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An old town celebrates:
Newtown was founded by William Penn 325 years ago

by David Campbell

Newtown's Market Day is held annually in mid-September.

The United States celebrated its 232nd birthday on July 4, 2008.

A humbling figure, though one that puts it a mere 93 years behind the growing communities of Newtown.

“This is where I propose to build my new town,” William Penn said 325 years ago.

That “new town” in which Penn spoke is celebrating its 325th birthday, embracing the slogan “live, work, worship, shop and play.”

Although Newtown’s appearance has changed drastically over the years, as sprawling farms have given way to plush shopping centers, Newtown’s core has remained relatively the same, longtime residents insist.

“Newtown has changed; Newtown has grown,” said Charles “Corky” Swartz, who has lived in Newtown for close to 60 years. “However, Newtown still has the same heart and soul that it’s always had, with its shopping districts and, primarily, with the people who make up Newtown.”

Swartz is serving as honorary chairman of Newtown’s 325th Anniversary Committee. Special events are planned through August 2009. The 325th Black Tie Gala, celebrating the top 50 Newtonians, is tentatively scheduled for May 2.

“The heart and soul of Newtown is primarily its people,” said Swartz, who has followed in his father’s footsteps as a funeral director at Swartz-Givnish Funeral Home, Newtown.


Newtown's White Hall, as it looks today...

...and a century ago.

Swartz attended Newtown’s 275th and 300th anniversary celebrations, and although his memories of the 275th event are a bit fuzzy – he was just 8 – he firmly recalls taking part in Newtown’s 300th birthday. He, his dad and his son rented a hearse and rode it in the anniversary parade.

A lot has changed in Newtown over the past 25 years or so, however.

Many of the farms have disappeared. In their place, giant shopping centers have sprouted and burgeoning developments have been planted. Even one-time staple Goodnoe’s Dairy restaurant, a favorite ice cream spot, has closed shop, replaced by a group of shops and eateries.

“I think Newtown will always continue to grow and expand,” said Swartz, who was born and raised in the small town. “The growth that Newtown is experiencing right now is going to be for the better in the long term, of what Newtown will eventually become. And who knows what it will become in 25 or 30 years or even 10 years down the road.”

Houses on Court Street in Newtown during the holiday tour.

Newtown’s small-town character was one of the things that drew Newtown Corporation Executive Director Christina Ortwein to Newtown about four years ago. Ortwein came to Newtown by way of Bethlehem and Harrisburg.

“When I applied for this job,” said Ortwein, an ubiquitous figure in Newtown, “it’s because I wanted to live in Newtown, because of the feeling I had every time I would come here. The heart and soul of this community is what I wanted to be a part of.”

Ortwein’s roots have been planted in Newtown. Away from her duties as Main Street Manager, and even sometimes, as part of her duties as one of Newtown’s leading go-getters, Ortwein can be spotted enjoying the ambiance of Newtown’s Brick Hotel and Isaac Newton’s.

“We have such a variety of dining here,” said Ortwein.

But it isn’t the fine dining that has Ortwein excited to call Newtown home.

It’s the beautiful architecture, spanning decades, scores and centuries.

“It’s the wonderful sense of history that they have here,” she said.

In 1725, Newtown became the County Seat of Bucks County, until the courthouse was moved to Doylestown in 1813. Today, the borough, which measures one square mile, carries with it a reminder of Newtown’s past.

Coincidentally, Newtown is celebrating its magical anniversary with a few other landmarks in town.

Newtown Presbyterian Church is celebrating 240 years in 2009. Macedonia Baptist Church turned 100 in 2008. Chandler Hall, a retirement and nursing facility, is marking 35 years; the Newtown Exchange Club is 80.

“We’re leaving a legacy,” said Ortwein.

One that William Penn surely would have been proud of.

Notes: Allison Lucerne of Lucerne Illustration and Design designed Newtown’s 325 logo… Newtown kicked off its anniversary celebration in early July 2008… Among the highlights of Newtown’s 325th is the Bucks County Fireman’s Parade, hosted by the Newtown Fire Association, on June 13, 2009… Newtown will bury its 325th time capsule in August.

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