Rides We Like: The Devil’s Half Acre
(2018) Hammer along River Road in whichever direction you like and you’re bound to pierce a cluster of houses curiously placed along the Delaware River. Do enough research and you’ll find little information on the decision to put dwellings in such a strange location. It will be revealed that the parcel was once referred to as the Devil’s Half Acre. Someone should put a sign up to say so.
One of the authentic cycling routes in Bucks County is along the Delaware River. Cyclists can ride parallel the waterway on the major roads on either the Pennsylvania (a bit scary) and the New Jersey (much safer) side. With the explosion of popularity in gravel bikes, riders can take the gravel paths that bring a cyclist even closer to the Delaware, also on both sides of the river. Taking the Pennsylvania side is following in the footsteps of history. The Jersey side is an old train bed. The Pennsylvania side is much more interesting in history.
The Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River features a gravel path along a canal that starts in Bristol and terminates north in the city of Easton. This was a major shipment highway in the early 1800s, before the advent of trains. Men and animals would carry out the task of hauling goods from Bristol to Easton, a sixty-mile trek, on barges pulled by mules. There are numerous river towns interrupting the path so not all goods were going the full distance.
To be a barge runner one apparently had to have foul behavior. Bargemen were known for their foul language, foul behavior, and the attraction of more foul language and behavior from others. They all seemed to gather in a small tavern with a nefarious past – it was an illegal distillery. Bargemen and prostitutes looked forward to their layover in this secret tavern just north of Lumberville, PA.
The location is certainly unique. The palisades run up from the barge feature picturesque waterfalls and large glacial boulders perched impossibly atop one another near the current site of the once-devilish town. Many cyclists know this stretch of River Road as a place that is impossibly wet for much of the year. In the winter it features a sheet of ice constantly frustrating the local public works employees. There are houses tucked within half-moon shaped cliffs cut from the shale. It is certainly peaceful through this stretch.
Centuries ago this little stretch wasn’t so peaceful, though. With the illegal still, prostitutes, and troublemakers, it gained a storied legend that men killed here were refused by heaven and – get this – hell. Their ghosts are rumored to wander the area looking for anyone to take their spirit. Legend states the tavern owner buried unfortunate bargemen out back to avoid attention from the authorities when deadly fights broke out. People referred to this place as the Devil’s Half Acre. The name is fitting when describing it. Even by bike one is in and out before knowing what happened.
This past weekend I went out for a ride and met up with Mike (yes, that Mike). He had just returned from a globetrotting vacation and I’m still delicately returning to mileage. We decided to roll slow and ultimately found ourselves passing through the one-mule town. I remembered I wanted to write a story about the Devil’s Half Acre and forgot about it almost as quickly, kind of like passing through the hamlet.
Someone should put a sign up to tell people what they are passing through I thought to myself. After doing research, however, I saw pictures of a red and gold sign that once hung and I recalled seeing it. The locals did want people to know tourists were passing through Devil’s Half Acre. But just as fitting as the hamlet’s past, the sign for Devil’s Half Acre was stolen and never replaced.