Springfield Township: A protected area of significant natural resources
Cooks Creek, designated by the state as an Exceptional Value Cold Water Fishery, flows from Springfield through Durham Township and into the Delaware River.
Before the first documented white man, George Wilson, settled in what is now Springfield Township in 1728, the area was home to Lenape Indian tribes, and was already valued for its fertile grounds and proximity to numerous creeks and the Delaware River.
The northernmost municipality within Bucks County is distinctly different in terrain from its southern Bucks County neighbors. Not only does it boast the highest elevation, Flint Hill, but also has valleys of farmland, where natural springs have provided generations of farmers with abundant water resources.
Although the Lenni Lenape, sometimes referred to as the Delaware tribe, claimed original rights to the area, everything changed after the historic Walking Purchase in 1737, when the sons of William Penn, Thomas and John, orchestrated a logic defying “purchase” of land from the Lenape, loosely based on a treaty William Penn had negotiated a generation earlier. Land rights were to be transferred to the sons of William Penn, heirs of his massive property ownership.
No written record of the negotiation between Penn and the Lenape is known to exist. So in taking advantage of the oral lore of the Lenape’s promise to allow the Penns to acquire land within “walking distance” of one and one half days from Wrightstown and north, Upper Bucks County, and much of what is now Northampton, Lehigh and Monroe counties, suddenly became controlled by the Penn sons.
Springfield Township, and each of its villages quickly became hot real estate prospects. Its abundant fertile farmland, its access to water power for grist and sawmills, and its proximity to the Delaware River were attributes that quickly attracted English, Irish and Scottish settlers from Philadelphia, and German settlers who were pushing south from settlements in Bethlehem.
A lottery to earn rights to land ensued in the following decade, when the area became known as the “Lottery Lands of Springfield Township.” (Note that the widow of George Wilson, the original settler in the area of Cooks Creek, a trader of goods with the Lenape, paid for her husband’s land, since as a squatter, he had already established the village of Springtown, which included a tavern, a trading post, and a lodge.)
There is a marker approximately one mile west of Springtown (on Pa. Route 412) that commemorates the supposed site where the Penns’ walkers had lunch for 15 minutes along Cooks Creek – their only break during the first day of the marathon-like journey. (Two exhausted walkers opted out during the journey, but that’s a different story).
What few people of Bucks County may realize is that the bucolic, agrarian community of Springfield Township was once a major stop for a stagecoach route, which ran between Bethlehem and Philadelphia, from 1763 through 1857, and was eventually replaced by railway service. This important route was known as the King’s Highway, and it transported people and goods during a time when commerce was dependent on adequate roads. There is evidence that these roads (now Pa. 412 and 212) were trails forged by the Lenape, and ultimately used to quicken the Walking Purchase move north.
The Lenape leaders subsequently contended that the “Purchase” was manipulative, and that the Penn brothers and other local leaders chose manicured routes, which were far too easy. And it is documented that the Penn brothers’ designated “walkers” ran instead of walking, and had the luxuries of horse chaperones, food and liquor at designated spots, and camp accommodations.
Ultimately, Springfield Township and its villages became the northernmost incorporated township, and it remains by most observers’ standards an example of Bucks County’s quiet importance in the country’s story.
Springfield Township hosted a trolley service, the Liberty Bell, between 1912 and 1951, which provided local residents transportation between Bethlehem and Philadelphia. Public transportation no longer exists within Springfield Township; however, its proximity to I-78, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other major roads continues to make it an attractive location for both Philadelphia and New York City commuters.
That’s not necessarily what the township officials and local historians want to project as an attraction, however.
Tom Cline of the Springfield Historical Society explains that the importance of maintaining the township and its existing villages’ integrity (this includes Springtown, Zion Hill and Pleasant Valley) is educating its residents and neighbors about the importance of its location and geological history.
He cites, for example, the historical significance of a local lime kiln, now owned by the township. He and others interested in preserving the heritage of the area’s natural resources volunteer their time and passion to ensure residents and visitors to the area slow down, respect the speed limits Springtown Township requires, and take a good look at the natural and architectural beauty the area offers.
Much of Springfield includes the Cooks Creek Watershed, a 30-square-mile limestone valley. The main stem flows east into the Delaware River and many tributaries through the area and neighboring Durham Township. County.
The state of Pennsylvania has designated Cooks Creek as an Exceptional Value Cold Water Fishery. It is the only wild brown trout and native brook trout fishery in Bucks County. The watershed is part of Heritage Conservancy's Lasting Landscapes program, and has been designated as an area of special concern by the Highlands Coalition.