How did Castle Valley, Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Castle Valley, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.
A hamlet of scattered dwellings in Doylestown Township, two miles southwest of Doylestown on Neshaminy Creek at the intersection of Almshouse and Lower State Roads. Once a part of Warwick, it was included in Doylestown Township in 1819. In colonial times it was known as Bartons Ford, so named for Thomas Barton, a nephew of Walter Shewell, founder of Painswick Hall, a short half mile from Castle Valley. Barton bought this tract of 200 acres on the east bank of the Neshaminy from the executors of Jeremiah Langhorne in 1750. Bartons Ford may have been the name of this locality down to 1835, when the covered bridge was built to carry the Lower State Road over the creek. The name was then changed to Castle Valley. This bridge, 483 feet in length, built of hemlock, was the longest covered bridge in the county. It was demolished in 1930 and a concrete structure, spanning the stream diagonally, was erected a few hundred feet below the old bridge. Romance seems to have been indigenous to this part of Neshaminy valley. In it Dr. Henry C. Mercer found the background for the initial story of his November Night Tales. This story has charm for anyone interested in the enchanted ground around there. Captain Joseph Archambault, a member of Napoleon Bonaparte’s suite at St. Helena and later captain of Bucks County Cavalry for twenty years, lived on a farm at Castle Valley in 1837, after retiring as landlord of the Brick Hotel, Newtown, and just prior to his moving to Philadelphia, where he spent the remainder of his days. 1
The Neshaminy circles the north and east slopes of a steep hill, upon which the “Castle,” for which the valley was named, was to have been built. The castle was the dream of one Thomas Meredith, Jr., known throughout the valley as “Crazy Tom,” a harsh name for a sensitive innocuous soul who thought no evil of his fellowman. His father, Thomas Meredith, Sr., an immigrant from Wales, before 1727, received a grant of land on the southerly side of the bridge, including the steep hill just mentioned. The brother of Thomas, Sr., Simon Meredith, had preceded him to America in 1708 and settled in the northern part of Chester County. It was Simon Meredith’s son, James Meredith, who was the progenitor of the Bucks County family of Merediths, but oddly enough it was because of Thomas Meredith, Jr., that James Meredith came to Bucks County. Thomas, Jr., is described by his biographer 2 as “a youth with an inquiring mind and a strong disposition to study and learning. He became possessed of a good education, probably in Philadelphia. But, alas, `much learning had made him mad.’ Too close application to study and perhaps other causes had dethroned his reason, and thereafter the great world problems were a tangled thread, whose knots his understanding could nevermore unravel. His mind had doubtless been impressed by books on history and the love of romantic story relating to Europe. He had read its tumultuous history during the Middle Ages and of its turbulent Barons and the strong castle, when each great landholder must protect himself with the help of his serfs. Thus Thomas Meredith, with a mind ingenious and constructive, and familiar with the higher branches of mathematics, naturally exhibited a special direction for his monomania. Otherwise he was inoffensive and his insanity took a harmless form.” It was to this son that Thomas Meredith, Sr., left all his property. According to family tradition relatives and friends of the young man prevailed on his cousin, James Meredith, to come from Chester County to act as a guardian for Thomas and his property, with the promise that the land should go to James upon the death of his cousin. “Tom” Meredith had conceived the idea of building a great stone castle on the hill sloping towards the Neshaminy. In the execution of this wild project he was wisely indulged. Provided with a leather apron, he industriously carried stones in it to the top of the hill. He felled trees and had them hauled to the same spot. Day after day and year after year he piled the stones in a great thick-walled circle as high as he could reach, until, as his biographer says “his strength failed, his weary toils were at an end, and the darkened intellect planned and thought no more.” He died about 1768. This story would be incomplete without hearing “Tom’s” own version. It is said that a friend of the person whose signature is below bought an old desk at an auction of antiques in this county some years ago. In a secret compartment of the desk was found a manuscript, of which, he avers, the following is a copy:
“Castle Valley 17– (final figures torn off)
“In the reign of good King Tamanend, I, Thomas —, do set forth here the true story of my exile. I hear now singing in my ears ‘much learning hath made him mad.’ So said that bigoted presiding elder of the Quaker meeting to my father. They thought me far from home, but I overheard all from the next room. I can hear now that worthy but ignorant man say
to my parent: ‘Friend , this allowing thy son to remain behind thee in England to read and study what he liked has filled his head with tales of the old country best forgotten.’
“I am here under the care of my cousin in this wild and beautiful country lately owned by the great Indian King, Tamanend. His warriors still hunt among its hills and dales. The few and far between people of my race are all so occupied in their daily toils that they have neither time nor inclination to think about the heroes of our Mother Land. To them the brave King Arthur and his knights with their table round are myths. Their religion and toil have banished the days of chivalry from their minds.
“Nischem Hanne (Neshaminy), meaning double stream, whose waters flow at my feet and seem to glisten from every vale that I can see into from my hill,-what nymphs abide in your bosom or glide through your glades? Can this be the land the poet Wharton speaks of in his ode to King Arthur?
” ‘Yet in vain a paynim foe
Armed with fate the mighty blow;
For when he fell, the Elfin queen,
All in secret and unseen,
O’er the fainting hero threw
Her mantle of ambrosial blue
And bade her spirits bear him far,
In Merlin’s agate-axled car,
To her green isle’s enamel steep,
Far in the navel of the deep.
O’er his wounds she sprinkled dew
From the flowers that in Arabia grew.
” ‘There he reigns a mighty king,
Thence to Britain shall return,
If aright prophetic rolls I learn,
Borne on victory’s spreading plume
His ancient sceptre to resume,
His knightly table to restore,
And brave the tournaments of yore.’
“May not King Arthur be this great King Tamanend, held in such high esteem by not only his own people but mine, dwelling here until time for his return to Albion’s shore? Merlin’s enchantments, ’tis said, far exceeded all others. The great enchanter must have sent with him some of the great knights and fair dames to bear him company in this new world. Have I not seen the warriors of this Indian king, fleet of foot, pursue the fleeing deer they have wounded with arrows shot from a bow that none but a strong man could bend; then, when they meet the buck at bay, transfix him with their spears? Do not their ladies tend them after the hunt as well as minister to them when they have finished battling with their foes? Was not this the way of olden times? Have I not seen their skill in spearing those large silvery fish that swim up from the great river when the woods are putting on their livery of green?
“I have had a most vivid vision which I set down here. Merlin, the great enchanter of the past, appeared to me seated under a bush covered with white flowers and spoke to me: ‘You have seen an old native woman of the country pounding corn upon the rocks while she was drying the fish caught by men of the tribe. She is under an enchantment which causes her to appear old and hideous while really she is a beautiful damsel. If you are willing to undergo the toil to set her free, heed well and I will instruct you what to do.
” ‘You alone must collect stone and timber and bring them to the top of your hill. You must then build from them a perfectly round castle which must be absolutely straight within and without. If when you think your building perfect you speak to an Indian woman, she will understand you and follow you to it, and if it is as I have directed, resume her proper form. If it is faulty at all she will not heed you and you will have to tear the castle down and rebuild it until it is perfect:
“I have carried stones and hewn timber and brought them to the top of this hill. I have built my castle only to tear it down, for as yet the woman does not understand me. I will try again if my strength will but hold out, for I feel myself growing weaker.”
Another hand ends the manuscript with:
“Poor Thomas never completed his castle, for death soon set free his troubled mind. His toil was not lost, for, while he tried as he believed to relieve one being from burdens, he was the means of helping many.
“The stones and timbers that he collected were used to build the bridge at this place, which of course helped many on their road.”
Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.Footnotes:
- Manuscript, Historical Collections of Newtown, by Josiah B. Smith, Book II, p. 3.
- Edward Matthews in Doylestown Democrat.