Updated: Jan 11, 2020
Lake Nockamixon is a dramatic man-made lake, encompassing 5,286 acres. It's the largest lake in Bucks County and has everything you'd ever want in a state park: Swimming, picnicking, boating, fishing and hiking ... but it also has a blemished history that left permanent scars on an entire village.
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Lake Nockamixon, "place of soft soil," in Lenape language, opened to the public in 1973.
History in the works
"I want to show you something I've been working on for fifteen years," Sam Thompson told James A. Michener in the summer of 1960. Sam was retired from show business and bought a farm in Bucks County where he became a local politician and friend to Michener. James Michener, of course, is one of the most famous authors of all time and a Doylestown native. He was also a political activist during this period, working to convince all of Bucks County to vote for John F. Kennedy.
Michener shared the following story in Report of the County Chairman:
"We drove along the wonderful back roads of Bucks County through rural areas where the larch was golden and the oak was red. We passed Dutch houses that had stood beside their streams for two hundred years, each with a barn bigger than itself. This is land worth fighting for, Sam," he said. To that, Sam replied, "I want you to see what I've been fighting for. I've been coming to this hill, dreaming of a lake that would be dammed up and of a state park that would preserve this area forever. There are so many people crowding into the valleys, Jim, and so few of the valleys are being kept clean and free for the next generation." With that, Michener said, "Sam! Is this the new state park they were writing about in the Intelligencer the other day?" Sam replied, "Yep, we finally got it through. I want you to look at the dam." Together they looked at the very small dam the Boy Scouts helped put in place and envisioned what it would be like.
"This'll be the best public park in Pennsylvania," Thompson told Michener that day.
A battle between local government, and the area Michener agreed was worth fighting for, soon ensued.
In order to create the lake that local and state officials envisioned, much had to give. The lake was made by damming three water sources in the valley: Tohickon Creek, Three Mile Run and Haycock Run. It was part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan for the Delaware River Basin to create a watershed and recreation area close to Philadelphia. But waterways weren't the only thing that had to give. An entire village was sacrificed—290 properties to be exact. And the owners weren't happy about it. Imagine being told your entire town had to disappear.
Among them were Sebastian and Nellie Lusczak (now deceased), who owned a picturesque Victorian home with a gingerbread front porch. Beside it, a spectacular bank barn for wild stock, and lush land perfect for growing crops. Sebastian even built his own in-ground pool for the family to enjoy. He was able to fill the pool using the clean surrounding waters from Haycock Run. Sebastian and Nellie were in their 70s at the time they were told to "get out." Their granddaughter, Dolores Bonk, still an Ottsville resident, sentimentally remembers the farm.
"We came to the farm most weekends to enjoy the pool and property. My grandparents had a spiral staircase that went all the way up to the third floor where there was a billiard room. We loved to gather there and shoot pool. The house had high ceilings, two enclosed patios, a butler pantry and a winding staircase." As I listen, I can't imagine being forced to leave such an estate.
Dolores also recalls sneaking out to the original dam not far away. "I made it all the way across one day," she recalls. "At that time, it was made of stone and concrete." She continues more solemnly, "My grandmother had a stroke and was in a wheelchair. It wasn't easy to just pick up and leave. It was heartbreaking."
Jeanetta Theresa Talese, Dolores' daughter, also recalls the devastation and heartache. "The feeling of helplessness doesn't disappear over time. It stays with you forever. Even though I was just a small child, I remember almost everything about the property. It should still be there." Like many, she believes it was an abuse of political power to erase one of the most beautiful communities in Upper Bucks County.
At one point, the town banned together to revolt. 800 angry villagers stormed proceedings taking place at a local high school. State troopers were called in to manage crowd control. Maurice Goddard, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters, was the driving force behind the lake plan. He called the situation unfortunate but, according to the residents, had very little empathy. Nothing was going to stop him. He began seizing private property, forcing generations of landowners from their homes and businesses. Gone would be a general store, grist mill, saw mill, tannery houses, barns, iron bridges and an old Indian cave where Henry Mercer, a local archeologist, had discovered relics. Still submerged, about 70 feet below, is the beautiful arched bridge that connected the area.
For some, including myself—who lived in the area with no historical knowledge—Lake Nockamixon is a place to create memories. I rode my horse in the lake, we hit the enormous pool nearly every weekend and our family enjoyed sailing. For others, it's still a place that drums up bitterness and bad memories. It's not exactly water under the bridge, as they say.
For more insight, purchase or download the Kindle version of Our Lost Tohickon Valley by Marjorie Goldthorp Fulp and Pamela Feist Varkony, which was published by the Haycock Historical Society. They
did a wonderful job relaying their cherished memories and sharing pictures to pass down for generations.
Another great read comes from columnist, Carl LaVO, printed by the Bucks County Courier Times in 2017.
Written by Heather Slawecki
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