Where can you take flight in a glider or an antique biplane in Southeastern Pennsylvania? Tinicum Township, How about lifting off into the blue in a Boeing 737? Also Tinicum Township.
True — but in two different Tinicum townships.
The former is home to Van Sant Airport and glider field in Bucks County; the latter home to Philadelphia International Airport in Delaware County. Confusing — at least to me from Florida, where there is no such duplication in 411 incorporated towns.
It got me to wondering how Tinicum-times-two came about in Pennsylvania. The answer can be found in the Native American term for “island” – tennakonk.
Colonists of the future Delaware County disembarked in 1643 on a large island in the river where they founded the first recorded European settlement in Pennsylvania. The Swedish settlers spelled their new community “Tinicum,” approximating what the natives seemed to be saying was the name of the island.
Many years later and 63 miles upriver, English colonists came ashore on another island. Again, the native Lenni Lenape tribe welcomed them to “tennakonk,” this time applied to both the island and the mainland bounded by today’s Tohickon Creek. The English, like the Swedes, spelled the name of their settlement by what the natives seemed to call it: “Tinicum.” Thus was born our very own Tinicum Township in Bucks County.
William Penn became vaguely aware of the upriver Tinicum after his arrival to start laying out his new colony in 1682. In the course of a second trip to Pennsylvania in 1699, he wrote a letter to James Logan, his secretary of business affairs in Philadelphia, asking him to reserve the municipality as a future manor for his family. Penn returned to England two years later, never to return. Subsequently, Tinicum became home to many settlers, including Edward Marshall, who later would be implicated in the nefarious Indian Walk Purchase that cheated the Lenape of all their territory stretching far into the Pocono Mountains.
Today, Bucks County’s Tinicum is a particularly lush and rural gem favored by my family. Its distinguishing characteristics include the village of Point Pleasant on the river, two 19th-century covered bridges, Van Sant airport where antique and glider aircraft are berthed, Giving Pond County Park devoted to row boats and kayaks, the Delaware Canal towpath for biking, hiking and horse riding, plus Ralph Stover State Park, Bucks County’s grand canyon including its popular High Rocks overlook hiking trail.
After researching the two Tinicums, I wondered if there were others sharing identical names in Pennsylvania. I was astounded. There were many among 1,546 incorporated townships. Albany, Aleepo, Anthony, Athens, Bloomfield and so on.
But the most startling revelation is there are 14 William Penn, 15 Brady, 16 Franklin, 18 Jackson and 18 Union townships. The creme de la creme is Washington Township — all 22 of them in our state!
Confusion seems to be a common thread in our commonwealth. As a cub reporter for this newspaper in the 1970s, I interviewed a Pennsbury student who won an international Odyssey of the Mind competition in “Morrisville.” When I arrived at his home, I noted it being in Lower Makefield. “We’re not in Lower Makefield,” replied the student’s mom. “We’re in Morrisville.”
“No,” I said politely, “you’re in Lower Makefield.” She brought to the table a stack of letters, each addressed to the family in Morrisville. “That’s a mailing address,” I pointed out. “It means your letter was delivered by the Morrisville post office.” I explained portions of Lower Makefield and Falls have Morrisville post office addresses.
Today, postal confusion causes me to constantly check geographic boundaries to determine where most anything really is in Bucks. And so it goes. Lately I was at Pennsbury Manor which declares on its website being in Morrisville. William Penn’s reconstructed estate is actually more than six miles from the borough — in Falls!
Readers appreciate Bucks County history
It pleases me no end to hear from readers who appreciate local history. Anne Gromball of Feasterville passed this along:
“Hi Carl, I’ve been meaning to let you know how important your articles are to my father-in-law. He is 98 with extremely poor eyesight. My husband reads him your articles each week when he goes down to his father’s house in Philadelphia. He always enjoys hearing your columns and it makes his day. Thank you! Have a nice day.”
Also this from Fran Scordia, library media teacher at Brookwood Elementary School in Bristol Township:
“You sir are a priceless gem. I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to your articles. I love history. Your family is mightily blessed to have you, as I am sure the feeling is mutual.
I just wanted to thank you for sharing your interests, time and talents with Bucks County and beyond. You are one cool guy!”
Sources include “Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania” by George MacReynolds published in 1942 by the Bucks County Historical Society, and “PA Municipalities List” posted on the Web at https://dced.pa.gov/local-government/municipal-statistics/municipalities/
Carl LaVO can be reached at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Bucks, Delaware counties share Tinicum township names