Tamaqua Borough Hall is located at 320 East Broad Street, Tamaqua PA 18252; phone: 570-668-0300.
In 1799 Berkhard Moser, of Northampton County — now Lehigh County — a German, to better his condition and provide for the wants of a growing family, left his home and directed his steps to this narrow valley of Tamaqua, and settled at the junction of Panther creek and Little Schuylkill river. In September of the same year he built a saw-mill, the first building of any kind in the borough, and in 1801 a log house, which stands today at the base of Dutch hill, and is occupied by the Naphf family. He was accompanied by his son Jacob, born in 1790 and still living, and by John Kershner, a daughter of whom, Mrs. B.F. Heilner, resides on Dutch hill, near the original settlement.
Mr. Moser was an industrious man, clearing the forest around his mill and laying out a farm, never dreaming that beneath his fields lay the great seams of coal, the mining of which was in future years to open employment to tens of thousands. February 15th, 1822, Mrs. Moser died. This was the first death of an adult person in the place. In April of the same year John Kershner passed away. The first business relied upon to support the infant town was agriculture, which, with the manufacture of lumber, was the principal industry for twenty year. For this purpose the elevated sloping land east of the borough, as well as that upon the immediate north, was chosen by Moser.
In 1817 anthracite coal was discovered by Berkhard Moser and his son Jacob. For a number of years the quantity mined, consumed and marketed was very inconsiderable; first sales being made to blacksmiths, and some was taken over the Blue mountains in sacks and sole at seven to twelve cents per bushel. Sales increased until in 1832, when the record first begins, they amounted to 14,000 tons.
Greenwood was the spot of the first discovery, and the last coal mined at Tamaqua was there, in 1874, when the extensive breakers were burned and the mines ruined, at a loss of $1,500,000. Up to 1874 Tamaqua alone had given to the markets 23,000 tons.
Mrs. Barbara Whetstone, who died January 12th, 1879, was a daughter of Berkhard and Catharine Moser, born July 22nd, 1796, in Lynn, Lehigh county. She was married to John Whetstone, December 25th, 1820, in the old log hut, where she lived one year, and where now her niece resides. Hers was the first marriage in the place. The first birth was that of Mary Kershner, in 1808. She was a sister of Mr. Heilner.
For the space of twenty-five years from the first settlement in 1799 but few dwellings were erected. The town was laid out from parts of West Penn and Schuylkill townships in 1829, at which time the population was about 150. The design was to name it Tuscarora, but some enterprising person arose too early in the morning for the pioneers and gave that Indian name to the village four miles west. As the waters of the Tamaqua, re-christened Wabash, the west branch of the Little Schuylkill, passed through the tract, it was decided to name the infant with the name of the creek, Tamaqua, which is Indian for running water.
In 1832 the town was incorporated. The population was 300, and rapidly increasing. July 26th, 1833, the first borough officers, having been then recently elected, were formally organized as follows: John Franklin, chief burgess; David Hunter, president of council; Charles D. Cox, William Caldwell, William George, John N. Speece, and Lewis Audenreid, councilmen. Improvements were rapid in 1846-47. New or Hunter street was laid out, many miners' houses were built, two large brick stores were erected by J. and R. Carter and James Taggart. There was a large influx of enterprising men. The business interests in 1846 were represented as follows: Merchants, 7; agents, 4; blacksmiths, 5; cabinet-makers, 2; butchers, 3; hucksters, 2; miners, 65; hotel-keepers, 5; carpenters, 12; tailors, 2; shoemakers, 4; boarding-house keepers, 6; clerks, 4; laborers, 44; physicians, 5; watchmakers, 1; tinsmiths, 1.
The principal coal operators at that time were J. and R. Carter, Heaton & Carter, Harlan & Henderson, R. Radcliffe & Co.,, William Donaldson, and James Taggart. In 1862 there were Charles F. Shoener, J. Donaldson & Co., H. Dintinger, George W. Cole; later, E.J. Fry, George Wiggan, Henry L. Cake, Gideon Whetstone, Richard Winlack, William T. Carter. The collieries operated in the vicinity were known as the East Lehigh, the Greenwood, the Alaska, the Newkirk, the East-East, the Buckville, the Reevesdale. Under the act of 1851, a petition was presented December 7th, 1851, praying for a charter; which was granted by the court March 22nd, 1852.
Concerning the formation of the new borough government the records are singularly silent. John A. Smith was the chief burgess in 1852, followed by Michael Beard. There are no records of the councilmen. From 1865 to 1879 Herman B. Graeff was clerk of the council; the present incumbent is Samuel Beard. The borough government, January, 1881, is composed as follows: William Priser, chief burgess; Robert C. Sleath, high constable; H.A. Weldy, Edward F. Shindel, Daniel Shepp, John Horn, Thomas D. Boone, Charles Steigerwalt, councilmen; George Kneiss, supervisor. In 1840 the population was 464; in 1850, 3,080; in 1860, 4,919; in 1870, 5,960; and in 1880, 5,751 this decrease is owing chiefly to the idleness of all the coal works since 1874.
In September, 1832, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, claiming a parcel of land in that part of the town near the hotel of John Zehner, now the Washington House, Pine street, which rightfully belonged to the Kershner family, employed a company of men to erect a log house upon it and place a tenant there, so that they might obtain the benefit of possession. They did it in twelve hours, but high constable Bannan came along at the close of the job, armed with both warrant and rifle, and marched the party off to Orwigsburg. The whole matter was amicable settled, however.
Up to the time of the erection and laying out of the towns, in 1829, but little had been attempted at improvement, either in the intellectual or moral condition of the people. Rev. Mr. Schellhart lived with John Kershner and taught his and other children. Early in 1830 a school-house was erected upon the lot now occupied by the residence of Mrs. H.L. McGuigan, Broad and Nescopec streets. That house was afterward called the "little school-house," being some 18 by 20 feet in size, although it served for many years as a school-house, an election place and for religious worship and public meetings generally. The stratagem by which the vote of the district including Tamaqua was, in 1834, carried for free schools is spoken of on page 93. Early teachers were John Sims, who received $35 a month, Miss Rhoda Dodson, Miss Van Dusen and Miss McCaffy. The present directors are Lucian H. Allen, C.B. Dreher, A.H. Glassmire, Philip Stein, Philip A. Krebs and E.S. Solliday. R.L. Ditchburn, borough superintendent, has been connected thirty years with the schools. Professor E.A. Ehrhart is principal of the high school.
Tamaqua schools number 16, kept in three buildings valued at $40,000. The scholars attending number 1,351; the school term is nine months; cost per capita to educate scholars 42 cents; the average salary to male teachers is $65; to female teachers, $25.07. The school tax levied in 1880 was rated at 6 mills; the total receipts paid were $35,047.85; the expenditures, $32,481.70.
In 1849 William J. Harlan awakened the public mind to the desirability of having a system of water supply. At an expense of $23,000 Tamaqua constructed her first water works. On municipal improvements alone the borough has expended $850,000 to 1881, fully $150,000 of which has been upon the water supply. The Rabbit run and springs furnish the reservoir, located two miles from the town, at the farm of Henry Enterline, in the New England district of Walker township, and the capacity is 15,000 gallons. The water supply is under the direction of the council.