ABOUT OUR TOWN

History of Coopersburg

From Its Earliest Settlement to 1881

Among the distinguished admirals under Charles II, King of Great Britain, was Sir William Penn, who at his death left a claim of £16000 against the crown for his services.  In consideration of this claim and with a view of securing to his Quaker brethren an asylum where they might enjoy their peculiar religious tenets in unmolested freedom and security, his son William sought and obtained from the said King the grant of a tract of land in America.  The extent of the tract was to be three degrees of latitude in breadth and five degrees of longitude in length; the Delaware River was to be its eastern boundary and the beginning of the forty-third degree of North Latitude its northern boundary.   It was called Pennsylvania by order of the King.  The charter for it was dated March 4, 1681 and confirmed by royal proclamation in April of the same year.  Penn with about one hundred colonists arrived in 1682, and soon after his arrival divided his province into three counties, viz: Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester.

But the King of Great Britain was not the owner of this land; it had been taken possession of by his subjects in his name, but was owned and inhabited by a race altogether different from those of the old world, the Europeans called them Indians, and William Penn feeling that it would be unjust to dispossess them of the land which was their rightful inheritance, without compensation determined that none should be occupied by his subjects that had not been previously purchased and paid for, accordingly, purchases of tracts were made in 1682, 1686, 1737, 1749, 1758, 1768, and 1784.

The territory now occupied by the Borough of Coopersburg was included in the purchase of 1737, was a part of Bucks County until March 11, 1752, when it was included, in the territory erected into the County of Northampton, and on the 6th of March 1812 it was again included in the territory erected into the County of Lehigh.

The original white settlers of the place were mostly Mennonites, who emigrated from Holland between the years 1725 and 1737. These simple people soon made themselves felt in the savage wilderness which they inhabited; they cleared the land, built houses, opened roads, raised crops, erected a building for church and school purposes about 1738, on the site now occupied by the old Mennonite meeting house in Upper Saucon, and in 1742, anxious to secure the benefits of local organization, petitioned for the erection of a township.  Their prayer was granted.  The township was erected the following year and comprised the territory now forming the townships of Upper and Lower Saucon.  It was called Saucon, which name was derived from Sankunk or Sakunk, supposed to have been the name of a populous Indian village at the mouth of what is now known as the Saucon Creek.

The early settlers of the immediate vicinity do not seem to have suffered as much at the hands of the Indians as those of some other localities; this was probably due to their geographic locations, their department towards the Indians, or to the fact that the Indians, who lived here and who belonged to the Delaware Tribe of the Lenni Lenape division of the Algonquin family, were presided over by a very peaceable chief whose name was Tatamy, but whose authority was disputed and partially usurped in 1755 by Teedyuscung, a warlike and revengeful Indian, who vented his spite against the whites by causing the merciless massacre of the defenseless settlers of the more recently and therefore less densely settled sections.

Among the Mennonites heretofore referred to was George Bachman, the pioneer settler of Coopersburg.  He was born in 1686, came here in 1737 and acquired letters patent for over three hundred acres of land, a large portion of which is embraced in the present limits of the Borough.  He built and opened a hotel about 1745 to 1750.  This hotel stood about midway between the present Eagle hotel and the shed belonging to it.  He died in 1753 and was buried at the neighboring meeting house; his tombstone which is well preserved may yet be seen in the adjoining cemetery.  His immediate descendants seem to have held sole possession of the original tract until the close of the eighteenth century; one of the sons assumed the proprietorship of the hotel; another, at a date which cannot now be ascertained, built a house in what is now Milton Cooper’s meadow; and a third, in 1790, built the house now occupied by Ezikiah Gerhardt, which is the oldest house now in the borough.

About the year 1775, Daniel Cooper, born at Dillenburg near Amsterdam in 1752 settled here, and in 1800 purchased a tract of land from the Bachmans and erected the house now occupied by Dr. J. A. Saros.  Soon after this he purchased the hotel together with another tract.  He served several terms as Justice of the Peace, died in 1822 and was buried at the old meeting house.  Some of his descendants have resided here ever since; his son Peter who was born in 1791 lived here from the time of his birth until his death in 1873.  He built the present Eagle hotel in 1829, the stone house now occupied by Amos Haring in 1830, and the house now occupied by Mrs. Dr. Cooper soon after, he was repeatedly elected Justice of the Peace, had the reputation of being a remarkably reliable counselor at law for a layman, was an accurate conveyancer and an expert surveyor and served for some time as Deputy Surveyor General of Pennsylvania.  He had three sons; Milton, Charles and Thomas.  Milton left the place in his youth, and after serving an apprenticeship in a store in Philadelphia, engaged in the shoe business, his house having an extensive trade in nearly every state of the Union, then organized; he returned to the place in 1862, yet lives here and is president of the bank: Charles studied law, served as superintendent of the schools of Lehigh county and is now cashier of the Allentown National Bank:  Thomas graduated as a physician in 1842 at the university of Penna at Philadelphia, practiced medicine here until 1860 when he was elected to congress but died before the expiration of his term.  Tilghman, a son of Thomas, until quite recently lived here and was an extensive importer, breeder, and dealer in thoroughbred livestock of every description.  (Peter Cooper died in 1837.  He had on daughter Matilda.)  (Matilda Cooper became the wife of Dr. Frederick A. Martin)

Among the settlers who came here during the early part of the nineteenth century were Michael Sandis, a Mennonite preacher, who in 1808 built a house on the site of that now occupied by Dr. M. H. Boye, David Rinker, who built one on the site of that now occupied by Charles Schaffer, Jacob Bowman, who built one on the site of that now occupied by Charles Ott, Jacob Muschlitz, who built one on the site of that now occupied by Abel Strawn, Jacob Seider, who built the one now occupied by George Fabian, and Joseph Fry Sr., who built a fullingmill (sp?) on the site now occupied by Stopp’s mill.  The first store was opened by Solomon Keck, in 1820, in a house built alongside of the hotel.

Before proceeding farther, a description of the manners and customs which prevailed in those days may not be inappropriate.  The old hotel was known as the Seven Star, or in the vernacular of the place, “Der Siebenstern” a crescent surrounded by seven stars appearing on the sign: the bar-room was furnished with small tables arranged along the walls and on these wine which was then cheap, was served by the pint and half-pint later, whiskey and other strong drinks came into use and these were served by the gill.  The hotel and store were open every day of the week and the business at the store especially, was heavier on Sunday than on any other day.

The only occasions upon which the people congregated in considerable numbers were those of religious worship, vendues, shooting matches, horse races and frolics.  The vendues were made to serve many purposes, for besides the sale of the goods and chattel of someone they were likewise the picnics of those days; old and young of both sexes from far and near would congregate and playing ball, lifting and throwing weights, jumping, wrestling, pitching quoits and other sports were indulged in during the day and not infrequently the festivities were concluded by a dance in the evening.  These vendues also served the purposes of courts of justice to a certain extent.  There was not much litigation in those days, when two neighbors fell out with each other, or when one felt aggrieved by the actions of the other, the issue was tried at the next vendue, the tribunal to which it was referred was that of brute force and might seems to have passed for right in many cases.

Shooting matches, horse races, and quilting parties “am Siebenstern”, were of frequent occurrence.  The frolics were gotten up and conducted in the following manner: when a young lady of the neighborhood had finished the patching of a quilt, she would inform the landlord who would name some Saturday afternoon for the quilting to take place; all the lasses of the neighborhood would be invited and the lads would come of their own accord in the evening.  The landlord would furnish the quilters with supper in consideration of the attraction furnished by their presence.  After supper, the ladies would arrange themselves on benches set up along the walls of the dance room; the musicians would be seated on a table, a number of young men would arrange for a dance by agreeing some to pay for the music and others for the refreshments, each would invite a lady for a partner.  After their time had expired, those who had agreed to furnish the refreshments would go to the bar room and order wine-sling, which consisted of a little wine, a little sugar and much water.  It was served in large schooners which were handed first to the ladies who had joined in the dance and afterwards to all the others, each taking a quaff out of one and the same schooner.

But to return to our subject, we find that during the early part of the nineteenth century the place had come to be considerable importance; it was the junction of the two stage lines from Allentown and Bethlehem to Philadelphia; it was also the first stopping place of the farmers from the upper sections of Lehigh county on their way to Philadelphia with their produce, thirty or forty teams in the yard during a single night was no unusual occurrence.

In the year 1818, the place rose to the dignity of a country village; a Post Office was established on the first of April of the same year and David Roth was appointed Postmaster.  The village and Post Office were named Fryburg, after Joseph Fry Jr., who was then proprietor of the hotel and also of a distillery which stood near the site now occupied by Joel Strawn’s barn, and who also built the first store house alongside of the hotel in 1820.  Subsequently he successively elected to the state legislature to the constitutional convention of 1837-8 and to congress.  He was considered quite a statesman and during his congressional term was visited here by James Buchanan, afterwards president of the United States.

On June 25, 1832, the name of the village and Post Office was changed to Coopersburg, after Peter Cooper, heretofore referred to. The North Pennsylvania rail-road was completed, opened for traffic and a station established here in 1856, the first passenger train passing through the place on the 26th of December of that year.  The Allentown and Coopersburg turnpike-road which passes through the place was chartered in 1874 and completed in and opened for travel in 1875.

The people while manifesting a progressive spirit and a commendable desire for improvement are yet very tenacious of some of their old customs for notwithstanding the fact that the schools for the last twenty years have been exclusively English, that few can read German and fewer still write it that nearly all keep their accounts in English and are able to speak the language of the country, yet nearly all conversation between them is conducted in the Pennsylvania German, the services in all the churches of the neighborhood are mostly in German and the ancient custom of a studious separation of the sexes during services is still adhered to.

The place is noted for the taste displayed by its citizens in the erection of houses nearly all of them being of neat design and substantial build; in other respects it grew the growth of an ordinary country village until it contains according to the census of 1880 a population of 392 inhabitants, divided into 93 families and domiciled in 83 dwelling houses.  It contains besides these two hotels, three stores, a bank, two carriage works, two physicians’ offices, an Old Fellows Hall, a stock farm, a mill, a flour and feed store, a coal and lumber yard, a butter and cheese factory, a furniture store, a stove and tinware store, a toy factory, two millinery establishments, two tailor shops, two saddleries, a watchmaker-shop, a cigar factory, a wheelwright shop, two sewing machine offices, a blacksmith shop, a shoemaker shop, and two butcher shops.  It maintains a place of religious worship in a public room in the Odd Fellows Hall, two schools, a Mason’s Lodge, an Odd Fellows Lodge, and Encampment of Patriarchs and a Brass Band.

In 1878 some of the more enterprising citizens petitioned for a charter of incorporation as a Borough; the petition was signed by the following resident freeholders viz: John S. Stephens, George Blank, George W. Heaney, Dr. H. T. Trumbauer, Samuel Y. Kern, Jacob Anstett, Frank K. Haring, Israel R. Parker, Milton Cooper, Peter Brunner, Sylvester Clewell, Henry Barndt, William H. Baim, John Fluck, David Barron, Thomas E. Cooper, C. Elemina Cooper, Amanda M. Cooper, Jacob Shaffer, Dr. J. A. Saros, Tilghman S. Cooper, William H. Brader, Dr. M. H. Boye, Peter Eckert, William Jordan, Thomas Weaver, Samuel Furry, Genaah Jordan, Samuel K. Eichelberger, William T. Trumbauer, James T. Blank, Amos Haring and Daniel Schaffer.  The movement met with considerable opposition, but the petitioners finally triumphed and the charter was granted, December 2, 1879.  The first election for borough officers was held February 17, 1880 and resulted in the election of the following officers viz: Burgess, John S. Stephens; Town council, Milton Cooper, Frank K. Haring, Dr. J. A. Saros, Samuel Y. Kern, Daniel Shaffer and Joel Ritter; Justices of the Peace, George Blank and Tilghman S. Cooper; School Directors, Dr. H. T. Trumbauer, Henry K. Landis, Charles Ott, Gennah Jordan, Jacob Schaffer, and Abraham Geisinger; Constable, Thomas Stephens; Judge of Elections, WM. H. Baim; Inspectors, Allen H. Ott and Jeremiah Landis; Assessor, Aaron H. Hackman; Auditor, Charles Haring.

The ancient village was thus fully organized as a borough, may it flourish and prosper and continue to be the happy home of its present citizens and of many more, who may be attracted by its beautiful location, its fine appearance and its pleasant surroundings.

The Foregoing History was compiled by the Hon. F. B. Heller, by virtue and in pursuance of the following preamble and resolution adopted by the Town Council of the borough of Coopersburg at a regular stated meeting held the 7th day of June A. D. 1880.

Whereas, It is desirable that a History of the Village and Borough of Coopersburg be preserved; therefore

Resolved, That a History of the town from its earliest known settlement to the time of and including its incorporation be prepared and filed amongst the records of the borough and that the Hon. Frank B. Heller be appointed Historian for said purpose.

Attest. Frank K. Haring – Sec., Milton Cooper – President,

Approved. John S. Stephens – Burgess.

 

Today’s Main Street in Coopersburg was part of an Indian trail more than two hundred years ago. Horses and wagons followed this trail. Stumps of felled trees and the mud in rainy seasons made travel slow and arduous. Travel from the Moravian settlement in Bethlehem to the port of Philadelphia and return took at least five days. German immigrants and supplies for the colonists from Europe came to this port. Exchange goods from Moravian craftsmen were exported from there.

By 1740 a log “hotel” and stable appeared, just a days trek out of Bethlehem. A general store and crude homes appeared slowly. In 1790, the first permanent home was built. The settlement grew quickly and in 1840 the settlement was named Coopersburg. By 1879, permanent lines were drawn consisting of a “square mile”. It now had the status of a Borough with an elected governing body, the Borough Council.

Following in close order was a reservoir east of the Borough with bountiful amounts of clean spring water, and the fire company in 1904. Then, a lodge hall, which served as the church, the Borough Council headquarters, post office and five lodges to become the social hub of early Coopersburg. This 1850’s building stands today at 107 S. Main Street, housing small retail stores and apartments. Permanent hotels to serve stagecoach traffic on the Allentown-Bethlehem turnpike sprang up. Martin Kern’s home, 377 Main Street, the Barren House (present social quarters for the Fire Company), and the Van Ness Hotel at Station Ave. and Main St., all served ladies and gentlemen travelers with “genteelness”.

Coopersburg Fire Company #1 grew from a hand drawn fire engine and seven volunteer fire fighters to a modern four bay home for fire engines and pumpers at 13 S. Main Street with its social quarters in the landmark house at the corner of East State and Main Street. The Coopersburg Ambulance Corps operates from a well-equipped building next to the Borough Hall on E. State Street.

The days of butcher, iceman, coffee route men, milkmen, green produce men coming door to door were replaced by family operated stores. Along with several fine restaurants within our “square mile”, we now have many fast food operations.