Allentown’s First Public Hall

 

The subtitle of this column from the Allentown Messenger of October 24, 1907 read: “The gatherings in Kennedy’s Hall, on Church Street, were of a varied nature.”

 

People of the younger generation in our town, as they pass the new Grange Hall on Church street, can scarcely realize that on the adjoining lot [#24] stands a building that was once a public hall – in fact, was the first building ever erected in Allentown for that purpose. This refers to the dwelling now occupied by Edward Dilatush, in which have occurred events that enter largely into the history of the town.

 

This building was erected in 1848 by the Methodist Society for the purpose of an academy, the lower story to be used for educational work and the upper one for a Sunday school room and hall. The first teacher secured for the new school was Miss Josephine Vanderbeek. She was succeeded by Miss Elizabeth Blair and Miss Anna White, the latter of whom afterward taught in the Madison Hall school on the opposite of the street [at #15].

 

Among the pupils who attended the academy were Mrs. Charles Davis, her sister, Miss Anna Kennedy, and W. H. Gulick, and they are now the only survivors in Allentown of those pupils.

 

After an existence for a few years of the school, the church officials sold the academy building to Anthony W. Kennedy, the chair maker, who then converted the lower story into chair manufactory, he still reserving the upper part for a hall, and which thereafter was known as Kennedy’s Hall.

 

For about ten years all of the fairs, lectures and the various sorts of traveling exhibitions were held in the place. The hall was also in use at times as a court room, photograph gallery, dancing school and singing school. Mr. Kennedy himself was one of those that taught music there.

 

One of the notable occurrences in the hall and that attracted much attention in the town, was a lawsuit, in which John Robbins brought action against his neighbor, Barzilla Johnson, proprietor of the hotel, for illegal liquor selling. Two of Trenton’s prominent lawyers of that day had been engaged as counsel, Judge William Halstead appearing for Mr. Robbins and Isaac Lanning for Mr. Johnson. The trial resulted in the defendant’s acquittal.

 

One form of entertainment that always excited much interest, particularly of the small boy, was that given by Indians who occasionally came along. Their street horseback performances in the afternoon only whetted the desire to see more of them in the evening at the hall, which was always crowded with both young and old.

 

At the time of the demolition of the old Presbyterian Academy in 1856, the principal of the school was John Karner. While the new brick building was being erected, Mr. Karner transferred his school operations to Kennedy’s Hall, where he remained for several months, until the completion of the new school building the following year.

 

Of those in attendance at this school, Josiah S. Robbins and postmaster Charles Cafferty alone remain. The postmaster seems to retain a very vivid recollection of his slipping across a rear lot at sundry times during school hours to Joseph Robbins’ apple trees for something wherewith to refresh himself, and of his always returning undetected.

 

During the summer and autumn of 1859, while the Methodist church was in course of erection, the hall again served a useful purpose, as the congregation made use of it for their church services until the beginning of the following year. The pastor at that time was the Rev. D. L. Adams, who was then in the second year of his pastorate here.

 

In the autumn of 1860, the hall was engaged by newly organized political club called the “wide awakes’ for their headquarters and as a drill room, the club having been formed to take part in the parades of the first Lincoln campaign which was then on. It was here that many of our soldier boys received their first lessons in drill and marching under that excellent drill master, Theodore Stagg, their captain, who, with a large number of his company, afterward joined the volunteer army for service in the Civil War. The company, in its visits to various towns during the campaign, received much commendation for its fine appearance and excellent marching. Their uniform was a black military cap and black glazed cape falling below the shoulders, and they carried a staff with a metal lamp attached for a torch. The captain wore a light sword. The following were those who constituted the membership:

 

Theodore Stagg, Joseph M. Waker, Benjamin Rogers, Albert Little, George Savidge, Jacob Meyer, James Buckalew, William H. Gulick, Berwick Sprague, Josiah S. Robbins, Oliver F. Holloway, Michael F. Emmons, Ferdinand W. Krug, George Ely, Samuel F. Fowler, John Robbins, Joseph Parent, David Allen, Abram Robbins, David Singleton, Steward Waln, George Miller, Moses Applegate, Edward Hoff, Edward Southwick, Albert A. Taylor, George Hendrickson, Daniel L.Savidge Israel Stevenson, Richard Stevenson, Chillion Robbins, Joseph Smith, William C. Beatty, Augustus Robbins, Samuel C. Davis, Thomas Bryant, Edward Rogers, W. E. B. Miller, William Holloway, Charles Humphrey, Theodore Gamble, Moses English, John Flock, William Clayton, Abijah Thompson, Samuel Carr, Howard Newman, Edward Worthley, William Debber, John W. Lloyd, William Hankins.

 

Of the above named members who witnessed the stirring scenes of that presidential campaign, there are now in Allentown but five survivors, namely, Albert A. Taylor, Daniel L. Savidge, Josiah S. Robbins, W. H. Gulick and Abram Robbins.

 

Mr. Savidge acted as fifer for the company. He also was trumpeter for the company of state militia which was formed in Allentown the following year, and he still preserves as an heirloom the trumpet with its cord and tassels which he used at the company’s drills.

 

Other musicians of the political club were S. C. Davis, who played the bass drum and William Holloway who had the kettle drum.

 

The brick building with its public hall, afterwards known as Rogers’ Hall, at the corner of Main and Church streets, was completed in 1859. In the latter part of the following year the old hall was abandoned and was then taken by Mr. Kennedy as a storage room for his chairs. The manufacturing of these rush bottom chairs constituted an important industry of the town in former years; as there was a large demand for them both in the home market and for shipment to other points.

 

After the decease of Mr. Kennedy, in 1872, the former hall building passed into possession of Benjamin Robbins, an Allentown merchant, who at once proceeded to make alterations for its use as a dwelling, and which was afterwards his home for many years until his removal to the West in 1882.