Just as Bogey commented in “Casablanca” that all the gin joints in the world are pretty much the same, there are tons of small, artsy towns around America that all seem alike. What makes Lambertville, N.J., and New Hope, Penn., across the Delaware River from one another special?
For one thing, many of these places are in college towns, while here there is no large college presence.
Second, most don’t have the history that these places have. The history here extends as far back as the early colonial days.
Many of the buildings in these towns are centuries old, with plaques to prove it. Antique structures from days of yore are spread generously about. In Lambertville you find a canal used for commerce connecting the Delaware and Raritan Rivers. The canal was originally part of an elaborate canal system inspired by the nearby Erie Canal. Various offshoots of the canal are around New Hope. This web of canals forms an intriguing network of walking paths through history. As you stroll along the canal you can imagine the horses that helped pull ships along the waters as you walk in the paths they walked. Today the murky waters of the canals are largely covered in lily pads, surrounded by lush trees and traversed by bridges, many of which date back centuries.
The main attraction in this area is the bridge that connects them. A two-lane road over the Delaware River is constructed of steel, but the cars travel on wood planks that form the street bed. On the side of the bridge is a footpath. At the center of the bridge you find the demarcation line between Delaware and Pennsylvania. Tourists, such as myself, find it enjoyable to stand with one foot in each state for the obligatory photograph. You’d miss this important site if you zip through town by car only. Pick one of the two cities, park and walk around. That’s how you can best take in the sites. Parking is hard to come by, and the area isn’t very large, so grab the first spot you find.
One of the nice things about these “Delaware River Towns” is they are only one and one-half hours from New York City, perfect for a weekend getaway for urban dwellers. On the weekends, the population swells with tourists. Weekdays are quieter. I didn’t see any public transit method of getting there, so you’ll have to rent a car or find a friend with one.
On the Lambertville side, a hotel along the river, Lambertville Station, and a related tavern, form the largest venue, popular for brunches and weddings. It has a large and conveniently located parking lot just next to the bridge.
Across from the hotel on the New Hope side you find the Bucks County Playhouse, famous for its regional theater, which bills itself as “America’s Most Famous Playhouse.” Its performances get good reviews and it would be worth getting tickets if you have time to stick around a bit. The structure housing the playhouse dates back to the 16th century.
In fact, the history is what I enjoyed most about this area. Interspersed with the many restaurants, ice cream shops, antiques shops and art galleries are nougats of the colonial past. Popular restaurants populate the banks of the Delaware River, where you can watch kayakers and others enjoying the water. In the summer, you might be better off dining inside a renovated colonial house with air conditioning.
Around both cities you will find historical markers explaining the important events that happened here and noting the significance of the relics from the 18th century still standing.
A few miles out of town at Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville is the place from which George Washington launched his return to battle in Trenton on Christmas Eve, 1776, after being chased from New York City across the Delaware River earlier in the Revolutionary War. A visitor center with an interesting historical movie explains this area’s significance