built. Much of the original gristmill machinery remains intact inside the timber framed structure. In 1932, a "new" waterwheel made of metal replaced the original wood one. The "old" wheel, built and installed in 1820, was still sound after over 100 years of use. The new metal wheel is larger and developed increased horse power because of its larger buckets which hold more water. The mill, a registered historic property, ceased operation in 1967, and is now owned by the Township. The Durham Historical Society has its office in the mill. Within "Durham Village" are many houses still used as dwelling units and a former store (now a private residence) of historical significance. The quaint, well kept houses here are reflective of the ones that existed in the 1800's.

The Lenni Lenape Indians were the earliest inhabitants of what is now called Durham. Archeologists found much evidence of their prehistoric existence here. To the Lenape what we know as Durham Village, they called "PECHOQUELON." When the Europeans first arrived they found this Lenape "town" and their chief whose name was "GACHGAWATCHQUA." They also were aware of the "iron in the hills" that the Lenape had been using to make implements and for trade with other tribes along the eastern seaboard.

A powerful syndicate was formed in London, England called "THE FREE SOCIETY OF TRADERS," to investigate and develop these mines amongst other things. William Penn conferred power and privilege upon this group, which was unprecedented at the time. Officers of Penn’s Holy Experiment were not to interfere in its operation which was to establish factories, transport tradesmen and artificers, manumit slaves after fourteen years of service, etc. Five thousand acres of the grant of 1682 were surveyed prior to the close of the century and located under the name of DURHAM comprising the whole of what is today Durham Township plus a large part of Northampton County. The setting of land far from the burgeoning areas of Bristol and Philadelphia which could have been purchased for equal cost and been closer to the population centers in those areas should make it clear that it was not agricultural reasons for Durham, but rather "iron" and potential profit when the ore was removed and smelted.

Interestingly enough, it was the iron furnace and the raw ore found in the hills of Durham that brought Europeans here much earlier than to the surrounding townships, and that ownership of the land by the "FREE SOCIETY" and its successor, a stock company precluded Durham’s formulation as a political entity—a township. Durham’s neighbors to the west, Springfield, became a township in 1743, Plumstead in 1725, Bedminster in 1740, Haycock in 1763, Tinicum 1747, Nockamixon in 1746, but Durham did not become a township until 1775.

The Durham Furnace did not produce appreciable iron or iron products for world wide consumption. Transport to Philadelphia, and thus to England, was a problem due to the shallow depths of the Delaware River, and the high cost of freight overseas. At that early time, Russian iron was being sold in England at less cost than that which could be manufactured in Durham and shipped to England. The furnace produced pig iron and forged product primarily for American consumption, and contributed mightily to the success of the American Revolution through the manufacture of shot and shell for General George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.

Durham has had its share of historical personages living and/or working here:
  1. James Logan, William Penn’s original Secretary, became a twenty-five percent owner of the Durham Furnace after a group of individuals bought out the original "FREE TRADERS" in 1727.
  2. George Taylor (whose home still stands just outside of the Durham Village Center), through marriage, became an owner of the Durham Furnace. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He is buried 10 miles from Durham in Easton, PA.
  3. General Daniel Morgan, born in Durham, PA, was a Revolutionary War hero who founded the famous brigade know as "Morgan’s Riflemen."

The famous Delaware River Canal passes through the eastern section of Durham and opened in 1832. The canal was a marvel of its time but was short lived as a source for transporting goods as other means of transportation, such as the railroad and the steamboat, became more efficient.

Today, Durham has a population of about 1,313 people according to the 2000 Census (approximately a nine percent increase over the prior census of 1990). It remains modestly the same as it was found by the Europeans who first arrived here prior to 1700.

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