With the warm colors and brisk mornings of fall upon us, and the promise of winter’s blanketing snow ahead, we all can be grateful to be residents of Solebury Township. Our community is filled with natural wonders, distinctively beautiful in each changing season. Not to be missed is the recently designated Aquetong Spring Park at the site of the former Aquetong Lake located on the south side of Route 202 near Lower Mountain Road. The cold-water limestone spring at the heart of the site flows at a rate of about 2,000 gallons per minute at approximately 53ºf, and is known to be the largest of its kind in the 5-county Philadelphia region, and one of the largest in the state of Pennsylvania. It is indeed a rare treasure – a marvel to look at, listen to, and contemplate.
The Aquetong Spring site has historical significance as a sacred place to the Lenni Lenape Nation, a central power source for local mills that operated from the early 1700s to the 1860s, and a recreational site enjoyed by the public. Now in the stewardship of Solebury Township, it is envisioned to be returned to its natural glory and celebrated as a park and open space for members of the public.
Prior to European settlement, the Lenni Lenape tribe inhabited a village close to the spring and designated the spring “Aquetong”, meaning “at the spring among the bushes”. After an outbreak of smallpox, however, the tribe, abandoned the village.
William Penn acquired Aquetong Spring in the early 1680’s as part of his peaceful treaty with the Lenni Lenape (the Great Treaty or Treaty of Shackamaxon). About 20 years later, Penn granted approximately 500 acres of land, including Aquetong Spring, to his personal secretary, James Logan. By that time, mills had been established along Aquetong Creek, and they used the outflow of the spring (which they named the “Great Spring”) as a water source.
Jacob Dean and Jonathan Ingham purchased the property from Logan in the 1740’s, with Ingham receiving the portion of the property that includes Aquetong Spring (also known thereafter as “Ingham Spring”). Ingham, a successful farmer and clothier, used the spring to operate a fulling mill. In the 1800’s, Samuel Ingham inherited the property from his father and built a paper mill on the site.
As of the early 1800’s, Aquetong Spring is known to have supplied enough water to turn two grist mills regularly throughout the year, and to have concurrently powered numerous mills including a paper mill, a fulling mill, two merchant mills, four saw mills, and an oil mill. The cold-water limestone spring, which flows at a rate of about 2,000 gallons per minute at approximately 53ºf, is known to be the largest of its kind in the 5-county Philadelphia region, and one of the largest in the state of Pennsylvania.
Samuel Ingham is an important figure in the history of Solebury Township, New Hope Borough, and indeed the United States. Locally, he was responsible for building the Delaware Canal and the first bridge across the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. On a national level, he served many terms as a U.S. Congressman, and as Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson. In 1831, he turned down an offer to become minister to Russia and returned to Solebury and Ingham Springs. His Ingham Springs Paper Mill remained in operation until his 1860 death in Trenton, NJ.
After Samuel Ingham’s death, the property was sold to the Beaumont family, and the spring and surrounding property were thereafter sold to Dr. V. Mattison in 1867. Around 1870, the 15-acre Aquetong Lake was created by constructing a dam at the east end of the property. This provided additional power for the local mills and a recreational area for the public. A fish hatchery was constructed at the base of the spring outfall, portions of which can still be viewed today. Shad, brook trout, and terrapin turtles were raised in the hatchery, which was available for public viewing for 25 cents per person.
The property was acquired from the Mattison estate in 1936 by Dr. Perry Bond and his wife, Helen. The Bonds constructed the existing house off of Lower Mountain Road in the 1950s. The house became known as the “Judy House” after the Bonds sold the property to Helen’s brother, Dr. Judy, in 1975. The Bonds worked to restore and preserve the lake and spring during their term of ownership; the Judys maintained the property and made few changes.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission acquired the property from its last private owners in 1993. Michael Roush, the Area Boating Programs Specialist for the eastern half of Pennsylvania, officed and resided on site. A few years later, with the support of Bucks County Trout Unlimited, Solebury Township began negotiating to obtain ownership of the site. Around 1996, the State performed emergency repairs on the dam; approximately 6 feet of the outlet structure were removed to take pressure off the aging barrier. This lowered the level of the lake and added about 80 feet of wetlands to the western shoreline. However, it was recognized that a complete repair of the dam could cost over $1 million and might not be the best choice for the environment. This recognition may have been in part due to the activism of Bucks County Trout Unlimited, which began advocating in 1996 for removal of the dam and restoration of brook trout to Aquetong Creek.
Township Acquisition and Activities to Date
In 2009, after almost 15 years of negotiations, Solebury Township gained control of the property, with the goal of preserving this important natural resource. It purchased the lake and surrounding properties from the state and obtained a 25-year lease for the approximately 1/8 acre that includes the spring head. The Township’s total costs were substantially reduced because it received a large credit in exchange for its commitment to repair the dam in the future, as well as funding from the Bucks County Natural Areas Program toward the purchase.
Following the purchase, the Township engaged in a five-year process of community outreach and consultation with environmental experts in which it considered alternatives for the Aquetong Lake dam. Choices included rebuilding the dam in its then-current form, creating a smaller lake with a cold-water bypass into Aquetong Creek, or breaching the dam and restoring a free-flowing stream. Ultimately, recognizing that the lake was a thermal reservoir which introduced warm water into Aquetong Creek and eventually into the streams and river, the Township decided in 2013 to breach rather than restore the dam, and return the site to its natural state.
In June 2014, the Township adopted its revised Comprehensive Plan, which included a short-term (1-2 year) goal of restoring Aquetong Creek as a cold-water system and developing a plan for recreational use of Ingham Spring Park, seeking alternative funding for completion of the project; and a mid-term (3-5) year goal of creating and implementing the recreational plan for Ingham Spring including the Judy House.
In fulfillment of the Township’s short-term goal, the Aquetong Restoration Project got underway In April 2015. The project proceeded gradually -- first emptying the lake by slowly pumping out more water per day than was introduced by the spring, then building a temporary downstream stone and fabric-filter buffer dam, and finally removing 100 feet of the 150-year old earthen dam, seeding the muddy bottom with a mix of grasses and wildflowers to stabilize drainage and prevent erosion, and removing the temporary buffer dam. Funding for the project was provided by the Township (with the state allowing the purchase credit to be used for removal, rather than repair of the dam), along with Bucks County Open Space funds and Township Land Preservation Funds for restoring the lake bed and surrounding areas.
In the two years that have passed since the dam was removed, the stream has started to take its natural course, and the Township has monitored the water temperature, fish population and effect on the creek downstream. In November 2015, the Township held a public tree planting event, planting 200 trees to restore the forest in the riparian corridor along the creek. The trees were provided by a TreeVitalize grant from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and the Township partnered with the Bucks County Conservation District and the Aquetong Watershed Association to conduct the planting. In addition, on April 29, 2017, Bucks County Trout Unlimited released 50 wild, native brook trout into Aquetong Creek. The fish were captured from a Lehigh River tributary by traditional fly fishing methods and successfully transported about 70 miles and released into Aquetong Creek. Restoration of the site is a work in process that will take some time. Until the project is complete, the site may be rough at times, both visually and in terms of accessibility, as the land stabilizes and the restoration work progresses.
Township Vision and Next Steps
The site is slated for passive recreation and historical and environmental education, with educational features celebrating the park’s unique environment and rich history. As the water continues to find its course, the Township continues to plan for the future use of the property.
The Township is considering construction of a trail alongside Route 202 from the northern border of the park to the parking lot on Lower Mountain Road. The trail could be constructed to capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from Route 202 before it enters Aquetong Stream (which will be accomplished in some manner in any event). While the trail wouldn’t immediately connect to other trails, it would be part of a larger plan to build a Route 202 Cross-County Trail. The Township has applied for a $1.115 million grant from PennDOT’s Transportation Alternatives (TA) Program for trail construction.
The Township is also working on a vegetation plan to stabilize the stream and control invasive species, and a plan to develop other trails through the 48-acre property, create additional public access and parking, and possibly add other amenities for public use. The Township has secured $550,000 in funding to be used for design and other park improvements ($250,000 from a previously awarded PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant + $250,000 in local matching funds previously committed by Solebury Township; and a $50,000 Trout Unlimited grant), and expects to hear soon about whether it has been awarded a $250,000 grant by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development.
By leveraging available public funds, Solebury Township is working hard to restore for residents and visitors a fascinating local treasure. An interpretive sign has now been placed at the site near the Judy House, and an extensive online historical record dating from 1860 up through 2016, complete with photos, has been compiled by the Solebury Township Historical Society at http://soleburyhistory.org/on-line-exhibits/aquetong-spring-park/history/. Continued planning and future completion of the park will ensure that this natural wonder provides educational and recreational opportunities to the public, and a space to celebrate our gratitudes, in all seasons for years to come.
Look for more details to be published as information becomes available on this exciting community project.