Bristol’s first airmail flight

A prototype seaplane built in town took First Day letters aloft in 1938.

My recent column on the airmail flight of Laura Jean Candy from Langhorne in 1938 jogged a recollection from Carol Smith. The Edgely resident has long preserved a letter from an uncle commemorating a similar flight from Bristol. It occurred on May 19, four days after Laura Jean soared over town.

Uncle Betz’ letter was aboard a stainless steel seaplane built in Bristol. The First Day envelop was among others marking National Air Mail Week and initiation of airmail from the borough. The plane took off from the Delaware River near Bristol’s ferry wharf as spectators crowded the shoreline. “There was a large celebration as in Langhorne,” said Carol. “My husband’s grandmother sent the envelope to her son who was stationed in the military in Germany. He brought it home and we’ve saved it ever since. There’s a picture of the event at the Grundy Library and on the wall of the Radcliffe Cafe in Bristol.”

In the mid-1930s, Fleetwing corporation built Sea Birds at its massive factory on the Delaware River off Green Lane. The eye-catching plane was revolutionary for its spot-welded stainless steel fuselage designed to service oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico where stainless steel resisted saltwater. Because of the plane’s expense, few were built however.

Rebirth of an historic holiday display

December of 1939 in Perkasie was foreboding to say the least. The Great Depression still devastated the local economy and World War II had broken out in Europe and Asia, soon to drag the United States into all-out conflict, costing many in town their lives. The Christmas holidays needed a spiritual boost. So the Chamber of Commerce commissioned a gigantic, colorful nativity tableau to be displayed at the train station.

Twenty-five feet long and 15-feet high, it featured Biblical figures cut from metal and hand painted. A 200-person choir and pastors of every Perkasie church dedicated the display, illuminated annually throughout the Christmas holidays. After the war, an honor roll of local veterans including 22 who perished took up the tableau’s space, forcing its move to the Methodist church on Market Street. Assembling it for the holidays lasted into the 1950s until it went into storage and faded from memory.

In 1998, employees of Perkasie’s electric department discovered it in a storage barn and prepared to get rid of it. At the last minute, the Perkasie Historical Society intervened and moved it to safe storage at the old Sellersville Fire House. There it sat undisturbed until this year when history enthusiast Cathy Landis Kleine moved back to town from Florida and joined the society.

At the time Perkasie was hosting a fall scarecrow contest to put a little joy into life during the pandemic. Cathy and husband Chris set up a platform on which to display scarecrows in their front yard on E. Walnut Street. After Halloween, Cathy mentioned she’d like to set up a Christmas display on the vacant platform to compliment the couple’s 34 decorated trees. Member Pat Gehman suggested to society stalwarts Rick Doll and Matt Lynch that the 81-year-old tableau would be ideal. “Not seeing the nativity for seven years, Matt and I had to check and see if it was still where it was placed,” according to Rick. “Luckily it was all there, covered in dust but in good condition. We decided it would be impossible to assemble the entire display with such short notice and the decision was made to just display a few of the pieces this Christmas season after clear coating them to protect them.”

In conjunction with Perkasie’s Town Tree lighting on Dec. 5, spotlights illuminated the tableau in Cathy’s yard for the first time in more than 60 years.

Joyful memories from afar

Eileen Taylor of Glendale, Ariz. contacted me after reading my coffee table book “Bucks County Adventures”. For Eileen, it rekindled the nostalgia of growing up in Levittown.

Bolton Mansion in Levittown is ideal for sledders after a snowfall.

“So many good memories,” she reminisced. “ I carried my sled from Appletree to go sledding at Bolton Mansion when I was a kid. My dad would take us down to the Bristol waterfront in the 1950s and teach us to skip stones across the water, and to Washington Crossing for picnics. Spent three days at Pennsbury Manor when my girls were Girls Scouts. ”

She added,“Your grandchildren will remember you long after you are gone for all the wonderful trips you took them on. Thanks again for the memories.”

The Bolton Mansion overlooks homes built in Levittown in the 1950s. The mansion harkens back 333 years to the foundation of Pennsylvania. Today it’s a museum. My wife Mary Anne and I can attest to all the fun taking daughter Genevieve as a child on snowy speed runs down Bolton hill on her Flexible Flyer. What a hoot!


Sources include “Fleetwings’ Sea Bird: Golden Wings Museum’s Shiniest Airplane” found on the web at www.aopa; “Perkasie and World War II: A Difficult End to the Global Conflict in 1945” by Scott Bomboy on the web at, and a history of the Bolton Mansion on the web at