Orr's Ford: Lovely house, obscure history

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Old House History, Historic Preservation

One of the reasons I love old houses is the history. What have those old walls seen over the years? What has transpired on that front porch? What is the story behind that burn on the hardwood floors, or that name etched into the wide brick of the fireplace? There are so many mysteries and not nearly enough answers.

So when I saw the listing for a house called “Orr’s Ford” in my beloved Bucks County, PA, I was mesmerized by a unique and obscure history that makes the home — at least to me — much more valuable.

What happened at Orr’s Ford?

In 1737, William Penn’s heirs presented a deed, written in the 1680’s, in which the Lenape Indians had  promised Penn a tract of land. The land was to begin at the junction of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, and was to cover as much area as a man could walk in one and a half days.

When the Lenape agreed to this, they assumed that it would take away only 20 miles of so of their land. After all, how far could a man walk in 36 hours through the rough terrain?

Pennsylvania officials took advantage of the murky language in the deed. They cleared out a path through the thick forested areas and hired three men to run as fast as they could along the paths. The men were sent to run northwest, again maximizing the land potential. This “Walking Purchase” went right through the road that is now the driveway of Orr’s Ford — and it resulted in a whopping 70 miles from the fastest runner. The end result gave Pennsylvania 1.2 million acres of land, an area roughly equivalent to the size of Rhode Island.

Much bad blood ensued, but unfortunately, there was nothing the Lenape could do. The land went to Pennsylvania, and the tribe began to gradually move westward. To add insult to injury, 100 years after the fact, the “deed” was determined to be a forgery.

Other historic claims to fame

Orr’s Ford has gone through many incarnations over the years. For a long time it was a 200-acre farm. In 1742, it became a tavern, capitalizing on the people who came to the popular fording spot to cross Tohickon Creek. It stood as the Tohickon Trolley Park until the automobile made trolleys obsolete. Eventually it was used as a summer camp, but when the camp closed up, the home fell into disrepair.

Of course, the home has gone through extensive renovation since then. Now the original doors and built-in bookcases stand alongside traditional kitchen cabinets and granite countertops, The original fireplaces keep the house warm in the winter while the modern picture window offers a view of the rushing creek. The random-width pine floorboards might not be all original, but they certainly look that way. The original stone facade and unique double entry doors make this house a perfect example of late 1700’s architecture.

These historic gems are everywhere, sometimes tucked away and forgotten along little back roads that rarely see visitors. There could be one of these amazing homes right around the corner from you.

If you want to see more of this gorgeous building, visit the Orr’s Ford website.

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