New Hope, Pennsylvania, was settled in the extremely early years of the 1700s.
And in its 300 year history it has evolved into what I would call an "artsy-kind-of -town".
Sitting on the western banks of the Delaware River, the town is a very popular weekend and
summertime destination for day trippers.
With lots of things to see and do, and more importantly, things to eat, New Hope,
like the neighboring village of Lambertville, New Jersey has become a Mecca for a
really impressive assortment of people. On any sunny weekend you are likely to bump
into, literally - there is no avoiding it, any number of motor cyclists, fishermen,
photographers, river tubers, play-goers, bicyclists, plein air painters, canoeists,
rail enthusiasts, canal walkers , lovers ( of all persuasions and kinds), antique
shoppers, art gallery hoppers and even the occasional carload of geeky-looking history buffs,
trying to find at least one colonial establishment that doesn't claim to have been blessed
with the pleasure of an overnight stay by the great general - George Washington. New
Hope really does have a little bit of something for everyone. In short, the town is
an eclectic's idea of heaven.
There is just so much going on, it's not surprising that I find it such an
interesting place. With easily two-thirds of the town's daily visitors
squeezing together on, and then spilling out from, the main street's sidewalks,
it is not a place that I want to stroll slowly along gawking at the sights.
But everyone else seems to want to do just that! Who can really blame them?
River Road is the place where the New Hope merchants decided, decades ago to
concentrate their efforts in an attempt to reinvigorate the town's economic growth. It worked!
Not every building that lines that one mile stretch houses an upscale art
gallery, restaurant or jewelry store, but boy, it sure does seem that way!
The newest merchants to reach New Hope are the proprietors of the up-up scale
coffee shops that specialize in hot beverages that were unheard of by the
American public just days ago. The coffee craze has become so popular that
standing in line for 20 minutes, just to be able to sip on one of these fresh
bitter brews, seems somehow, very chic.
Personally I can live without the coffee and most of the shops; what
I've come here for is to look at the architecture. And I don't mean
"look" in any technical sense. What I know about architecture could
easily fit inside a voluted capital of an Ionic pillar.
I simply look at the buildings and the houses aesthetically. I understand
little of the history, science, or the terminology of Architecture.
Furthermore, my observations are severely limited. For one thing, I'm
roadside, which, of course means, that I only get to look at the public
view of the place. For all I know, that Second Empire mansion that I just
went gaga over could in reality be a jazzed- up mobile home with a really
ornate fašade. Worse still, I am only familiar with the outside of the
structures. I don't get to see inside. Nor is it likely that anyone will
offer me a tour of their place. That's too bad because I'd love to see,
for instance, what a room looks like that sports a mansard roof on its
outside. What can the interior walls look like? Can you hang a picture on them?
With 181 standing structures over 120 years
old and many of those still occupied, New Hope
is one of the towns that I visit often. It's a
beautiful place. River Road is naturally, where
most of the larger buildings can be found, but I don't spend too much
time there. The main street's sidewalks, as I mentioned earlier, are
just too crowded. To stop on any of those sidewalks would be suicidal.
Besides, the grand old buildings there look pretty commonplace. Better
examples of 18th and 19th century mansions can be found almost anywhere.
When I come to town I generally head to the backstreets.
I want to see where the mill workers and boatmen lived. It
is these houses, these common structures where find the grand
in architecture. Quirky yet beautiful examples of Folk Victorian
and Queen Anne houses dominate those still-affluent neighborhoods.
I find myself drawn by the strong sense of community that
(I envision) has always existed there. Houses were not only built close
to one another, but they were unified in their construction
principles -practical and functional. Yet there isn't a single
dwelling anywhere in town that doesn't exhibit at least some subtle leaning toward the ornate.
On every street you'll see a wonderfully crafted sunburst gable
or a lace-patterned trim running atop someone's asymmetrical porch.
Interestingly-patterned masonry is just about everywhere!
When I see rich and weatherworn brick sidewalks,
leading up to a century old house that is enough to make
me want to drive home and call my realtor. Yeah, I'd trade my
late 20th century square box of a bi-level for any one of these remarkable, everything- needs-to
be-updated money pits - any day of the week.
Text and pictures copyright by L. James Meyers.
No reproduction is permitted but bring cash
and we'll talk.