A cute picturesque city on the Delaware, the small town of Riegelsville had a population of 868 at the 2010 census. I visited this small river town in early October, perfect time for a walk around a city rumoured to be haunted .
With the completion of the Delaware Canal in 1832, the towns along the Delaware River became industrial cities. Riegelsville was no different. Warehouses and factories lined its banks. Today, Riegelsville is a peaceful and quiet town. Woods and fields border the Delaware Canal; remnants of crumbling stone foundations along its banks are reminders of a busy past.
THE FOUNDING OF RIEGELSVILLE
In 1774, a Williams Township blacksmith, Wendell Shank, bought riverside acreage that was part of the Durham Iron Works tract, built a log house, a barn and a blacksmith shop. He opened a new public road from the blast furnace in the village of Durham to the river and started a ferry service. It became known as Shank’s Ferry. It relied heavily on traffic headed to and from the Durham Iron Works located nearby. When the iron works went out of business at the end of the 18th century, Shenk’s Ferry went out of business, too. Shenk’s property was seized by the sheriff and sold in 1805.
Enter Benjamin Riegel, of the Riegel Family, early landowners in the area. He was a Lower Saucon Township farmer. Buying the property in 1806 and taking over the ferry, he erected buildings and established the Riegel dynasty and changed the town’s name to Riegelsville. His home still stands.
The Benjamin Riegel House is a two and one half story, five bay, brick structure that was built in 1832. Riegel resided in the house until his death in 1860 as did his widow until 1880. The Benjamin Riegel House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The property has been privately owned by Dr. and Mrs. Neal Azrolan since 2010.
The Riegel family is known for establishing paper mills in a cluster of small towns along the Musconetcong River in New Jersey, providing jobs for generations on both sides of the Delaware. Riegel was the uncle of a second Benjamin Riegel, who was a miller and lived across the Delaware River in New Jersey at the Delaware’s confluence with the Musconetcong River. This Benjamin Riegel owned a gristmill, sawmill and linseed oil mill; his settlement on the New Jersey side of the river also was named Riegelsville for him. To this day, there are Riegelsvilles on both sides of the Delaware River.
Ferry service across the Delaware was soon abandoned in 1837 when the river bridge was first opened. The Riegelsville-Delaware Bridge was a covered bridge.
A major flood struck the Delaware Valley on January 8, 1841, just three years after the bridge opened, and the span nearest the Jersey shore was destroyed. The bridge was repaired and survived another flood in June 1862. It was during the Pumpkin Flood of 1903, so named for the many gourds that drifted away, the wood from the bridge floated off in the Delaware River. The people of Frenchtown scavenged the wood to rebuild their own bridge that was taken out by the flood. The people of Riegelsville decided to try a cable suspension bridge and hired the most famous suspension bridge builders, John Roebling in 1904 to replace the original bridge.
The bridge is owned and operated by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. The Riegelsville suspension bridge collected tolls until it was purchased by the Joint Commission. After 106 years of traffic and floods and other elements it became the target of a $8 million project which had bridge’s floor system and sidewalks replaced, the structure painted, piers and abutments repaired, lighting upgraded and signs improved. The work increased the weight limit on the bridge from 2.5 tons to 3 tons.
The town of Riegelsville, they say, is home to more ghosts than anywhere else. There are quite a few books written on its haunted history. Rev. Jeffrey A. Wargo, pastor of St. John United Church of Christ and chaplain for Community Fire Co. No. 1, not only is the town priest , he is also the town ghost hunter. He has written two books, “Ghosts in the ‘Ville” and “More Ghosts in the ‘Ville.” His stories record paranormal and other unexplained occurrences at more than 20 places in town. Not only is he protecting its residents from the burning fires of hell, and burning fires in your home but he can be found protecting the town from its ghosts. According to a interview I read of Wargo telling of the area's past “Spirits may be drawn to this ancient place because it was once a Lenape village. The Indians believed it was sacred ground and came here to be cleansed. The local chief was also a shaman”.
The original, and now historic, Riegelsville Inn that he built in 1838 still stands. It is also the most known haunted spot in town. This historic stone inn has offered food and lodging to Bucks County travelers for over 160 years. Stories of faucets in the bathrooms mysteriously turn themselves on and off. Some have seen the specter of a little girl in the inn, soaking wet and shivering.
The huge cemetery on the hill is rumored to have had strange sounds coming from it, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves as though a funeral procession is entering the gates of the cemetery. A woman with a parasol has been spotted on a corner near the cemetery, her presence reported by several eye-witnesses.The ghost of Mary Louise Aughinbaugh, who died in 1867, is said to roam around the church property. You can see her grave site here.
The church office was in a house built in 1858 by Cyrus Stover. It all began in the late 1850s when Cyrus started building a lovely home for his bride, Anna, on a hill above the banks of the Delaware River. Before it was completed, Cyrus went off to fight in the Civil War, and died in battle. His body was brought back to Riegelsville and he was buried in the church cemetery, just a couple hundred yards from his home, which is now the church office. Legend says Stover lingers because he never had the chance to fulfill his vision of sharing the house with his wife.
Next door to the Stover house is The Riegelsville Academy and Public Library.The Riegelsville Public Library is found in the same location as it was originally situated when John Leidy Riegel created the building in 1885 as a school for the children of the community. The building was known as the Riegelsville Academy and was known for its preparatory education in the student's futures. The opening of the Durham School in 1901 was the cause of fewer students to attend the Academy, and in 1916 the Academy closed because of poor attendance. The library was located on the second floor of the building occupying two rooms. The management of the library was by the trustees of St. John Reformed Church and the principal acted as librarian.In 1925, a library club was formed, and they removed the wall so that the library would be one large room (1,700 square feet), added more bookcases, and a Mercer tile fireplace. At this time the building was used for meetings, dances, and various community functions.The library was open to the public until the late 1950s or 1960s, when St. John Reformed Church leased the building to the Riegelsville Fire Company. The library was still on the second floor but not used. The deed is dated February 1, 1971 when the Academy Building became property of Riegelsville Borough Council, bought for $1.00 from St. John United Church of Christ.In 1976, a group of concerned citizens became involved in rescuing the library from being dissolved. On September 8, 1976, a resolution was signed by the Borough Council of Riegelsville declaring the Riegelsville Library to be a legal official Government Agency of Riegelsville Borough and authorized Trustees of the Library to operate it. The Board consisted of nine members, who developed Bylaws to run the library.The volunteer group worked on dusting, stacking, and sorting items in the library to prepare for a re-opening. In less than two months, the group set up a story hour on Saturday mornings for children and library hours on Friday evenings for families. At the time of the re-opening, the library housed approximately 2,000 volumes.A little girl has frequently made her presence known to a series of librarians and visitors.
The firehouse is said to be haunted as well. Situated next to the town cemetery, strange occurrences have happened with such frequency that the firefighters would rarely use the restroom alone.Before being a firehouse, this building was a church and a school. Various reports claim that a firefighter named Howie Pursell, who died in 1991, haunts the company. Others say that a female schoolteacher has been seen roaming the halls. You can see his memorial here.
This pink house is the William Walters House. Built in 1874-75, this house is embellished with Gothic Revival and Italianate decorative elements.
MORE PICTURES FROM DELAWARE ROAD
Delaware Road seems to be the main street in town as it is the street the Riegelsville Bridge empties into as you from the New Jersey Side.
MORE ON EASTON ROAD
The other main road in town running north to south is Easton Road. It leads to Easton, P.A. , hence the name.
Up a long hill Delaware Road goes.
By now you have probally noticed the PennEast Pipeline signs in many of my photos. As per http://stoppenneast.org:
The PennEast Pipeline is a proposed gas transmission project of six companies: UGI Utilities ($UGI), AGL Resources ($AGL), NJR Pipeline Company($NJR), Public Service Enterprise Group ($PEG), South Jersey Industries ($SJI), and Spectra Energy ($SEP). The project has faced tremendous opposition from community groups, ratepayers, and landowners along the proposed route. Twenty-four townships in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have passed resolutions opposing the PennEast Pipeline and more are expected to pass resolutions in the near future. Residents and elected officials at all levels of government, including school districts, counties and conservation groups, have overwhelmingly called for the six companies financing the PennEast pipeline to drop the project.
In August, more than 400 pipeline opponents marched across the Delaware River. You can get more information here:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.