Borough Secretary Logs Many Changes Over Years The Passing Decades Have Altered Hulmeville. It's Not As Intimate Now.

Posted: November 25, 1993

HULMEVILLE — Harriet Black is all business.

With reading glasses perched halfway down her nose and a telephone receiver pressed against her ear, she listens, as she has been doing in this room for nearly five decades.

She lays down the law firmly, carefully. Payment instructions - dollars and cents to be paid, not during, not after, but before construction work on the homeowner's water line begins. No room for bargaining. She listens again, then repeats the message clearly enough for a small child to understand.

The conversation ends pleasantly, and the 72-year-old borough secretary removes her glasses. No sigh of frustration or exhaustion, despite the late hour, no shifting of gears. She is ready for the next problem, the next question, the next puzzle.

Black has been managing the town's affairs this way for 47 years, and shows no signs of slowing. She is a charter member of the Hulmeville Historical Society, and has been treasurer for the last five years. She has been a member of two women's Masonic organizations for 40 years, and has been a Sunday school teacher at Neshamony Methodist Church for 30 years.

And until 1989, Black was also the borough's tax collector.

"She doesn't let any grass grow under her feet, that's for sure," said Ira Romberger, a member of the Hulmeville Borough Council for the last 22 years.

For 29 years, Black sat on this seat, in this same high-ceilinged gray and white room, in this large, 18th-century Georgian house, and chatted with Hulmeville residents who came to pay their taxes. Some pulled dollar bills

from socks and shoes and blouses. Some came with a can or a bag or a box. One taxpayer came with money smelling of mildew.

"Who knows where he kept them?" Black said, her no-nonsense gaze breaking suddenly into a giddy grin, and her strong, steady voice reduced to a teenager's giggle.

Black got her share of commentary in those days, too.

"Didn't get a growl about local taxes, but the school taxes," she said, rolling her eyes. "I'd get an earful." Some things never change.

But tax collectors today get checks through the mail, she explains. Her job then had "more of a personal touch. People would come for a visit. My doors would be open in the summer, and you could see the pasture out there - it was pleasant.

"I could start on Trenton Avenue, and I would know the names of the people in every house. Now, I don't have such close contact with them," she said. ''I miss that."

Black has lived in the borough all her life. Technically, she says, she was born in Middletown, just up Trenton Avenue, but she moved into this house that belonged to her grandfather while she was still in grade school.

But that isn't unusual, according to Romberger. "We don't change people around here very often," he said. "I've been here 32 years, and I still feel like a tourist."

And although everything around Hulmeville, population 916, has changed drastically, Harriet Black says the borough itself is nearly the same as it was when she was a child.

With a few notable exceptions.

"We have a new, wider bridge," she said, turning the pages of a history book and tracing the date of the bridge's opening to December 1988. With the wider bridge came a traffic light, she says, and with the traffic light came - traffic.

"People cut through from Fallsington to Route 13," she said. Traffic was increased by zoning laws that separated industrial, commercial and residential areas, she said. The zoning laws meant folks had to drive to places where they once walked.

The post office left in the 1950s, and the general store left in the 1980s.

"Now you can't even buy a loaf of bread in Hulmeville . . . and you can go fish for gettin' a stamp," she said, gesturing toward some far-off municipality.

Her borough secretary job has become a sea of paperwork.

"More and more government forms," she said. "Washington, Harrisburg, Bucks County . . . government escalates."

These changes don't bother her much, she said. But she does miss one thing: the parade.

Every Memorial Day for as far back as she can remember, American Legion members, soldiers and schoolchildren marched down Main Street to Hulmeville Road, crossed the bridge and headed into Beechwood cemetery to place flowers on the graves of the town's war dead.

"Then we'd go back to the school for lemonade and cake - I remember that part well enough," she said.

The parade ritual ended two years ago.

"Patriotism right now is not high," she said. "I guess we won't have it till somebody gets excited again."

Somebody, that is, besides herself. Black's enthusiasm is as strong as it is long-lived.

"I keep up with what's going on in the area," she said. "It's a living, changing, moving job - not the same thing every day." She says she has no

plans to retire anytime soon, but shrugs off kudos for stick-to-itiveness.

"You gotta feel a little dedication," she said. "I guess people aren't too much interested in that today."

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