Bristol Borough municipal offices are located at 250 Pond Street, Bristol PA 19007.
Photo: Circa 1880 Victorian on Radcliffe Street sold by Keller Williams Real Estate, Langhorne, PA. [ Helen Irvine, Realtor® ]
Bristol [†] is one of the oldest communities in Pennsylvania with a history spanning over 300 years. Through the centuries, Bristol has been a market town, resort, trade and shipping center, and manufacturing hub.
Prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1681, European settlers moved to the area which was inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians. These settlers later promoted the Bristol area to be chosen as the capital of Pennsylvania. However, a downriver site which was more suitable for shipping was chosen as the site of the capital, Philadelphia.
By 1697, settlers received permission to lay out a town. Buckingham was chosen as the town's name; however, it was changed to Bristol after 1700. "The King's Highway" was constructed in 1696 to connect Philadelphia and Morrisville. Present day Radcliffe Street follows the route of this first public road in Bucks County.
Over the course of the 18th Century, Bristol became a commercial center for the region. Mill Street was the major marketplace, where timber and grist mills processed and shipped the products of surrounding farms. From 1705 to 1725, Bristol was the County Seat of Bucks County. When Bristol was incorporated in 1720, it became the first borough in Bucks County and the third in Pennsylvania.
By 1714, a ferry linked Bristol to , New Jersey across the Delaware River. A shipyard was built in the rear of Mill Street near Wood Street in 1740. This shipyard operated throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
From the latter half of the 18th Century through to the first quarter of the 19th Century, Bristol was a popular resort area. Many visitors were attracted by the Delaware River's scenery and cooling breezes. Bristol also offered Bath Springs, a mineral spring with a hotel and racecourse. Bristol was a pleasant break from Philadelphia, then the largest city in North America.
Radcliffe Street attracted affluent residents who constructed elegant homes of various architectural styles. Many were second homes that served as retreats from Philadelphia, the young nation's capital.
In 1832, the Delaware Canal was completed. The Canal was built along the Delaware River extending over 60 miles, from Easton to Bristol. It allowed coal and other products to be transported more easily and cheaply from the coal regions of northern Pennsylvania. The goods were then shipped from Bristol to Philadelphia and New York City. A few years later, one of the nation's earliest major railroad lines was built through Bristol connecting New York City and Philadelphia. Major industrial manufacturers located between the canal and the railroad.
By the mid-1800s, Bristol's prosperity began to decline. When the new railroad began shipping coal and outlet locks were constructed in New Hope, the canal and shipping trade was lost. In reaction the Bristol Improvement Company was founded in 1876 by local citizens. The Bristol Improvement Company built new industrial buildings between Beaver Street and Jefferson Avenue. It then promoted Bristol's attractions to new industries. Some of the factories built by the Improvement Company were sold to private industry, while others were leased. These efforts spurred industrial employment growth in wallpaper, carpets, iron, leather and textiles. The new factories attracted immigrants from Italy, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Czechoslovakia, among others.
Bristol played an important role during World War I. Ships were needed to get food, troops and equipment quickly to Europe. The Federal Fleet Emergency Corporation authorized a shipyard and workers' housing to be built just outside of Bristol. The shipyard town, Harriman, was annexed to Bristol Borough in 1923.
During World War II, many Bristol residents were once again employed by wartime manufacturers including Rohm & Haas and the Fleetwings companies. The wartime manufacturing boom continued well into the 1950s. Fleetwings became Kaiser-Fleetwings and at its peak employed over 14,000 workers. U.S. Steel also opened a plant near Bristol.
As the United States' manufacturing sector declined in the later 20th Century, Bristol Borough faced population and employment loss. Bristol turned to its past to find revitalization. Unused industrial areas were rehabilitated to attract new employers and housing development. Remnants of Bristol's manufacturing past, including sections of Delaware Canal, the Lagoon, and the train station, were rehabilitated as historic attractions.
(Compiled from the works of the Bucks County Planning Commission and the Bristol Cultural and Historical Foundation.)
† Bristol Borough Comprehensive Plan, 2006, www.buckscounty.gov, accessed July, 2023.
Nearby Towns: Bensalem Twp • Beverly City • Bristol Twp • Burlington City • Burlington Twp • Delanco Twp • Edgewater Park Twp • Falls Twp • Florence Twp • Hulmeville Boro • Langhorne Boro • Langhorne Manor Boro • Middletown Twp • Mount Laurel Twp • Penndel Boro • Tullytown Boro • Westampton Twp • Willingboro Twp •