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Allentown City


Allentown municipal offices are located at 435 Hamilton Street, Allentown PA 18101; phone: 610-437-7539.

South Eight Street Viaduct [1]

The South Eighth Street Viaduct (Albertus L. Meyers Bridge) is one of the earliest surviving examples of "monumental" reinforced concrete construction. Initially planned in 1900 as a steel truss structure over the Little Lehigh Creek, the final result, built more than a decade later, represents the financial collaboration between the Allentown Bridge Company's founders and Harry Trexler, owner of the Lehigh Portland Cement Company. At the turn of the twentieth century, concrete and related products were becoming an important component in the Lehigh Valley's economy alongside the earlier iron and steel industries. The South Eighth Street Viaduct is fine example of the adaptation of architecture and engineering to local landscapes and economic needs. The structure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Allentown in 1940 [2]

ALLENTOWN (92,563 pop. [1930 census]), peopled largely by Pennsylvania Germans, lies at the southern base of the Lehigh Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania, with Bethlehem adjoining it on the east. Both lie in the corn, potato, and fruit-growing valley of the Lehigh River, which flows through both cities.

Allentown's business section, dominated by the city's lone skyscraper, a 22-story building at 9th and Hamilton Streets, radiates from the central square along thoroughfares lined with modernized stores and up-to-date shops. Street-light standards are adorned with metal bowls holding flowers in summer and evergreens in winter. The principal industrial sections extend along the Lehigh River and Jordan Creek in the city's eastern part, and along little Lehigh Creek in the south. Close to the mills and factories are the workers' homes: twin or row houses of red brick, with compact lawns and gardens. In the city's northern part are older two-and three-story dwellings of the nineteenth century, now converted into apartment houses. Toward the western extremity are newer residences set amid trees, lawns, and shrubbery.

About 23 per cent of Allentown's population is foreign born-chiefly Austrians, Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Hungarians, and Italians; there are less than 500 Negroes. The Pennsylvania Germans, who constitute two thirds of the population, cling as tenaciously to their old traditions as to their curious but expressive idiom. Folk festivals, singing bees, and plays in the Pennsylvania 'Dutch' dialect help to preserve the tradition. Hundreds of Pennsylvania Germans each February attend a dinner in the Masonic Temple to pay tribute, with traditional rites and ceremonies, to the groundhog as the supreme weather prognosticator. All participating must speak the dialect throughout the evening. Numerous family reunions are held annually in near-by parks during the summer, while folk dances, songs, and drills are presented by school children at the fair-grounds.

Allentown is among the few large Pennsylvania cities where newspapers still carry columns written in the dialect. Although English predominates on the streets, there is a tendency to enunciate the 'v' with open lips, to soften the hard 'g' into 'ch,' and to use too frequently such words as 'already,' 'yet,' and 'once.' Here also are heard such colloquialisms as 'the pie is all' (all gone) and 'it wonders (mystifies) me.'

Immigrants from Baden, Wurttemberg, Rhenish Bavaria, Alsace, Darmstadt, and other parts of Germany came to eastern Pennsylvania as early as I723, some settling near what is now Allentown. In I735 William Allen, later chief justice of the State supreme court, acquired a large tract of land in this section from Joseph Turner, who, according to early records, had obtained it from Thomas Penn in 1732. In the I750's Allen erected a hunting and fishing lodge here, but not until 1762 was a town laid out.

Known as Northampton or Northamptontown, it was then bounded by the present 4th, 10th, Union, and Liberty Streets. Its early growth was slow; only a few merchants and artisans resided here six years after its founding. During the Revolution, however, arms and other war materials were manufactured in Northampton. A local church harbored the Liberty Bell when it was removed from Philadelphia's Independence Hall in 1777 to save it from falling into British hands.

Until 1803, when a post office was established, residents of Northampton received their mail at Bethlehem. In 1811 the community was incorporated as a borough; the town's economic development was stimulated by erection of a bridge across the Lehigh River in 1812 and by the building of the Lehigh canal in 1829. Nine years later the borough's name was changed to Allentown in honor of William Allen. In 1841 the Lehigh River bridge was swept away by a flood, and in the same year the major portion of the town was leveled by fire. Reconstruction followed, and the town developed far beyond its former size. The eastern boundary of the town was extended to the Lehigh River in 1852, and in 1867 Allentown was incorporated as a city.

The iron industry, established locally in 1847, developed with the construction of rolling mills here in 1860 and a barbed wire plant in 1886. Cement became of economic importance in 1850 with the erection of a mill in Siegfried, a few miles to the north. Today there are 19 large cement plants in the Allentown vicinity. A board of trade, formed in 1881, encouraged diversified new enterprises. The most important was silk; and the first silk mill was opened in 1882. A boom in this industry made the city for a time the largest silk-producing center in the country; today (1940), with more than 3,500 persons employed in 28 mills, it ranks second to Paterson, New Jersey. The cotton textile industry, a close second to silk, dates from the 1890's, when plants manufacturing women's and children's knit underwear were established here. Allentown is known also for its two institutions of higher learning: Muhlenberg College and Cedar Crest College.

  1. Historic American Engineering Record (memory.loc.gov), 1997, Pennsylvania Historic Bridges Recording Project; Jack Elliott, photographer; Dr. David S. Rotenstein, historian
  2. Writers Project, Works Project Administration, Pennsylvania, A Guide to the Keystone State, 1940, Federal Works Agency, John M. Carmody, Administrator
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