Monday, September 16, 2019

Yardley and Stewart's Crossing

It’s no secret that I have based Stewart’s Crossing on Yardley, the small town in Bucks County, PA where I grew up. It had once been a river town, with an active business life along the bank and a broad street stretching down to a two-lane bridge. But when the bridge crumbled during the hurricane of '58 so did much of Yardley's identity. When I was a kid, a funeral home, a cafe, a gas station rarely patronized and an inn comprised the riverfront, and small houses and bungalows stretch away in both directions.

You could see evidence of the fact that we lived in the Delaware Valley as we climbed hills outside of town, where farmland stretched for miles. When I took the late bus home from high school, we roved those country lanes and dropped kids off in front of farms and silos.

Back then, the town’s focus shifted a bit west, to Main Street, where the old mill and the florist's greenhouses anchored the commercial district. Victorian houses heavy with gingerbread abut the modern firehouse, with its two bays; the remodeled bank, town hall, the small shopping center, the doctor's offices and the decorator shops, the convenience mart and pharmacies and real estate agents fill the rest of the street.

Today, a lone traffic light still guards the intersection of Main Street and Afton Avenue, that broad street that stretches down to the remains of the old bridge, now a memorial to victims of the war, where a wilting wreath of red, white and blue usually rests. On its way there, Afton Avenue jumps over the canal, which stretches parallel and quiet along the Delaware, and runs past more decorator shops, gas stations, and grocery stores.

In the other direction, Afton Avenue climbs one of the hills that make the Delaware Valley, passing the mill pond and the old library, a Victorian Gothic one-room building with peaked windows and high shutters. It was built in the late 1800s by the townspeople and only in the recent past did the growth of the surrounding area force it to move to new, more spacious headquarters farther out in the country.

The suburbs have encroached on the farmland I once knew. Driving inland now, I hardly recognize any landmarks, the familiar old streets now lined with housing developments and strip shopping centers. There’s even a Fortune 500 company, Crown Holdings, located somewhere in town. When I was growing up, riding my bike along the cracked sidewalks of downtown, I couldn’t have imagined that.

I’ve tried to recreate some of old Yardley in my portrait of Stewart’s Crossing. The Delaware still flows past, shallow and fast, rising up to the low points on the River Road during the spring rains, when it carries with it the runoff of upriver snows. Since so many cozy mysteries take place in small towns, there’s no reason why I can’t immortalize my own home town in fiction, the way Bruce Springsteen did with his in song.

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