In this three-part blog, Bucks County native Shirley (Lee) Corsey recalls life growing up in Yardley Borough as an African American. Her information is based on historic landmarks, newspaper articles, online archives, documented family photos, and first-person oratory.See Shirley speak on “Women History Makers of Bucks County and Beyond” at the Bucks County Visitor Center on March 9, 2019 from 7-9 p.m. as part of a Speaker Series hosted by the African American Museum of Bucks County.
My family has been rooted in Yardley since the early 1900s - and maybe even before! I’m a third-generation family member from here, and can attest that Yardley Borough has always included a small but thriving African American community including families living on Main Street, Canal Street, Letchworth, Pennsylvania and Bell Avenues.
My late maternal grandmother was Sarah (Johns) Coney. Sometime during the early 1900’s she came from Yeadon, PA to Yardley through her marriage to Jerimiah Coney. The two settled in a home at 192 South Canal Street. “Grand Mom Coney” had a family of eight children, including my mother, Jean.
I recently visited my oldest living relative, 94-year-old Uncle Earl, at his current residence in Southern New Jersey to obtain our family history. Uncle Earl, our faithful family historian and photographer, pulled out several of his many treasured - and neatly cataloged - photo albums and began sharing them with me.
Uncle Earl with his photo albums
Oh my, how Grand Mom Coney's certainly was the place to be! During the 1940s, 50s and 60s the Coney house in Yardley was the family "nucleus" for all types of gatherings of food, fun and games. Uncle Earl recalls it vividly. The old colonial style stone front house with the screened in front porch. The tall green hedges shielding it all from the street. The beautiful front lawn (no shoes required during spring and summertime, as "the grass was as soft as a carpet!") He wore such a nice warm smile as he told me about the photos, the treasured albums resting on his lap, fondly reminiscing as if it were just yesterday and not more than 65 years ago.
Sarah Coney with her daughters Jean, Winifred, Martha, Edmonia, Doris & Mona
Cousin Bea's beautiful wedding photos at Grand Mom Coney's house, South Canal Street, Yardley (1954)
Even after they became young adults and moved on with their adult lives elsewhere, weekend were for visits back home at Grand Mom Coney's. These times were spent playing horseshoes, card games, softball, BBQs, swimming and just simply sitting on the front porch!
Family time at Grand Mom Coney's house, South Canal Street, Yardley
Aunts Winifred, Jean (my mother), and Mona; Uncle Earl in his younger years
Uncle Earl continued to pull out more and more albums. He kept repeating to me, “the flood, the flood,” and was determined to locate what he witnessed more than 65 years ago in Yardley from August 19-20, 1955. The worst Delaware River flood in history destroyed four bridges as a result of Hurricane Connie, including the Yardley-Wilburtha Bridge on East Afton Avenue. During this time, Uncle Earl traveled around Yardley Borough and captured these historic event photos, including our beloved little African American neighborhood.
Google Maps of Coney home in Yardley - very close proximity to the Delaware Canal!
Modern-day site of the old Yardley-Wilburtha Bridge on East Afton Avenue
Yardley Borough floods August 19-20, 1955
Uncle Earl and my father, Horace Lee, at a now abandoned airfield, Bucks County, PA (circa 1950)
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!