Saturday, October 14, 2006
The first townships chartered were those in the southern part of the county, those closest to Philadelphia, the port of debarkation for the vast majority of German immigrants after 1710. These were the townships of Milford, Saucon and Macungie. In the mid 1700's the immigrants pushed into the lands north of South Mountain creating the need for further political divisions, hence the founding of Salisbury, Whitehall, Lowhill, Weisenberg, Lynn and Heidelberg. By 1860 the county was divided into four boroughs and fourteen townships with numerous villages springing up at country crossroads.
The majority of Pennsylvania German settlers in Lehigh County would remember their homeland as the "Platz"; that land west of the Rhine from the Moselle Valley on the north to Alsace in the south. By 1790, the date of the first national census, Lehigh County was primarily composed of Pennsylvania German farmers and working on farms averaging 100 acres or less.
By 1840, the population of the county had reached 25,000. Allentown drew residents from the farms while gaining even more new arrivals from Europe. In the decade preceding the Civil War, the villages of Catasauqua, Macungie, and Emaus became boroughs. Additional villages grew to meet the demands of country living by providing general stores and taverns as well as sites for the area church.
But there were people other than the Palatine Germans arriving in the years before the war. In Allentown's First Ward, the proximity of the iron furnaces and rolling mills along the Lehigh River drew Irish Catholic immigrants to its row homes altering the solid ethnic base of Pennsylvania German Lutheran and Reformed Protestantism.
The growth of the iron industry lured Irish and Welsh immigrants to Allentown. Although farming was the principal industry in the years before the war, mineral industries were growing in importance. Iron deposits were discovered in the early 1800's; anthracite coal, zinc oxide and the cement industry brought new and different residents to the area, thus changing the ethnic mix of the county.
When the Union Cemetery was created at 10th and Chew Street in 1854, Allentown was still a borough. The cemetery covered 11 acres of land purchased from Jacob Miller and Jacob Hagenbach at $200 an acre and laid out in lots of one rod square. The lots were sold for $6.00 each. A rod is an area 16 feet by 16 feet and would accommodate ten graves. In some instances, the lot owner would have one central monument erected and then set aside the remainder of the space for individual graves. In these instances, fewer than ten graves could be accommodated. Over time, the price of lots escalated upwards, eventually reaching $200 before the more than 1200 lots were all sold.
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