Oral History

Riegelsville, Bucks County, was first settled around 1774 when Wendel Schenk purchased land in Durham Township from James Hamilton, Lieutenant Governor of the province of Pennsylvania. Schenk opened a ferry across the Delaware River which relied heavily on traffic headed to and from the Durham Iron Works located nearby. When the iron works went out of business at the end of the 18th century, Shenk’s Ferry went out of business, too. Shenk’s property was seized by the sheriff and sold in 1805.

A few months later the land was purchased by a Northampton County farmer named Benjamin Riegel, the father of the town that bears his name. Riegel was the uncle of a second Benjamin Riegel, who was a miller and lived across the Delaware River in New Jersey at the Delaware’s confluence with the Musconetcong River. This Benjamin Riegel owned a gristmill, sawmill and linseed oil mill; his settlement on the New Jersey side of the river also was named Riegelsville for him. To this day, there are Riegelsvilles on both sides of the Delaware River.

Riegelsville, in Bucks County, became a canal town once construction of the Delaware Canal began there in 1827. Benjamin Riegel, the miller, realized the business potential of the canal and moved across the river from New Jersey in 1832. He built a large house between the canal and the river and later became a founder of the Riegelsville Delaware Bridge Company, which opened a three-span covered wooden bridge at the site of the former Shenk’s Ferry in 1836. The bridge carried horses, wagons and pedestrians and provided a necessary connection between nephew Riegel’s business interests on both sides of the river.

Meanwhile, Uncle Benjamin Riegel built a new hotel in 1838 at the bridge landing, operating it himself for three years before renting it out. The historic stone inn is still in operation and has provided food and lodging for visitors for more than 170 years.

Riegelsville prospered after the Delaware Canal opened; warehouses and factories lined its banks until the canal closed in 1931. The covered bridge built by Benjamin Riegel, the miller, survived the great floods of 1841 and 1862 but succumbed to the “Pumpkin Flood” on October 10, 1903 when the Delaware River rose 34 feet above its normal flow.

It was replaced by a wire suspension bridge built by the engineering firm of John A. Roebling‘s Sons, Company, based in Trenton, New Jersey. It is often referred to as The Roebling Bridge. John A. Roebling, the company’s founder, built the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.