In 1736, a group of 23 Native American chiefs from different Indian Nations "sold" William Penn's sons John, Thomas, and Richard a beautiful valley known for its pristine river filled with trout. The price? Just a few shoes, some hats, knives, rum, scissors, pipes, and looking glasses. It was quite the bargain, and that land would eventually become Allentown.
But first, it was known as Northhamptontown. The long and somewhat clumsy name was given to the town by William Allen, the Chief Justice of Colonial Pennsylvania's Supreme Court. He is considered the town founder; his business partner, Joseph Turner, was given a warrant to the land by Thomas Penn in 1732. He, in turn, sold the land to Allen. Allen's hope was to make the town a commercial hub, but the low water level of the river made it impossible for shipping. From the beginning (and perhaps because Northhamptontown was a bit long), everyone referred to the village as "Allen's Town." Eventually, Allen gave up on building a commercial center and gave the land to his son, James, who built a country home.
During the American Revolution, Allentown hid the Liberty Bell from British soldiers in the basement of a church (today, it is the Liberty Bell Museum). The church, which was built in 1773, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Be sure to visit the High German Evangelical Reformed Church after moving to your Southside-Lehigh
apartment -- it is an impressive landmark with a fascinating history.
Unfortunately for James, his idyllic life in his country home didn't last. He was loyal to the British, so he lost his wealth, his freedom, and some even claim his life. The home he built around 1770, Trout Hall, is the oldest home in Allentown. Today, it is a house museum available for tours.
During the mid-1800s, Allentown became the nation's leading iron producer. As the country built more and more railroads (and needed more and more iron), Allentown flourished. Unfortunately, the prosperity of that era didn't last -- when the railroad boom ended, Allentown suffered.
Allentown and its residents are very resilient, and they've reinvented themselves. Once a hub of manufacturing, Allentown today focuses on technology and other businesses, and the city is developing the riverfront into a fantastic mixed-use area with shops, restaurants, apartment buildings, and office space.