Point Pleasant: Once a lively center of commerce, still a tourist destination
The Point Pleasant Aqueduct, part of Delaware Canal State Park, rehabilitated by Simone Collins Landscape Architects.
The powerful Tohickon Creek bisects Plumstead and Tohickon townships, and at its confluence with the Delaware River, sits the village of Point Pleasant. Point Pleasant is in both townships; it is an unincorporated village.
In 1989, Point Pleasant was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Originally settled by Lenni-Lenape Indians, who were attracted to the area because of the abundance of shad, carp and herring in both the Tohickon Creek (which means “driftwood stream”) and the Delaware, River.
The first English and German settlers founded the village in 1739, originally naming it Lower Black’s Eddy. The village’s postmaster changed the name to Point Pleasant in 1828.
Because of the water resources and the protected area alongside the river, it was an ideal location for a ferry crossing. The first German settler to provide ferry service had the last name of Schwartz, and it is surmised that he Anglicized his name to Black, hence the Black’s Eddy reference.
Ferry service ran from 1739 until 1835. The water resources and surrounding forests quickly established Point Pleasant into a commercial logging and fishing village with a sawmill and grain mill. Ferries would transport the products across the Delaware, bound eventually for New York City.
With the construction of the Delaware Canal in 1832, Point Pleasant became an important source for the downstream transportation of goods to Philadelphia and other towns. During the years of canal transportation, the village became a hub for transportation of coal from Northeastern Pennsylvania, along with its own local lumber, agricultural products and grain.
Its location, halfway between Easton and Philadelphia was ideal as a resting area, and quickly became a popular stop-off for loggers, canal workers and people seeking recreation in the summers. Taverns and hotels were prosperous. Because of the topography of the area, two locks existed, which complicated canal travel, and often forced boats to rest there until they could proceed further.
The first bridge connecting Point Pleasant with Byram, N.J., was constructed in 1855, likely in response to the lost revenue from commerce that headed two miles south to the Lumberville Bridge, constructed in 1835. Ferry services had vanished. However, with the development of railroad travel on both sides of the Delaware River, Point Pleasant took in many travelers and workers who boarded in its hotels and rooming houses.
Rail commerce, however, eventually replaced use of the Delaware Canal. Coal and lumber from Northeastern Pennsylvania were now being transported by trains, which had a profound impact not just on Point Pleasant, but many other river towns that relied on canal business. Canal shipping continued until 1931; in the meantime, Point Pleasant changed its primary focus to tourism and recreational opportunities, which still exist today.
Sport fishing was its biggest attraction, until eventually, the quantity of fish diminished over the years because of pollution from upstream coal and other industry waste. President Grover Cleveland, an avid sportsman, spent many vacations in the area. (Water quality since has been vastly improved.)
Point Pleasant continued to become a destination for visitors from Philadelphia, Doylestown and New York. Travelers would come to picnic, raft, fish and explore the Tohickon Creek. It once boasted an outdoor dance hall, built in 1911, becoming in 1930 a roller skating rink, The Rocket. Eventually it became Gobblers, a renowned restaurant and jazz nightclub that attracted fans from New York, Trenton and Philadelphia.
It operated for over 25 years under the ownership of Joe Butera.
Today, visitors abound during the hot summer days, rafting down the Delaware. Several artists live in or near the village. Tourists can visit the highly unusual collection of art, furniture and outdoor sculpture in fourth generation-owned F. P. Kolbe’s store, which was originally the Point Pleasant Inn.
A newly constructed traffic bridge on River Road (Route 32) recently replaced a damaged and aging bridge over the Tohickon. It features three unique sculptures by local artists, who were required to use “Blue Jingles,” a stone unique to the Tohickon Creek area, in their work. Donations to the Point Pleasant Community Association paid for the sculptures.
Despite its natural beauty and popularity as a destination, Point Pleasant has had its share of tragedies and negative attention. Its bridges over the river have been wiped out in floods; the most recent and debilitating disaster was the great flood of 1955, when hurricanes Connie and Diane collided, devastating all of the towns along the river.
The bridge from Point Pleasant to Byram, N.J., has never been replaced but its piers can be seen where the Tohickon Creek meets the river.
Then, there was the infamous “Dump the Pump” campaign from the early 1980s, when national attention focused on the grass-roots movement by environmentalists and local residents who fought to prevent the Point Pleasant pumping station from being constructed to divert water from the Delaware to Montgomery County.
The pump would provide a reserve of water for cooling the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant. Also, the Point Pleasant Water Diversion Project was designed to provide drinking water for both Bucks and Montgomery counties. Bucks County commissioners approved the plan in 1980, arguing that the drinking water supply for a growing county was necessary.
Ultimately, after much legal wrangling, PECO, the region’s electricity provider prevailed, and the pump was indeed built. Today, it is camouflaged with a Bucks County style barn façade, at Point Pleasant’s southern border.
But the lure and unique qualities of Point Pleasant still capture the attention it deserves. According to bridgehunter.com, a website dedicated to highlighting “historic and notable bridges,” three from Point Pleasant are listed: the 1877 “Pratt Pony” truss over the canal, the recently restored 1922 River Road Bridge over Tohickon Creek, and the Tohickon Creek Aqueduct originally built in 1832. It was rehabilitated and reopened in 2001.