Jewels aren’t limited to jewelry. In downtown Easton, these buildings have witnessed centuries of change and are some of the finest architectural treasures in the country. In a short three block walk, which starts at the Bachmann Tavern and ends at the Circle, you can visit all of these Easton jewels—for free. Pretty priceless.
By Kelly Prentice Photos by Laini Abraham
Bachmann Publick House
We begin our tour at the Bachmann Publick House or Bachmann Tavern (169 Northampton Street) one of the oldest buildings in the Lehigh Valley, built in 1753 by John Bachmann, and the only surviving tavern. Benjamin Franklin attended court sessions here during the French and Indian War. This historic landmark fell into disrepair in the 20th Century, but in the 1990s it was purchased by a non-profit historic preservation group and restored into a museum of living history. Today a new partnership between the City, County, Lafayette College and citizen groups is in the works to chart its future.
From Northampton Street, turn north onto North Second Street and look for Library Hall (32 North Second Street), Easton’s first library. Easton town father Samuel Sitgreaves founded “Easton Library Company” in 1811 and donated the first book. In 1815, this brick federal-style building was built around the existing structure donated by Sitgreaves, incorporating old brick walls into the new interior walls. In 1864, the building was deeded to the Easton School Board and became a public library, then 50 years later it became the school’s administrative offices. Today it is home to Archive, an architectural firm.
Benjamin Riegel Mansion
If turn-of-the-century scandal intrigues you, Easton is the place to find it. The Benjamin Riegel Mansion (44 North Second Street) was built as a retirement home in 1902 by the paper magnate who founded Riegelsville. Legend says it was designed by famed architect Stanford White (this has never been confirmed) who, in a 1906 New York City scandal, was assassinated by his lover’s jealous husband. The Jacobson Revival style estate sold to Easton developers Leslie and Leslar Williams, who owned the Hotel Easton. For 40 years it was the home of Lou Reda’s TV production company and now it is the law offices of Pffeiffer, Bruno, Minotti and DeEsch.
Governor Wolf Building
Across the street you can’t miss the Governor Wolf Building, built on the site of the original Easton Union Academy built by Samuel Sitgreaves in 1794. The Academy was not a school in the modern sense, but provided building space to teachers for private instruction. After a short stint as a female seminary, the building to the right of the current Wolf Building became the first high school 1834. The Governor Wolf building, named for Eastonian George Wolf, governor of Pennsylvania from 1829-1835 was built in 1893. Note the archway, paid for by pennies donated by local schoolchildren to recognize Wolf’s historic accomplishment—signing legislation to bring free public schooling to the state. The high school moved to 12th Street in 1925 and the Wolf building became the junior high, then the elementary school. Today it houses Northampton County government offices.
Frank Lawall Mansion
One block up, look for the Frank Lawall Mansion (73 North Second Street) built in 1905 by Frank Lawall, a salesman of lace and linens. This striking red brick mansion boasts “Greek revival” details, Dutch gables and a prominent keystone. After Mrs. Lawall sold the house in 1952, it was subdivided into office and residential apartments, and one tenant was architect Hugh Moore. Today, the mansion has been reconverted to its original grandeur and serves as a residence and studio/gallery for artist Charles Kablunde.
Bixler/ Laubach Mansion
Turn the corner at North Second and Spring Garden streets to find the Bixler/ Laubach Mansion (204 Spring Garden Street) a stone house in Victorian Romanesque style with a 3-story stone tower at the corner and a stained-glass bay window on the east side. The house was designed by Charles Howell and built in 1893 for the widow of J. Elwood Bixler, a grandson of Christian Bixler III who started the Bixler Jewelers business in approximately 1785.
St. Michael’s Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church
Don’t miss St. Michael’s Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church across the street (219 Spring Garden Street). Originally the Brainerd Presbyterian Church, in honor of colonial missionary David Brainerd, the church was dedicated in 1854 when its 175-foot spire “dominated” the Easton skyline. The Presbyterian congregation left the building in 1893, when they joined the Second Presbyterian congregation at the 333 Spring Garden St. church. In 1916, the building was purchased by St. Michael’s Lithuanian Roman Catholic congregation, then only four years old.
Colonel Thomas McKean Mansion
Next, look for the Colonel Thomas McKean Mansion (231 Spring Garden Street). Thomas McKean was the President of Easton Bank. It was purchased from the McKean estate by Dr. Henry Lachenour who expanded and remodeled in Victorian style. Lachenour’s daughter, Laura, married Frank Ormsby and sold the estate to the Williams Brothers in 1950s. In the 1970s it was the site of the well-known Ormsby’s Restaurant, though it has since returned to a private residence.
Trinity Episcopal Church
(232 Spring Garden Street) was originally the home of Samuel Sitgreaves, well-known Easton diplomat, congressman and civic leader. In 1818, Episcopal congregation services began here, and Sitgreaves moved his home to Northampton Street. The congregation soon outgrew the home, which was replaced in 1871. After a fire in 1873, it was replaced again in 1875 by the present building. Sitgreaves is among those resting in the small adjacent cemetery; however, because the tombstones had to be moved when the church expanded, no one knows for sure where any of the graveyard’s inhabitants are buried.
The Chipman Mansion
The Chipman Mansion (252 Spring Garden Street) was designed/built by William Michler in 1902 for Easton industrialist Evan Chipman, a partner in the Charles Chipman Hosiery Mills. Today, wood paneling on the ground floor conceals a hidden staircase that descends to a basement barroom, which the owners’ oral tradition holds was a speakeasy during the Prohibition era. The basement room also has concealed spaces behind its walls reportedly used to store illegal liquor and a peephole where you can see people on the street outside. The Chipman Mansion appears to have replaced the corner residence built in the late 1820s by Rev. John A. Probst. Today it is home to Sanctuary Hair Salon and Day Spa.
The Simon Mansion
In 1902, German-born silk merchant Herman Simon commissioned architect William Michler to build the “the handsomest house in the Lehigh Valley” for his wife and daughters. The result, two years and $250,000 later, was the Simon Mansion (41 North Third Street), today home of the Third Street Alliance for Women and Children. The women of the family were presented with this “High Renaissance Chateau,” indeed the most opulent in the area. Exterior features include a carved likeness of Mrs. Simon, an Indiana limestone façade with a granite base, and a Vermont slate roof with copper ornamentation that still retains its mystique. The lavish interior boasts Spanish leather, Italian marble, Delft and Bavarian tiles, South American mahogany and Caen Stone, as well as frescoed ceilings.
The adjacent Bixler/Ward House was built in 1921/22 by Grace Simon Bixler on the property that was the original formal gardens of the Simon Mansion. William Michler designed this home. The Bixler/Ward name came about because Grace was married to William Opp Bixler when the house was built. She divorced him in 1925 and married William Ward in 1926 or 1927.
First United Church of Christ
Just steps away, First United Church of Christ (27-29 North Third Street) is another of the oldest buildings in the Lehigh Valley, built in 1776 as a joint enterprise between the Lutherans and the “German Reformed” Calvinists. Because of this joint participation it was initially known as the “Union Church,” then became the German Reformed Church when the Lutheran congregation split off. The stone portion of the church was built by Phillip Mixsell on land donated by William Penn and the building is renowned for its Tiffany-style stained glass windows. Go to the back of the church to find a Star of David inscribed in one of the windows in memory of Meyer Hart, Easton’s first shopkeeper and Jewish citizen who contributed to the church building fund. The church served as a military hospital for wounded during the Revolutionary War and was also the site of the Indian Treaty Conference of January 1777.
Continue north along North Third where you’ll find the magic of Easton’s heyday still alive and well with Millionaire’s Row. Due to its proximity to major waterways, between 1820 and 1860, Easton was the busiest and wealthiest town in the area. This block, constructed in the 19th Century, housed some of Easton’s richest citizens, including the Hohls, the Rineks, and the Whitwoods. Though now subdivided into apartments and businesses, the opulence of the buildings still shows through the rich materials and detailed architecture.
Dr. Innes Residence
Pop in to see the Quadrant Bookmart and Coffee Shop aka Dr. Innes Residence (20 North Third Street) built circa 1848 as the residence of Dr. Charles Innes, who helped plan Easton’s first public high school. After the doctor’s death in 1880, his son Edward sold the house to Easton lawyer Mathew Hale Jones, Jr. who in turn sold it to his son-in-law Judge William Sebring Kirkpatrick. The Kirkpatrick family lived in or rented the house for some time—as a flower shop in the 1920s—and finally sold it in 1971 to Dr. Harold Kares, a chiropodist (foot doctor). By 1976, the “Kares Building” was scheduled for demolition by the City, when a major community effort saved it from destruction. Today people of all ages gather at this historic hotspot for coffee, a good read or some local music at the Quadrant Bookmart and Coffee Shop.
As you head along North Third Street toward Centre Square, you begin to get the sense that Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln may have walked the same path. If it’s a Saturday morning in summer or fall, you will notice the hustle and bustle of the Easton Farmers’ Market, the oldest continuous open-air farmer’s market in the country. The 75-foot tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument (from 1900) towers in front of you, or perhaps, you see the “Tallest Peace Candle” in the world, first erected in 1951. Also at Centre Square you will find Two Rivers Landing, home to the D&L Visitor Information Center, National Canal Museum, and the Crayola® Factory.
Special thanks to Richard F. Hope, historian, who contributed a wealth of information for this walking tour. For more information, visit the collaborative website or check out one of his books.
Note: The Jewel Box is now on FourSquare and Gowalla! So if you’re in the neighborhood, don’t forget to check in.
This walking tour is excerpted from the 3rd edition of laini’s little pocket guide to Easton. Pick one up and take it on your walking tour!