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Thursday, November 01, 2007

An Essay on the Improvement of the Community

An Essay on the Improvement of the Community
Southampton, Pennsylvania

Further discussions are present under my notes section on Facebook.

11/1/09 Introduction

Being a resident of Southampton is more a result of circumstances than it is of choice for me. Of course, I made the choice to accept my circumstances and therefore being a resident of Southampton is a matter of choice. But if I were looking at the things that Southampton has to offer from the outside, I must honestly say that I would most likely not choose to live here. I have yet to find the place which best suits my essential nature and I believe that it is virtually impossible to do so while living in this world, being that we are all exposed to circumstances that are not of our own making and are forced to adapt.

I grew up in Southampton, left here and now I'm back. I go to church in Bryn Athyn and spent many years living in Doylestown, New Hope, Quakertown, & Bethlehem. I've lived & worked in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles as an itinerant theatre artist & filmmaker. I've traveled around the country and visited most of the continental United States.

So after relocating countless times and having reached an age where wandering around is no longer desirable to me, I live here in Southampton, back where I started.

My introduction into the world of theaticality
When I was eight years old, I was in the Southampton Independence Day Parade in 1962. Here is proof of this as I stand in my Indian Chief costume on the float for Indian Guides on the front cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I consider this my debut into theatre, not counting elementary school. I didn't do theatre in high school, although I did hang around the stage. I did do film-making in high school and then in college, where I got a degree in Mass Media/Cinema.

I've been employed by a number of High Schools, Colleges, & Universities, to work in technical theatre and A/V, both as a subcontractor and in supervisory roles. I've worked as a producer/director/designer/writer/actor/filmmaker on over 350 productions in my career. I've been trained as a machinist and have abilities in fabricating which have served me well as a Technical Director/Lighting & Set Designer on numerous productions, including my work for the New Hope Art Commission during my nine-year tenure with the New Hope Performing Arts Festival. I began my volitional journey into theatre at the age of 23 by producing concerts at The County Theatre in Doylestown as a result of which, I suggested to the Bucks County Commissioners that they turn the Old Prison into an Art Centre & Library, years before the prison was moved or that actually occurred.

I re-designed The County Theatre into a Performing Arts Centre and began to propose that for Doylestown, when I suddenly moved to Boston. Years later, after returning from California I proposed to the New Hope Planning Commission that they consider a movie studio compound when considering permits for a particular parcel of land, which led the Planning Commission to request that I consider the The Union Bag Works for that purpose. Years later, I designed a Performing Arts Centre for New Hope, while working for the New Hope Arts Commission, which was well considered for construction.

I've maintained nine studio or shop locations over the years, including; Doylestown, Stony Run, Dublin, New Hope, Solebury, and Southampton in Pennsylvania, as well as offices in Boston & Hollywood. I was offered offices on Warner Brother's lot. The current and longest office being in Southampton and the last scene shop being on a ten-acre farm in Solebury for three and a half years, prior to the illness & death of my wife.

And so, this is the background from which I derive my perceptions of what might be possible in Southampton and do hereby put forth as suggestions for the improvement of the community.

  • The essays below where written with the intent of initiating dialogue on the subject, which has happened and has led to numerous other points of discussion. I may re-order these essays into separate blog postings with the appropriate links where the subjects can easily be updated. If so, you will find these links being inserted below.

Part I - The Aesthetics of the Centre of Town

It is my feeling that the heritage of Southampton has fallen by the wayside because of development that has not taken into account the aesthetics of the centre of town. This is not something that can easily be controlled without an association of property owners who have come together with a like purpose of creating an atmosphere and by working together to achieve a collective goal. There are certain elements that can be controlled by the government of the township which would help to encourage the creation of that atmosphere and it is those elements which need to be addressed before any progress can be made.

The most obvious problem is the traffic thru the centre of town. As I see it, the biggest issue are the drivers who disobey the traffic laws by using the centre emergency lane as their own personal passing lane. To my way of thinking the centre lane should be more clearly demarcated to indicate this and people should be forced to obey the lane restrictions, even to the point of citations. It is very clear to me that the addition of a brick appearance to the centre lane, such as was done in Rosyln will help to designate that lane as not a traffic lane. It is also clear that the traffic lights are not properly timed to control traffic. The areas of congestion need to be timed so that the traffic will clear out before more cars are permitted in those lanes. If the traffic moves too slowly because of the lights, so be it. At least it will not move slowly because of congestion. If people do not like the traffic signals slowing things down, they will find another route.

The intersection at Second Street Pike and Knowles Avenue needs to have a traffic cop controlling that intersection from time to time, particularly during rush hours. People do not obey the traffic signals and are jamming up the intersection. They are not obeying the lanes and are bullying their way into creating more lanes than actually exist. I have run into drivers who are passing all other traffic in the centre lane and doing so thru the intersections at great risk to the safety of the other drivers. An officer controlling traffic and another citing people who violate will give those abusive people a rude awakening and bring the traffic back under control. There is too much passing on the right and there are apparently too many people who do not know the rules of the road.

Besides the obvious addition of improved sidewalks, street lamps, decorated cross-walks and centre lane (refer to Roslyn/Fox Chase & Hatboro), there are other more significant improvements that can and ought to be made. I have come to the conclusion that the centre of focus for the township needs to be on the railway system that runs thru what might be considered the centre of town.

  • 12/10 NOTE: This statements below was included in an email discussion about the potential for the centre of Southampton to take advantage of it's Victorian remnants , as scant as they may be.  
  • Obviously,  I have an interest in seeing the rail line become a functional asset to the community, both for the fact that I live a stone's throw away from the train station and for the sake of the programs I am trying to implement at the park. So I am and will continue to try to encourage this concept to move forward. 

  • By the way I've suggested this concept to the American Trolley Tours and recently noticed the Bucks County Trolley Company passing thru Southampton.  

  • I think that if this concept is to succeed that there ought to be discussion about renovations to the small centre section of Southampton that surrounds the Train station.  By that I mean brick sidewalks and attractive victorian street lights. I think it is important to encourage the restoration of what little history remains in Southampton into a quaint village environment. 

  • One might consider the fact that the remaining buildings on the east side of Second Street Pike (near the train station) are ripe for an "artistic, aesthetic village setting, if the sidewalks and lighting were to be groomed. There are the remnants of a Victorian Setting and it is those remnants that need to be enhanced if Southampton is to become a desirable place for people to visit, particularly if a trolley line were to become a tourist attraction (which I most certainly think it could be).  
  • Clearly, all this would take a lot of effort & time to implement, but such thinking needs to be integrated into the awareness of the managers and others who can effect such changes in the environment.  I already mentioned to the township manager that I thought the property behind the train station should be a park oriented towards things like a sculpture garden or other more culturally sound elements. Maybe a music shell for the orchestra.  
  • If such a thing was to be included then grooming the centre of town as a walking area would work well in conjunction with a train museum/trolley line to the area parks.  Such a thing would create a truly unique array of circumstances with Southampton being the hub. 
  • In regard to that concept of the centre of Southampton being a hub- my plan, if I succeed with my project "The Gnomes of New Hope" (which I anticipate has very high income potential) I would like to buy the Old Church in the centre of Southampton and to turn it into a theatre. 
  • That being said, a Park behind the theatre would be a most desirable option for the use of the land, particularly if there was a music shell there. 
  • If it ever turns out that I generate enough money from that project I would buy both parcels and do just that, restoring the house that is currently on the property.   Now obviously these are all concepts that may never be implemented, but right now they are possible.  Once these parcels become cluster housing, any cultural facilities or tourist opportunities will likely be gone.    

  • So I put forth these ideas as a way of planting seeds which may grow into an improved cultural setting for Southampton, which in my opinion would save the community from the oblivion of the urban blight which has already practically negated any aesthetic qualities that it has had.
Continuing... It may be advantageous to have a trolley car run along the centre lane from time to time, if for no other reason than to help to designate that lane for other uses, particularly during rush hour. Eventually that may become a useful service for the citizens of the town and to help eliminate congestion by allowing people to park in one lot and move about town without being involved in the rush hour traffic. This would serve to encourage foot traffic which will make the town more desirable as a whole. This might start out as a weekend item which would also encourage tourism of some sort.

Part II - The Railway System

It is clear that this rail system was, at one time, the hub of activity in Southampton and it is clear to me that this is the one very obvious remaining element in a heritage that is barely noticeable in the centre of town.

It is quite natural that over time modifications will be made to the land and buildings in any area, but it is incumbent upon the managers of the town to preserve certain aspects of the community, which will foster pride and unity and help to bolster the economy of that community.

Within the heart of Southampton lies the remains of a railway system, which for the most part has been neglected and consigned to the whims of the managers of that railway system, SEPTA. SEPTA- has essentially abandoned those rail lines and has failed in their obligation to the community in regard to properly maintaining those rail lines.

It is my opinion that the communities thru which those rail line run, should take possession and responsibility for those rail lines. Particularly, in the face of the fact that- Septa has abandoned those lines. The operation of a rail system across the township and/or to the adjacent communities is something that could be of great economic benefit to Southampton.

I say this because it is a clear fact that Southampton is the only community in the immediate area of Bucks County where the centre of commerce is in close proximity to the train station. Consider the population between Bethayres and Newtown. Now consider the possibility of stops along that rail line in Bryn Athyn/Pennypack Nature Centre, Southampton/Tamanend Park, Churchville Nature Centre, ultimately Newtown and in-between.

Even if this line where only run as a novelty line, utilizing a "turn-of-the-century trolley car" operated with a diesel power plant, the viability of restoring the line to operating condition, even on weekends would be clear. In addition to bringing tourists into the area to spend a day going between the nature areas, the refurbishment of the rail line would bring work to the people who would run and maintain this line and give people another option for moving across the township, if not further along the line.

In today's world of traffic congestion and fuel consumption, the restoration of this line will serve the community by providing parking lots at Bristol Road and County Line Road and provide a line that intersects with the SEPTA bus lines at Street Road and Second Street Pike.

There has been serious talk of a cross county line that runs from Newtown, thru Doylestown and on to Quakertown. If this where to become a reality, then the Southampton line would be an essential connection to that line. It is because of this that I heartily recommend that any consideration of removal of the railroad track in a rail to trails scheme be cast aside. Once the railroad tracks are removed, it is very unlikely that they will ever be replaced. A functional rail system has proven itself over time and will once again prove to be a part of the future.

We all know quite well that the trolley system was removed because of the automotive interests in the early part of the 20th century and their desire to cause the economy to be based in everyone having a car. The removal of those trolley lines was a mistake that should never have been permitted as evidenced buy our current traffic situation.

We are faced with huge economic challenges due in large part to our economy being based in the automotive industry (which we have lost to foreign interests) and the development of the suburbs as a result. Southampton has an opportunity to stand strong as an example of a community that does not care to fall victim to the superficial interests that fail to recognize the significance of having a resource like a rail line in the heart of it's community.

By taking charge of that resource, utilizing it and creating and operating trolley line within the boundaries of the community, Southampton will build civic pride and serve as an example to other communities who may follow suit.

If it is clear, and I think it is, that SEPTA cannot operate the rail line, then those communities where the line resides should be free to do so. I say this with the caveat that the rail lines must remain rail lines.

If each community cares to lease the rail lines back to SEPTA or to another operator who may operate a trolley, so be it, but the control of the lines should remain with the community, under certain stipulations that they cannot prevent the use or passage of the line. Certainly, the rail line can and should be operated like a toll road and those tolls would be applied to the maintenance of the line. For those communities that do not want to maintain the lines themselves, that maintenance can be contracted out and inspection would need to be part of the scenario, but if each community were responsible for the rail lines and the beneficiary thereof, then we would not be faced with the decaying situation of an authority, such as SEPTA, abandoning the line and failing to take care of an essential component in our transportation network.

Part III - The John Fitch Steamboat

For some time we have been mulling over this question of the John Fitch Steamboat. We have all heard about it since we were kids, but no real information was ever provided as a part of a community effort. This was always baffling to me. So, recently we have been discussing where it was that this phantom steamboat was allegedly tested. We knew that it had to be attached to the stream which runs through Davisville, or at least that is what we thought, and so we came to the conclusion that it must have been in one of the ponds which are in close proximity to that stream.

I heard rumor of a pond which was filled in that had been in the forest area off County Line Road, and being unaware of the pond which sits on the property on the corner of Davisville Road & Street Road (where the Saddle House was moved to years before,) I had concluded that this County Line Pond must have been it.

In our discussions of the Steamboat, I had said that I thought it was unbelievable that Southampton has not taken advantage of this piece of history which, clearly is profound enough that highlighting it, would most certainly benefit the community. We had noted that the Seal of Southampton utilized the Steamboat as a predominating graphic element, so it is obviously important to the community.

Now, those of us who have seen it, know that the Southampton Days Parade is a big event in the township. It is one of the biggest parades in the County, I've seen and participated in parades in Doylestown & New Hope. I've seen the parades in Feasterville and in Bryn Athyn and I am sure Quakertown must have one too.

So that being the case, years ago when I had my last scene shop, I thought I'd like to get into building parade floats and I had designed a float truck. I was about to begin constructing the truck when a potential order came in for four of them. Well that complicated matters and changed my construction methods to accommodate a more standard truck base. That, as well as other circumstances pertaining to supplies and facilities caused the project to be put on hold. But the idea of parade floats has been lingering with numerous designs and applications. The most recent concept in that regard has been the construction of a float that represents the John Fitch Steamboat. With that in mind I have begun some research on the subject.

A visit to the John Fitch Steamboat Museum at Craven Hall was in order. Just as a starting place. This museum is now under construction, as is a full functional scale model of the steamboat. Much was revealed by the conversations that ensued, in particular the location of the pond as being behind the General Davis Inn. In addition to this discovery, I was able to request access to the plans for the model to assist in the construction of a parade float and received an affirmation to that request. But in addition we discovered that there are tentative plans to build a fully functional replica of the steamboat that ran on the Delaware River as a result of the tests conducted in Southampton. We also learned that John Fitch lived off of Centennial Road in Warminster and that they may have discovered the foundation of his workshop on the property.

So there is without a doubt valuable history here on this subject.

This led our discussions to the status of the property on which this pond sits. My involvement with Tamanend Park led me to believe that this property ought to be under the management of the Parks & Recreation Department. As it turns out, that is the case. The property was at one time under the authority of Bucks County and now it is part of Southampton Township & The Parks & Recreation.

Let me say here that The Parks & Recreation Department and Tamenend Park is the one real gem in the crown of Southampton and it is a most honorable and profound thing that the township has done to protect this park and the programs that they are developing for the community. I, any many others, most heartily appreciate their allowing us to construct The Meadow Amphitheatre and work toward creating programs of theatre in the park.

So having discussed this with the Director of Parks & Rec. I obtained permission to explore the property, which I did forthwith. As it turned an employee of the Public Works was there and he showed me around a bit. We discussed the situation regarding the buildings and the property and explored the pond as could best be done.

Clearly, the pond has not been maintained, as there is a relief valve which is apparently not in use. This has resulted in the surrounding area turning into a marsh land, which is actually rather nice and serves well as a sanctuary for bird life. Even though I am certain that the pond was well maintain for most of it's life and in particular, during it's use for testing the steamboat, I do believe that the march land serves a good purpose. I imagined seeing an observation deck and walkway around the march and pond as a way of serving the nature area needs and providing the citizens with a view of this historic pond.

As we stood there looking at the farm house it was clear to us that the large barn located further down on Davisville Road was likely part of the estate that was once the status of this property. Had that been the case, it was most certain that the land owner of the property where John Fitch was known to live, would have been friend with or in contact with the owner of this parcel where the pond is located. I can easily see that when Fitch needed a place to test his boat, he would have traveled the few miles to this pond to do so.

It is so obvious to me that this property is a historic location, both for its construction and it's relation to the history of the steamboat. I am convinced that it is worthy of being placed on the National Trust for Historic Places Registry and I believe that this is an effort which should be pursued by the Township of Southampton, The Parks & Recreation Department, The Historic Review Board and any citizens who may like to assist in this endeavor. This of course, would be the point of my writing this essay.

Should we move forward to construct a full size parade float replica of the John Fitch Steamboat, this would be the perfect location to store the float and make it available for the public to view in close proximity to the pond.

I most certainly feel that With a place on the Historic Registry, adding in all the other factors, there would be funding available for the restoration and maintenance of the property. But this is not the only goal I see for the property.

Part IV- A Performing Arts Centre

As you can see from other posting on this web page, I am involved in theatre and in particular The Shakespeareans of Tamanend Park. Some time ago, I made note that the Polly Wog Farm on Street Road was up for sale. Being involved in and particularly interested in facilities design and management, I imagined this as a fine location for a Performing Arts Center, maybe not the best location, but considering the options in the area, a quite suitable location. Another location I thought was worth considering was the Oscar Huber building on Second Street Pike. It seemed as though that property might be available and I did have a viable plan for parking. Being that it is in the center of town and located in close proximity to the railway station it is quite suitable as a facility that would serve to rejuvenate the center of town. I would note here that I do have my eye on another property ,which I would like to renovate into a small theatre, something I've wanted to build & operate for thirty years.

Now, in regard to a Performing Arts Centre, I am not addressing the issues of budget, management, or practicality in anything other than a cursory fashion here. Rather, I am dealing on conceptual terms, based on what is possible with the spaces that exist. I certainly believe that utilizing adapted spaces is the first entrance-way into an endeavor such as this. Even though I rejected this approach in New Hope years ago. The facility in question at the time was the Union Bag Works, a huge warehouse which posed other problems I was not prepared to deal with.

It is most important to have some idea of what your facility will serve and what kind of audience you can develop before entering into a project such as this. In terms of Southampton alone, there is insufficient audience here to support a large facility such as this. Possibly Doylestown could support such a facility, however, if the property in question were to be constructed and operated to service road shows, and not attempt to produce programming in house, then it would likely succeed. There are sufficient producing organizations in the area that another stage facility could be supported by external programming.

National Road shows have a developed audience and must implement sufficient advertising on their own to aid in their success. This would be an initial aspect to the programming, that would serve the facility well while it is gaining credibility in the region. In addition to that fact, a well & properly equipped facility will be in demand for existing shows.

One of my arguments at the time in New Hope for a new stage facility was that the Valley Forge Music Fair shut down leaving a large hole in regional performance spaces. My current belief is that most of the facilities that are available are attached to the schools systems and are designed to service their needs, not those of the professional touring shows. The fact is that in Bucks County most, if not all of the programs are attached to the schools or community theatre.

There are a few producing organizations with their own facility. The Sellersville Theatre, which does service road shows, cannot accommodate a large musical theatre or multi-set show because it is basically an old Vaudeville house/movie theatre. The Bristol Riverside produces their own material and does bring in material, but the facility is not a four wall. The same can be said for The Bucks County Playhouse. Actor's Net and some others can be considered little theatre and they do a fine job for what they are, but they do cannot service the larger shows or name talent. I cannot say what the fact is with the Philadelphia Race Track and the Slots there, they often do provide those services, but it is not a family oriented environment.

If such a facility were to be constructed what would it be called? It would need to be something that was far reaching and significant enough that it gained recognition in the industry. When I was attempting to design the Key theatre into a performing arts centre in Doylestown, I fancied the name "The Victoria Theatre" not terribly appropriate in this case, but merely an example. The Bucks County Performing Arts Centre seems like it might work, but then that might need to be in Doylestown, since it is the County seat. Southampton Performing Arts Centre? Well, we'll let that be...

Part V- Southampton Arts & Cultural Centre

Returning to the subject of the Steamboat pond and the buildings that are attached to that property. It is currently under the authority and management of the Parks & Recreation Department in Southampton. Discussions have taken place regarding the use of the buildings and more directly, their current condition. Without having seen any inspection or safety reports, it seems most urgent to me that the historic nature of these buildings and the property be secured. Any talk of tearing down this historic farmhouse is appalling to my thinking and I am most certain that Restoration funds could be forth coming with the appropriate designation, at least sufficient for bringing the building up to code and preserve it for the future.

My most immediate vision for this property is that it would serve most wonderfully as an Arts and Cultural Centre, providing meeting rooms, galleries and offices for the work of securing future cultural programming for the region. It is most likely that a festival will be produced that centres around the John Fitch Steam Boat and there are numerous other events both outdoor and indoors which would be well served by this facility. Certainly, the rooms in the building can provide space for art classes and lectures and the outdoor area can be well groomed by a sculpture garden. If, as I mentioned above, an observation deck were to be installed around the pond, with a walking trail thru the woods to the Saddle House Gallery it would provide an eventful day for visitors to the area, particularly if a model of the steamboat were part of that experience.

The upper part of field area could easily provide a small parking lot and additional spaces could be added along the driveway without any undue impairment of the beauty of the property. The building itself could provide offices for an organization such as the Bucks County Arts Council or some other such organization.


I put forth these observations as my way of contributing to the community in which I live and to comment on the things I would like to see happen here as a way of improving the lifestyle in Southampton. I've seen too many communities get swallowed up by the advancements and development of land to the point where they have no identity of specialness. I've been in communities where this has happened to such a degree that I wondered who would ever live there, because it felt like a prison. Thankfully Southampton has not gotten to that point, but I think it is incumbent upon those in control to consider the advantages and resources that are still available and not to let them disappear into the oblivion of uncontrolled urban growth and homogenization. AG

The future of Cinema Under the Stars

Visit: Cinema Under the Stars for discussion about this program. All activities in the Meadow Amphitheatre are on hiatus. This and other programs will center around a new portable stage which we are building and will be presented at various locations.

The Meadow Amphitheatre

The Meadow Amphitheatre has been dismantled due (in large part) to vandalism.

We expect to rebuild a portable version of the stage, which will be available on a rental basis. Look for further information to appear on the web pages linked below or send an email to

A tour of The Meadow Amphitheatre has been moved to it's own site and there is a page on Facebook titled "The Shakespeareans of Tamanend Park".

Please refer to The Shakespearean Journal for the commentary & discussion regarding efforts to rebuild the stage."

Any information or photographs regarding this stage activity may be found at these three locations and postings will depend somewhat on the interest shown by other people.

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