'Non-existent' Pennsylvania township of 57,000 finally to get its name on map

March 08, 1992|By Kathy Boccella | Kathy Boccella,Knight-Ridder News Service

BENSALLEM PENNSYLVANIA — BENSALEM, Pa. -- With 57,000 residents, several major highways, two shopping malls and, some say, gobs of historical significance, you'd think Bensalem would be on the map.

Think again.

According to state cartographers, Bensalem, which lies north of Philadelphia, doesn't exist.

Now, thanks to a country-and-western show, Bensalem will finally

get its due when Pennsylvania updates its official transportation map in April 1993.

After 300 years, some people feel it's about time.

"We're bigger than a lot of cities that are on the map," said Councilwoman Barbara Barnes.

Because Bensalem is a township, not a town or city, PennDot never included it on its transportation map, said Ray McNoldy, manager of the cartographic information division. He said the map was too crowded to include the state's 1,452 townships.

The only hint that Bensalem existed was the mention of Cornwells Heights, a neighborhood in Bensalem and the name of its old post office.

Bensalem officials, brimming with civic pride in this the township's 300th anniversary year, were irked by the oversight. Then last spring, the Bensalem Tricentennial Committee put on a Patsy Cline show that drew fans from far and wide. Some got confused trying to get there.

"They couldn't find Bensalem on the map," Ms. Barnes said. "It wasn't there."

Ms. Barnes said she wrote to PennDot in April, but was told that the map couldn't be changed. She argued that Bensalem has a large population -- Langhorne Manor has only 807 residents, and it's on the map -- and is a major transportation hub in lower Bucks County.

According to some local historians, Bensalem is also the birthplace of electricity. Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin first got zapped bylightning on the site of what is now Neshaminy Mall, not in North Philadelphia as is widely believed.

Mr. McNoldy said there are several criteria for getting listed on the state's map. A town must be incorporated and have at least 1,000 residents. If it does not meet those requirements, it can squeeze by if it is historically significant or has a post office.

A few weeks ago, PennDot relented after finding out that the name of the Cornwells Heights post office was changed to Bensalem -- in 1979. "We're just finding out about it," Mr. McNoldy said. "I guess there was no reason for us to investigate it until somebody asked for it to be put on the map."

While most residents are happy with the turn of events, one woman said she "bristles" when she hears people refer to her community as Bensalem.

"There's no town called Bensalem," said Tillie Wheat, who lives in the township's Eddington section. "We are [composed] of individual towns."

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