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Little Walking Tour of Easton

Forget your car, this town was made for walkin’.

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We begin our walking tour on North Third Street, at the First United Church of Christ. One of the oldest standing buildings in the Lehigh Valley, this church is noted for its Tiffany-style stained glass windows. The stone portion of the church was built in 1776 by Philip Mixsell on land donated to the German Reformed congregation by the heirs of William Penn. The brick tower and vestibule, added in 1832, was designed by architect Thomas U. Walter, architect of the U.S. Capitol. The church served as a military hospital during the Revolutionary War, and was the site of the Indian Treaty Conferences of January, 1777. Walk to the back of the church to see a Star of David constructed in commemoration of Meyer Hart, a Jewish citizen of Easton who contributed a keg of valuable and very scarce nails for the building’s construction. Also behind the church is Easton’s first school house, built in 1778, which is now used for the church’s offices.

Next door enter the Herman Simon Mansion, now home of the Third Street Alliance for Women and Children. In 1902 the German-born silk merchant commissioned Easton architect William Michler to build “the handsomest house in the Lehigh Valley” for the ladies of his family. Two years and $250,000 later, those ladies were presented with this magnificent High Renaissance French chateau-style home, constructed by both European and American craftsmen. Exterior features include an Indiana limestone façade with a granite base and a Vermont slate roof with copper ornamentation. Note the figures carved into the exterior limestone. The adjacent Bixler House was originally built for Mr. Simon’s daughter. If the building is open, walk into the main entrance to admire the craftsmanship in what was the Simon’s library.

As you leave the Simon Mansion, continue north on Third Street. Due to its proximity to major waterways, between 1820 and 1860 Easton was the busiest and wealthiest town in the area. Constructed mainly in the mid-nineteenth century, this block, formerly known as “Millionaire’s Row,” housed some of Easton’s richest citizens. Although now sub-divided into businesses and apartments, most of the homes on North Third Street once contained formal parlors, grand ballrooms, and regal libraries. This opulence can still be seen in the quality materials, fine workmanship, and exterior detail of the townhouses.

Turn right onto Spring Garden Street. On your right at 244 Spring Garden Street is the Ludlow Estate, built in 1790 and expanded in 1845. Dr. Ludlow was a prominent surgeon who attended General Grant after the Battle of Vicksburg. An innovator in amputation techniques, Ludlow was also known as the author of the classic text, How to Care for Horses Without Shoes.

Next door, at 232 Spring Garden Street, is the Trinity Episcopal Church, originally the home of Samuel Sitgreaves, an Easton congressman, diplomat, and civic leader. The Episcopal congregation was formed in 1798, but services were sporadic until Sitgreaves offered his home as a permanent meeting place. Ultimately, Sitgreaves also donated his carriage yard and orchard as land for the original church, the cornerstone of which was erected in 1820. The congregation soon outgrew this structure, which was torn down and replaced in 1871. That church burned to the ground two years later. On Holy Thursday of 1875, the third and present Trinity Church was consecrated. This Gothic Revival church was designed by William Haight; the large rose and Tiffany-type forward windows were fashioned by Nicholas D’Ascenzo of Philadelphia. Sitgreaves is among those resting in the small adjacent cemetery. However, because the tombstones had to be moved when the church was expanded, no one is really sure where any of this graveyard’s inhabitants are buried.

Cross the street to reach 231 Spring Garden Street. When he became President of Easton Bank in 1832, Colonel Thomas McKean built this substantial house for his wife on a portion of the gardens once owned by Sitgreaves. The exterior still appears as restrained and dignified as it did when first built; the balanced windows and dormers, the shutters, and the central entrance hall echo the features of other Federal-style residences of this period. In 1885 the second owner, Dr. Lachenour, built the side addition at 229 Spring Garden for his medical practice. At that time he also remodeled the first floor in Victorian fashion.
This evolution of styles created unique features, including the two sets of 25 over 25 pane windows (all others in the house are traditional six over six pane). The rear carriage house, which may predate the main quarters, has recently been restored into a residence. Like many other fine downtown homes, this building’s residential use eventually gave way to the surrounding commercial district. In the 1950s, the house was sold to the Williams brothers, owners of the Hotel Easton. By the 1970s Ormsby’s, a restaurant, was located here.

The Howard Riegel Mansion at 214 Spring Garden was designed by William Michler in 1902. This Federal Revival house is noted for the use of Mercer Tiles from the Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown on the porch floors and around the fireplaces. The stained-glass windows are vintage Tiffany-studio. Another distinguishing exterior feature is the garden’s brick wall, which is set with a wrought-iron gate. The Salvation Army purchased this building in June, 1959; it has recently been sold to a private developer for adaptive reuse.

Further down the block you’ll find 208 Spring Garden, another example of Federal-style architecture. This building was erected in 1812 and expanded in both 1817 and 1820. All of the built-in shutters, windows, hinges, doorknobs, and most of the glass are original features. The porch seats, also original, extended across to the other side of the building until a fire destroyed the other half.

Turn right onto North Second Street at the Bixler/Laubach Home, 204 Spring Garden. This turn-of-the-century stone Victorian Romanesque residence has many beautiful and unusual windows, including a stained-glass bay window on the west side. While the Moravians at Bethlehem and Nazareth were building their towns, Thomas Penn made plans to found a county seat at the Forks of the Delaware. He ordained that the town, founded in 1752, be called Easton and the county Northampton after Easton-Neston, Northamptonshire, England, his wife’s hometown. Easton was a planned community, one of several that were plotted in Pennsylvania during this period. William Parsons, assisted by Nicholas Scull, used a grid pattern for the streets surrounding the “Great Square” now known as Centre Square, resulting in the regularity of downtown Easton’s layout which you are now experiencing.

The Benjamin Riegel Mansion (44 North Second Street) was built in the Jacobson Revival Style, an English style of architecture. Built in 1902, the exterior is noted for its Flemish bond brickwork. The house was built for the son of the founder of Riegelsville and the President of the Riegel Paper Company. After housing the Ritz at 44 Antiques for several years, the building was recently sold and is now home to law offices.

Across the street is the Wolf School Building, named for Eastonian George Wolf, Governor of Pennsylvania from 1829-1835. Wolf’s primary achievement was the fact that he signed legislation to bring free public schooling to Pennsylvania; the archway, constructed utilizing pennies donated by schoolchildren, commemorates this accomplishment. This, Easton’s first high school, was constructed in 1893. Stained glass windows, elaborate brickwork, and a bell tower are facets of the building’s marvelous architecture. The Wolf School currently houses many of Northampton County’s offices.

Library Hall, 32 North Second Street, was Easton’s first library. Under the leadership of Samuel Sitgreaves, a Library Company was founded in 1811. In 1814 they purchased a small building at this site, and a new Federal-style library was erected over and around the existing structure, incorporating the old brick walls into the new interior walls. Originally a private library, in 1864 the Easton School Board took over and created a public facility. When the new library was built 50 years later, Library Hall became the school district’s administrative offices. It is now home to Archive, an architectural firm.BachmannColor08

The Bachmann Publick House sits at the northeast corner of Second and Northampton Streets. Dating to 1753, it is one of the oldest buildings in Easton and the only surviving tavern. In the early 1990s, the vacant structure was purchased by Easton Heritage Alliance, a non-profit historic preservation group. Over the course of a decade, the Bachmann was painstakingly restored and turned into a museum of living history. If the Bachmann is open as you pass by, please go inside to view the exhibits of local history.

After viewing the Tavern, turn right onto Northampton Street and head west toward Centre Square. Our next stop is 241 Northampton Street. Built in 1864, this Italianate mansion is an opulent testament to the merchant’s status in mid-nineteenth century America. Originally the home of Thomas McKean, cotton merchant, in 1867 the mansion was inherited by his daughter, Jane Young. At the time of her death it was sold to Howard A. Hartzell, who converted the first floor for commercial use. On the exterior, ornate window trim (shelled window hoods), mansard room, and large-scale brackets are typical of the Italianate style that dominated pre-Victorian architecture. For a time, this location was well-known as Abel’s Ice Cream Parlor. It now houses River Grille restaurant.

From here, you may proceed half of the way around the circle to continue west on Northampton Street. The Circle (which all Eastonians know is, of course, Centre Square) plays a salient role in Easton’s history. Here, between 1756 and 1761, Indian treaty councils led to the British conquest of the Ohio Valley and ultimately to England’s victory in the French and Indian War. Here, in 1765, the first Northampton County Courthouse was constructed, and on its steps Robert Levers performed the third reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. Here, in 1792, a farmers’ market that exists to this day was established by ordinance.

The 75-foot tall Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was dedicated in 1900 as a tribute to all Union militia. Accordingly, the bugler faces west, toward the sunset. In 1951, the City of Easton first erected the Peace Candle. This Candle and its lighting on the night after Thanksgiving has become an annual tradition; in 1990 the original candle was replaced by a new structure, “The Tallest Peace Candle in the World.” The southwestern quadrant of the Square houses the renovated Alpha building, the tallest building in Easton as well as City Hall. This quadrant also features Two Rivers Landing and the Crayola Factory, beloved by children throughout the country.

Adjacent to Two Rivers Landing on Northampton Street is the Easton National Bank Building, built in 1929 in the popular Art Deco style. Notice the bronze sculpted inlays on the poured cement exterior. The National Building occupies the southwest corner of Fourth and Northampton Streets. This seven-story, steel-framed beaux-arts building was erected in 1908. The decorative carved design on the first story’s granite facing was inspired by ancient Roman architecture.

The last of Easton’s grand vaudeville theaters, the State Theater and Center for the Arts at 453 Northampton Street was saved from demolition in 1981. Originally built in 1873 as Northampton National Bank, this beaux-arts building was converted into the Newmoyer Theater in 1910. The sturdy façade is of Vermont granite. In 1926 the Theatre was redesigned by William Lee, a major American theater designer, and was remodeled into the grand entertainment center you see before you.

From Northampton Street the steeple of the Zion German Lutheran Church on North Fifth Street beckons like a beacon. Founded in 1852, the building is presently the home of the Rock Church. Rumor has it that when the Lutheran congregation renovated the church, the finest German craftsman was retained to build the new steeple. Specifications were then sent to Germany. However, this artisan mistook the American dimensions, given in feet, for European measurements, calculated in meters. The resulting steeple is one of downtown Easton’s most protruding landmarks.

Turn right onto South Sixth Street at the Hotel Mount Vernon. At 20 South Sixth Street you’ll find the hotel’s former livery stables. Constructed in 1888, at one time over 100 horses as well as carriages were housed here at any given time. For 60 years this was used as a storage facility, but a decade ago a woodworker purchased the building to headquarter his business, and he meticulously restored and rebuilt all the exterior doors and windows piece by piece, keeping them true to style.

A short walk further up Sixth Street will lead you to the Brith Shalom Synagogue, built by a small congregation of German Jews in 1842. In 1907 the congregation accepted its first Russian members and at the same time significantly rebuilt the synagogue, constructing a Moorish-style façade, expanding the rear of the building, and remodeling the interior. Because it had been vacant throughout the 1990s, Brith Shalom had steadily deteriorated through neglect, earning a designation as one of Pennsylvania’s 15 most endangered buildings. It was saved several years ago, when the Nature Nook decided to locate in this important piece of the city’s Jewish heritage.

As you gaze out Sixth Street towards the Lehigh River you see rows of townhouses old and new. Once this land was pasture. Now dotted with cars, both sides of Ferry Street were once lined with women milking cows, trading news and gossip, lending the vitality and richness to city life that characterizes Easton to this day. Thank you for taking this walking tour and discovering the richness of Easton’s past.




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3 Responses

11.26.09

This tour was written by Dr. Elinor Warner.

11.26.09

Thanks for relating the history of Easton. Is a great history and is good to know there is people who care for its rich history and are willing to share it with us.

11.26.09

Thanks for your comment, Ruben. I’m glad you liked it. I’m going to be publishing a revised walking tour in the next pocket guide to Easton. Look for it this summer!

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