Church Street of Old

(Originally published in the Allentown Messenger dated September 14, 1911)

Mrs. Elizabeth J. Reed who is about to retire from the grocery business which she has conducted for forty-five years at the corner of Church and Hamilton Streets, Allentown, states that the business was established by her late husband, Joseph Reed, about sixty years ago, and that it has been carried on continuously in the same place until the present time.


Mrs. Reed also says that she has seen many changes in Church street since she came to Allentown in 1866, and that the only married couple on that street who are still living in the dwelling in which she first knew them are Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Savidge.


The dwelling and connecting store that Mrs. Reed has always occupied was erected about 1849 by George Reed, a brother of the above Joseph. The building was put up by John Bower, a well-known Allentown builder of former days, and it was the first one erected on Church street after the opening of Hamilton and Pearl streets the previous year.


Prior to the opening of the above streets there was a long stretch of vacant land extending from about where Francis Messler now resides down to the property occupied by Miss Anna Kennedy and her sister Mrs. Tantum, the place being then occupied by the father of these ladies, Anthony W. Kennedy.


The said vacant land was owned by Daniel W. Bills, and it was he who had the tract surveyed and laid out in streets and building lots. At that time, Mr. Bills was the leading merchant of Allentown, his place of business being the old building that stood on the site of the present H. D. Bunting store, and which was torn down in 1878.


In addition to his mercantile business Mr. Bills was a large dealer in various fruits and berries, which he bought up in the surrounding country and shipped to New York; and a large portion of his vacant land above noted he had planted in gooseberry bushes, there seeming to be in those days a large demand for such berries.


The first dwelling erected on the new Hamilton street was by John Gillum, who also put up an adjoining wheelwright shop at the same time, and where he carried on that business for several years. The dwelling was that now occupied by W. H. Killey.


The pioneer settler on Pearl street was John A. Clayton, who at first put up a dwelling house about 1867, and later a furniture warehouse adjoining; and these were the first two buildings put up on that street. The premises were the same now occupied by James H. Clayton.


On the Church street side of the newly developed tract the first buildings erected were by the said Mr. Bills himself, he putting up three double dwelling houses. After several changes in ownership these are now in possession respectively of George V. Leming, Miss Mary Peppler and Willing & Rainer.


About 1858 a building was erected on the westerly side of Hamilton street for the purpose of a school for colored children. A competent colored woman of Philadelphia was secured for teacher, and the school had a successful career for many years. It was in this building that a colored beneficial society was organized, which was in existence for forty-two years. So far as known Mr. and Mrs. James Woby [he a decorated Civil War veteran] are know the only survivors in Allentown of this society. The school building was finally sold and was purchased by the late Mrs. Harriet Rock, who had altered it into a double dwelling house.


The building up of the D. W. Bills tract, although slow, has been an important growth in Allentown’s history, in that it has greatly extended the town’s limits to the northward, and it has also more than doubled the former number of houses on the northerly side of Church street. C. H. Fidler