About Allentown, PA

allentown PA map
Written by NJroute22

About Allentown, PA

Allentown, PA is also a short drive from NJroute22 (depending on where you live).

But what is here? Oh, you can ask Billy Joel: “And we’re living here in Allentown!”

Here’s a video to remind you:

Allentown, Pennsylvania

bethlehem PA perspective map

Gee – it’s far away!

Allentown (Pennsylvania DutchAllenschteddel) is a city located in Lehigh CountyPennsylvaniaUnited States. It is Pennsylvania’s third most populous city and the 226th largest city in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 118,032 and is currently the fastest growing city in all of Pennsylvania. It is the largest city in the metropolitan area known as the Lehigh Valley, which had a population of 821,623 residents as of 2010. It constitutes a portion of the New York City Metropolitan Area and is the county seat of Lehigh County. In 2012, the city celebrated the 250th anniversary of its founding in 1762.

Located on the Lehigh River, Allentown is the largest of three adjacent cities, in Northampton and Lehigh counties, that make up a region of eastern Pennsylvania known as the Lehigh Valley. Allentown is 50 miles (80 km) north-northwest of Philadelphia, the fifth most populous city in the United States, 90 miles (140 km) east-northeast of Harrisburg, the state capital, and 90 miles (140 km) west of New York City, the nation’s largest city.

History

Origins

In the early 1700s, the land now occupied by the City of Allentown and Lehigh County was a wilderness of scrub oak where neighboring tribes of Indians fished for trout and hunted for deer, grouse, and other game. In 1736, a large area to the north of Philadelphia, embracing the present site of Allentown and what is now Lehigh County, was deeded by 23 chiefs of the five great Indian nations to John, Thomas, and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn. The price for this tract included shoes and buckles, hats, shirts, knives, scissors, combs, needles, looking glasses, rum, and pipes.

The land that was to become Allentown was part of a 5,000-acre (20 km) plot Allen purchased on September 10, 1735 from his business partner Joseph Turner, who was assigned the warrant to the land by Thomas Penn, son of William Penn, on May 18, 1732.

The land was originally surveyed on November 23, 1736. A subsequent survey done in 1753 by David Schultz for a road from Easton to Reading, of which present-day Union and Jackson streets were links, shows the location of a log house owned by Allen, situated near the western bank of the Jordan Creek, which was believed to have been built around 1740. Used primarily as a hunting and fishing lodge, here Allen entertained prominent guests including his brother-in-law, James Hamilton, and colonial governor John Penn.

Founding

The area that is today the center of Allentown was laid out as Northampton Town in 1762 by William Allen, a wealthy shipping merchant, former mayor of the city of Philadelphia and then-Chief Justice of the Province of Pennsylvania. It is likely that a certain amount of rivalry with the Penns prompted Judge Allen to decide to start a town of his own in 1762.

Ten years before, in 1752, Northampton and Berks counties had been formed, each with a county seat, Easton, and Reading, respectively. It is recorded that, in 1763, the very year after the founding of Allentown, an effort was made to have the county seat moved from Easton to the new town. To this effort, William Allen lent all his influence as Chief Justice and also as the son-in-law of Andrew Hamilton. The influence of the Penns, however, prevailed; and Easton was retained as the county seat of all that vast area which the notorious “Walking Purchase” had opened up.

The original plan for the town, now in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, comprised forty-two city blocks and consisted of 756 lots, mostly 60 feet (18 m) in width and 230 feet (70 m) in depth. The town was located between present-day Fourth and Tenth Streets, and Union and Liberty Streets. Many streets on the original plan were named for Allen’s children: Margaret (present-day Fifth Street), William (now Sixth), James (now Eighth), Ann (now Ninth) and John (now Walnut). Allen Street (now Seventh) was named for Allen himself and was the main thoroughfare. Hamilton Street was named for James Hamilton. Gordon Street was named for Sir Patrick Gordon, Deputy Governor of Colonial Pennsylvania from 1726–1736. Chew Street was named for Benjamin Chew, and Turner Street was named for Allen’s business partner, Joseph Turner.

Allen hoped that Northampton Town would displace Easton as the seat of Northampton County and also become a commercial center due to its location along the Lehigh River and its proximity to Philadelphia. Allen gave the property to his son James in 1767. Three years later, in 1770, James built a summer residence, Trout Hall, in the new town, near the site of his father’s former hunting lodge.

On March 18, 1811, the town was formally incorporated as the Borough of Northamptown. On March 6, 1812, Lehigh County was formed from the western half of Northampton County, and Northampton Town was selected as the county seat. The town was officially renamed “Allentown” on April 16, 1838, after years of popular usage. Allentown was formally incorporated as a city on March 12, 1867.

Liberty Bell and the American Revolutionary War

Allentown holds historical significance as the location where the Liberty Bell (then known as the Pennsylvania State House bell) was successfully hidden from the British during the American Revolutionary War. After George Washington‘s defeat at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, the revolutionary capital of Philadelphia was defenseless, and that city prepared for British attack. The Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ordered that eleven bells, including the State House bell and the bells from Philadelphia’s Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church, be taken down and removed from the city to prevent the British, who would melt the bells down to cast into cannons, from taking possession of them. The bells were transported by John Snyder and Heinrich Bartholomew, two local residents assigned to the task by the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, north to Northampton-Towne, and hidden in the basement of the Old Zion Reformed Church, in what is now center city Allentown.

Reproduction of a watercolor by Davis Gray of the arrival of the Liberty Bell at Zions Church, in Northampton Town, Pennsylvania on 24 September 1777 (holdings of the Lehigh County Historical Society.)

Today, a shrine and museum in the church’s basement, known as the Liberty Bell Museum, marks the spot where the bell was hidden. “Ordered; Mr Lowden and Mr. Hoge be appointed to have money and papers belonging to the public loan office be moved to Easton in the County of Northampton, and John Snyder, Heinrich Bartholomew was employed with a wagon and convey it to said place.”

Two wagon masters played an important role on this historic (Liberty Bell) trip from Philadelphia to Bethlehem. John Snyder and Henry Bartholomew were employed by the Supreme Executive Council, on this same day of the Liberty Bell’s journey, to convey money and papers of value from Philadelphia to Easton for protection. It is recorded these two farmers of high esteem with horses and wagon of great value were entrusted with “papers in case, a barrel and a large iron chest”. They made more than this one trip. On one journey from Pittston, New Jersey, these two men carried ammunition and books to store in safety in Easton. The only highway to this city came by way of Germantown through Bethlehem and then east to Easton.”

After the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, Hessian prisoners-of-war were kept in the vicinity of present-day Seventh and Gordon Streets. The Old Zion Reformed Church, and a house near James (now Eighth) and Hamilton Streets, served as hospitals for injured and sick Continental Army troops. In 1777, a factory manufacturing paper cartridges for muskets was relocated here from nearby Bethlehem. That same year, a shop of sixteen armorers was established along the Little Lehigh Creek, and employed in the repair of weapons and the manufacture of saddles and scabbards.

Early Allentown

After the turmoil of the Revolution, Northampton Town grew slowly. In 1782 there were fifty-nine houses and over a hundred cows were stabled within the town. The town was described by a visitor in 1783 as “… one gets a glimpse of many good stone houses, many of them very neat, and everything about the premises shows good order and attention. The people are mainly German who speak bad English and distressing German…”. In 1795, the U.S. Gazetteer described Allentown as “.. a handsome and flourishing town of Northampton County, pleasantly situated on the point of land formed by the junction of the Jordan Creek and Little Lehigh. It is regularly laid out and contains about ninety dwellings, a German Lutheran and a Calvinist (Zion) Church, an Academy and three merchant mills…”.

Watercolor of the first bridge erected across the Lehigh River in 1814 , just north of the current bridge. The bridge, erected between 1812-1814 is shown looking west from the east bank of the river. This painting was made about 1830, after the opening of the Lehigh Canal. It also shows Dam Number 7 on the Lehigh River, now known as the Hamilton Street Dam (holdings of the Lehigh County Historical Society).

 

Until 1803, the people of Northampton Town received their mail in Bethlehem. However, at the Compass and Square Hotel at Center Square (Today’s Penn National Bank building) a post office was established. After reaching a population of over 700 residents in the 1810 United States Census, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave Northampton Town a legal existence on 18 March 1811 by incorporating it as the – Borough of Northampton, in Northampton County. The first business of the Borough government was to order cows to seek other pastures other than the public streets. An action which led many of its citizens to believe they were better off when it was plain Northampton Town, before it became a Borough. In 1812, Lehigh County was formed by partitioning a section of Northampton County, and Northampton was designated as its county seat. In the early 1800s, Allen’s town, or Allentown, as the borough began to be called since it was no longer a part of Northampton County, continued to grow primarily as a court and market town. The name became so common that in 1838, the name was officially changed to “Allentown”. The first bank, the Northampton Bank was chartered in July 1814 and it stood at the northeast corner of Center Square, where the Allentown National Bank Building stands today. It was also in this period that the first Hamilton Street Bridge was built, a 530 foot long chain structure, was constructed over the Lehigh River. It was composed of two suspended lanes, one for east and one for westbound traffic, and a toll house at the western end.

Saeger’s Mill was built in 1828 along the Lehigh Canal in the same year it was opened. It used water power purchased from the Lehigh Canal and Navigation Company, the owners of the canal. The mill straddled the canal, and a covered bridge allowed the company to use both banks of the canal. Sager’s Mill was destroyed by a fire in 1951.

 

In 1792, the land to the north of the Lehigh Valley was purchased by the Lehigh Coal Mine Company. However it was difficult to transport coal over the primitive trail system that existed at the time so very little was mined. In 1818 the Lehigh Navigation Company was formed and construction was begun on a navigable canal to transport the coal from Mach Chunk (today’s Jim Thorpe) to Easton on the Delaware River. The Lehigh Canal was completed for both ascending and descending navigation in 1829, being 46.6 miles long along the east side of the Lehigh River. Its construction was the greatest single factor in making anthracite coal one of America’s most important domestic and industrial fuels. However, the operational life of the canal was short. In 1855 the first railroad was built on the west side of the Lehigh River and the competition between them resulted in the steady decline of canal traffic.

The 1840s in particular were not kind to Allentown. A flood in 1841 swept away the Hamilton Street bridge and did extensive damage to the river section of the city. The Northampton Bank failed in 1843 due to speculation and caused financial ruin to many families. Then a large fire on June 1, 1848 burned out most of the Central Business District between Seventh and Eighth Streets on Hamilton. However, during the 1850s, the city recovered economically with a new bridge across the Lehigh, brick buildings replacing the wooden ones burned down on Hamilton Street, and in 1852, the first Allentown Fair was held.

Civil War

1920 statue in West Park memorializing the Allen Infantry. The solder is Ignatz Gresser, the only Allentonian to be bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor.

In April 1861, Allentown sent one of five companies of Pennsylvania militia to Washington, D.C. to deter the Confederate States from carrying out any plans they had to capture it. Known as the “Allen Infantry”, were one of the first organized units to defend the city. They later became known as the “First Defenders”.

During the latter half of 1861, the people of Allentown and Lehigh County realized that the Civil War was serious business. On August 5, 1861, Governor Andrew Curtin granted the authority to raise a volunteer regiment in the Lehigh Valley. Companies B, G, I, & K of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were recruited in Allentown. The 47th PVI became of great local importance to the community because of its long record of service on many fronts. Col Tilghman H Good was it’s commanding officer. Previously, he had commanded the Allen Infantry, and after the war became Mayor of Allentown for several terms. Other known Civil War units from Allentown were the 5th, 41st, 128th, and 176th PA Infantry.

After emigrating from Germany at age 15, Ignatz Gresser became a cobbler in Allentown. Just days after the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, he enlisted in the Allen Infantry. After the war stretched into its second year, he enlisted in the 128th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. in August 1862, becoming a Corporal in Company D. He was bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor. for his bravery at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. The Allentown Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which stands in Center Square, came about largely through the efforts of Corporal Gresser.

Industrial and Business Center

The opening of the Lehigh Canal caused a fundamental change in the nature of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley, as it transformed both from a rural agricultural area dominated by German-speaking people into an urbanized industrialized area. It expanded the city’s commercial and industrial capacity greatly. With this, the town underwent significant industrialization, ultimately becoming a major center for heavy industry and manufacturing.

The Allentown Rolling Mill Company, photographed in 1889.

The actual foundation for the city’s industrial development was brought about by necessity. David Deshler, the city’s first shopkeeper, opened a saw mill in 1782. By 1814 the list of industrial plants in the city included flour mills, saw mills, two saddle makers, a tannery and tan yard, a woolen mill, a card weaving ·plant, two gunsmiths, two tobacconists, two clock-makers, and two printers. In 1855, the first railroads reached Allentown. These were in direct competition for moving coal with the Lehigh Canal. The Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad ordered four locomotives and stations were erected at Easton, Allentown and Mauch Chunk. The railroad was placed in operation in September of that year. Connections for New York were made via the Central Railroad of New Jersey and later connections with Philadelphia were made via the Perkiomen railroad which operated between Norristown and Freemansburg.

It was Henry Leh that began the true industrialization of Allentown in 1861. The Union Army needed boots. Since Simon Cameron, the secretary of war, was from Pennsylvania, many government contracts flowed to the Keystone state. Leh had opened his shoe and ready-to-wear clothing store in Allentown in 1850. If the Union Army needed boots and shoes, he’d make them. In addition to Leh’s boot and shoe industry, during the Civil War, eight brick yards, a saw mill, the Allentown Paint factory, two shoe factories, a piano factory, flour mills, breweries and distilleries had opened in the city.

The Adelaide Silk Mill, shown in 1910.

Beds of iron ore had been discovered in the hills around Allentown in the 1840s, and a furnace was constructed in 1846 for the production of pig iron by the Allentown Iron Company. The furnace was opened in 1847 under the supervision of Samuel Lewis, an expert in iron production, and this led to the opening of plants for a wide variety of metal products. The Allentown Rolling Mill Company was a merger of several small companies in 1860 and became the most significant iron company in the city. It employed many people and turned out more iron products than any other. Although not as large as the iron and steel industry in neighboring Bethlehem, in the latter half of the 19th Century, Allentown became a major iron-producing center.

The Allentown Boiler Works was founded in 1883 by Charles Collum. He and his partner, John D. Knouse, built a large facility at Third and Gordon Streets in the First Ward, near the Lehigh Valley Railroad yard to the east near Jeter’s (later Kline’s) Island. The business manufactured iron products of many types, being used in the White House and at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. It’s boilers and kilns were used across the United States, and also in Canada, Cuba and the Philippines.

Center Square about 1910

In addition to the iron and railroad industries, Allentown also had a strong tradition in the brewing of beer and was home to several notable breweries, including the Horlacher Brewery (founded 1897, closed 1978), the Neuweiler Brewery (founded 1875, closed 1968) and Schaefer Beer, whose brewery was later owned by Pabst Brewing Company and Guinness but is now owned by the Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams.

Brick making flourished in the city until after World War I, the clay unearthed in various sections of the community proving highly suitable for the manufacture of building brick as well as fire brick. Bricks were the first products shipped outside of the Allentown area by rail and were sold nationwide. Food processing started with the early bakers, who came into the city with the first settlers. In 1887, Wilson Arbogast and Morris C. Bastian formed Arbogast and Bastian, that commercial slaughtering was done on a large scale.

Mack Trucks assembly plant 5C, shown in 1945

With the industrial industry, Allentown became a major banking and finance center. William H. Ainey was born in Susquehanna county, November 30, 1834. In 1860 he organized the Allentown Savings Institution and was chosen its first president. In 1863-64 the Second National Bank of Allentown was organized. He was elected its first president, a position he filled up to the time of his death. Ainey was a major financier of the industrial and retail growth of the city. Through his industry and assistance the following industries were established: The Iowa Barb Wire Co., which was later absorbed by the American Steel and Wire Co.; The Pioneer Silk Factory, The Palace Silk Mill, and the Allentown Spinning Company.

In the late 1870s, Allentown’s iron industry collapsed. It left the city economically depressed and to prevent this from happening again, efforts were made to develop a diversifed industrial base. Convincing the Phoenix Manufacturing Company to open a silk mill in Allentown was the first major success of that effort. The success of its Adelaide mill at Race and Court Streets prompted the opening of the Pioneer silk mill in 1886 and the city was established as a silk manufacturing center. With its many ancillary businesses, the silk industry became the largest in the city and remained so until the late 20th century. By 1914 there were 26 mills in Allentown, which by 1928, when rayon was introduced became 85 mills. Over 10,000 people were employed in the Allentown silk industry at its height during the 1940s.

Hamilton Street West from 6th in 1950

Jack and Gus Mack moved their motor car plant to Allentown from Brooklyn, NY in 1905; taking over the foundries of the former Weaver-Hirsh company on South 10th Street. By 1914, Mack Trucks had developed a reputation for being study and reliable. Many were sent to the battlefields of the Western Front in France before the United States entered World War I in 1917. The British gave the Mack AC five and seven ton trucks the nickname “Bulldog”. Mack eventually had a total of eight manufacturing plants in Allentown. In the post-World War II era, the Western Electric plant on Union Boulevard was announced on 11 October 1945, after a nationwide search to locate a new manufacturing plant. On 1 October 1951 the world’s first transistor production began at the Allentown Western Electric plant. It would become the backbone of a communications revolution. Over the years the plant was at the forefront of the postwar electronics revolution.

Max Hess came to Allentown in 1896 on a business trip and envisioned a department store serving the area. He moved his family from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1897. Max and his brother Charles opened Hess Brothers on Ninth and Hamilton streets. In the first half of the 20th Century, Hess Brothers was a shopping destination. Flamboyance and excitement were cornerstones of the store. It was well known for its fashion apparel as a result of introducing the latest trends from Europe. Opening in 1926, the Zollinger-Harned Company became Allentown’s third major department store in the Central Business District.

By the mid-20th Century, Allentown had become a major retailing and entertainment center separate from Philadelphia and New York City. The establishment of the Hess Brothers, H. Leh and Company and Zollnger Department stores led to the growth of the retail business sector in the Central Business District. There were dozens of smaller retail stores, along with numerous restaurants, hotels, banks and professional offices in the “downtown”, as it was called. In addition to the shopping, at least seven cinemas and stage theaters were located along Hamilton Street between Fifth and Tenth Streets.

Late 20th century

By the mid-1960s, Allentown’s economy had been booming for decades. However, beginning in the 1970s, the economy and demographics of the city began to change.

Increasing taxes in the city and the inability to expand the city’s legal limits led to a migration of the baby boom generation to live outside of the city limits. Townships such as SalisburySouth Whitehall and Whitehall had large areas of farmland that were prime locations for large housing estates to be built. Allentown began to be drained of its next generation of working class, who began to migrate to the newer, less expensive housing in suburbs which also offered lower taxes, greenspace, less crime, and newer schools.

With these demographic changes that began in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s and 1990s, Allentown’s city government and school district were left with fewer resources. The financial shortcomings of the city increased the number of working-class families leaving Allentown because of the Allentown School District’s shortcomings as well as the sea change in demographics in the city’s neighborhoods, especially those in center city. With the departure of many working-class families from older center city neighborhoods, many homes were sold to landlords which converted them into inexpensive multi-family apartments which became government subsidized because of lax zoning enforcement and permissive city codes. The subsidized housing attracted new immigrants to the area from New York and Philadelphia, looking for a better life in the more affordable Allentown area, but started a poverty problem with many of these residents requiring social services which the city could not afford easily.

1974 image of the Hamilton Mall, a redevelopment of the Central Business District of Allentown. This was an attempt by the city to compete with the suburban shopping centers that had opened outside of the city and bring shoppers back to the Central Business District.

While the neighborhoods and school system continued to decline, Allentown, like many other cities, focused all of its attention and resources on Hamilton Street Retail and the Central Business District, ignoring the neighborhoods around them. This exacerbated the decline of the city at large. With the population growth in the townships, more and more shopping centers along with other services were built outside of the city to accommodate the needs of their growing populations. In 1966, the Whitehall Mall, the first closed shopping mall north of Philadelphia was opened. Ten years later in 1976, the larger large Lehigh Valley Mall was built north of the Lehigh Valley Thruway (US Route 22). The stores in the downtown shopping district began to close and be replaced with stores whose customers were less affluent than the past. Large areas of the downtown were torn down for parking lots and the downtown business district was rebuilt in an attempt to compete with the suburban shopping areas. However, the Hamilton Mall concept of covered sidewalks and reduced traffic was ultimately unsuccessful. Two of the city’s major department stores, Leh’s and Zollingers closed by 1990. The third, Hess’s was sold to The Bon-Ton in 1994, which subsequently closed in 1996. The closure of Hess’s and the fate in 1993 of the Corporate Center, the city’s new flagship business center on North Seventh Street, fell victim to a large sinkhole which caused its condemnation and ultimate demolition.

Combined with this, the manufacturing economy of the Northeastern United States began suffering from deindustrialization. That caused many of the factories and corporations headquartered in Allentown to close or move. Mack Trucks relocated to Greensboro, North CarolinaLSI Corporation (formerly Western Electric, later Agere Systems, which merged with LSI Logic), moved its headquarters to California, and numerous factories ceased operation. With the manufacturing base of the economy eroding, more and more high-paying industrial jobs were replaced with lower-paying jobs in the service sector.

21st century

PPL Center construction in downtown Allentown in 2013.

Planned Five City Center, construction proposed to begin in 2016

In the 2000s and 2010s, Allentown’s economy, like most of Pennsylvania’s, has been based in the service industries with some manufacturing. There also has been significant growth in the healthcare, transportation and warehousing industries.

The Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) operates a business incubator, the Bridgeworks, which helps attract and support young commercial and manufacturing businesses. In addition, the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) was created by the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 2009 to encourage development and revitalization in Allentown. The NIZ consists of approximately 128 acres in downtown Allentown and the new Riverfront district (the western side of the Lehigh River). As a result, the Central Business District has been redeveloped with Allentown’s new PPL Center arena, a full-service Renaissance Hotel and redeveloped office buildings.

In addition to the Central Business District, the Lehigh River waterfront area is being redeveloped with a mixed-use development of apartment and office buildings. There is also an effort underway to bring suburban residents back into the city. Downtown apartment complexes, such as the Strata Lofts I and II are being built to provide rentals primarily for millennials who work in the new office buildings. Empty Nester boomer and Gen-X residents are being attracted to such condominium residences such as the redeveloped Livingston Building and Farr Lofts, as well as new urban condominiums planned in the Five City Center Complex downtown. In addition to the residences and office buildings, new retail stores and restaurants are being built as part of the NIZ development.

Geography

Topography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 18.0 square miles (46.6 km). 17.8 square miles (46.1 km) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km) is water. Bodies of water include the Jordan Creek and its tributary, the Little Lehigh Creek, which join within the city limits and empty into the Lehigh River. Other bodies of water within the city limits include Lake Muhlenberg in Cedar Creek Parkway and a pond in Trexler Park.

The city sits within the Lehigh Valley, a geographic region bounded by Blue Mountain, a ridge of the Appalachian mountain range, which varies from 1,000 to 1,600 feet (490 m) in height about 17 miles (27 km) north of the city, and South Mountain, a ridge of 500 to 1,000 feet (300 m) in height that borders the southern edge of the city.

The city is the county seat of Lehigh County. The adjacent counties are Carbon County to the north; Northampton County to the northeast and east; Bucks County to the southeast; Montgomery County to the south; and Berks County and Schuylkill County to the west.

Cityscape and neighborhoods

The Albertus L. Meyers Bridge, more commonly known as the Eighth Street Bridge was the longest and highest concrete bridge in the world upon its completion in 1913.

Center City, which includes the downtown area and the 7th Street retail and residential corridor, is the city’s central business district and the site of various city, county and federal government centers. To the east of Center City are “The Wards,” residential areas that developed during the city’s industrial boom of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Just east of the Lehigh River are the city’s East Side residential neighborhoods, most of which border the various routes to nearby Bethlehem. South of Center City, and across the Little Lehigh Creek, are the city’s South Side neighborhoods, which border Emmaus. The West End of Allentown, with its mix of commercial corridors, cultural centers, and larger single-family residences, begins approximately west of 15th Street.

The Center City’s tallest building is the PPL Building at 322 ft (98 m). The Allentown Art MuseumAllentown Symphony Hall, the former site of Hess’s Department Stores’ original and flagship store, Baum School of ArtLehigh County Historical Society and Heritage Museum, and The Liberty Bell Museum are all known landmarks in Center City. The Central Business District has several office buildings (One City Center, the Dime Savings and Trust Company building, Two City Center, and several others are planned), an 8,641-seat indoor arena (the PPL Center) which opened in August 2014, cost $177.1 million to build, the Americus Hotel and a Marriott Hotel which is scheduled to open in January 2015,

Plans for a major redevelopment of the Central Business District of Allentown were announced in late 2009 as a result of Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) legislation passed by the Pennsylvania legislature. Focused on the 7th and Hamilton Streets area, a 5-acre (2.0-hectare) one square block was acquired in 2011 in which several new structures are planned or have already been erected: The project has generated some concern centered on the huge cost of the endeavor from funding the plan. The estimated cost of the project is currently $277 million. As of October 2012, $224.3 million in bonds have been sold.

Existing structures were demolished in early 2012. Several lawsuits filed against the project were settled in mid-2012, and construction by 2015 was largely complete for the first phase.

Architecture

Allentown Symphony Hall, located on Allentown’s North Sixth Street, was originally built in the late 19th century as a market.

The City of Allentown is characterized by a large stock of historic homes, commercial structures and century-old industrial buildings.

Allentown’s Center City neighborhoods mainly consist of a variety of Victorian and Federal rowhomes. The stately homes around West Park are mostly Victorian and Craftsman-style. The houses on the city’s tree-lined streets in the West End were mostly built in the 1920s and 1940s. Houses in the City’s East Side and South Side are a mixture of architectural styles and are generally single and twin family homes built from the 1940s through the 1960s but there are also some older Victorian homes. Allentown also has loft apartments in converted mills and historic brick manufacturing buildings and modern and historic high-rise apartment buildings.

The PPL Building is Allentown’s tallest building at 322 feet (98 m). It is 23 stories high and is located at the northwest corner of 9th and Hamilton Street. It was designed by the New York architectural firm of Helme, Corbett, and Harrison. Wallace Harrison came to Allentown to design the building, which was a prototype for the Art Deco architecture of Rockefeller Center in New York City. The decorative friezes on the exterior of the building were designed by Alexander Archipenko. It was built between 1926–28 and was opened to the public on July 16, 1928. It has been illuminated at night since it was opened and in clear weather, the tower can be seen from as far north as the Blue Mountain Ski Area.

One of the city’s older surviving structures, Miller Symphony Hall, at 23 North Sixth Street, dates from 1896 and originally housed the city’s public market. Originally known as the Lyric Theater, it is the premier performing arts facility in Allentown, home of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Pennsylvania Sinfonia, Community Concerts of Allentown, Allentown Band and Community Music School of the Lehigh Valley. Built around 1896 as the Central Market Hall, the structure was converted to a theater in 1899 by the architectural firm of J.B. McElfatrick and renamed the Lyric Theater. Perhaps one of only a dozen of the famous McElfatrick designs still standing, the building has been a burlesque Hall, used for vaudeville shows, silent films, symphony orchestras, and other forms of entertainment for well over a century.

There are three historic districts in Allentown: Old Allentown, the Old Fairgrounds and the West Park neighborhoods. Old Allentown and Old Fairgrounds are Center City neighborhoods that hold a joint house tour organized by the Old Allentown Preservation Association (OAPA) once a year in September. The West Park neighborhood also offers a tour of this district’s larger Victorian and Craftsman-style homes.

City parks

The City of Allentown has one of the best park systems in the country. Much of the city’s park system can be attributed to the efforts of industrialist Harry Clay Trexler. Inspired by the City Beautiful movement in the early 20th century, Trexler helped create West Park, a 6.59-acre (26,700 m) park in what was then a community trash pit and sandlot baseball field in an upscale area of the city. The park, which opened in 1909, features a bandshell, designed by noted Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, which has long been home to the Allentown Band and other community bands. Trexler also facilitated the development of Trexler Park, Cedar Parkway, Allentown Municipal Golf Course and the Trout Nursery in Lehigh Parkway. Trexler was also responsible for the development of the Trexler Trust, which to this day continues to provide private funding for the maintenance and development of Allentown’s park system.

City parks in Allentown include Bicentennial Park (4,600 seat mini-stadium built for sporting events), Cedar Creek Parkway (127 acres, including Lake Muhlenberg, Cedar Beach and the Malcolm W. Gross Memorial Rose Garden), East Side Reservoir (15 acres), Irving Street Park, Kimmets Lock Park (5 acres), Lehigh Canal Park (55 acres), Lehigh Parkway (999 acres), Old Allentown Cemetery (4 acres), Jordan Park, South Mountain Reservoir (157 acres), Trexler Memorial Park (134 acres), Trout Creek Parkway (100 acres), Joe Daddona Park (19 acres) and West Park (6.59 acres).

Climate

Allentown has a humid continental or humid subtropical climate (Köppen Dfa/Cfa, respectively), depending on the January isotherm used, although lying closer to the former. Summers are typically hot and muggy, fall and spring are generally mild, and winter is cold. Precipitation is almost uniformly distributed throughout the year.

The average temperature in January is 27.8 °F (−2.3 °C), and the lowest officially recorded temperature was −15 °F (−26 °C) on January 21, 1994. July averages 73.4 °F (23.0 °C), and the highest temperature on record was 105 °F (41 °C) on July 3, 1966. Early fall and mid-winter are generally driest, with February being the driest month with only 2.75 inches (70 mm) of average precipitation.

Snowfall is variable, with some winters bringing light snow and others bringing numerous significant snowstorms. Average snowfall is 34 inches (86 cm) seasonally, with the months of January and February receiving the highest at just over 11 and 9 inches (230 mm) each. Rainfall is generally spread throughout the year, with eight to twelve wet days per month, at an average annual rate of 43.52 inches (110.54 cm).

Demographics

Historical population
CensusPop.
1790486
180057317.9%
181071023.9%
18201,13259.4%
18301,75755.2%
18402,49341.9%
18503,70348.5%
18608,025116.7%
187013,88473.0%
188018,06330.1%
189025,28840.0%
190035,41640.1%
191051,91346.6%
192073,50241.6%
193092,56325.9%
194096,9044.7%
1950106,75610.2%
1960108,3471.5%
1970109,8711.4%
1980103,758−5.6%
1990105,3011.5%
2000106,6321.3%
2010118,03210.7%
Est. 2014119,1040.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
2013 Estimate

As of the 2010 census, the city was 58.5% White (43.2% non-Hispanic white), 12.5% Black or African American (10.2% non-Hispanic black), 0.8% Native American (non-Hispanic), 2.2% Asian (non-Hispanic), and 5.0% were two or more races. 42.8% of the population were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry, mostly made up of Puerto Ricans. 14.6% of the population were foreign-born.

As of the census of 2000, there were 106,632 people and 25,135 families residing in the city. The population density was 6,011.5 inhabitants per square mile (2,320.8/km²). There were 45,960 housing units at an average density of 2,591.1 per square mile (1,000.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 72.55% White, 7.85% African American, 0.33% Native American, 2.27% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 13.37% from other races, and 3.55% from two or more races. 24.44% of the population were Hispanic or Latino.

Allentown Compared
2010 CensusAllentownPAU.S.
Total population118,03212,702,379308,745,538
Population, percent change, 2000–2010+10.7%+3.4%+9.7%
Population density6,557.3/sq. mi.275.8/sq. mi.81.4/sq. mi.
White (non-Hispanic)43.2%79.5%63.7%
Black (non-Hispanic)11.6%10.8%12.2%
Hispanic (any race)42.8%5.7%16.3%
Asian2.2%2.7%4.8%

There were 42,032 households in the city, of which 28.8% had children under the age of 18, 39.4% had married couples living together, 15.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.2% had non-families. 33.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The city’s average household size is 2.42 and the average family size was 3.09.

The city’s population broken down by age ranges was 24.8% under 18, 11.2% from 18–24, 29.8% from 25–44, 19.1% from 45–64, and 15.1% 65 years or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there are 91.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $32,016, and the median income for a family was $37,356. Males had a median income of $30,426 versus $23,882 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,282. 18.5% of the population and 14.6% of families were below the poverty line. 29.4% of those under the age of 18 and 10.3% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate for the entire Lehigh Valley area is 9.8% as of February 2010, with Allentown’s unemployment rate estimated at over 10%.

Economy

Allentown’s economy has historically been manufacturing-based, but with a more recent turn to a more service oriented economy due to general rust belt decline in heavy industry. The city serves as the location of corporate headquarters for several large, global companies, including Air Products & ChemicalsPPL, and others. The largest employer in Allentown is Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network, with more than 7,800 employees.

Center City area along Hamilton Street between 5th and 10th Streets used to be the primary shopping district in Allentown. During 1960’s and 1970’s, several shopping malls were built in and around Allentown. South MallLehigh Valley Mall, and Whitehall Mall today are the popular choices for shopping. Also in 2006, The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, opened south of the city, in Upper Saucon Township. Instead of Allentown downtown being a shopping mecca, the use of it has turned into office buildings and became a center-city campus for county government workers, along with those of PPL.

Infrastructure

Transportation

Hamilton Boulevard in downtown Allentown, 2007.

Roads and buses

Four expressways run through the Allentown area, with associated exits to the city: Interstate 78, which runs from Harrisburg in the west to New York City‘s Holland Tunnel in the east; the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, (which is part of I-476), runs from Plymouth Meeting outside Philadelphia in the south to Interstate 81 at Clarks Summit in the north; Pennsylvania Route 309, which runs from Philadelphia in the south to the Wyoming Valley in the north; and U.S. Route 22, which runs from Cincinnati, Ohio in the west to Newark, New Jersey in the east. Public parking within Allentown is managed by the Allentown Parking Authority.

There are nine major inbound roads to Allentown: Airport RoadCedar Crest Boulevard, Fullerton Avenue, Hamilton Boulevard, Lehigh Street, Mauch Chunk Road, Pennsylvania Route 145 (MacArthur Road), Tilghman Street, and Union Boulevard.

Public buses within Allentown are provided by LANTA, a public bus system serving Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Several private bus lines serve Allentown. These include Bieber Tourways which offers direct service to PhiladelphiaReading and intermediate points, Trans-Bridge Lines which offers direct service to New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal and intermediate points, and Susquehanna Trailways which offers direct service to HazeltonPhiladelphia and intermediate points.

Rail

 

The Lehigh Valley Railroad station. Until the 1950s, the Lehigh Valley Railroad offered 2 hour and 15 minute direct train service to Pennsylvania Stationin New York City.

Allentown was once a passenger rail hub, served by the Central Railroad of New JerseyLehigh and New England RailroadLehigh Valley Railroad, the Reading Railroad, the Lehigh Valley Transit Company and later, Conrail. Routes served Wilkes-Barre and Scranton to the north, Buffalo and Williamsport to the northwest, Reading and Harrisburg to the west, Jersey City and New York City to the east, and Philadelphia to the south.

Allentown currently has no passenger rail service (the last service by SEPTA ceased operating in 1979) but one of its two main train stations remains standing. In November 2008, the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), along with both Lehigh and Northampton Counties, commissioned a study to explore restoring part of the Black Diamond service (which ran until 1961) by extending the New Jersey Transit‘s Raritan Valley Line to Allentown.

Allentown is a regional center for commercial freight rail traffic. Currently, Norfolk Southern’s primary hump classification yards are located in Allentown, and the city is also served by the R.J. Corman Railroad Group.

Airports

Lehigh Valley International Airport is three miles (5 km) northeast of Allentown.

The city’s primary airport, Lehigh Valley International Airport, is located three miles (5 km) northeast of Allentown in Hanover Township and is operated by the Lehigh–Northampton Airport Authority. The airport has direct flights to AtlantaDetroitChicago–O’HareCharlottePhiladelphia, and cities in Florida. Philadelphia International Airport and Newark International Airport, are about 60 to 90 minutes away, respectively, and offer numerous domestic and international flights. The region is also served by Allentown Queen City Municipal Airport, a two-runway facility located in South Allentown used predominantly for private aviation.

Utilities

Electricity in Allentown is provided by Pennsylvania Power and Light (PP&L). UGI supplies natural gas. Two cable companies, RCN Corporation (originally Twin County Cable) and Service Electric, have served the city since the 1960s. The area’s only landfill, IESI Bethlehem, is located in nearby Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Water and sewage, prior to 2013, were controlled by the city and are now under the operation of Lehigh County authority as the result of a 50-year lease agreement. Waste, recycling, and yard waste are administered by the city.

Public safety

Allentown
Crime rates (2013)
Crime typeRate
Homicide:7
Forcible rape:26
Robbery:197
Aggravated assault:138
Total violent crime:369
Burglary:717
Larceny-theft:1,493
Motor vehicle theft:191
Arson:2
Total property crime:2,401
Notes
* Number of reported crimes per 100,000 population.
2012 population: 119,334
Source: 2013 FBI UCR Data

 

Crime

For 2010, crime is down in the City of Allentown for the fourth consecutive year.

The decline was led by a 31 percent drop in the number of homicides from 13 to 9. Motor vehicle theft fell 11.4 percent. Burglary was down 6.1 percent. Reported robberies, rapes and property crimes also fell. There were slight increases in the number of aggravated assaults and arsons. The number of violent crimes in the city has fallen more than 30 percent since 2006.

Emergency medical services

Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, 2008.

Allentown is home to several hospitals and health networks, including St. Luke’s Health Network, Sacred Heart Hospital, the Lehigh Valley Health Network, and the Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network. Formerly, the city was home to the Allentown State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital which closed in 2010.

Fire Department

Allentown Fire Department (AFD)
Agency overview
Established1870
Annual calls6,000
Employees140
StaffingCareer
Facilities and equipment
Battalions4
Stations6
Engines10
Trucks2
HAZMAT1
Fireboats1

The Allentown Fire Department (AFD) was established in 1870 and today operates out of 6 fire stations, located throughout the city. The Allentown Fire Department also operates a fire apparatus fleet of 7 Engines(including 1 Quint), 2 Trucks, 1 Haz-Mat. Unit, 1 Technical Rescue Unit, 1 Fireboat, 1 Dive Trailer, 1 Bomb Squad Unit, 1 Fire Investigation Unit, and numerous other special (including 4 specialized search and rescue teams: Haz-Mat. Team, Water Rescue, Technical Rescue, and Bomb Squad), support, and 3 Reserve Engines.

Culture

Arts and entertainment

The Allentown Art Museum, located on North Fifth Street in Center City Allentown.

The Allentown Symphony Orchestra performs at Allentown Symphony Hall, renamed Miller Symphony Hall, located on North Sixth Street in center city. The city also has a musical heritage of civilian concert bands and is home to the Allentown Band, the oldest civilian concert band in the United States. The Allentown Band, Marine Band of AllentownMunicipal Band of Allentown and the Pioneer Band of Allentown all regularly perform at the bandshell in the city’s West Park. Youth Education in the Arts, the sponsoring organization of The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, is headquartered in Allentown. The city’s J. Birney Crum Stadium annually plays host to the Drum Corps International Eastern Classic, which brings together the top junior drum and bugle corps in the world for a two-day event.

Nineteenth Street Theater in Allentown.

The city houses a collection of public sculptures, including the DaVinci Horse, located on 5th Street. This sculpture is one of three in the world.

The Allentown Art Museum, located on North Fifth Street in Center City, is home to a collection of more than 13,000 pieces of art, along with an associated library. The Baum School of Art, located in downtown Allentown at 5th and Linden Streets, offers credit and non-credit classes in painting, drawing, ceramics, fashion design, jewelry making and more.

Nineteenth Street Theater has an 80-plus year history of producing theater in the Lehigh Valley. Started by two Morning Call reporters in 1927 as “Civic Little Theater”, the current day Nineteenth Street Theater relies on a paid professional staff, volunteer board of directors from the community, and volunteers from the region. Civic Theater stands on three pillars: theater, film and education. Civic is a professionally directed, managed and run theater that utilizes community actors in its live theater productions. Civic also operates the Lehigh Valley’s only full-time cinema exclusively showing art, independent and foreign films and a theater school that has been served the Valley’s youth for more than 50 years.

Landmarks and popular locations

The city of Allentown, Pennsylvania was established in 1762 and is one of the oldest major cities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States. It has deep roots in the history of the nation, being the hiding place of the Liberty Bell during the American Revolution, and its oldest city cemetery has graves of soldiers who served in the Continental Army. Over its 250-year history of the city numerous buildings, bridges, parks and other locations in the city have come and gone, but many remain, with no less than thirteen of them being on the National Register of Historic Places.

Festivals

Mayfair Festival of the Arts, an arts and crafts festival established in 1986, is held each May at Cedar Beach Park. The Great Allentown Fair runs annually, in early September, on the grounds of the Allentown Fairgrounds, where it has been held since 1889. The first Allentown Fair was held in 1852, and between 1852 and 1899 it was held at the “Old Allentown Fairgrounds,” which was located north of Liberty Street between 5th and 6th streets. The J. Birney Crum Stadium plays host to the Collegiate Marching Band Festival, held annually since 1995, as well as other marching band festivals and competitions.

Notable people

Allentown is the birthplace of, or home to, several notable Americans, including:

allentown PA map

About the author

NJroute22

NJroute22 (site admin) is an avid traveler along NJ Route 22 (and almost all of central New Jersey!) Family man, pet lover, and property owner who has a natural curiosity for everything around.

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