Just before the Civil War, thousands of mule-drawn boats carried coal, lumber and produce along the Delaware Canal in eastern Pennsylvania. Today, mules still pull vessels through the manmade waterway, but the numbers are far fewer, and instead of food and materials, the boats carry tourists.
New Hope, about midway on the 60-mile canal that runs parallel to the Delaware River, is the launching point for sightseeing canal-boat trips, which are expected to start operating for the season this month (New Hope Canal Boat Co., 149 S. Main St., 215-862-0578, www. canalboats.com). The one-hour rides ($10, children under age 12, $8) take you through the scenic countryside of Bucks County and back to equally scenic New Hope, where a pleasant day can be spent taking in local history both watery and dry.
Near the boat launch is the Friends of the Delaware Canal Locktender's House (145 S. Main St., 215-862-2021, www. fodc.org), a restored 19th-century structure that houses the Life at the Lock exhibit, a depiction of how canal workers and their families lived before railroads made the waterway obsolete (the last time a boat paid to use the canal for commerce was Oct. 17, 1931). Recent efforts to return the canal lock at New Hope to working order have been thwarted by floods, but dredging has dug up from the canal bottom a collection of items that are on display at the locktender's house.
Take a ride on the machine that put the canal out of business by boarding the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad (32 W. Bridge St., 215-862-2332, www.newhoperailroad.com). The restored 1920s passenger cars are pulled by steam or diesel locomotives, and the historic train station has been in operation since 1891.
The Parry Mansion (Main and Ferry streets, 215-862-5652), built in 1784 by Benjamin Parry, one of New Hope's founders, reflects many of the 180 or so years that the Parry family occupied the home. The entrance hall is from the Colonial era, and the late-Victorian music room includes simple, factory-made furnishings.
History and art come together at the James A. Michener Art Museum (Union Square, 215-862-7633, www.michenerart museum.org). The satellite location of the Michener Art Museum in nearby Doylestown, the New Hope facility includes an interactive exhibit on creative Bucks County residents, including writer Dorothy Parker (pick up a phone and hear Parker recite poetry). The exhibit points out a Baltimore connection to the writer: Her ashes are in a memorial garden at the Baltimore headquarters of the NAACP, to which she donated her estate.
The exhibit Selling Dreams - Film Posters 1945-2005 will be at the Michener Museum May 20-Sept. 4. Events include a performance of movie music May 22 and a lecture on film criticism by movie reviewer Bill Wine on June 23.
For an overview of New Hope history, architecture and many shops and restaurants, take a guided walking tour of the town at 11 a.m. any morning Wednesday through Sunday. The tours meet rain or shine at the cannon next to the Logan Inn at Ferry and Main streets. Ghost tours start at the same spot at 8 p.m. on Saturdays June-November - you might spot the spirit of Aaron Burr, the U.S. vice president who fled to New Hope in 1804 after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Where to shop
New Hope is chock-full of interesting specialty stores, such as Suzie Hot Sauce (19A W. Bridge St., 800-607-2823), where you can buy not only hot sauces but also spicy potato sticks, pretzels and chocolate, or fiery food additives such as Blair's Holiday - super-hot habanero pepper extract and puree. A 12-ounce jar sells for $400 (buyers must sign a disclaimer releasing the store from liability).
One owner of Celt-Iberia Traders (15A W. Ferry St., 215-862-4922) is of Irish heritage, the other Spanish, and they sell items from both cultures, including some that combine the two, such as Celtic pendants and ceramics from northwest Spain.
At Retro Home Furnishings (32 S. Main St., 215-862-2250) you can find fun and funny items for the house, such as light-up Chinese carryout boxes. Or prepare for a night on the town with disposable liquid latex ("paint it on, wear it out, peel it off") from Le Chateau Exotique (27 W. Mechanic St., 215-862-3810).
Where to eat
The menu at little Cafe Delcetto (Bridge Street and River Road, 215-862-6409) changes daily, and the owner is happy to tell you about each item in detail - and with great enthusiasm. Selections can range from omelets to pastas to grilled duck breast.
The Raven (385 W. Bridge St. 215-862-2081), with its grand, vaulted ceiling and pretty garden view, is a popular restaurant among the many gay men who visit New Hope. On Sunday evenings, diners can choose from a bistro menu or from among the regular, more pricey dinner selections. Brunch is available on Sundays, too.
Marsha Brown (15 S. Main St., 215-862-7044) serves Creole fare in an unusual setting: a converted, 125-year-old stone church. Stained glass and pews remain.
New Hope is 2 1/2 hours from Baltimore. Take Interstate 95 North to Exit 51 toward New Hope. Make a left at the end of the ramp onto Taylorsville Road, then take Route 32 North. Tolls total $10.
For more information on what to see and do in New Hope, contact the New Hope Chamber of Commerce, 215-862-5880, www.newhopepa.com.
For more regional trips, see Page 37.