Silver Lake History
Late 1600’s to early 1700’s
Records indicate that Silver Lake appeared in its present location around 1689. It was originally man-made as a pond in 1689 when dams were placed on the Otter and Adam’s Hollow Creeks to provide power for the mills in Bristol. The “Mill Pond” was expanded in 1692-1693, eventually reaching in size between 100 and 150 acres. Over the years the lake filled in with mud and vegetation, thus becoming a marsh. The present day marshes at Silver Lake were once part of the original lake.
Late 1700’s through early 1800’s
The American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia published a paper titled, “An Analysis of the Chalybeate Waters of Bristol in this Provence” in 1768. In 1773, Dr. Benjamin Rush began recommending that people bathe in the water as a cure for many diseases. The baths were completed in 1810, hence the name Bath Road. The springs of Bristol drew people from all over the country, including many famous people. The attraction of these baths made Bristol quite the resort town especially during the early 1800s. During a 100-year period, the baths went through periods of highs and lows in popularity, but by the late 1870’s the baths had lost their appeal.
1920’s to 1960’s
Owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the lake scarcely had any open water by the 1920’s. In 1927 the Pensylvania Railroad completed a survey and we believe it was them who marked the boundary with a square stone having a small hole at the top. You can find a few of these along the trails in the park. In 1935-6, the Pennsylvania Fish Commission purchased the lake which was mostly wetlands. It was at this time that the Works Progress Administration (WPA) began work on the present lake, by then called Silver Lake. Most of the work was done by hand, and the current picnic grounds are the dry land created by hand-dredging the lake. It took over 300 men to physically dig out the lake. As they were digging, oak tree trunks dating 200-300 years were unearthed. From this, we can deduce that the land that is now a lake was once a mature forest. As you walk through the forests, you’ll notice that they are surrounded by marshes. The forests were actually islands in the lake at one time.
In the 1940’s, when Rt. 13 was built, the lake was to undergo another change. The southernmost section was filled by removing an island, using the soil as a fill. The lake has remained the same in shape since then. The Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation purchased the lake in 1957 for the sum of $1.00, from the Pennsylvania Fish Commission. The surrounding land owners were bought out during the 1960’s.
1980’s to present
In 1986, it was again dredged. Only 2/3 of it was dredged due to lack of money. Its depth was only an average of 18 inches. The remainder was dredged in 1994, bringing the depth to a mere 5 feet.
Because of torrential rains falling on the Thanksgiving weekend in 1950, a gravel pit for the construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike filled with water, forming a lake. At that time and for years to come, it was called Langenfelder Lake after the contractor. Since the contractor was not obligated to enhance the finished lake for public use, it has a square shape with steep sides.
The lake was renamed Magnolia Lake in 1964 when the Bucks County Park Board picked a “name the lake” winner. Randy Vogenberg, the winner, was awarded a season pass to the Silver Lake Pool.
Despite local rumors, this lake was never more than 18 feet deep. In 1985, the stream channel from the Mill Creek was routed directly into Magnolia Lake to trap sediment. It is now approximately 35 acres in size and part of the Mill Creek Valley Park System.
As part of the Silver Lake Nature Center, situated directly across the street, Delhaas Woods is a 175-acre parcel of woodland with nature trails. This parcel was recognized by the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Nature Conservancy as the “best remaining example of Coastal Plain Woodlands within the State of Pennsylvania.” During WWII, ammunition storage buildings were constructed and much of the land cleared. After these had been deserted, PECO Energy installed a high tension corridor directly through the middle of the parcel. During the “energy crisis” of the 1970’s, the previous landowner removed almost all of the oak trees (except the Willow Oaks). The final insult was unscrupulous contractors who used the power line access as their personal dump site.
Around 1985, the Eastern PA Chapter of The Nature Conservancy purchased the core 90-acre parcel from a consortium of land speculators who had anticipated the woods being used for either industry or as part of an I-95 connection. The parcel was given to the Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation to manage as part of the Silver Lake Nature Center. In 1987, with assistance from The Nature Conservancy, a parcel of land about 8 acres was purchased from a developer. This parcel made a direct though very thin link between the Nature Center property and Delhaas Woods. In 1994, once again with legal assistance from The Nature Conservancy, an additional 75 acres was purchased, adding significantly to the size of the corridor and reducing the threat of encroachment.
Once purchased, Bucks County coordinated a series of clean-ups, eventually removing over 220 tons of trash. Trails were installed to provide public access from the nature center building area. The area is also accessible from the Bucks County Community College campus and Lafayette Elementary School.
Visiting Silver Lake Nature Center, a 235-acre “natural treasure” in the heart of the southern portion of Bucks County, is an experience to be savored, not rushed. It’s a place where lush foliage, accessible wetlands and rich woodlands abound. Pennsylvania rare and threatened animal and plant species like the Red-bellied Turtle, Southern Leopard Frog, and the Maryland Meadow Beauty find refuge and flourish peacefully in the park. People of all ages can explore and enjoy a special part of our world.
The Silver Lake Nature Center is bisected by Bath Road. The two sections, Silver Lake and Delhaas Woods contain 5 major communities: the Coastal Plain Forest, Meadows, Unglaciated Bog, Wetlands, and Pond. Due to its small size, Delhaas Woods is not noted for its animal species. Pa Threatened Species, the Red-bellied Turtle and Coastal Plain Leopard Frog, can be found in and around Silver Lake.
The Coastal Plain Forest is considered a Pennsylvania Community of Special Concern. In the Coastal Plain Forest, the canopy consists mainly of Sweet Gum trees, Red Maple, Black (Sour) Gum, and Pin Oak along with a few White Oak, Red Oak, and Willow Oak. There is also a scattering of Hickory, Ash, Silver Maple, Big-Toothed Aspen, and Sycamore. Exotic trees include Norway Maple and the Princess Tree. The understory includes species such as Sassafras, Sweet Bay, Umbrella Magnolia, and Crabapples. The shrub layer is mostly Southern Arrowwood, Sweet Pepperbush, Highbush Blueberry, Poison Ivy, Virginia Creeper, Spicebush, Fetterbush, Pussy Willow, American Holly, Winterberry, Bittersweet, Grapes, Black Huckleberry, and Swamp Azalea.
The Meadows were created as a result of power lines being cleared. They consist of wet and dry meadows that provide refuge for a number of plant species on the Pennsylvania Species of Special Concern list, The easist to recognize include the Maryland Meadow Beauty, New York Aster, Bushy Bluestem, Slender Sea Oats, and the Atlantic Blue-Eyed Grass.
The Unglaciated Bog, is also considered a Pennsylvania Community of Special Concern. Contained within are some of the plant species listed above as well as Sphagnum.
The majority of the Wetlands are the remnants of the original Mill Pond. The plant community, while significantly impacted by the invasive Purple Loosestrife and some Phragmites, still offers a wonderful selection of wetland plants. The boardwalks through the wetlands bring visitors near beautiful plants like Spotted Joe-Pye-weed, Cardinal Flower, and Crimson-eyed Rose Mallow. Along the wetland-forest edge one can find Cinnamon, Royal, Interrupted, and Sensitive Ferns. Animals regularly seen include Muskrat, ducks, herons and the vocal Red-winged Blackbirds.
Another wetland community is the Vernal Ponds. Wet only seasonally, these are scattered throughout the woodlands. These provide excellent breeding grounds for frogs and toads. When you walk across a boardwalk and there appears to be no good reason, most likely you are above one of our vernal ponds.
Species of Special Concern
Species of Special Concern found and confirmed at the Nature Center in 2009 during a sudy for the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania and the Academy of Natural Sciences by Botanists Lauren Spitz, Ann Rhoads, PhD., and Tim Block,PhD, include the following:
* Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program status:
PX= extirpated in Pennsylvania
N/PT=no official status but proposed for listing
- Amelanchier canadensis Serviceberry N/PE
- Andropogon glomeratus Broom-sedge TU/PR
- Bartonia paniculata Screwstem N/PR
- Carex abscondita Sedge Watch
- Carex bullata Bull’s sedge PE
- Carex longii Long’s sedge TU/PT
- Carex styloflexa Sedge Watch
- Chionanthus virginicus Fringe-tree N/PT
- Cuscuta campestris Dodder N/PT
- Cuscuta compacta Dodder N/PT
- Cuscuta pentagona Field dodder N/PT
- Cyperus echinatus Umbrella sedge Watch
- Dichanthelium scoparium Velvety panic grass PE/PE
- Dichanthelium spretum Panic grass PX/PE
- Eleocharis olivacea Capitate spike-rush PR/Watch
- Euonymus americanus Hearts-a-bursting Watch
- Eupatorium pilosum Ragged eupatorium Watch
- Eupatorium rotundifolium var. ovatum Round-leaved eupatorium TU/TU
- Gentiana saponaria Soapwort gentian TU/PE
- Gratiola aurea Goldenpert TU/PE
- Hypericum dissimulatum St.John’s-wort Watch
- Ilex opaca American holly PT/PT
- Juncus dichotomus Forked rush PE/PE
- Leucothoe racemosa Fetter-bush TU/PT
- Listera australis Southern twayblade PE
- Lycopodiella appressa Appressed bog clubmoss PT/PT
- Magnolia tripetala Umbrella-tree PT/PR
- Magnolia virginiana Sweet-bay magnolia PT/PT
- Panicum longifolium Long-leaved panic grass TU/PE
- Paspalum setaceum var. muhlenbergii Slender beadgrass TU/N
- Polygala nuttallii Nuttall’s milkwort N/PE
- Potamogeton pulcher Heartleaf pondweed PE/PE
- Quercus phellos Willow oak PE/PE
- Rhexia mariana Maryland meadow-beauty PE/PE
- Rotala ramosior Tooth cup PR/PR
- Sisyrinchium atlanticum Eastern blue-eyed-grass PE/PE
- Strophostyles umbellata Wild bean N/PE
- Symphyotrichum novi-belgii New York aster PT/PT
- Viburnum nudum Possum-haw PE/PE
- Viola brittoniana Coast violet PE/PE
- Woodwardia areolata Netted chain fern N/PT
- Red-bellied Turtle
- Coastal Plain Leopard Frog
The Nature Center grounds have about 4.5 miles of Nature Trails which are routed through or near the various habitats. The grounds are maintained to enhance the diversity of plant and animal life. The habitats include the Coastal Plain Forest, Lake, Marshes, Unglaciated Bog, and Meadows. Protected within the park are 43 Pennsylvania Species of Special Concern. Silver Lake provides refuge for the Redbellied Turtle while the marsh is home for the Coastal Plain Leopard Frog.