Rivers Canals and Trails that Shaped American Commerce and Manufacturing
Bristol is the oldest town in Bucks County and the third oldest in Pennsylvania. It is the southern terminus of the D&L Trail characterized by coal yards, shipyards, warehouses and textile mills. Its Delaware Riverfront resembles a New England seaport. During World War II, the shipyards were converted for use in the manufacturing of aircraft. Today, Bristol hosts special events near the river and the Radcliffe Street Historic District. The improved waterfront and the nearby 235-acre sanctuary Silver Lake Nature Center offer miles of trails and habitats of more than 160 species of birds, raccoon, muskrats, opossum and deer.
The History of Bristol Borough closely parallels the economic, commercial, and industrial history of the United States. In the late ’60s, U.S. Steel Corporation closed its facilities and thousands of employees lost their jobs.
Bristol is Home to America’s Oldest Continuously Operating Inn
Founded in 1681, Bristol Borough is nestled along the Delaware River and midway between Philadelphia and New York. The self-described gritty town benefits from an East Coast resiliency but is also home to hospitable residents. The building of the 60 miles (96.6 km) long, forty feet wide, and five feet deep Delaware Canal, Bristol became a transshipment gateway connecting the coal barges flowing down the Lehigh Canal from Easton to Philadelphia. Its docks also had regular ferry services to New Jersey. Later, rail service would also connect the anthracite flowing through the canals, to the riverine barge and boat traffic, and to provide rail depots servicing the manufacturing sector.
By the 1880s Bristol was home to many factories, including companies manufacturing wall paper and carpeting. In World War I, the Bristol docks had sufficient space for a shipyard to construct twelve building slips for the construction of merchant vessels. Between the world wars, the eighty-acres of the shipyard were let out to various concerns, including one area converted to building the flying boats amphibious planes.
During World War II the old shipyards were used to build airplanes. Today the preserved elements of the shipyard, and other buildings once important in Bristol’s past service are enshrined and celebrated in the Bristol Historic District and Industrial District.