Ottsville: A stop on the way to Durham in Colonial days
The Red Hill Church, built in 1843. It is now St. Luke’s UCC Church.
Penrose Hallowell Jr. is proud to have been part of Red Hill Elementary School’s last kindergarten and first-grade class.
His teacher was Mrs. Overpeck, and the year was 1958. Shortly afterwards, the one-room schoolhouse adjacent to what was then Red Hill Church in Ottsville closed its doors to public education. Hallowell went on to Tinicum School, and eventually, like his classmates, attended more modern schools within the Palisades School District.
I happened to meet Hallowell by chance while stopped to ask directions. His pride in Ottsville’s heritage is evident, pointing out that, unlike exponential growth experienced in other Bucks County villages, Ottsville has retained its rural landscape. Development is limited to approximately just 0.5 percent each year. The village has a quaint commercial district that is surrounded by larger estates, horse farms and scenic back roads.
The village of Ottsville is situated on Old Durham Road – bypassed by the busier Durham Road, or Pa. Route 611. Old Durham Road was actually the original path between Tinicum Township and Easton forged by the Lenape Indians, long before European settlers arrived in the early 18th century.
Unless one knows the less traveled Old Durham Road, it is easy for a visitor to miss the center of Ottsville, unless paying attention to signs directing passersby to drive a half mile to its shops and restaurants. This adds to the small town feel of the village.
Known for more than a century as Red Hill, the village was eventually renamed Ottsville in 1814, when Michael Ott became its postmaster. The village was also seeking to settle the confusion over the fact that there was already an incorporated town in neighboring Montgomery County also named Red Hill.
A tavern existed on Old Durham Road at the time of the Walking Purchase in September 1737. It was a popular stop for stagecoach travelers between Easton and Philadelphia. The walkers themselves stopped for a brief rest at the tavern during their trek. One of them, Solomon Jennings, was too exhausted to continue, and ended his journey at the tavern at Red Hill.
(The two other travelers, Edward Marshall and James Yeates would continue on in one of the most controversial acquisitions, or “treaty” of land from native Americans.)
Ottsville, within both Tinicum and Bedminster townships, was settled primarily by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, soon to be followed by many German Lutherans. Like neighboring villages, the two primary congregations of the settlers, the Lutheran and Reformed Presbyterians, cooperatively shared spaces of worship, and as the village grew, so did the need to build a new church to replace the log building that had served the community for several decades.
A site on Durham Road was eventually chosen, and in 1769, the Red Hill Church was completed. Despite a dispute about where to locate the new church, the congregations, with different denominations, continued to share Red Hill’s space cooperatively until World War I.
The one-room schoolhouse that is adjacent to Red Hill Church was built in 1843, and in the same spirit of community service provided public education for several generations until 1958. Eventually, the student population outgrew the space, and students were shifted into Palisades School District schools. Both the church and school remained unused for some time.
Realizing the historical and architectural value of Red Hill Church, the Rev. Victor Steinberg, a pastor for the United Church of Christ, spearheaded efforts renovate and reinvigorate the church, both for worship and for community space in the former schoolhouse.
Completed in 1959, the church is now St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, and the schoolhouse does indeed still serve as a meeting space for a variety of community gatherings. In 1978, the buildings were approved for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
In addition to visiting the landmark church, there are many other attractions in Ottsville and the surrounding area for visitors and locals to enjoy.
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Durham Road also has an Ottsville address. It is home to the Regina Academy, an elementary school that focuses on classical education.
Linden Hill Gardens is a unique and enormous nursery that inspires garden design and provides educational tours. It also features a shop with gift ideas, and “The Artist’s Spare Room,” a gallery featuring local visual artists.
Brig O’Doon Coffee House is a popular upscale café with friendly baristas and homemade breakfast and lunch menus.
Housed in the same historic building is Kimberton Whole Foods, which opened in Ottsville in 2008, and is one of four successful Philadelphia area stores that provide organic produce, raw milk products, humanely farmed meats and other natural body and household products.
The nearby Bucks County Horse Park, a county-run public facility, hosts numerous equine events, and has multiple trails available. There are also plenty of restaurants and inns nearby that provide homestyle or fine dining.
It is easy to see why Pennrose Hallowell takes pride in the unique and lovely community of Ottsville, Bucks County.
It maintains its historic qualities, and provides a safe and scenic area in which to live or visit.