Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania is jam-packed with history, and more than a few local legends. There is a large stone tower that crowns the top of a site known as Bowman’s Hill, and some of the legends are centered here — stories of George Washington, the pirate Captain Kidd, a local doctor’s secret grave, and some buried pirate treasure.
Bowman’s Hill Tower is at the top of Bowman’s Hill, a rise with a commanding view of the Delaware River and surrounding landscape. The Tower was built between 1929 and 1931 as part of a local effort to put Pennsylvanians back to work. It honors the spot about five miles down-river where Washington’s troops crossed the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776, leading up to the Battle of Trenton.
That’s all true, but things get sticky when trying to sort out if Bowman’s Hill had anything to do with Washington, and super sticky when it comes to the Hill’s name.
Years before Washington and his troops arrived, Bowman’s Hill was the home of either a man named John Beaumont (later anglicized to Bowman); an English merchant named Thomas Bowman; John Bowman, a friend of the area’s first settler; or a different John Bowman, a doctor who is said to have sailed with famed pirate Captain Kidd as his ship surgeon. Of the four stories, guess which one has gotten the most traction.
As the story goes, Dr. Bowman set sail with Captain Kidd in 1696 on a British ship sent to suppress piracy in the Indian Ocean. It proved hard — and not very profitable — for Kidd to stop the pirates, so rather than beat them, he joined them. Bowman is thought to have retired to eastern Pennsylvania after his pirate days, building himself a cabin at the foot of the Hill. It’s rumored that he’s buried up there (“as near to heaven as he ever expected to get”) along with his pirate booty, and if you lie down on his grave and ask “Bowman, what killed you?” you will hear a whispered reply of “Nothing.”
Also rumored to be buried on the Hill are the bodies of Revolutionary War soldiers killed by Hessian mercenaries. Several of the old stones on the hill may well be their grave markers, and some say their cries can still be heard.
Bowman’s Tower is 125 feet tall and constructed entirely from local stones. There is an elevator to take you three-quarters of the way to the top, but to get the full view visitors must hike up a final 23 spiral steps. It’s narrow and dark, but worth the trip. The view up there is truly legendary.
Update as of August 2021: The structure is currently closed for renovations.
Know Before You Go
The Tower is open every day, weather permitting, from 10am to 4pm. There is an elevator to take visitors three quarters of the way up, and the final ascent to the lookout (23 steps) is by narrow stairs. Or those who want to get all their Fitbit steps in can take the stairs the whole way up. Admission to the Tower is $6 (kids under 4 are free), or you can combine admission with a tour of the Washington Crossing Historic Park (see website for details). Washington Crossing is in Bucks County, a few miles south of New Hope along the Delaware River, and not far from Trenton, NJ.