Our History and Heritage
Upon his arrival in the United States, Señor Don Louis de Onis, the Spanish Ambassador, followed the course of his predecessor and decided to make his home in Bristol. The story handed down by tradition is that Señor de Onis built the house which is the subject of this story. But, unfortunately, tradition is not always founded on fact. An investigation revealed that Señor de Onis did not own the land, nor did he build the house he occupied.
The house apparently was standing in 1791, when it and the land surrounding, as far up as Mulberry Street and as far west as Cedar Street, was conveyed to Robert Merrick. The Spanish Ambassador in all probability leased the property, as the turbulent times in his own country made his tenure of office uncertain and did not warrant a permanent investment in real estate.
The original dwelling was of frame construction and the interior was finished with the highest grade of materials it was possible to obtain. Even today, after more than two centuries, it is said that there is not a stairway in a home in Bristol that compares with the one of the old dwelling. The building was constructed in the architecture of that day, and contained a front room, a rear room and a kitchen built on the side at a right angle to the main house. Many years after this building was erected, when it came into possession of a gentleman named James Walton, he built rooms in the front of the kitchen and converted the dwelling into a double house. The grounds surrounding the de Onis residence were laid out in serpentine walks and artificial bridges, and were planted with beautiful shrubbery.
The eldest daughter of Señor de Onis was engaged to be married to a Spanish officer. The date for the wedding had been fixed. But about the time the prospective groom was to leave Spain to fulfill his engagement, the government ordered his regiment into active service and he could not be present. Then occurred one of the strangest wedding ceremonies ever performed up to that time. It was done by proxy. The like had never been witnessed in this country. The bride’s father represented his intended son-in-law and she was represented by his sister in Spain. The marriage took place a high twelve in both countries. Father Hogan, of the Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia, performed the ceremony in Bristol. It was a grand affair and never before were so many grenadiers of Spanish blood in Bristol at one time. Feasting and dancing were kept up until a late hour. The affair caused much criticism among the ladies in Bristol, some of whom thought such a marriage would not be legal.
After Señor de Onis lived in the property on Radcliffe Street, it was owned by the following: Jason Merrick, Joseph Stackhouse, Don Francesco Sarmiento, Jasper Maylan, John Allen, Joseph Reed Ingersoll, Joseph Head, Bank of North America, Louisa Marie Hall, James Walton, Benjamin Brown, Sarah Gaskill, George W. Adams, William E. Laing, Georgine MacMichael and the current owner, Fidelity Savings and Loan Association of Bucks County.
We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Doron Green, author of A History of the Old Homes on Radcliffe Street. Without his effort to research this history, we would not have been able to share our history with you. Also, special thanks to Sandra Molden for her sketch of our Radcliffe Street Office.