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[graphic header] A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor
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[photo] Pennsbury, a reconstruction of William Penn's home
Photograph courtesy of Pennsbury Manor

Pennsylvania was first inhabited as early as 12,000 years ago by bands of Native Americans who were cold-adapted, highly-mobile nomadic hunters from Trans-Siberia. By the time of European contact, Susquehannock Indians, an Iroquoian-speaking group who split from the main body of the Iroquis had migrated to this region of Pennsylvania, and established semi-permanent agricultural villages. The Susquehannock subsistence was a combination of seasonal farming, hunting, fishing, collecting wild forest products, and fresh water mollusks. European settlers first journeyed to the southern region of the Delaware River Valley and what is now Bucks County at the end of the 17th century. When William Penn arrived in the colony of Pennsylvania, he maintained a friendly and peaceful policy towards the Native Americans. The "Great Treaty" of Shackamaxon was Penn's most famous treaty with them, and according to Voltaire it was "the only treaty never sworn to and never broken." Penn's policy of dealing fairly with the region's native peoples protected European settlers from hostilities during his lifetime and after, until 1755. By then, the growing number of English colonists arriving on the eastern seaboard had alarmed the native peoples, many of whom allied with the French for survival of their ancestral lands. After Pontiac's War (1763) and the French and Indian War, Pennsylvania was largely secure for further European colonization.

Penn's 1690 promise of religious toleration brought thousands of people seeking both religious and economic freedom to the new province of Pennsylvania. English and Welsh members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, arrived at the port of Philadelphia and claimed allotments in lower and central Bucks County, clearing the forest and establishing farms on the rich soil. Their meeting houses are still found in many of the towns in the region. Their farm buildings, built of local stone, followed traditional English models. German immigrants, in search of lives free from war and servitude, were also attracted to Pennsylvania. They traveled up the Schuylkill and Perkiomen Valleys to settle in upper Bucks County, where they soon outnumbered the Quakers. The village names of Reigelsville, Kintnersville, and Uhlerstown testify to the origins of their founders.


Easton Historic District
Photograph by Sue Pridemore

The elements that influenced the Delaware Valley's development--the Delaware River, the canal, the steep hillsides of the river valley, the fertile soils, and its agricultural heritage--are still visible throughout the county. Above the fall line, development of towns was limited. Tributary streams of the Delaware River fell sharply from the highlands down into the valley. Gristmills and sawmills were built to exploit the water power, serving local farmers in the largely rural economy. Along the upper reaches of the Delaware Canal, between Easton and New Hope, the River Road connects a string of historic villages, separated by steep and sometimes sheer hemlock-covered hillsides, which force the road and canal to the river's edge.

Just south of New Hope, the River Road and the canal pass through the northern part of Washington Crossing State Park, where an early farm is preserved. Taylorsville is the location of the southern part of Washington Crossing State Park. Here George Washington and 2,400 troops crossed the ice-choked Delaware River to make a successful surprise raid on the Hessian soldiers at Trenton on Christmas Eve 1776. At Morrisville the canal leaves the last hill of the Piedmont behind and enters the level Coastal Plain, locale of the earliest settlements in the county. Historic Fallsington is a restoration of a Quaker village of three centuries ago. Nearby is Pennsbury, a reconstruction of William Penn's 1683 county seat, which includes the service buildings, orchards, and gardens that made the plantation self-sufficient.


[photo]
Fonthill home of Henry Mercer in Doylestown
Photograph by Sue Pridemore

The Quaker town of Bristol was established in 1697 as a market town for the county. A location was chosen just below the head of navigation on the Delaware River, and Bristol quickly grew into an important commercial and ship-building center. The county seat of Doylestown,10 miles inland, is a showcase of Federal and Victorian architecture. Henry C. Mercer recognized that industrialization was fast eliminating traditional crafts and ways of work and began assembling what is now the nation's most comprehensive collection of early American tools, housed in the Mercer Museum. This building and nearby Fonthill, a National Historic Landmark, which was Mercer's home, are early experiments in the use of poured concrete. Mercer was also fascinated by tile making, and built the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, which continues to produce his designs, based on themes from mythology, fable, and nature. Nearby, in the rehabilitated jailhouse, the James Michener Museum exhibits the works of important American artists.

As late as the 19th century, few of the Delaware River Valley villages had outgrown their agricultural roots. Unlike the neighboring Lehigh Valley, the area's resources never fostered
[photo]
Delaware Canal
Photograph from National Historic Landmarks collection

industrial development. Even today it is primarily known for its scenic, natural and agricultural landscape and well-preserved historic towns. The Delaware Canal provided the first easy access to markets for the valley farmers and the people of the river villages. Locktenders' houses, stores, inns, and warehouses were established to serve the canal traffic. Camelback bridges traverse the canal. Today the canal and towpath, a National Historic Landmark, are preserved by the Delaware Canal State Park, and the River Road, which parallels the canal from Morrisville to Easton, provide the link to 300 years of history.

The lower Lehigh River Valley, between Blue Mountain and South Mountain, was first settled in the 1720s by German immigrants. They were soon followed by the Scotch-Irish, who built their houses near Catasauqua, and by the English, who settled near Easton. Missionaries of the Moravian Church, who had immigrated from what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia, came here in 1740. They founded the towns of Nazareth, Emmaus, and Bethlehem, as well as a number of missions on the frontier. Also, in the mid-18th century, settlers from Connecticut migrated into northeastern Pennsylvania, intent on establishing a colony of their own. The town of Wilkes-Barre reflects their distinctive influence: it was laid out in a New England pattern with a town square and a river common along the Susquehanna.


[photo]
Iron was once made at the Lock Ridge Furnace Complex
Photograph by Sue Pridemore

The geological history of the Lehigh Valley formed the coal which fueled the region's economic boom starting in the 19th century. With the exception of small regions in Colorado and New Mexico, Pennsylvania contains the only anthracite coal regions found in the United States. Productive soils, vast mineral deposits, and the Lehigh Canal created this region's landscape of farms, early industries, and historic towns. Iron-making was one of Pennsylvania's earliest and most important industries, and talented iron masters became powerful and wealthy. The George Taylor House, a National Historic Landmark, overlooking the Lehigh River in Catasauqua, was the magnificent 18th-century summer residence of the Master of Durham Furnace and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. White and Hazard's Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company took an active role in the development of the valley by selling water power and providing incentives for the use of anthracite. A tremendous boom came after 1840 when the first commercially successful anthracite-fueled blast furnace for iron smelting went into production at Catasauqua. Canal-borne fuel and new technological developments freed entrepreneurs from rural furnace locations. Forges and factories began to be built in the growing towns along the canal, particularly in Easton. Ironmaking of the 19th century is interpreted at the Lock Ridge Furnace Complex in Alburtis. Until 1885 the Lehigh Valley was the most productive iron-making region in America.

Bethlehem is the oldest of the valley's three cities and strongly displays its origin as the settlement of Moravian missionaries. A communal way of living and working called the Economy was established, in which each member was assigned the craft or position for which he or she had the most talent. Men and women lived separately in large stone and square-timbered dormitories, which remain. Produce and high-quality manufactures supported the towns and the mission
[photo]
Central Bethlehem Historic District
Photograph by Sue Pridemore

settlements. The experiment ended by 1762. The Gemeinhaus is the town's oldest building and is typical of the carefully built 18th-century stone buildings lining the streets of the historic district. The Moravian Sun Inn has been restored and is once again being used as a hotel. A 10-acre 18th-century industrial complex is now being restored along Monocacy Creek. The Bethlehem Steel plant extends for several miles along the Lehigh River. Although the plant is not open to the public, a drive along 3rd Street reveals the massive scale of this most powerful of industries.

Easton was founded at the Forks of the Delaware in 1752 by Thomas Penn, a son of William Penn. Following Penn's innovative concepts of town planning, as exemplified in Philadelphia, Thomas laid out the town in a grid around a "great square." From Revolutionary times, Easton was an important commercial center. Buildings and homes built by merchants near the great Square are part of the Easton Historic District. During the 19th century the city's strategic location at the junction of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers, the canals, and five major railroads contributed to it becoming one of the nation's earliest industrial centers.

The tremendous industrial growth that followed the Civil War increased the demand for laborers. Coal and iron companies initially recruited German, Irish, and Welsh workers. As more and more labor was needed, Slavs, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Czechs, and many others were bought over. Quarrying and stone dressing attracted Italian masons. Wives and children of the workers were employed in silk mills, situated to take advantage of inexpensive labor. Distinctive ethnic neighborhoods and mining company towns emerged. The poor working conditions of these immigrants eventually created a workforce sympathetic to representation by labor unions.


[photo]
Historic image of Mauch Chunk in 1896, now known as Jim Thorpe, and the railroad and canals that met here
Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division [pan 6a19671]
- Click here for a high-resolution historic panorama view

The experience of this labor force differed sharply from those able to profit greatly from this industrial growth. The town of Jim Thorpe reflects the lives of some of the regions more affluent residents. Tucked in the narrow valley of the Mauch Chunk Creek, exuberantly designed 19th-century buildings reflect the wealth and activity of the town. Jim Thorpe was the boom town of the canal era, the early headquarters of the powerful Lehigh and Navigation Company, and a transfer point between the mountain railroads and the canal. Hauled over the mountain on a gravity railroad, anthracite coal was loaded into canal boats to be transported downstream to markets in Philadelphia. First operated in 1827, the gravity railroad was a marvel and generated the first tourist boom for this tiny mountain town, by carrying thousands of tourists attracted to the prospects of mountain scenery and cool air.

The preserved Asa Packer Mansion, a National Historic Landmark, illustrates the sudden wealth which could be attained here. Asa Packer came to Jim Thorpe as an apprentice boatbuilder. He died 57 years later as a millionaire, after founding boatyards, construction and mining companies, the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and Lehigh University. Asa Packer built a second mansion for his son, and the Harry Packer Mansion is now used as an inn. St. Mark's Church, of rural Gothic design, and the restored Mauch Chunk Opera House are remarkable period pieces. From the renovated train station, occasional steam railroad excursions take visitors up the scenic Lehigh Valley Gorge. The site of the Gravity Switchback Railroad is now an 18-mile trail linking Jim Thorpe with Summit Hill.


 [graphic] Link to Canal History Essay
 [graphic] Link to Delaware and Lehigh Region Essay
 [graphic] Link to Scranton and the Railroad Essay
 [graphic] Link to Establishing the Heritage Corridor Essay

 

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