The southern terminus of the D&L Trail was first settled by Europeans in 1681. Bristol’s prime location helped make it a busy port and industrial town in the 1800s. Coal yards and warehouses sprang up along the canal, as did large mills that manufactured carpets, woolens and other textiles. Later, shipyards thrived and the neighborhoods still showed signs of modest worker housing, along with elegant Victorian homes. The last portion of the Delaware Canal flowed through town, through a lagoon and into the basin near Bristol Marsh.
Bristol is the oldest town in Bucks County and the third oldest in Pennsylvania. Its Delaware Riverfront resembles a New England seaport because 1917 brought the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation. Shipbuilders and other yard workers poured into the town vicinity. During World War II, the shipyards were converted for use in the manufacturing of aircraft. After the war, people stayed in Bristol and the population continued to rise. By the 1960’s though, the factories stood abandoned and the following years brought slower development. The growth that did occur was largely due to the generosity of Joseph Ridgway Grundy, industrialist and politician. Through his last will and testament, he created The Grundy Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to improving Bristol and other communities in Bucks County.
Today, Bristol hosts special events at river’s edge, providing a perfect opportunity to stroll, shop or dine within the 50-site Radcliffe Street Historic District. Along the restored riverfront you’ll find Victorian mansions, including the Margaret R. Grundy Museum. The house was built in 1818 but the Grundy family, wealthy owners of local textile mills, didn’t buy it until 1884. The interior reflects the style and elegant, luxurious living some people enjoyed at the turn of the century. Woodwork imported from Europe is found throughout the house, including carved oak paneling and a staircase in the entrance foyer. The living room, accented with cherry wood, features a fireplace with a unique double flue that frames a stained glass window. The large, paneled dining room, with its unique and unusual angles and arches, contains an Italian carpet designed to fit the room, a magnificently carved oak table, and a variety of other extravagant furnishings. Other rooms throughout the house hold impressive collections of antique furnishings and works of art.
The Grundy Museum is located in the heart of Bristol and the sizeable property runs along the Delaware River. Established in accordance with the wishes of the late Sen. Joseph R. Grundy, the former residence is dedicated to the memory of his sister, Margaret. Two floors are open to the public and admission is free (open weekdays 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.) The Margaret R. Grundy Library can also be explored. This is also the site of the landmark Grundy Mill with its easy-to-spot clock tower.
Elsewhere in Bristol, a National Park Service plan in the 1980s resulted in a walking trail along an old railroad spur line right-of-way. These days the Spurline Trail offers visitors a wonderful way to enjoy the town’s improved waterfront.
Nearby you’ll find the Silver Lake Nature Center (1306 Bath Rd., 215-785-1177). Silver Lake was formed in the early 1700s when Otter Creek was dammed to power a mill on Mill Street. Throughout the years the lake (once known as Mill Lake) has become a recreation area, and in 1972 the Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation created the Silver Lake Nature Center. Today this 235-acre sanctuary offers a variety of activities for individuals, families and groups. There are three miles of trails that carry you through a variety of habitat that’s home to more than 160 species of birds, raccoons, muskrats, opossum, deer, and other mammals and reptiles. This part of the state is known geographically as the Coastal Plain. Its geology, vegetation and wildlife are unique.
Things to see and do in Bristol
Visiting Silver Lake Nature Center, a 253-acre "natural treasure" in the heart of the southern portion of Bucks County, is an experience to be savored, not rushed. It's a place where lush foliage, accessible wetlands and rich woodlands abound. Where people of all ages can explore and enjoy a special part of our world.