Oral History

Yardley was settled by William Yeardley (as the name was then spelled), an English Quaker minister who came to America seeking religious freedom in 1682. Before leaving England, Yeardley made an agreement with William Penn to purchase a 519-acre tract along the Delaware River for ten pounds sterling (about $16 United States currency today.) He built a log cabin and later a stone house called “Prospect Farm.” The Yardley family occupied the land for more than 150 years.

William Yeardly and his family died of smallpox in 1702 and the original house burned down. In 1704, a nephew, Thomas Yeardley, came to America to settle the estate. He never returned to England and by 1710 had established Yardley’s first ferry at the southern boundary of the village. The ferry developed into a major river crossing and the area became known as Yardley’s Ferry. In 1835, the town’s first covered bridge was built across the Delaware River.

Following the completion of the Delaware Canal in 1831, Yardley became an important distribution center for agricultural products grown in surrounding Lower Makefield Township. The canal brought new commerce and trade to the town, which was then called “Yardleyville.” Various types of mills that used water from the canal as a power source were constructed. Coal yards, boat yards and lumber yards were set up. Stores, taverns and hotels were constructed to accommodate canal boatmen. Homes also were constructed to house canal workers and their families. Despite competition from the North Penn Railroad, the canal continued to operate through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, officially closing in 1931. Lock 5 of the canal is in Yardley.

To avoid confusion with Yardville, N.J., the town’s name was shortened from Yardleyville to Yardley in 1883, when the town’s population was 820. (Today, Yardley’s population is 2,500.) Yardley was incorporated into a borough in 1895.

During the Civil War, Yardley was a station for the Underground Railway, a secret route for slaves escaping the South. According to local legend, slaves hid under the eaves of the Continental Hotel and in warehouse bins along the Delaware Canal. At Lakeside, the home built by Thomas Yeardley in 1728, a brick-walled cellar room is said to have been a hiding place.