The Shaping of Easton
In 1736 Thomas Penn, son of William Penn, and Benjamin Eastburn, Surveyor General, selected and surveyed the "Thousand Acre Tract" of land at the confluence of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers. William Parsons and Nicholas Scull began their survey for a town in the 1750s at a spot called by the Indians "Lechanwitauk" or "the Place at the Forks." The new town was to be called "Easton" in the new county of "Northampton", after Thomas Penn's wife Juliana Fermor's home estate of Easton-Neston, Northamptonshire, England. The Great Square (now known as Centre Square) was, and remains, a gathering place for residents and travelers. In fact, on July 8, 1776, the square was the site for one of only three public readings of the Declaration of Independence. This historic event is celebrated each year on Heritage Day, when thousands gather to join in reenactments of the reading and to revel in entertainment, good food, and fireworks over the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers.
On the northeast corner of Northampton and Second Streets is the Bachmann Tavern, the oldest building remaining in the city. The land deed was secured from the Penns by John Bachmann, its builder. The building served as a tavern and long-time residence of George Taylor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The tavern was visited by George Washington and Ben Franklin. It was, like many taverns, a social center of colonial times, and often served as a courtroom until the original courthouse was completed in 1765.
70% of the building's original fabric is intact. The upper windows are original, as is the interior. In 1991 the stucco was removed from the exterior, revealing the date marker of 1753. The Bachmann Publick House is owned and operated by the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society.
Surveyor William Parsons designed the city in a grid pattern radiating from the Great Square. The original courthouse was erected in the square in 1765 and demolished in 1862 when the new, existing courthouse was built on the Seventh Street hill.
The Great Square has been the site of the oldest, continuously operated outdoor Farmer's Market since 1791. It is also the site where Robert Levers read the Declaration of Independence to the gathered public on July 8, 1776, standing on the steps of the courthouse. The Civil War Monument that now stands on the old courthouse site, is a 75-foot tall obelisk topped by what is locally called "The Bugler." Formally named the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, the obelisk was designed to honor all of the armed forces who fought in the Civil War and was dedicated to local veterans in 1900. Each year, the monument is shrouded by a one-hundred-foot Peace Candle, which is ceremoniously lit the Saturday evening after Thanksgiving and remains on display through January.
The Canal Years
With the completion of the Lehigh Canal in 1829, the lands along the Lehigh River attracted great industrial development. The movement of coal brought capital and investment to Easton. All along Canal Street was built one of the largest industrial manufacturing centers of America during the 1830s and 40s. Easton continued to prosper as a center for industry, manufacturing, commerce, and culture at the Forks of the Delaware and along the great rail lines.
Easton Cemetery's parklike cemetery landscape design is based on the picturesque romantic styles of the early and late 19th century. Its landscape is set with thousands of examples of funeral artwork, in a variety of decorative styles, spanning Greco-Roman Revival, Gothic Victorian, and Art Deco. Established in 1849, Easton Cemetery is the earliest and best-surviving example of a romantic parklike cemetery within the Lehigh Valley metro area. Architecturally noteworthy features include a Gothic Revival Gatehouse and office, stable, cemetery chapel, and a Gothic frame workshop. Today the cemetery gate has been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Easton Public Library
The Easton Library Company was organized on July 4, 1811, as a subscription library with a $5 membership fee per person. The book collection consisted of 700 titles, mostly gifts, and was housed in the front room of the home of Peter Miller on Third Street. After many financial crises following the Civil War, the library reorganized and assumed a new name, Easton Public Library Association. In 1895, the Easton School District assumed financial responsibility for library service to the community and for the formation of the Easton Public Library. A new building was erected on the site of the German Reformed and Lutheran burial ground. Only two burial plots remain on the site, that of William Parsons, and Mamie Morgan.
The land was purchased from the church by public subscription for $4,000. The building was built and equipped with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. The library was dedicated in 1902 and opened to the public in 1903. In 1913 an addition was added, again funded by Andrew Carnegie. A third addition, dedicated on September 28, 1968, completed the building as it stands today.
The First United Church of Christ
The First United Church of Christ, at North Third and Church Streets, was built in 1775. The brick portions were designed by Thomas Walter, the architect of the dome of the United States Capital. During the Revolutionary War, this church served as a hospital and was visited by George Washington. It was also the site of the Indian Peace Treaty Conference of 1777. The church has a Star of David in honor of Meyer Hart, Easton's first Jewish citizen and a contributor to the original church building fund. The church archives include a hand-illustrated Schlatter Bible printed in Switzerland in 1747, and the pewter communion set from 1746. The church congregation's office building, on Church and Sitgreaves Streets, dates from 1778 and was originally Easton's second school building.
Governor Wolf Building
Until the mid-1800s, Easton's children were taught at home or at church. Built in 1893, the Governor Wolf School building has elaborate brickwork, stained glass windows, a bell tower, and a spiral staircase in the left tower. The stone entry, called Penny Arch, is topped by a marble globe of the world paid for by school children's pennies. The Wolf Building now houses Northampton County Human Services.
The former school on North Second Street was named for Governor Wolf of Easton, founder of the Pennsylvania Free Public School System and proponent of the 1834 School Act.
The Act was zealously supported by Wolf but was met with great resentment by the local German population, who feared that formal instruction would be in English. The farming population also opposed the act because adults needed the children at home for farm chores. The loss of church-based education added hostility. Had it not been for Wolf's determination, the act may have been repealed. It did, however, cost him his bid for re-election.
Herman Simon Mansion
Herman Simon, a wealthy silk manufacturer of the early 1900s, built his mansion on North Third Street (now home to The Third Street Alliance for Women and Children), The Simon mansion was designed by noted Architect William Michler and is of a High Renaissance French Chateau style.
The exterior of the building is graced with Indian limestone, a granite base, and a red Vermont Slate roof with cooper ornamentation. Elaborate carved woodwork and d'Ascenzo stained glass grace the interior skylight and stairwell; an original Delft Kitchen also remains. The mansion was built at a cost of $250,000. Directly adjacent, Simon built a home for his daughter. Massive cast iron gates remain, which once led to the formal gardens. Carved images of Simon's wife and daughter are still distinguishable on pillars outside the mansion.
Jacob Nicholas House
In 1807, Jacob Nicholas, a Delaware River Boat Captain, built his home at Fifth and Ferry Streets. Nicholas plied the riverboat on the Delaware River, hauling goods from Philadelphia to Easton. The boat sailed or drifted down the river to Philadelphia, then long wooden poles were used for "poling" the boat back up the river to Easton. The Nicholas house has been restored with most work completed in 1990. It is furnished with authentic furnishings provided by the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. The building is one of the very few restored structures in the nation that illustrate life at home for a typical working person or family. The "Little Stone House" is owned by the City of Easton.
The Lafayette Arch, at the base of College Hill, is constructed of stones from the Traill Green Observatory, which was once part of the Lafayette College Campus. The observatory itself was built in 1864, by faculty member, trustee, and prominent local physician, Dr.Traill Green.
In 1914, the observatory was moved, then in 1929 torn down to make room for Colton Chapel. The arch was a gift of the Class of 1929, both commemorating the bygone observatory and creating a welcoming gateway to the college campus.
On Christmas Eve 1824, the Easton Centinel carried a notice calling upon residents of Northampton County "friendly to the establishment of a college at Easton" to meet three days later at White's Hotel on Centre Square. Led by James Madison Porter, a prominent local lawyer; Joel Jones, another lawyer and graduate of Yale; and Jacob Wagener, a local miller's son notable for his interest in mineralogy and botany, the assembled citizens worked out a plan for a college "combining a course of practical Military Science with the course of Literature and General Science pursued in the Colleges of our Country."
Because the country was then in a fever over the farewell tour of the aged Marquis de Lafayette, whom Porter had met in Philadelphia the previous August, the founders voted to name their new college for the French hero of the Revolution as "a testimony of respect for (his) talents, virtues, and signal services....the great cause of freedom."
The Governor of Pennsylvania signed the new college's charter on March 9, 1826, but getting the charter proved to be considerably easier than launching the College. In 1832, the Rev. George Junkin, a Presbyterian minister, agreed to move the curriculum and student body of the Manual Labor Academy of Pennsylvania from Germantown to Easton and to take up the Lafayette College charter.
Larry Holmes Drive
The next stop on our tour takes you down Larry Holmes Drive, appropriately named in 1983 for Larry Holmes, World Heavyweight Boxing Champ from 1978 to 1985. He was undefeated for a record 13 years. Larry calls Easton home, having lived here since age 5. At age 13, he quit school to help support his family and worked as a shoe shine boy, learning to box at the local gym. At age 23, Holmes beat Rodell Dupree in his first professional bout. He is ranked as one of the top ten heavyweights in the world, with an incredible record of 68-5, including 41 knockouts.
Larry Holmes today is a successful entrepreneur with various real estate holdings, including the L and D Plaza where a vast array of the champ's memorabilia is on display.
Philadelphia Federal Style architecture with late Victorian bracketed cornices proudly announces Library Hall, the site of Easton's first library. Located at the Northwest corner of Second and Church Streets, Library Hall was built in 1811, and like most of the city's older buildings, is fully functional and in commercial use.
Northampton County Courthouse
Northampton County was founded on March 6, 1752. The first court proceedings were held in taverns. The first courthouse was built in 1765 in Centre Square, then known as "the Great Square." The current courthouse, located on Seventh and Walnut Streets, was designed by Architect G. Graham, Esquire, and was built in 1861. Learn more about the County.
Northampton County Sigal Museum
Opening in August 2010, the Sigal Museum of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society tells the stories of the founding and development of Northampton County through the use of selections from the collection of more than 60,000 artifacts and documents. The Sigal Museum also houses the Jane S Moyer Genealogical and Research Library.
Northampton Street Bridge
The Northampton Street Bridge provides access between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Celebrating its 100th birthday in 1996, the "free bridge" (there is no toll to cross), with its Gothic detail, is the last of its type in the United States and is a National Civil Engineering landmark.
A replica of the "free bridge," created by Phillipsburg, NJ high school students, and engineered to scale using the original blueprints, is on permanent display in Easton's Visitor Center in Two Rivers Landing, located at 30 Centre Square.
Our Lady of Lebanon
The urban renewal programs of the 1960s removed houses, many businesses, and the first church building of the Lebanese community. Despite the effects of urban renewal, the resilient Lebanese community remained strong and cohesive. Its members moved their place of worship, Our Lady of Lebanon Church, to Fourth and Ferry Streets.
The Easton Lebanese community's first families immigrated to New York and then on to Easton to establish dry goods and notions businesses.
Parson Taylor House
Built for William Parsons in 1757, The Parson Taylor House is a small stone colonial building. It was later inhabited by George Taylor, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1906 the Easton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased and restored this historical landmark. The adjacent Kressler Garden is maintained by the Forks of The Delaware Garden Club.
The United States Congress established the postal system on February 20, 1792, when it was signed into effect by George Washington. The first postal route to include Easton dates even earlier, however, back to August 1775.
The first Easton Post Office was established on March 20, 1793. The location was moved by almost every postmaster until the construction of the present building, located on the corner of South Second and Ferry Streets, in 1910. An addition was dedicated on April 20, 1937, bringing it to its current size.
St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church
St. Bernard's Church, founded in 1829 with 100 members, is the oldest Catholic Church in the Lehigh Valley. Members first met at 151 South Fifth Street until the dedication of the church and adjoining cemetery on Gallows Hill in 1836. In 1909, the increase in Italian-speaking families brought about the organization of the National Parish, St. Anthony's.
First a bank, then the Neumoyer Theatre, the now State Theatre has a rich and wonderful history, and today represents the community's commitment to the arts. The State Theatre was built in 1873 as Northampton National Bank. The massive and elaborate granite beaux art facade was a style used often for commercial and public buildings because of the feeling of confidence and dependability that particular architecture exuded. In 1910, the interior was demolished, but the facade and entranceway were maintained. The building then housed the 500-seat Neumoyer Theatre, home to vaudeville acts and silent films. In 1925 the theatre closed to make way for a new larger theatre designed by Architect William Lee of Philadelphia and inspired by the Davanzanti Palace of Florence, Italy. The original State Theatre was completed at a cost of $400,000.
Today the 1,545-seat State Theatre hosts more than 100 live performances year-round, and it was selected in 1994 as the host theatre for the Miss Pennsylvania Scholarship Contests.
Trinity Episcopal Church
Episcopalian church services were held in congregants' homes until 1798 when Samual Sitgreaves donated the land for the construction of a church on this site at Spring Garden and Sitgreaves Streets. The existing building, built in 1874 and consecrated in 1876, replaced the original church which was destroyed by fire. Designed by William Haight in 1874, Trinity's Stone Gothic Revival architecture is graced with a battlemented bell tower, rose window, and other stained glass by Nicholas D'Ascenzo of Philadelphia. The floor is Mercer tile from the Moravian Tile works in Doylestown. The small cemetery includes the burial site of Sitgreaves who was not only a civic leader in the Easton community, but a congressman and diplomat of the young nation.
Note: The current church is the 3rd church on that site. The 1st was torn down and the 2nd was destroyed by fire. Also, Samuel Sitgreaves, the founder of Trinity is no longer buried in the churchyard - he was moved to Easton Cemetery.