Easton Historic District
The Easton Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Easton Historic District is an example of a relatively intact Victorian commercial center. Due to its location at the junction of several nationally important transportation corridors, Easton has been a center of commerce since its founding in 1752. Although the District contains historically and architecturally significant buildings from almost all periods of its development, edifices completed between 1830 and 1910 dominate its streetscapes. This period saw Easton's prosperity at its height, due to its position at the junction of three major canals and five important railroads.
The Easton Historic District is situated on a peninsula that is generally bounded by the Bushkill Creek to the north, the Delaware River to the east and the Lehigh River to the south. The western limits of the District are marked by the crest of a series of hills. The District has a generally east to west orientation, with the eastern portions of it consisting of plains and the western portion rising sharply in a series of hills.
The integrity of the Easton Historic District is highlighted by the fact that only twenty of its 425 buildings can be considered to be intrusions. There are forty-three significant buildings within the District, while the remainder of its structures can be considered to be contributing. The majority of the District's buildings are utilized for commercial or residential purposes, while a number of buildings combine both functions. Although there are also many significant store buildings within the District's boundaries, brick is the most commonly used building material.
The structures located with the proposed boundaries of the proposed Easton Historic District represent a variety of architecture styles, ranging from colonial to modern. A great many of the structures date from the Victorian period and are either eclectic or one of the revival styles. These structures dominate the appearance of the District, particularly in such areas as Spring Garden, North Second, North Third and North Fourth Streets. Equally as important, many of these structures are historically significant and/or particularly fine examples of architectural design. Below are listed some of the more important structures broken down by period and style.
COLONIAL 1752-1810 Easton House Tavern, located at 1 North Second Street, Parsons-Taylor House, located at 58 South Fourth Street, First Reformed Church (presently the United Church of Christ) located at 29 North Third Street, Captain Jacob Nichols House (Little Stone House Museum) located at South Fifth and Ferry Streets, Colonel Robert Hooper House, located at 503 Northampton Street. The Easton House Tavern, the Parsons-Taylor House and the Captain Jacob Nichols House are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Eclectic and Revival 1840-1910
Beaux Arts 1890- 1920
Art Deco 1920-1940
Easton is an example of an intact commercial and transportation center that has been of national importance since colonial times. This prominence developed due to Easton's favorable location at both the junction of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers and the mouth of the Great and Lehigh Valleys. As a result Easton occupied a unique position astride both major east-west and north-south trade routes, enabling its inhabitants to establish a commercial dominance over a wide area. The wealth that this dominance created is reflected in the many architecturally outstanding buildings that remain from almost periods of the City's development. Because of its location, Easton was also a center for frontier government and diplomacy.
The area within the boundaries of the Easton Historic District was originally a natural prairie, a relatively rare land form in Pennsylvania. This natural prairie was also ringed by a series of hills. It was also part of the domain of the Lenape Indians who were resident in the area until the Walking Purchase of 1737 extinguished their claim to the land.
Because Easton is at the junction point of the Lehigh River with the Delaware River (which gave access to Philadelphia,), the area was long recognized as an important transportation junction. As early as 1740 a ferry across the Delaware was established by David Martin. The site of his ferry house and tavern is located near the present Scott Park within the boundaries of the proposed district. This ferry increased in importance as the 18th century progressed since it linked the roads leading from Reading, Allentown and Bethlehem with the Kings Highway which ran across New Jersey to New Brunswick. These roads were major east-west commercial arteries and carried a heavy volume of military supplies during the Revolutionary War. The ferry was replaced by a covered bridge, located on the site of the present Northampton Street Bridge in 1806. This covered bridge was the second covered bridge produced in America and it was constructed by Timothy Palmer of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Palmer is generally recognized to be the originator of the covered bridge in America.
The area within the boundaries of the proposed Easton Historic District was the first surveyed in 1752. This survey was ordered by Thomas Penn, the principal proprietor of Pennsylvania. Penn wished to found the shiretown for the new Northampton County at the Forks of the Delaware. The town was to be called Easton after the ancestral home of his bride, Lady Juliana Fermor.
The actual work of laying out the town was conducted by William Parsons and Nicholas Scull in 1752. Parsons, who had also laid out the town of Reading, was a former Surveyor-General of Pennsylvania and a long time friend and associate of Benjamin Franklin. Parsons remained in Easton after the completion of the survey to represent the Proprietary Government's interests. By 1757 he had completed a small stone house to serve as his home. The structure, the Parson's-Taylor House, remains standing within the boundaries of the proposed Easton Historic District.
As the shiretown for Northampton County, colonial Easton was the governmental center for almost a sixth of the present Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The accompanying map shows the full extent of this area. Early court sessions were held in local taverns, one of which, the Easton House Tavern, dates from 1754. This structure survived in remarkably intact condition. Court sessions continued to be held at the Easton House and other taverns, which once stood within the boundaries of the proposed Easton Historic District, until the completion of a permanent courthouse on the present site of Center Square in 1765.
The outbreak of the French and Indian War in 1754 resulted in Easton becoming a center for frontier diplomacy. Among the primary British and colonial objectives during this conflict was the conquest of the Ohio Valley. However, the French who held the Forks of the Ohio, at the present site of Pittsburgh, had forged a military alliance with the Indians of the region. Their combined forces were able to raid Pennsylvania's frontiers and hinder the advance of opposing forces toward the Forks of the Ohio. Between 1756 and 1758, Easton was the site of several Indian Treaty Councils which resulted in the dissolution of the French and Indian alliance. As a result, the British and colonial forces were able to advance relatively unopposed to the Forks of the Ohio and secure control of the present mid-west. Because of the continental implications of these treaty councils, they can rightly be considered to be the most important events to have taken place in Easton. Several sites and buildings connected with Easton Indian Treaty Councils remain within the boundaries of the proposed Easton Historic District. Included among them are the Easton House Tavern (which housed many of the dignitaries who attended the Councils), Center Square (the actual site of the Councils), and the Parsons-Taylor House (home of William Parsons who procured the support supplies and facilities for the Councils).
During the years between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, Easton continued to grow in importance. It developed a considerable river trade by means of Durham Boats, with Philadelphia and other parts of southeastern Pennsylvania. It also became a favorite supply point for the lumber rafts which transported great amounts of timber downstream from the wilderness areas above the Delaware Water Gap. The land traffic across the ferry continued to increase as families headed west to settle parts of the Susquehanna Valley.
The business opportunities that Easton provided during this period attracted the attention of many enterprising individuals. Among the most notable of these men was George Taylor, the ironmaster of Bucks County's Durham Furnace. In 1761, Taylor purchased the Easton House Tavern and made it one of his primary residences. He also expanded this structure to take advantage of the increased traffic that passed through the town. Taylor also began to take a prominent part in local political activities.
Easton's position as a transportation center made it a place of importance during the Revolutionary War. It was a major supply depot for the continental army. It was also the primary home of George Taylor, who became a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Easton was also the starting and ending point of General Sullivan's 1779 campaign against the Iroquois Indians of New York. Among the extant structures within the proposed district that are associated with this military expedition are the Easton House Tavern, the Colonel Robert Hooper House and the German Reformed Church. The latter structure (now the United Church of Christ), was also the site of Easton's Last Indian Treaty Council in 1777. It, and now demolished structures, also served as military hospitals during that same year. Finally, it should be noted that Easton was the site of one of the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776.
During the early decades of the 19th century, Easton continued to grow in importance. This growth was particularly pronounced during the period between 1820 and 1850. These decades were the height of America's canal era and Easton was one of America's most important canal junctions. Easton was the meeting place of the Lehigh, Delaware and Morris Canals. No other town in America had the distinction of three canals coming together within its boundaries. These waterways greatly increased the prosperity of Easton. They enabled to tap the major markets of New York and Philadelphia. Of equal importance, the water power and cheap and plentiful supplies of anthracite that were provided by the Lehigh Canal enabled Easton to become one of America's earliest major industrial centers.
The prosperity of Easton during the canal era was reflected by its population growth in comparison to the other major towns of the Lehigh Valley. In 1830, the population of Easton was 3529, while Bethlehem and Allentown had populations of 1800 and 1544 respectively. By 1850, the population of Easton had risen to 7250, while Allentown's had grown only to 3779 and Bethlehem's, 3620.
Although Easton would fall behind Bethlehem and Allentown's population during the last half of the 19th century, it would remain a vital commercial center until the present time.
Many notable structures from Easton's canal era prosperity remain intact within the borders of the Easton Historic District. One of them, the 1833 Mixsell House (Northampton County Historic Society's Headquarters) is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It should also be noted that the proposed district borders on the Lehigh Canal which is also individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Easton continued to serve as a major transportation center during the railroad era which occurred during the last half of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century. Easton was connected to five railroads and the three massive rail road bridges which cross the Delaware are monuments to this period. During this time many of the large townhouses and commercial buildings which dominate the appearance of the proposed Easton Historic District. Many of these structures are of outstanding architectural quality and one of them, the Herman Simon House (Y.W.C.A.) is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The State Theatre which also dates from this era, is also listed.
During the 1930's and 1940's several fine "Art Deco" style structures were built within the boundaries of the proposed Easton Historic District. Among the most notable are the Jacob Mayer Building and the Bell Telephone Building.
Today, the area within the boundaries of the Easton Historic District represents a basically intact downtown of mixed residential and commercial structures. Although there are some modern intrusions, the streetscapes in most areas maintain much of the architectural integrity. In general, such areas as Spring Garden Street, North Third Street, Second Street and portions of Northampton Street present the intact and represent Easton as it appeared during the late 19th and early 20th century.
It should also be noted that the individual quality of many of the structures, within the boundaries of the proposed Easton Historic District, is outstanding. Buildings such as the Herman Simon Mansion, the Benjamin Reigel Mansion and the Jacob Reigel Mansion and the State Theatre have no parallels in the other cities of the Lehigh Valley. Other structures also display distinctive features such as the use of Mercer Tiles.
In conclusion, it should also be stated that the area within the Easton Historic District was declared by the Secretary of the Interior to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation occurred on December 7, 1977. Easton also has an active program of encouraging historical preservation. It is a participant in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Street Program and the National Register Historic District Nomination has been endorsed by all parts of the City's government and many community groups.
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