Coopersburg Historic District
The Coopersburg Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The importance of Coopersburg, among the communities of Lehigh County, is several fold. It was one of the first villages to be settled, it was the only one to be founded by Mennonites, it soon became a center of cooperation among Mennonites, Moravians, Lutheran and Reformed people, it developed as an important way station on the major highway linking it with Allentown and Bethlehem to the north and Philadelphia to the south, and it was the only sizeable town In Lehigh County south of Lehigh Mountain.
Coopersburg was founded and grew along the south branch of Saucon Creek. The stream created a small valley as it flowed northward to join the main branch of the Saucon directly south of Friedensville. Coopersburg is surrounded by low lying hills to the west, south and east. Both valley and hills were covered with fertile limestone soil which attracted settlers as early as 1730. Geography thus made agriculture and transportation the two most important industries. Settlers, largely German, moved into Bucks County directly south of Lehigh Mountain, from 1730 onward, George Bachman, a Mennonite, took up 300 acres of land, on which Coopersburg evolved in 1737. It is likely that along the south branch of the Saucon and Indian trail extended southward from Lehigh Mountain to the Delaware River and with settlement became a crude road extending northward from Philadelphia to the foot of the mountain. As early as 1735 a King's Highway had been opened from the Goshenhoppen region across the mountain at Zionsville to the Macungie Plain in the Great Valley. This was about 10 miles west of Coopersburg. Incentive to open a similar road came with the peopling of the Great Valley between the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, after 1730. The Bethlehem Pike which was opened from Philadelphia to Bethlehem in 1755 passed through the settlement forming on the land of George Bachman. Sometime between 1745-1750 he founded a hotel named Der Siebenstem (The Seven Star) located at the heart of present day Coopersburg. About his farm settled other farmers, and craftsmen like weavers, coopers, carpenters, blacksmiths and millers. In 1763 Upper Saucon Township had about 250 people. Farming exceeded other occupations by about 4 to 1 in the township. Around Der Siebenstem were built a log barn, a log store and a few log houses to shelter the tradesmen who served the drivers and passengers of wagons and stagecoaches which stopped at the hotel.
Three other families who made important contributions to Coopersburg appeared before 1800. Daniel Cooper who shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia in 1775, bought Der Siebenstem and surrounding land from the Bachmans. In 1800 he built a stone house and barn on his property. A second was Michael Landis who, in 1791, purchased a large tract east of Der Siebenstem through which, later was to be built the North Pennsylvania Railroad. A third was Joseph Frey, Jr., who settled in the village about 1800 and became prominent in politics, milling and distilling operations.
A son of Daniel Cooper, Peter, in 1829 replaced Der Siebenstern with a modern hostelry Eagle Hotel. He had three sons who became leaders in law, banking, medicine, commerce, and politics, on a regional level, while living in the village. The residents gave their village the name Coopersburg in 1832, in honor of Peter Cooper, though a post office had been established there, in 1818, known as Freysburg. The people there worshiped at the Saucon Mennonite Church, founded in 1738, St. Paul's Blue Church to the west (which had its origins in 1739) and at three union churches (having both Lutheran and Reformed congregations) located outside of Coopersburg.
In the 1850's and 1860's a factor responsible for growth was the North Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to Bethlehem constructed between 1855 and 1857. It reached Coopersburg in 1856. Again, the village became a way station on a major transportation route. The railroad entered Coopersburg about one mile east of the turnpike. This resulted in the development of a new village center. Close to the railroad station appeared a new hotel, the Baldwin House, a coal and lumber yard, a general store and a turning mill. Another sign of growth was the construction of a number of houses which are still standing on Main St. and Station Ave. Also, there emerged new social institutions – a public school, a union Sunday School, Moravian, Reformed and Lutheran congregations, and a fraternal body, the I.O.O.F. constructed a three story building in the center of the village, soon to become the community center. The Civil War was another stimulus to growth. Coopersburg women were organized to make uniforms.
From 1865 to 1900 Coopersburg continued to grow as a center serving a thriving agricultural community, as a transportation center, as the location of a highly specialized agricultural industry, and as the site of a light industry serving a regional market. Despite these changes, the village remained socially and ethnically homogeneous, made up very largely of Pennsylvania German families often related to one another by marriage.
The village came of age in 1879 when it was incorporated as a borough. This step led to gradual improvement in the quality of public education. Two elementary schools were opened. Church congregations also matured. The Moravians built its edifice in 1884 and the Lutheran and Reformed congregations joined to erect St. John's Church in 1889. The population of the borough increased from 392 in 1880 to 556 in 1900 an increase of about 42%.
Undergirding growth was the emergence of two specialized industries. The first was the manufacture of carriages. Four firms were formed for this purpose: Cooper's, Jordan's, Fabian's, and Kern's. They delivered their products by railroad to a regional market. A specialized agricultural industry was the breeding of Jersey dairy cattle, begun by Tilghman S. Cooper Sr. a grandson of Peter, in 1874, on the Cooper farm, located within the borough. Until 1900 Cooper conducted annual sales of his pure bred cattle at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Transportation improvements were effected by two privately owned turnpike companies. One opened the first direct road from Allentown south to Coopersburg in 1876. The other opened a road from Coopersburg south to upper Bucks County in 1874. The continuing importance of the village as a transportation center was responsible for the improvement of the Eagle Hotel which became the Barren House, in 1868, and for the opening of a third hotel, the Van Ness Home in 1883. A number of specialized stores also appeared in a new shopping center, around Main St. and Station Ave. The first attempts to start banking occurred in this period but the banks collapsed before 1900.
From 1900 to 1940 the population of Coopersburg grew by 114% from 556 in 1900 to 1,191 in 1940. Also there was more growth of light industry, the introduction of modern public utility services and improvement in educational and recreational facilities. These years witnessed the highest development of the annual Cooper cattle sale and the ultimate demise of that enterprise. Much of this advance was begun and led by residents of the borough.
Advances in the field of transportation must again be noted. In 1901 electric railway service reached Coopersburg from Allentown. This was part of the plan of the Lehigh Valley Traction Co. to build an electric trolley line linking Allentown to Philadelphia. It was concluded in 1912 with the opening of the Liberty Bell Route from Allentown to Norristown, and to the 69th St. Terminal in Philadelphia. Once again, Coopersburg's location on the major north-south highway between the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia worked to its advantage for the traction company provided both passenger and freight services for the residents of the town and surrounding area. The automobile also had its impact. The Allentown-Coopersburg Turnpike Company surrendered control over that artery to the state, by 1910. For a time the increasing flow of motorists and trucks used the old highway through Coopersburg, along Main Street. However, in 1927, in order to facilitate local traffic a new two lane highway was built through the borough, on Third St. This provided a third focal point for community life. Commercially, it soon supplanted the older centers on Main Street and on East Station Ave. (the railroad station area).
Several important light industries began. In 1905 the Gabriel Hosiery Company of Allentown opened a branch in Coopersburg, in a mill built on Main St. It manufactured cotton hosiery until the Great Depression. In the 30's the mill was occupied by a clothing manufacturer. In 1913, the Zinco Cigar Co. factory opened, and in 1919 the Coopersburg Silk Mill began operation. These enterprises provided employment to approximately 200 workers. However, they did not convert Coopersburg into a manufacturing center comparable to Emmaus or Catasauqua.
Two banks were founded prior to World War I – the First National Bank of Coopersburg in 1907 and the Coopersburg Savings and Loan Association in 1914. The latter was the result of a community self-survey, undertaken under Moravian church leadership in 1914, which described the current state of community life and suggested steps necessary to meet unfulfilled needs. One was the establishment of a credit agency for construction of homes. The building and loan association was a concrete result of the survey.
Local initiative resulted in a municipal owned public water system in 1902, in the organization of a volunteer fire company in 1904, in the construction of a new public school for grades one through ten in 1909, and the erection of a high school annex in 1939. A new borough hall, really a community center, was built in 1930. Local leadership brought privately owned public utilities to the community. Telephone service began as early as 1900. By 1927, it was provided by the Coopersburg Telephone Co. In 1911 the Coopersburg Power and Light Co. was founded. In 1923 it was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Power and Light Co. In 1925 the Highland Gas Co. began service to local residents; in 1930 it was absorbed by the Allentown-Bethlehem Gas Co.
Undoubtedly the most important annual occasion in Coopersburg, from 1900 to 1924, was the Memorial Day cattle auction which T. S. Cooper, Sr., conducted at his farm within the borough. Cooper moved the sale from New York City to Coopersburg in 1900. For the sale Coopersburg was filled with thousands of visitors. As a result, it gained national prominence for those concerned with the dairy industry.
However, the farm became a casualty of the Great Depression, and the last sale was held in 1931.
From 1940 to 1970 Coopersburg continued to grow in population but a decided change occurred. It became fully integrated into the Allentown-Bethlehem metropolitan area. Many of its residents commuted to jobs in those cities. Those remaining at home were employed largely in locally owned service establishments. Local manufacturing activity was limited to a few small industries, as a result, Coopersburg retains its basic characteristic as a residential community.
During its history Coopersburg developed as a transportation center along the Bethlehem Pike, as a community servicing nearby farmers and as a residential area. Today its still serves these functions. When one leaves Third St. for the older sections of the borough one enters upon an older and quieter world.
The district consists of two areas. (1) The area bordering Main St. from Fairmount St. in the north, to Linden St. in the south. It is the oldest settled area of the community. (2) Area which borders Station Ave. as it extends eastward from Main to the small settlement which developed around the railroad station on the North Penn Railroad from 1856 onward. Within these boundaries are 176 buildings constructed prior to 1930. In this area are 28 buildings, almost entirely single or two family dwellings, erected since 1930, and neutral in their Impact on the streetscape. Four structures are intrusions. Three were built before 1930 and altered drastically in recent years; one was erected in 1945.
The heart of Coopersburg is Main St. between Landis St. and Station Ave. In this area are two of the oldest buildings in the borough, the Norcross House, (private), and the Barren House, now the social hall of the Coopersburg Fire Company. Also within the area are an older hotel, the Fritzinger Borough, the Odd Fellows Hall, a large factory now occupied by Hilltop Manufacturing Company, several houses converted partially to business use, the borough hall which was erected in 1930, a post office and bank of the post-1945 era, and a small shopping center constructed within the past 5 years (an intrusion). Scattered among these buildings are private dwellings. Functionally, this miscellany is typical of small towns, as residential property was converted to commercial, governmental and industrial use to meet emerging needs. Functionally, it remains a harmonious entity. Regardless of function, and with the exception of three intrusions, the buildings blend into a harmonious streetscape, however.
About one mile east of Main and Station Sts. the North Penn Railroad (Reading-Conrail) passes through Coopersburg. There once existed a small passenger station. While this has been razed, several other buildings, associated with a railroad station, are still standing. One is the Baldwin House, a hotel erected in 1856, another a small factory originally used for cigar manufacture, a coal and lumber yard and a large house, now given over to apartments, which once housed a prosperous general store. Nearby are a few workers' homes. Mostly these are single, unadorned brick structures. Physically close to this cluster of buildings, but not a part of it, is the Gander or Boye House. Its origins-lie in the late 18th century, as home of the Landis family which operated a farm in the area. It was acquired by Boye a few years after the construction of the railroad and the Baldwin House. But house and out buildings remained the center of an estate whose owner desired a physical separation from the railroad station and its hotel, and, to that end, he constructed the "carriage house," today an apartment house.
About one mile south of Main and Station streets, between Cherry and Linden, on Main, is a cluster of mansions and outbuildings constructed about the turn of the century by Tilghman Cooper, Sr., as he developed Cooper Estate into a major center for breeding and sale of pure bred Jersey cattle. There are nine major buildings in the complex still in existence. Five were constructed as residences. The main house, occupied by Tilghman Cooper, Sr., at 600 South Main Street, was built in the mid 19th century. In 1903-1904 it was remodeled in the Queen Anne style with the addition of towers, a new roof, new porches and several annexes. A frame cottage, erected to the rear about 1886, was moved to its present location at 406 South Main St. in 1906. It, too, was remodeled in the Queen Anne Style when occupied by Ralph Cooper, a son of Tilghman, Sr. A third mansion, built in Colonial Revival style, was erected at 326 South Main St. in 1910 for another son. A 2 family dwelling with colonial revival features, was erected in 1918, at 605-607 S. Main with one section occupied by another member of the family. A similar building was constructed at 621 S. Main St. A two story dwelling on Cherry St. was also part of the estate.
Among the non-residential buildings on the estate were an office erected adjacent to the main house, a sales pavilion and cattle barn built on Linden St. and a large carriage house/garage at 405 S. Main St. A small dairy house, built in 1879, facing South Main St., complete the complex.
Of these buildings, only those at 326 and 605-607 South Main, and 562-564 Cherry St. still serve as residences. The main house, the Cooper Mansion and adjoining office, now house the administrative headquarters of a private junior college. The mansion at 406 S. Main has been converted, in recent years, into a private residence. The sales pavilion, recently placed on the National Register, is unoccupied.
The buildings on several streets which extend east from Main Street are important to the historic district. One is Thomas St. on which are located three buildings designed by a self-trained local architect, Genaah Jordan. He arrived in Coopersburg as a boy of nine in 1861, learned the carpenter's trade and by 1876 had designed and constructed his own home at 540 Thomas together with a neighboring structure. Both have some characteristics of Victorian Gothic. He also designed Coopersburg Elementary School, erected on State St. in 1909, and the First National Bank of Coopersburg, built in 1920.
Another tributary to Main St. is Station Ave. along which were constructed several Victorian Gothic homes, between Main and 3rd, prior to 1876. A notable example is the Congreve House at 411 Station Ave. State and Fairview Streets are notable for their plain, vernacular brick homes, built about 1900-1910 to house low income families. None of these can be considered examples of formal architectural style. But they speak eloquently of the solid comfort sought by their Pennsylvania German inhabitants.
† Mahlon Hellerich, Lehigh County Office of Archives and Museums, Coopersburg Historic District, Lehigh County, PA, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.