It's Your Common Creek
The Newtown Creek and Common is another significant stop along the Newtown Heritage Trail.
The Newtown Creek and Common have been in the news lately, thanks to efforts by the Newtown Creek Coalition to bring vitality back to the tributary of the Neshaminy Creek, which winds behind businesses along State and Sycamore streets.
Established in 2006, the coalition’s mission statement is “to improve, protect and preserve Newtown Creek and to encourage appropriate use of this natural and historic resource by the community.”
If successful, the narrow waterway and adjacent land could become a centerpiece for economic growth in the town, with a lighted walkway, shops, and restaurants bordering the creek.
Signs by the District Court parking lot point the way to the stone monument placed on the site for the 25oth anniversary of Newtown in 1934, commemorating the land William Penn designated as the Newtown Common.
It reads, “in planning Newtown William Penn reserved about thirty acres of land as a common bordering on Newtown Creek giving free use and pasture, to all of that grant, this one lot remains as public property.”
Laid out by Penn’s surveyor Thomas Holme, in 1716 the common was conveyed to Shadrach Walley, William Buckman, and John Frost in trust for the people of the township "for the convenience of roads, passage to ye water, and other benefits to ye said township," according to the NCC’s website.
Eighty years later in 1796, the trustees decided that the 30 or so acres that William Penn had reserved for common use and water rights alongside the creek had become “useless” and “nonproductive,” according to the Newtown 275 Anniversary book.
The six trustees – Francis Murray, James Hanna, Thomas Story, William Linton and John D. Murray – divided the 40 acres and 97 perches of the common into 57 lots and sold them at public auction.
Purchasers utilized the land for residences and industrial purposes, including the damming of the creek for a grist mill. A local hat merchant, Joseph Briggs, paid five shillings and a yearly ground rent of $11.07 for a 130-foot wide property at 106 N. State St.
By 1817, Briggs was doing well for himself. He purchased the Court Inn, now home to the Newtown Historic Association, for his large family and in 1819 turned back the Common title to its trustees in exchange for release from his ground rent payment and $1.
A year earlier another set of trustees – Enos Morris, Thomas Kennedy, Jacob Janney, Phineas Jenks, Joseph Worstall and Thomas Buckman – were appointed to handle disposition of the Common property since many buyers failed to meet the terms of the 1796 sale.
Located near the creek on what was once Brigg’s property is the Common’s stone monument dedicated in 1934.
It also serves as a quasi-memorial to lifelong Newtown resident Barbara Swayze’s dog, Laddie. Swayze’s family lived in the house there and had buried the beloved pet in the spot before the state took the land by eminent domain for the marker.
The only remaining lot of the Common is at the foot of Greene Street.
For more information about the Newtown Creek and Common, click here.
For more information on the Newtown Creek Coalition, visit www.newtowncreekcoalition.org.