Southampton, PA is a namesake of Southampton, England, the seaport from which adventurous followers of William Penn sailed to the Province of Pennsylvania. By 1685, Southampton was recognized by the Provincial Council as a township, and the lands within its borders had been allocated to thirteen original purchasers: John Luff, John Martin, Robert Pressmore, Richard Wood, John Jones, Mark Betres, John Swift, Enoch Flowers, Joseph Jones, Thomas Groom, Robert Marsh, Thomas Hould and John Gilbert, whose tracts were delineated on a Map of the Improved Part of the Province of Pennsylvania drafted by Thomas Holme, Penn's Surveyor General. Southampton's boundaries at that time extended eastward to Bensalem, and it was not until 1929 that the township was divided into Upper Southampton and Lower Southampton.
In order to ensure peaceful coexistence with the Indians residing in this region, Penn purchased the land with wampum and other valuable commodities including items of clothing, fish hooks, axes, knives and other useful tools. The area between the Pennypack and Neshaminy Creeks, encompassing Southampton Township, was conveyed by the Lenni-Lenape Chief Tamanend to William Penn by Deed dated June 23,1683.
Many of the first English settlers were Quakers who fled religious persecution, and it was a group of dissident Quakers who joined with members of the Pennypack (a.k.a. Lower Dublin) Baptist Church to form the Southampton Baptist Church, which was constituted in 1746. Dutch colonists arrived in Southampton in the 1700's - the Vandikes, Vansandts, Vanartsdalens, Cornells, Krewsons and Hogelands - who migrated south from Long Island, New York and settled in Smoketown, later to be called Churchville after the North and Southampton Reformed Church erected on Bristol Road. The churchyards adjacent to the Southampton Baptist and North and Southampton Reformed Churches contain graves of patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War.
The earliest surviving reference to Southampton occurs in the proceedings of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania in 1685. As was common in the colonies, it was named for a place in Europe, in this case the southern English port which served as the point of embarkation for many emigrants to the New World. Southampton was recognized as a separate township in 1703, although this change in status does not seem to have been put in practice until about 1711.
The first settlers of the township were English, followed by Dutch from the New York area. As roads were built during the 1700s, improving access to markets in Philadelphia, the size and diversity of the population increased. By 1784, the township had 568 residents.
The religions practiced by early inhabitants reflected their ethnic background. Many of the English settlers were Quakers, belonging to Byberry, Middletown or Abington Friends Meeting. However, a dissident group of Friends known as "Keithians," led by John Hart, began meeting at the home of John Swift. In 1702, they joined with the Lower Dublin (or Pennepack) Baptist Church. Services were held in homes until 1732, when John Morris donated land on the Middle Road (2nd Street Pike) for a meeting house and cemetary. In 1746, Southampton Baptists successfully petitioned to sever the relationship with Lower Dublin and create an independent church. A new meeting house was built in 1773. The building was enlarged in 1814, but has remained largely unchanged since then.
The Dutch portion of the population was served by the church of "Bensalem" and "Sammeny" (the north and Southampton Reformed Church), which was founded by the Rev. Paulus Van Vlecq in 1710. It was the first Reformed Church to be organized in Pennsylvania. The Dutch language continued to be used for services until 1794. After a period of meeting in homes, church buildings were constructed first in Feasterville and then in Richboro. However, by 1814, both of these were in poor repair, and a decision was made to build a centrally located church at Smoketown, which was soon renamed Churchville. Although much modified over the years, this structure is still in use.
The first educational institution in the township was a Latin Grammar School, which was established around 1750 next to the Old School Baptist Church. In the 19th century, one-room schoolhouses were scattered through the township. The best-preserved of these is the Davisville Seminary, which was built in 1843 with funds given by the community. In addition to classes, its charter states that the building can be used for public meetings, "abolition excepted." In 1898 a larger stone building was constructed on Street Road, replacing the one-room schools.
Throughout this period, the economy of Southampton remained overwhelmingly agricultural, although there were several stores, a sawmill, flourmills and a blacksmith shop. Despite the rural nature of the township, many were active in public affairs. Both Oliver and Joseph Hart played important roles in the Revolutionary War, while William Van Horn, pastor of the Old School Baptist Church, served as a chaplain in the Continental Army. John Davis served in the War of 1812, rose to the rank of General in the Bucks County militia and was elected to Congress in 1838. His son, William W. H. Davis, fought in both the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, reaching the rank of Brigadier-General, was owner and editor of the "Doylestown Democrat," and held various government offices over a 35-year period.
No doubt the event of farthest reaching consequence occurred in 1785 when a watch-maker named John Fitch tested his model of a steam-powered boat on a pond near the western end of the township. Although he eventually built a full-sized steamboat which operated on the Delaware River, Fitch was unable to win the confidence of investors and was forced to abandon his invention.
For many years the largest village in the township was Davisville, named for General John Davis, who built a store and post office there in 1827. Springville, at the intersection of Bristol and Middle Roads, was the site of a tavern, built in 1748, and later of the "Cornell" post office. Although it was located along the Fox Chase and Huntingdon turnpike, which operated on the current 2nd Street Pike, with a branch extending along Street Road to Davisville, the village which we now know as Southampton amounted to no more than a few houses as late as the mid-1800s, and its name changed with the proprietorship of the local store. All that changed in 1878 with the completion of the railroad from Philadelphia to Newtown. Originally projected to go through Davisville and then parallel Maple Avenue, cutting the Old School Baptist cemetary, local opposition forced a change to the current route through Southampton and Churchville. By 1880, the "Southamptonville" post office established, and a building boom was on. The town's first subdivision began in 1898, when Elliot Rightly purchased part of the Bean's farm and laid out Hampton, Belmont and Summit Avenues. In the early part of the 20th century, the area became a summer resort for Philadelphians.
By the 1920's, general population growth and a sense of community focused on either Southampton or Feasterville rather than the township as a whole, led to proposals to divide the original municipality into two parts. This was finally done in 1928, giving Upper Southampton Township its current boundaries.
The Depression and World War II brought growth to a virtual standstill, although a new high school was constructed in 1932. The return of peace brought explosive development, starting with Southampton Heights, which was planned as an extension of the existing village, then continuing with more typical, decentralized suburban developments. The passage of a zoning code in 1954 and a township comprehensive plan in 1968 have helped to control and maintain a balance between residential and commercial / industrial development.
In 1955 Upper Southampton joined with Warminster and Ivyland to create the Centennial School District. Recreational facilities in the township were developed, beginning with the Youth Center on Willow Street. In 1974 the township and school district purchased the former Southampton Nursery, including the historic Leedom homestead, transforming it into Tamanend Park.
The past 50 years have seen Southampton change from a rural, agricultural community to an almost completely developed suburb. Despite these changes, Southampton remains "a nice place to live," proud of its past and working to preserve that heritage for the future.