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Allentown History, Pennsylvania

Allentown, Pennsylvania, was officially founded in 1762; but the area had seen some settlements and had even been surveyed prior to its foundation. The present city-site was a part of the rich and famous Philadelphia businessman, William Allen’s property. (In fact, this tract of land was part of the 5000-acre plot Allen had purchased from his business-partner, Joseph Turner, in 1935. Allen had even built a hunting-/fishing-lodge on this property and used it to entertain his guests).

Allentown History – The Beginning

Now, coming to the real beginning of Allentown history, this third-most populous Pennsylvania-city made its beginning as a humble village. Allen’s original plan for the village consisted of 42-city blocks and he named most of the streets and places after family-members and friends. Although Allen named the village Northampton Town (because he dreamt of developing the township as the seat of the Northampton County by displacing Easton), the name ‘Allen-Town’ or ‘Allen’s Town’ stuck to it in common usage from the very beginning.

Allentown History –The 18th Century

Allen gifted the town along with this property to his third son James in 1767 and James built a big summer house, Trout Hall (which even stands today), three years later.

The next important episode of Allentown history in the 18th century certainly has to do with the American Revolutionary War period. During the American Revolutionary War, the Pennsylvania State House bell (that later became famous as the Liberty Bell) along with other eleven bells were hidden in the Old Zion Reformed Church in the then Northampton Town to save them from being melted and molded into cannon balls by the British.

Allentown History – The 19th Century

Despite its role in the Revolutionary War, Northampton Town continued to be an agricultural/farming community and it emerged as one of the nation’s leading producers of grain in the first decade of the19th century. By 1811, Northampton Town was officially incorporated as the Borough of Northampton and when Lehigh County was carved out of the Northampton County the next year, Northampton Town was named the county seat. The next important event in Allentown history certainly has to be the re-naming of Northampton Town to Allentown and this happened in 1838.

The American Industrial Revolution, which started in the Lehigh Valley (of which it is the principal city, the other two being Bethlehem and Easton) placed Allentown in a very favorable situation and the 1850s and 1860s saw the growth of local iron industry that supplied all the iron needed for the expanding railway network. These were real good times for the town and it was given the status of a city in 1867.

Allentown’s growth, however, was stalled in the 1870s because of the collapse of the railroad boom. With almost no demands for iron, the iron mills had to be closed and Allentown fell into decline. Allentown staged a comeback of sorts towards the end of the 19th century, this time aided by the budding textile industry, chiefly the launching of local silk-mills.

Allentown History – 20th Century to Present Times

Allentown reached new highs in the first three decades of the 20th century much to the credit of its successful textile industry and this period of Allentown history saw the number of local silk mills go up to 140. With a considerable decrease in interest for silk, Allentown started cashing in on the manufacturing sector for its progress; everything from beer and cigars to machinery was produced in the industrial units till the 1950s. Thereafter, Allentown has largely become a service-sector based economy and is today firmly established as one of the leading cities of Pennsylvania.

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