The Biery's Port section of Catasauqua is the oldest part of a town that became an early home for the anthracite iron industry in America. One of two villages that merged curing the 1840's to form Catasauqua, Biery's Port contains some of the first residential 2nd commercial buildings in the town. With the development of the iron industry in the 1850's Biery's Port became the commercial heart of a thriving town. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the port area remained Catasauqua's commercial core as well as the site of some light industry.
The first structure built in the Biery's Port section of Catasauqua was a grist mill erected by David Desher in about 1752. Locating his mill at the confluence of the Catasauqua Creek and the Lehigh River, Desher took full advantage of the abundant supply of waterpower available at the site. The mill remained relatively isolated until 1768 when George Taylor, a prominent iron master in Easton and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, built a substantial summer home across the creek from Desher's mill (Taylor House was listed in the National Register 7/17/71.)
In 1801 Frederick Biery gained possession of Desher's mill as well as a sizeable portion of acreage bordering the Lehigh River and Catasauqua Creek (which in 1801 was known as Mill Creek). During the next quarter of a century Biery made numerous improvements to his farmstead and mill. A fulling mill and saw mill and two stone homes for Biery's sons were built between 1801 and 1825. The dwellings, as well as Biery's residence are stone structures built in the vernacular Federal style and remain local landmarks. In addition to operating this mill, Biery ran a ferry across the Lehigh which helped make the settlement a local commercial center even before the Lehigh Canal was built or the iron industry came to the area.
Biery's settlement became Biery's Port in about 1830 after the Lehigh Canal was constructed through the settlement. The Canal Company built a lock about one mile south of Biery's settlement thus making Biery's a likely stop for canal users. The construction of a chain bridge across the Lehigh linking what is today Race Street with the western banks of the Lehigh.further enhanced Biery's commercial potential. Taking full advantage of the new construction, Biery built a tavern and a home on Race Street near both the bridge and the canal. This structure provided easy access for canal travelers and made Biery's a popular stop along the waterways. The growing commerce brought new property and prominence as well as a new name — Biery's Port — to the settlement.
The middle decades of the nineteenth century was an explosive period for Biery's Port. Spurred by a diminishing supply of timber and a substantial reward offered by the Lehigh Coal and Mining Company, numerous efforts were made within Pennsylvania to develop a furnace that burned anthracite coal. The most successful attempt was make by the Lehigh Crane Iron Company at a site one mile north of Biery's Port. After consulting with George Crane, an iron master who developed an anthracite furnace in Wales, the company brought to America David Thomas, an apprentice operator at Crane's furnaces in Wales.
Under Thomas' guidance the Lehigh Crane Iron Company opened an anthracite furnace in July 1840. The furnace proved so successful that within a decade Lehigh Crane operated five furnaces at the site.
The growth of the local iron industry was a boom to Biery's Port. In 1839 Biery and his sons sold a portion of their land to Lehigh Crane for a handsome profit. A year later, after the furnaces were put in blast, the three Biery's began laying out lots on their acreage and encouraging development. Residential building soon followed. Despite the construction of almost one hundred dwellings by Lehigh Crane across from their furnaces, Biery's Port became a popular location for new residents. Simple wood frame and brick structures, rarely more than three bays wide and 2 1/2 stories in height, the new dwellings reflected the Greek Revival and Federal vernacular styles. The homes of furnace workers and management, the new structures, along with the half dozen Federal style structures by Biery, gave Biery's Port the look of a rapidly growing town.
The growth of the Lehigh Crane Company during the early 1850's meant continued expansion for Biery's Port. Mill workers and mill operators looked to Biery's Port as a grading place and a business center as well as a comfortable place to live. Access to ever increasing Lehigh Canal traffic further enhanced commercial opportunities in the village. By 1850 the traffic between Cranesville, a village which emerged from the workers housing built by Lehigh Crane across from their furnaces, and Biery's Port led to the laying out of Front Street which formally linked the two villages. Three years later, in 1853, amid the rapid growth of both villages, Biery's Port and Cranesville were incorporated as the borough of Catasauqua.
Incorporation did little to change Biery's Port. Throughout the 1850's,60's and 70's the area remained the primary commercial neighborhood in the borough. New housing in a dense concentration similar to earlier construction was added along Front and Second Streets.. Small shops, a church and a hotel also became part of the Biery's Port section of Catasauqua. Vernacular examples of Italianate from this period are among the most recent in Biery's Port.
Competition from the burgeoning steel industry in western Pennsylvania brought change to Catasauqua during the last years of the nineteenth century. However, changes were not as severe in Biery's Port as in other portions of the borough. While the iron industry slowly evaporated, new industry came to town. During the last decades of the century Biery's Port became the site of some of the new enterprises. Perhaps the most notable was the C.D. Dery Company. Dery came to Catasauqua in the late 1890's and built a silk mill along Race Street. Within twenty years the Dery Company grew to international proportions. Other businesses, including a foundry and another silk mill also located in Biery's Port between 1880 and 1910. Meanwhile the retail businesses in the district remained healthy throughout the early twentieth century.
In the past fifty years much of the commercial activity that characterized Biery's Port in the nineteenth century has moved elsewhere or closed. The shops along Front and Second Streets have been converted to residences and the mills have been adapted as warehouses or for other uses. Fortunately, little demolition and few alterations have been involved in these changes. As a result, Biery's Port still reflects its nineteenth century character and is easily identifiable as the oldest portion of Catasauqua.