I was taken to visit the small and atmospheric town of Lambertville in New Jersey last week by friends who had told me that it was an American equivalent of the small arty town of Lewes in England where I live. They were not wrong. Lambertville, in its distinctive 19th. Century colours, is a delightfully gentle, liberal and arty place in many ways just like my own home town.
Here too you can stroll round coffee shops, antique shops and quirky individual outlets for products that you didn’t know you wanted….
…but Lewes, UK, just doesn’t have the climate for the dress shops to hang out their wear open to the elements. This shop may have regretted it too later as the thunder rolled nearer and nearer.
It is a great place to wander around….especially for us English who have always had a sneaking regard for 19th. Century American wooden houses.
I could see that i was not the only one who liked them for everywhere these old houses were getting the best sort of tender loving care with an array of traditional but somehow surprizing colours adding contrast between the cosy residences.
Lambertville seems like a very friendly town where folk take the time to chat even to a strange Englishman with a camera slung round his neck – nobody seemed to mind my intrusive lens.
The walking pace was slow to cope with the humidity and there was usually a good excuse to stop for a coffee and iced water.
It doesn’t look as if the town is going to run out of another well-known American drink either.
The days of Lamberville’s 19th Century prominence as a factory town with a thriving railroad is long gone as is, indeed, the railroad itself and Lamberville station is another place where you can stop for refreshments.
There is, naturally, no shortage of fast food restaurants, this is America, but Lambertville is the American diner with style.
I had eggs sunny side up just ‘cos i needed to say that joyful phrase but I also had, a portion of scrapple because I had no idea what it was except that it is a speciality of these parts through into Southeastern Pennsylvania. It is made from the bits of the pig that you would rather not know about made into a kind of loaf that is then sliced and browned in butter. it is certainly filling but maybe it won’t become a habit for this particular glutton but the potato hash was wonderful as was the iced tea. Generally speaking iced tea is a good choice for any tea-deprived Englishman in America – it saved the normal disappointment when you ask for hot tea with milk which just, somehow, doesn’t work here.
The magnificent 19th. century mansions of those properous factory owners are still there though long after the factories themselves have gone.
Anyone interested in domestic architecture could walk round this town all day just gazing at the variety of house fronts on display
Lambertville was also famous as a river town and in the 18th. Century it was the point where a ferry crossed the River Delaware to Pennsylvania on the other side. It was here too that George Washington crossed the river with his troops during the American Revolution before the Battle of Monmouth against the British. I am told historians now consider the battle to have been a draw but I cannot possibly comment.
There is now a fine road bridge across the river and, even though there was the ominous sound of thunder in the air, I couldn’t resist crossing over it out of new jersey to the even more bohemian town of New Hope, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
The view from the middle of the bridge is genuinely inspiring and, amidst all this small town charm, I was reminded, yet again, of how vast a country America is.
On the opposite bank stands the distinctive converted mill that is the Bucks County Playhouse…
…once, from the 1930s onwards, a thriving an pioneering theatre where Broadway productions often got their first airing.
It is struggling for funds these days and it would be a tragedy if it finally closes. In its glory days none other than Lisa Minelli rattled its timbers.
New Hope, even in the rain, is a fascinating place somehow lost to modern industry but surviving as a meandering warren of artists’ houses and arty shops.
New Hope in the rain reminded me of England as does the whole of this part of the Delaware Valley.
Farley’s the bookshop, really could be lifted brick by brick and book by book and planted firmly in my home town’s High Street.
It was busy today as I was not the only one to shelter here book browsing whilst torrential rain, thunder and lightning raged outside. It was an opportune moment to read up on New Hope’s artistic heritage before venturing out again into the rain to see some of the wonderfully whacky artist’s houses many of them going back to the times of the American Impressionists.
The rain added to the luxuriance of the place which is as atmospheric a town for an artists’ colony as anywhere in the World.
As with all good holidays, I decided that would be all too easy to live here in one of these crazy but beautiful houses.
I was now too wet to worry about getting any wetter so I headed back over the Delamere to Lambertville ankle deep in rainwater down the now less than prospering Delaware-Raritan Canal that once took coal from Pennsylvania to New York City but which has now taken on a new life as a splendid place to grow bullrushes. Finally defeated by the weather, I took shelter in an art shop that was showing an exhibition of American Impressionist paintings featuring several of the places that I had visited that day like this New Hope winter scene by George Gardner Symonds (1861-1930).
After that, of course, the only thing to do was to try one of Lamberville’s very tempting restaurants.