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A family celebrates a century in Titusville

by Amie Rukenstein

Earlier this summer, the extended Shellenberger and Niederer families came from near and far to celebrate their family’s 100th anniversary as owners and stewards of historic 36 River Drive, also known as the Delaware House, in Titusville.

The hamlet of Titusville started life as a collection of just a few stores, and the Delaware House was one of the first. The oldest part was built in 1820 as a general store. When the D&R Feeder Canal was built in 1834, the hamlet expanded to become a true commercial center. More stores popped up, houses were built, and hotels were constructed to serve the needs of travelers. In 1851, the Belvidere Delaware Railroad was built parallel to the canal, bringing Titusville even more opportunities for commerce.

The east side of the Delaware House, with the Titusville train station in the foreground, in the early days of the 20th century.

The people who owned the Delaware House at the time expanded the structure, converting it into a hotel for train travelers, with the third floor used as dormitory space for the canal workers to roll out their sleeping bags and enjoy the comfort of a warm and dry space overnight. It was at this time the Delaware House received its formal name. 

Debbie and Randy Niederer have owned the Delaware House since 2000, but their family’s ties to the house and to Titusville go back much farther than that.

Debbie’s grandfather, Lester Shellenberger, came to this area from Easton, Pennsylvania, where he grew up. He married Bertha Ann Hart, and they purchased the Delaware House in 1923. He operated the store out of the space fronting River Drive and managed the rest as apartments until about 1943. By that time, automobiles were popular, and people could travel to Pennington and beyond to do their shopping, so the local stores started to become obsolete. To take in a little extra money, the Shellenbergers rented space to the US government, housing the Titusville Post Office in the Delaware House from 1931 to 1975. The post office sign still hangs on the porch, although the actual post office is on Rt. 29 now.

At various times, the outbuildings on the river side of the property have been a blacksmith’s shop, a mule shed, a chicken coop, an oyster bar, and now, a garage to house Randy’s antique Model T automobile. Until the demise of the railroad, the Titusville train station stood between the canal and railroad and the Delaware House. That area is now a parking lot.

The Delaware House, taken from River Drive, during the time it was Lester Shellenberger’s store
…and now

Debbie grew up across the street from her father’s store at the corner of Rt. 29 and Washington Crossing Road, now the restaurant called Patriot’s Crossing. Randy is part of Hopewell Valley’s ubiquitous Niederer clan whose grandfather, Swiss immigrant Otto Niederer, invented the Egomatic egg sorter at 2 River Drive (now a private residence). When he was born, Randy’s parents lived at 26 River Drive and then moved to a farm on Church Road. So, both Debbie and Randy are born and raised Titusvillians. They were two years apart in high school and knew of each other but met formally and started dating when Randy spied Debbie leaving the Delaware House one day.

After their marriage in 1968, they had three children and lived in Ringoes for many years until they had the opportunity to take over ownership of the Delaware House from their relatives. Over a period of several years, they completed interior renovations and a few exterior modifications to replace features that had been removed by prior owners. The current building consists of five apartments, including one for them. The third floor still retains the outlines of the dormitories the river men bunked in.

So, if you are strolling on River Drive and see the Niederers out riding their bikes or tending their gardens, give them a wave. We wish them blessings for many more happy years in the Delaware House.  

Click here for a beautiful, retrospective video of the Shellenberger/Niederer ownership of the Delaware House.

This article was written based on recollections from Randy and Debbie Niederer, shared with MercerMe, for which we are so grateful.

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MercerMe is Hopewell Valley’s own digital news source, delivering in-depth, hyperlocal coverage that informs and strengthens the community.


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