|10 January 2019
|The 10 January 2019 edition of the EAPL Marx Room Blog, Easton, Northampton County, Pennsylvania, reported Article from the Marx Room Blog, by Rory Morgan, entitled Odenweldertown:
Years before there was a borough of West Easton, there was Odenweldertown, a village located along the Lehigh River. It was formally part of Palmer Township, but it had an identity of its own - the industrial center of the Easton area.
The village carried the name of a family that came to Easton in colonial times. John Philip Odenwelder, and his wife Anna Marie, arrived in Philadelphia in 1743. Like so many German immigrants of that era, they were refugees from the troubled area known as the Palatinate. After a year or so in Philadelphia, the Odenwelders relocated to Easton; Mr. Odenwelder became an active member of the community, serving in the militia company and as a leader of the German Reformed Church.
The couple reportedly had ten children; one of them was the second John Philip Odenwelder. He and his wife, Anna Maria (not to be confused with Anna Marie) had a son who became the third John Philip Odenwelder. He, in turn, married Elizabeth Koch; they also reportedly had ten children. He was described as “one of the wealthy and influential men of the community”. He
bought a 200-acre farm, which eventually came to be known as Odenweldertown. Jacob, son of John Philip and Elizabeth, built a 40-guest hotel there known as the Forest House. The building still stands at today at 17th and Butler. (It now houses an adult entertainment establishment.)
In 1898, Odenweldertown, and neighboring Mutchlertown (named for Valentine Mutchler) voted to become a borough known as West Easton. An article in the Daily Free Press noted that the new borough included 180 private dwellings and 223 “male taxables”. The article also described the four large industrial establishments in Odenweldertown at the time: Ingersoll-Sergeant, Sterlingworth Railroad Supply, the Baker & Adamson chemical plant, and the Chipman Hosiery Mills.
Ingersoll-Sergeant (later named Ingersoll-Rand) came to Odenweldertown in 1892. In that era, building tunnels for railroads and subways was brutal manual labor, using sledge hammers to drive drilling rods into a rock face. The process was ripe for automation; Ingersoll-Sergeant’s mechanical drill, driven by compressed air, became a popular choice to replace the manual
The company had outgrown its space in New York City and decided to move its operations elsewhere. Easton offered good transportation and a suitable labor force; important considerations, to be sure, but not enough to insure that Easton would prevail over other cities competing for the new plant.
A committee of prominent Easton citizens went to work to finalize the deal. The company wanted, among other things, free land on which to build. The Odenwelder family donated ten acres in Odenweldertown, but the company needed more land than that. The committee initiated a fundraising drive; Easton’s businesses and citizens raised over $16,000, in amounts from 25 cents to $1,000. This was enough to buy the necessary additional land from the Odenwelders, and to offer Ingersoll money as an additional incentive to choose Easton. The campaign succeeded; by the end of 1893, the new plant was operating, located in the low-lying area near the river. This area, known as “The Flats”, was home to a number of Ukrainian immigrants; their presence was large enough to eventually build Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic
Church, still active today.
A couple of years later, the Chipman hosiery-manufacturing company of Philadelphia decided to relocate its factory. Easton’s business-recruiting committee swung into action again. No doubt aided by the Lehigh Valley’s reputation as a silk and clothing manufacturing center and by the fact that there was a suitable building available in Odenweldertown, the Chipmans grabbed the opportunity and set up a factory, which quickly employed 200-300 Easton-area workers and steadily added employees over the years.
Sterlingworth Railway Supply manufactured railroad cars and associated equipment. The company apparently suffered from constant bickering between management, led by an inventor of railroad-related devices named Frank W. Coolbaugh, and the Board of Directors, led by prominent Easton brewer William Kuebler. The company went into receivership in 1907. After
two or three years of legal wrangling, the plant ended up in the hands of Kuebler, who operated it as the Kuebler Foundry until it went bankrupt in the 1920s. The Shumann family, from New York State, then bought the business and operated it as the Lehigh Foundry for several decades, ultimately selling it to Victaulic Corporation in the 1960s.
Baker and Adamson Chemical Company was started in the 1880s by Lafayette College graduates J.T. Baker and George Adamson, with Professor Edward Hart as a silent partner. It began as a makeshift operation near the Lafayette campus, focused on producing chemicals of a very high purity. The business became successful, but residents of College Hill were not pleased about living near a chemical manufacturing facility. The solution that the three partners found was to buy land in Odenweldertown, which offered good railroad access and a population more comfortable living around industry than the academics of College Hill.
Nothing lasts forever. Ingersoll-Sergeant’s site suffered from persistent flooding. A significant flood in 1902, followed by another in 1903, pushed the company to build a new and expanded operation on higher ground in Phillipsburg. The Easton plant became a supplemental facility; the property was sold to Ecolaire in the late 1970s. Meanwhile, the company’s Phillipsburg plant grew to employ thousands, although it gradually declined and is now closed.
Victaulic continued to enjoy success, but concentrated its operations in Forks Township, leading to the closure of the West Easton foundry in 1983. In 1985, it donated the building to a charity. The Chipman Knitting Mills survived until the late 1950s, when cheap labor in the South doomed the West Easton mill. The building remains as a prominent landmark in West Easton.
Baker and Adamson proved to be a successful business and was bought out by General Chemical Company in the early 1900s. Baker, Adamson and Hart were all given positions at General, which continued to use the Baker & Adamson name in its product line. The West Easton plant operated until the 1920s, when its work was consolidated into General’s plant in Marcus Hook, PA.
In 1904, after working for General for a short time, J. T. Baker started his own chemical manufacturing company across the river, in Phillipsburg. He established an enviable reputation for the quality of his products. The J.T. Baker name is still in use today, as a brand of Avantor Performance Materials.
These four large companies that were listed in the 1898 article were not the entire roster of Odenwelderstown industries. Many other companies were located there over the years, including National Switch and Signal, Easton Forge, Jackson Mill Emery, and Bushnell Manufacturing. Although Odenweldertown may have lost its identity as a distinct place, its name
survives as an important part of the Easton area’s industrial history.