Whitehall-Coplay Press

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Village walking tour planned for Oct. 27

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Local News

Historical society to lead event around Hokendauqua’s Thomas Iron Works

Residents are invited to take a walking tour of the historic village of Hokendauqua, created as a “company town” for the 19th-century Thomas Iron Works, later this month.

The free tour, scheduled for Oct. 27 and hosted by Whitehall Historical Preservation Society, is designed to make people aware of the historical significance of that area. Whitehall Township has proposed designating the community as a historic preservation district, which would be the first such district in the township.

According to township Commissioner Jeffrey Dutt, each tour, which can accommodate 15 to 20 people, will last about an hour and a half. Guides will lead multiple groups, as needed, throughout the 11 a.m.-4 p.m. time period. Vans will be available to transport people if needed.

“Trained tour guides, including me, will talk about the history and architecture of Hokendauqua,” Dutt said.

The tour guide information has been provided by Karen Gensey, who did a complete history on the Thomas Iron Works, Dutt said.

The area includes approximately 100 factory homes built for workers of the iron plant in the 1880s and comprises the area from Front Street to Third Street and from Quigg Street to Carbon Street.

Thomas Iron Works was built by David Thomas, a Welsh ironmaker who came to the Lehigh Valley in 1839 to pioneer hot-blast ironmaking in the region.

Whitehall Township has started the process to get the area around the Thomas Iron Works recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. The register is the official list of historic places worthy of preservation, and being on the register would help the township identify, evaluate and protect the area.

Thomas, who was born in 1794, emigrated from South Wales to the township, where he built the first successful anthracite-burning blast iron furnace in the country.

Thomas began the Thomas Iron Company in 1854 on 185 acres of farmland along the Lehigh River, which he bought for $200 per acre.

In 1854, Thomas and his son Samuel designed the street plan for the new village, which they named after Lenape Indian words — “Hockin” meaning “land” and “Dochwe” meaning “searching or seeking.”

Thomas established Hokendauqua after the English concept of a company town, in which an employer owned all the housing and businesses that it provided for its workers.

The advantage for workers was the two-story brick twin homes were nicer than they could have afforded elsewhere, with yards, fences and outhouses.

The company town also included tree-lined streets, a church, schools, general store and fire house, all owned by the Iron Works.

On the tour, residents will see some of the details that remain from the time period, including a barn, chicken coop and fences made with steel from the Iron Works.

The tour includes First Presbyterian Church of Hokendauqua, 3005 S. Front St., built in 1867; Geiger’s Store, site of the original company store opened in 1870; Hokendauqua Fire Company No. 1, the original fire house for the Iron Works; and “Pen-y-Bryn” the Victorian mansion at Center and Front streets, homestead of Thomas’ son John, who was made the first company superintendent in 1867.

Other highlights include the Hokendauqua Independent School and Hokendauqua High School.

In 1854, the Thomas Iron Company donated land to build a schoolhouse that would become the Hokendauqua Independent School District.

The first schoolhouse was a one-story brick building, which was torn down in 1935. A second school, now Growing Tree Day Care, was built in 1869 to accommodate the growing community.

In 1904, a two-year high school was built in Hokendauqua. In 1911, a new school code was enacted by Lehigh County that merged the Hokendauqua Independent School District into the Whitehall Township School District. The high school building remained in use for school purposes until 1970.

Also on the tour is a building, built circa 1880, for storage and to house the Hokendauqua Library Association and the Bob Warke Field. The storage building was later used as an office for the Ironton Railroad.

Warke Field was created in 1934 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and built through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The 600-foot-long field was leveled from a natural slope using only basic hand tools such as picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. Today, it is used by Hokendauqua Athletic Association.

Dutt said Whitehall Township plans to move forward with the historic district designation in 2019.

For information on the tour, visit whitehallhistoricalsociety.org.