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Epilogue The Future of Pennsylvania’s Past On this site in 1997 the citizens of Bristol and the surrounding community witnessed one of the most dramatic examples of volunteerism in modern Pennsylvania history. . . . With the goal of restoring the historic and environmental treasure known as the Bristol Borough Delaware Canal Lagoon . . . corporations provided services and equipment valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and union members donated thousands of hours of skilled labor. They sought no other compensation than the satisfaction of a job well done . . . for generations to come. This beautiful site is their legacy. —Bristol Borough Delaware Canal Lagoon Restoration Project This explanation, on a sign at the entrance to a public park in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Bristol, describes the ideal situation for heritage projects, in which all kinds of local people come together with no interest other than to create a lasting legacy. At the same time, it pays special tribute to organized labor, and on its backside are almost memorial-style lists of the names of the men who did the work, under their respective union chapters names and numbers. A mosaic inlaid in the ground below the sign tells visitors that Bristol was “Settled by the World’s People” in 1681. Its industrial history is especially rich, due to its location on the Delaware River. In addition to the river, an important canal and several railroads have passed through it, and, over three centuries, the town has been home to sawmills, textile mills, and shipbuilding. The “lagoon ” marked the end of the Delaware Canal that had “moved the coal that fueled the Industrial Revolution,” the Philadelphia Inquirer explained in an article about historic preservation plans there in the early 1990s. “Once a classic case study of a dying Rust Belt town, Bristol Borough is emerging as a success story,” 170   Pennsylvania in Public Memory this newspaper predicted at the time.1 The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources erected historical waysides with titles such as “Life Along the Canal,” “Canal Boats,” and “Mules and Men.” But neither these signs nor the restored lagoon is what a visitor to Bristol first notices. Still standing is the massive former Grundy Woolen Mill, with a clock tower and a tall smokestack that reads, in vertical lettering, “Grundy.” (The town’s library, museum, and recreation center also are named for the Grundy family, who founded the mill here in the 1870s and ran it for nearly a century.2 ) I used to wonder about this every time I traveled by train between Philadelphia and New York and noticed the large sign on one side of the mill building advertising condominiums in “The Powerhouse at Grundy Mill.” I went to the web address given on the sign, where I found an artist’s renderings of the spacious interiors of “Loft Condominiums” and a beautifully remodeled, lagoon-side complex that promised to be “Bucks County’s Most Unique Transit Oriented Development.”3 The website invited prospective buyers to get on a mailing list. I put in my information. I never heard a thing. In the summer of 2008, I finally visited Bristol. On the town’s eastern side, a leafy and lovely area, restored colonial and Victorian homes line the Delaware River. On its western side, nearer the strip-mall-lined Bristol Pike and the train tracks, is the mill building. Its size—its sheer survival—is impressive. But in 2008 it was still unoccupied, its restoration only half finished. In the adjacent lagoon park, the DCNR signs explaining canal life were covered with graffiti. The following year, its developers gave up, selling the property to Habitat for Humanity, an outcome that left townspeople feeling “cheated, lied to and taken advantage of,” a local newspaper reported.4 Ironically, because this project has failed, this former mill building is now set to house not upscale commuters who would “revitalize” the town but working-class people. Still “Shaking off the Ashes of Industry”: Cities in Transition Bristol’s heritage plans and redevelopment hopes, born during the optimistic 1990s, ground to a halt during the terrible economy of the following decade. In this, it is typical of many industrial heritage initiatives, which are realities in theory more than in practice. Like the Grundy Mills condominium complex, the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem has existed online, fully formed, for a decade, but it is nowhere to be found in Bethlehem. The Adelaide Silk Mill in Allentown and the Grimshaw...


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