Errata Literary Magazine

Bucks County Writers Workshop

Bucks County: The Literary Colony
by Don Swaim

On October 4, 1936, the Intelligencer of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, headlined, "Kaufman Joins Literary Back-to-Soil Move; Gets Historic Farm With Magic Well in Bucks."

Doylestown Intelligencer Oct. 4, 1936, courtesy Spruance Library

The story referred to the famous Broadway playwright and director George S. Kaufman (The Man Who Came To Dinner), and the article went on to say that, "It's beginning to look as if the Algonquin Hotel, capital seat of New York's sophisticates, has moved, bag and baggage, to Bucks County." By the time the Kaufmans and their two servants (one a chauffeur since Kaufman did not drive) were ensconced at "Cherchez La Farm" (Barley Sheaf Farm, Holicong, PA), Bucks County had already become a magnet and a haven for writers, composers, and artists.

Novelist Josephine Herbst (the Trexler Family Trilogy) and her husband, writer John Herrmann, discovered that the area was a tranquil place for creative activity. Socialist Michael Gold, editor of The Masses, sold his farm in Erwinna to humorist S. J. Perelman and his brother-in-law, novelist Nathanael West. Margaret Widdemer, now mostly forgotten, was in the midst of a writing career that would result in more than thirty books of fiction and poetry. Kaufman's younger collaborator, Moss Hart, was so taken with the area that he and his wife, singer-actress Kitty Carlisle, bought eighty-seven acres near the Kaufmans on Aquetong Road.

Dorothy Parker and her husband Alan Campbell purchased a 111 acre farm, Fox House, in Pipersville. Nobel Prize winner Pearl Buck and her husband, Richard J. Walsh, president of the John Day publishing company, bought the 400 acre Green Hills Farm in Perkasie for a mere $4,100. Jean Toomer, who figured in the Harlem Renaissance, abandoned his literary career and attempted to establish a spiritual institute in Doylestown.

Anthropologist Margaret Meade and future Pulitzer Prize winner James A. Michener were graduates of Doylestown High School (in 1962 Michener ran for a House seat as a Democrat in Bucks County's Eighth Congressional District but lost decisively).

Later, other artists joined the migration. Eric Mowbray Knight (Lassie Come-Home) was a neighbor of Fred Finklehoffe (Meet Me in St. Louis) in Springtown. Pulitzer Prize winner James Gould Cozzens (Guard of Honor) lived in nearby Lambertville, New Jersey. Upstream from Lambertville, in Stockton, lived Paul Gallico (The Snow Goose) and JP Miller (Days of Wine and Roses). Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon) resided on an island in the Delaware River north of New Hope, a community that also drew Budd Schulberg (What Makes Sammy Run?), Edmund Schiddel (The Devil in Bucks County), Millen Brand (screenplay for The Snake Pit), and Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train). Katherine Anne Porter wrote Ship of Fools at the Inn of the Sorrel Horse just outside of Doylestown. Also in Doylestown was John Wexley (The Last Mile). In Erwinna lived Daniel Fuchs (the Williamsburg Trilogy) and Joseph Scrank (screenplay for Cabin in the Sky). Lester Cohen (screenplay for Of Human Bondage) lived in Carversville.

Even before the triumph of Oklahoma! Oscar Hammerstein II raised Angus cattle on his forty acre Highland Farms near Doylestown. (Hammerstein had a direct link with Nobel winner John Steinbeck, who wrote the theatrical version of Of Mice and Men at Kaufman's farm. The librettist co-produced, with Richard Rogers, Steinbeck's play Burning Bright in 1950, and wrote the book for the musical Pipe Dream, based on Steinbeck's novel Sweet Thursday in 1955.) Hammerstein's protege (and sometime babysitter), Stephen Sondheim, studied at the Quaker George School in Newtown, twelve miles to the south.

In their studio in Solebury, Stan and Jan Berenstain continue to add to their bestselling illustrated Berenstain Bears books for children. At his home in Buckingham Township, Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Weiner writes easy-to-read books about science. Much of the rural nature that attracted these artists has been vandalized by uncontrolled growth, resulting in strip malls, endless homogeneous housing developments, and a planned six-lane highway that will slash across Bucks County like a scar across the face.

Bucks County Writers Workshop