The largest of three adjacent cities
Allentown was originally named Northamptontown by its founder, Chief Justice of Colonial Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, William Allen. Allen, also a former Mayor of Philadelphia and successful businessman, drew up plans for the rural village in 1762. Despite its formal name, from the beginning, nearly everyone called it "Allen's town." In 1838, the city officially adopted the name Allentown which was not the only change in store for this town on the Lehigh. By the 1830s and 1840s, America's industrial revolution, which was born in the Lehigh Valley, was entering its take-off stage, and the arrival of the Lehigh Canal and later the railroad, opened up Allentown in a way that would have been beyond William Allen's wildest dreams.
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In the early 1700s, the land now occupied by the city of Allentown and Lehigh County was a wilderness of scrub oak where neighboring tribes of Native Americans fished for trout and hunted for deer, grouse, and other game. In 1736, a large area to the north of Philadelphia, embracing the present site of Allentown and what is now Lehigh County, was deeded by 23 chiefs of the five great Native American nations to John, Thomas, and Richard Penn, sons of William Penn. The price for this tract included shoes and buckles, hats, shirts, knives, scissors, combs, needles, looking glasses, rum, and pipes.
The land that was to become Allentown was part of a 5,000-acre (20 km2) plot William Allen purchased on September 10, 1735, from his business partner Joseph Turner, who was assigned the warrant to the land by Thomas Penn, son of William Penn, on May 18, 1732.
The land was originally surveyed on November 23, 1736. A subsequent survey done in 1753 by David Schultz for a road from Easton to Reading, of which present-day Union and Jackson streets were links, shows the location of a log house owned by Allen, situated near the western bank of Jordan Creek, which was believed to have been built around 1740. Used primarily as a hunting and fishing lodge, here Allen entertained prominent guests including his brother-in-law, James Hamilton, and colonial Pennsylvania governor John Penn.
The area that is today the center of Allentown was laid out as Northampton Town in 1762 by William Allen, a wealthy shipping merchant, former mayor of the city of Philadelphia and then-Chief Justice of the Province of Pennsylvania. It is likely that a certain amount of rivalry with the Penns prompted Judge Allen to decide to start a town of his own in 1762.
Ten years before, in 1752, Northampton and Berks counties had been formed, each with a county seat, Easton and Reading, respectively. It is recorded that, in 1763, the very year after the founding of Allentown, an effort was made to have the county seat moved from Easton to the new town. To this effort William Allen lent all his influence as Chief Justice and also as the son-in-law of Andrew Hamilton. The influence of the Penns, however, prevailed, and Easton was retained as the county seat of all that vast area which the notorious "Walking Purchase" had opened up.
The original plan for the town, now in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, comprised forty-two city blocks and consisted of 756 lots, mostly 60 feet (18 m) in width and 230 feet (70 m) in depth. The town was located between present-day Fourth and Tenth Streets, and Union and Liberty Streets. Many streets on the original plan were named for Allen's children: Margaret (present-day Fifth Street), William (now Sixth), James (now Eighth), Ann (now Ninth) and John (now Walnut). Allen Street (now Seventh) was named for Allen himself, and was the main thoroughfare. Hamilton Street was named for James Hamilton. Gordon Street was named for Sir Patrick Gordon, Deputy Governor of Colonial Pennsylvania from 1726–1736. Chew Street was named for Benjamin Chew, and Turner Street was named for Allen's business partner, Joseph Turner.
Allen hoped that Northampton Town would displace Easton as the seat of Northampton County and also become a commercial center due to its location along the Lehigh River and its proximity to Philadelphia. Allen gave the property to his son James in 1767. Three years later, in 1770, James built a summer residence, Trout Hall, in the new town, near the site of his father's former hunting lodge.
On March 18, 1811, the town was formally incorporated as the borough of Northampton Town. On March 6, 1812, Lehigh County was formed from the western half of Northampton County, and Northampton Town was selected as the county seat. The town was officially renamed "Allentown" on April 16, 1838, after years of popular usage. Allentown was formally incorporated as a city on March 12, 1867.
American Revolutionary War
The beginnings of the American Revolutionary War began in Northampton County on December 21, 1774, when a Committee of Observation for Northampton County was formed by American patriots. At the time, there were 54 homes in Northampton (Allentown), and the number of inhabitants was around 330. With the Declaration of Independence, the Colonial British government in Allentown began to break down and patriot militias took control. Frontier justice replaced the rule of law as zealous patriots preoccupied themselves not with fighting the British but with seizing local political power and persecuting their pacifist neighbors. Patriots pressured Tories out of Northampton County, and plans were made for the raising of a militia. The burden of supplying a military force logistically fell upon the people, and requisitions for food, grain, cattle, horses and cloth became commonplace.
After the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, Hessian prisoners-of-war were kept in the vicinity of present-day Seventh and Gordon Streets. The Old Zion Reformed Church, and a house near James (now Eighth) and Hamilton Streets, served as hospitals for injured and sick Continental Army troops. In 1777, a factory manufacturing paper cartridges for muskets was relocated to Allentown from nearby Bethlehem. That same year, a shop of sixteen armorers was established along the Little Lehigh Creek and was employed in the repair of weapons and the manufacture of saddles and scabbards.
James J. Haurer claimed that General George Washington, with his staff, not long after the battle of Trenton, passed through Allentown, up Water Street, which is now Lehigh Street. They stopped at the foot of the street at a large spring on what is now the property occupied by the Wire Mill. There are several springs in the vicinity on both sides of the street, and near Wire Street. They rested and watered their horses, then went their way to their post of duty.
In 1777, Toryism was in the ascendancy at Bethlehem. The government found it necessary to remove their cartridge manufacturing to a safer place, and the town of Northampton (Allentown) was selected for repairing arms and bayonets and the manufacturing of saddles. Captain Styles was in charge of the military supplies, while John Tyler and Ebenezer Cowell were armorers in the employ of the state who ran the factory. Sixteen local armorers, including Johannes Moll, were actively engaged in repair work at the factory. Wood was procured locally, which provided the necessary charcoal for the forging operations, as well as replacing the battered stocks of damaged rifles.
Allentown holds historical significance as the location where the Liberty Bell (then known as the Pennsylvania State House bell) was successfully hidden from the British during the American Revolutionary War. After George Washington's defeat at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, the revolutionary capital of Philadelphia was defenseless, and prepared for British attack. The Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ordered that eleven bells, including the State House bell and the bells from Philadelphia's Christ Church and St. Peter's Church, be taken down and removed from the city to prevent the British, who would melt the bells down to cast into cannons, from taking possession of them. The bells were transported by John Snyder and Heinrich Bartholomew, two local residents assigned to the task by the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, north to Northampton-Towne, and hidden in the basement of the Old Zion Reformed Church, in what is now center city Allentown.
Two wagon masters played an important role on this historic (Liberty Bell) trip from Philadelphia to Bethlehem. John Snyder and Henry Bartholomew were employed by the Supreme Executive Council, on this same day of the Liberty Bell's journey, to convey money and papers of value from Philadelphia to Easton for protection. It is recorded these two farmers of high esteem with horses and wagon of great value were entrusted with "papers in case, a barrel and a large iron chest". They made more than this one trip. On one journey from Pittstown, New Jersey, these two men carried ammunition and books to store in safety in Easton. The only highway to this city came by way of Germantown through Bethlehem and then east to Easton.
Today, a shrine and museum in the church's basement, known as the Liberty Bell Museum, mark the spot where the bell was hidden.
After the turmoil of the Revolution, Northampton Town grew slowly. In 1782 there were fifty-nine houses and over a hundred cows were stabled within the town. The town was described by a visitor in 1783: "One gets a glimpse of many good stone houses, many of them very neat, and everything about the premises shows good order and attention. The people are mainly German who speak bad English and distressing German." In 1795, the U.S. Gazetteer described Allentown as:
A handsome and flourishing town of Northampton County, pleasantly situated on the point of land formed by the junction of the Jordan Creek and Little Lehigh. It is regularly laid out and contains about ninety dwellings, a German Lutheran and a Calvinist (Zion) Church, an Academy and three merchant mills.
In 1792, the land to the north of the Lehigh Valley was purchased by the Lehigh Coal Mine Company. However, it was difficult to transport coal over the primitive trail system that existed at the time so very little was mined. In 1818 the Lehigh Navigation Company was formed and construction was begun on a navigable canal to transport the coal from Mach Chunk (today's Jim Thorpe) to Easton on the Delaware River. The Lehigh Canal was completed for both ascending and descending navigation in 1829, being 46.6 miles long along the east side of the Lehigh River. Its construction was the greatest single factor in making anthracite coal one of America's most important domestic and industrial fuels. However, the operational life of the canal was short. In 1855, the first railroad was built on the west side of the Lehigh River and the competition between them resulted in the steady decline of canal traffic.
Until 1803, the people of Northampton Town received their mail in Bethlehem. However, at the Compass and Square Hotel at Center Square (Today's Penn National Bank building) a post office was established. After reaching a population of over 700 residents in the 1810 United States Census, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave Northampton Town a legal existence on March 18, 1811, by incorporating it as the – Borough of Northampton, in Northampton County. The first business of the Borough government was to order cows to seek other pastures other than the public streets. An action which led many of its citizens to believe they were better off when it was plain Northampton Town, before it became a Borough. In 1812, Lehigh County was formed by partitioning a section of Northampton County, and Northampton was designated as its county seat.
In the early 1800s, Allen's town, or Allentown, as the borough began to be called since it was no longer a part of Northampton County, continued to grow primarily as a court and market town. The name became so common that in 1838, the name was officially changed to "Allentown." The first bank, the Northampton Bank. was chartered in July 1814 and it stood at the northeast corner of Center Square, where the Allentown National Bank Building stands today. It was also in this period that the first Hamilton Street Bridge, a 530 foot long chain structure, was constructed over the Lehigh River. It was composed of two suspended lanes, one for east and one for westbound traffic, and a toll house at the western end.
The 1840s in particular were not kind to Allentown. A flood in 1841 swept away the Hamilton Street bridge and did extensive damage to the river section of the city. The Northampton Bank failed in 1843 due to speculation and caused financial ruin to many families. Then a large fire on June 1, 1848, burned out most of the Central Business District between Seventh and Eighth Streets on Hamilton. However, during the 1850s, the city recovered economically with a new bridge across the Lehigh, brick buildings replacing the wooden ones burned down on Hamilton Street, and in 1852, the first Allentown Fair was held.
Worried about the growing tensions between America's North and South, residents of the counties of Lehigh and Northampton in Pennsylvania "called a public meeting at Easton 'to consider the posture of affairs and to take measures for the support of the National Government,'" according to Alfred Mathews and Austin N. Hungerford, authors of History of the Counties of Lehigh and Carbon, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. At this meeting on April 13, 1861, these citizens voted to establish and equip a new military unit, the 1st Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and placed Tilghman H. Good in charge, assigning him the rank of lieutenant colonel. Good, commander of the Pennsylvania National Guard's 4th Regiment at the time, had previously served as captain of the Allen Rifles, a Lehigh County militia established in 1849, and later went on to become a three-time mayor of Allentown. Captain Samuel Yohe of Easton was appointed colonel of the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Thomas W. Lynn was awarded the rank of major. William H. Gausler, the leader of another Allentown-based militia, the Jordan Artillerists, was subsequently placed in charge of the Allen Rifles.
Then, following the Battle of Fort Sumter and the fort's April 14 surrender to Confederate forces, President Abraham Lincoln issued his April 15, 1861, proclamation, calling for state militia to provide 75,000 volunteer troops to defend the nation's capital. In response, Allentown sent the Allen Infantry. Also known as the "Allen Guards," the unit was commanded by Captain Thomas Yeager, and mustered in for duty in Harrisburg on April 18, 1861. During their three months' service, which lasted until July 23, 1861, these Allentonians primarily performed guard duty and, as one of the first five militia units sent by Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., the Allen Infantry helped to deter the Confederate States from carrying out any plans they had to capture the city. In recognition of this early service, the soldiers from the Allen Infantry, Logan Guards (Lewistown), National Light Infantry (Pottsville), Ringgold Light Artillery (Reading), and Washington Artillerists (Pottsville) became known as "Pennsylvania First Defenders."
Both the Allen Rifles and the Jordan Artillerists were then incorporated into the 1st Pennsylvania Volunteers, and mustered into service as Company I at Harrisburg on April 20, 1861, narrowly missing out on the opportunity to be declared as First Defenders. Upon completion of their three months' service, the men of Company I were honorably discharged, and also mustered out at Harrisburg on July 23, 1861.
47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
On August 5, 1861, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin granted authority to Tilghman H. Good to raise another new regiment, the 47th Pennsylvania Infantry. Commissioned as Colonel of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers, Good secured help from William H. Gausler, who was commissioned as a Major with the regiment's central command staff, and John Peter Shindel Gobin, an officer with the Sunbury Guards in Northumberland County, who had been given the authority to form his own unit and who would later go on to become a Pennsylvania state senator and the state's Lieutenant Governor.
Companies B, G, I, and K of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry were recruited in Allentown, Company F in Catasauqua, Companies A and E in Easton, Company C in Sunbury, and Companies D and H in Perry County. The only Pennsylvania regiment to fight in the Union Army's 1864 Red River Campaign across Louisiana, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers also participated in the Union Army's capture of Saint John's Bluff, Florida (October 1–3, 1862), the Battle of Pocotaligo, South Carolina (October 21–23, 1862), and General Sheridan's 1864 Shenandoah Valley campaign, including the Battles of Berryville, Opequan, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek in Virginia, and also helped to defend the nation's capital following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Other known Civil War units from Allentown were the 5th, 41st, 128th, and 176th Pennsylvania Infantry.
On October 19, 1899, the city erected and dedicated the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which still stands on Allentown's center square, in honor of Union soldiers from Allentown and local Lehigh Valley towns and boroughs who died in the Civil War.
The opening of the Lehigh Canal caused a fundamental change in the nature of Allentown and the Lehigh Valley, as it transformed both from a rural agricultural area dominated by German-speaking people into an urbanized industrialized area. It expanded the city's commercial and industrial capacity greatly. With this, the town underwent significant industrialization, ultimately becoming a major center for heavy industry and manufacturing.
The actual foundation for the city's industrial development was brought about by necessity. David Deshler, the city's first shopkeeper, opened a saw mill in 1782. By 1814 the list of industrial plants in the city included flour mills, saw mills, two saddle makers, a tannery and tan yard, a woolen mill, a card weaving ·plant, two gunsmiths, two tobacconists, two clock-makers, and two printers. In 1855, the first railroads reached Allentown. These were in direct competition for moving coal with the Lehigh Canal. The Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad ordered four locomotives and stations were erected at Easton, Allentown and Mauch Chunk. The railroad was placed in operation in September of that year. Connections for New York City were made via the Central Railroad of New Jersey and later connections with Philadelphia were made via the Perkiomen railroad which operated between Norristown and Freemansburg.
It was Henry Leh who began the true industrialization of Allentown in 1861. The Union Army needed boots. Since Simon Cameron, the secretary of war, was from Pennsylvania, many government contracts flowed to the Keystone state. Leh had opened his shoe and ready-to-wear clothing store in Allentown in 1850. If the Union Army needed boots and shoes, he'd make them. In addition to Leh's boot and shoe industry, during the Civil War, eight brick yards, a saw mill, the Allentown Paint factory, two shoe factories, a piano factory, flour mills, breweries and distilleries had opened in the city.
Beds of iron ore had been discovered in the hills around Allentown in the 1840s, and a furnace was constructed in 1846 for the production of pig iron by the Allentown Iron Company. The furnace was opened in 1847 under the supervision of Samuel Lewis, an expert in iron production, and this led to the opening of plants for a wide variety of metal products. The Allentown Rolling Mill Company was a merger of several small companies in 1860 and became the most significant iron company in the city. It employed many people and turned out more iron products than any other. Although not as large as the iron and steel industry in neighboring Bethlehem, in the latter half of the 19th Century, Allentown became a major iron-producing center.
The Allentown Boiler Works was founded in 1883 by Charles Collum. He and his partner, John D. Knouse, built a large facility at Third and Gordon Streets in the First Ward, near the Lehigh Valley Railroad yard to the east near Jeter's (later Kline's) Island. The business manufactured iron products of many types, being used in the White House and at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. Its boilers and kilns were used across the United States, and also in Canada, Cuba and the Philippines.
In addition to the iron and railroad industries, Allentown also had a strong tradition in the brewing of beer and was home to several notable breweries, including the Horlacher Brewery (founded 1897, closed 1978), the Neuweiler Brewery (founded 1875, closed 1968) and Schaefer Beer, whose brewery was later owned by Pabst Brewing Company and Guinness but is now owned by the Boston Beer Company, maker of Samuel Adams.
Brick making flourished in the city until after World War I, the clay unearthed in various sections of the community proving highly suitable for the manufacture of building brick as well as fire brick. Bricks were the first products shipped outside of the Allentown area by rail and were sold nationwide. Food processing started with the early bakers, who came into the city with the first settlers. In 1887, Wilson Arbogast and Morris C. Bastian formed Arbogast and Bastian, where commercial slaughtering was done on a large scale.
With the industrial industry, Allentown became a major banking and finance center. William H. Ainey was born in Susquehanna county, November 30, 1834. In 1860, he organized the Allentown Savings Institution and was chosen its first president. In 1863–64 the Second National Bank of Allentown was organized. He was elected its first president, a position he filled up to the time of his death. Ainey was a financier of the industrial and retail growth of the city. Through his industry and assistance the following industries were established: The Iowa Barb Wire Co., which was later absorbed by American Steel & Wire; The Pioneer Silk Factory, The Palace Silk Mill, and the Allentown Spinning Company.
In the late 1870s, Allentown's iron industry collapsed. It left the city economically depressed and to prevent this from happening again, efforts were made to develop a diversified industrial base. Convincing the Phoenix Manufacturing Company to open a silk mill in Allentown was the first major success of that effort. The success of its Adelaide mill at Race and Court Streets prompted the opening of the Pioneer silk mill in 1886 and the city was established as a silk manufacturing center. With its many ancillary businesses, the silk industry became the largest in the city and remained so until the late 20th century. By 1914, there were 26 mills in Allentown, which by 1928, when rayon was introduced, became 85 mills. Over 10,000 people were employed in the Allentown silk industry at its height during the 1940s.
Jack and Gus Mack moved their motor car plant to Allentown from Brooklyn in 1905; taking over the foundries of the former Weaver-Hirsh company on South 10th Street. By 1914, Mack Trucks had
developed a reputation for being sturdy and reliable. Many were sent to the battlefields of the Western Front in France before the United States entered World War I in 1917. The British gave the Mack AC five and seven ton trucks the nickname "Bulldog". Mack eventually had a total of eight manufacturing plants in Allentown. In the post-World War II era, the Western Electric plant on Union Boulevard was announced on October 11, 1945, after a nationwide search to locate a new manufacturing plant. On October 1, 1951, the world's first transistor production began at the Allentown Western Electric plant. It would become the backbone of a communications revolution. Over the years the plant was at the forefront of the postwar electronics revolution.
Max Hess came to Allentown in 1896 on a business trip and envisioned a department store serving the area. He moved his family from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1897. Max and his brother Charles opened Hess Brothers on Ninth and Hamilton streets. In the first half of the 20th Century, Hess Brothers was a shopping destination. Flamboyance and excitement were cornerstones of the store. It was well known for its fashion apparel as a result of introducing the latest trends from Europe. Opening in 1926, the Zollinger-Harned Company became Allentown's third major department store in the Central Business District.
By the mid-20th Century, Allentown had become a major retailing and entertainment center separate from Philadelphia and New York City. The establishment of the Hess Brothers, H. Leh and Company and Zollinger Department stores led to the growth of the retail business sector in the Central Business District. There were dozens of smaller retail stores, along with numerous restaurants, hotels, banks and professional offices in the "downtown", as it was called. In addition to the shopping, at least seven cinemas and stage theaters were located along Hamilton Street between Fifth and Tenth Streets.
Late 20th century
By the mid-1960s, Allentown's economy had been booming for decades. Rising taxes in the city and the inability to expand the city's legal limits led to a migration of the baby boom generation to live outside of the city limits. Townships such as Salisbury, South Whitehall and Whitehall had large areas of farmland that were prime locations for large housing estates to be built. Allentown began to be drained of its next generation of working class, who began to migrate to the newer, less-expensive housing in suburbs which also offered lower taxes, green space, less crime, and newer schools.
With these demographic changes that began in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s and 1990s, Allentown's city government and school district were left with fewer resources. The financial shortcomings of the city increased the number of working-class families leaving Allentown because of the Allentown School District's shortcomings as well as the sea change in demographics in the city's neighborhoods, especially those in center city. With the departure of many working-class families from older center city neighborhoods, many homes were sold to landlords which converted them into inexpensive multi-family apartments which became government subsidized because of lax zoning enforcement and permissive city codes. The subsidized housing attracted new migrants to the area from New York and Philadelphia, looking for a better life in the more affordable Allentown area, but started a poverty problem with many of these residents requiring social services which the city could not afford easily.
While the neighborhoods and school system continued to decline, Allentown, like many other cities, focused all of its attention and resources on Hamilton Street Retail and the Central Business District, ignoring the neighborhoods around them. This exacerbated the decline of the city at large. With the population growing in the townships, more and more shopping centers along with other services were built outside of the city to accommodate the needs of their growing populations. In 1966, the Whitehall Mall, the first closed shopping mall north of Philadelphia was opened. Ten years later, in 1976, the larger Lehigh Valley Mall was built north of the Lehigh Valley Thruway (US Route 22). The stores in the downtown shopping district began to close and be replaced with stores whose customers were less affluent than the past. Large areas of the downtown were torn down for parking lots and the downtown business district was rebuilt in an attempt to compete with the suburban shopping areas. However, the Hamilton Mall concept of covered sidewalks and reduced traffic was ultimately unsuccessful. Two of the city's major department stores, Leh's and Zollingers closed by 1990. The third, Hess's was sold to The Bon-Ton in 1994, which subsequently closed in 1996. The closure of Hess's and the fate in 1993 of the Corporate Center, the city's new flagship business center on North Seventh Street, fell victim to a large sinkhole, which caused its condemnation and ultimate demolition.
Combined with this, the manufacturing economy of the Northeastern United States began suffering from deindustrialization. That caused many of the factories and corporations headquartered in Allentown to close or move. Mack Trucks relocated to Greensboro, North Carolina, LSI Corporation (formerly Western Electric, later Agere Systems, which merged with LSI Logic), moved its headquarters to California, and numerous factories ceased operation. With the manufacturing base of the economy eroding, more and more high-paying industrial jobs were replaced with lower-paying jobs in the service sector.
In the 2000s and 2010s, Allentown's economy, like most of Pennsylvania's, has been based in the service industries with some manufacturing. There also has been significant growth in the health care, transportation and warehousing industries.
The Allentown Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) operates a business incubator, the Bridgeworks, which helps attract and support young commercial and manufacturing businesses. In addition, the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) was created by the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 2009 to encourage development and revitalization in Allentown. The NIZ consists of approximately 128 acres (52 hectares) in downtown Allentown and the new Riverfront district (the western side of the Lehigh River). As a result, the Central Business District has been redeveloped with Allentown's new PPL Center arena, a full-service Renaissance Hotel and redeveloped office buildings.
In addition to the Central Business District, the Lehigh River waterfront area is being redeveloped with a mixed-use development of apartment and office buildings. There is also an effort underway to bring suburban residents back into the city. Downtown apartment complexes, such as the Strata Lofts I and II are being built to provide rentals primarily for millennials who work in the new office buildings. Empty Nester boomer and Gen-X residents are being attracted to condominium residences such as the redeveloped Livingston Building and Farr Lofts, as well as new uban condominiums planned in the Five City Center Complex downtown. In addition to the residences and office buildings, new retail stores and restaurants are being built as part of the NIZ development.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 18.0 square miles (46.6 km2). 17.8 square miles (46.1 km2) is land and 0.2 square miles (0.5 km2) is water. Bodies of water include the Jordan Creek and its tributary, the Little Lehigh Creek, which join within the city limits and empty into the Lehigh River. Other bodies of water within the city limits include Lake Muhlenberg in Cedar Creek Parkway and a pond in Trexler Park.
The city sits within the Lehigh Valley, a geographic region bounded by Blue Mountain, a ridge of the Appalachian mountain range, which varies from 1,000 to 1,600 feet (490 m) in height about 17 miles (27 km) north of the city, and South Mountain, a ridge of 500 to 1,000 feet (300 m) in height that borders the southern edge of the city.
The city is the county seat of Lehigh County. The adjacent counties are Carbon County to the north; Northampton County to the northeast and east; Bucks County to the southeast; Montgomery County to the south; and Berks County and Schuylkill County to the west.
Cityscape and neighborhoods
Center City, which includes the downtown area and the 7th Street retail and residential corridor, is the city's central business district and the site of various city, county and federal government centers. To the east of Center City are "The Wards," residential areas that developed during the city's industrial boom of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Just east of the Lehigh River are the city's East Side residential neighborhoods, most of which border the various routes to nearby Bethlehem. South of Center City, and across the Little Lehigh Creek, are the city's South Side neighborhoods, which border Emmaus. The West End of Allentown, with its mix of commercial corridors, cultural centers, and larger single-family residences, begins approximately west of 15th Street.
The Center City's tallest building is the PPL Building at 322 ft (98 m). The Allentown Art Museum, Allentown Symphony Hall, the former site of Hess's Department Stores' original and flagship store, Baum School of Art, Lehigh County Historical Society and Heritage Museum, and The Liberty Bell Museum are all known landmarks in Center City. The Central Business District has several office buildings (One City Center, the Dime Savings and Trust Company building, Two City Center, and several others are planned), an 8,641-seat indoor arena (the PPL Center) which opened in August 2014, cost $177.1 million to build, the Americus Hotel and a Marriott Hotel which opened in January 2015.
Plans for a major redevelopment of the Central Business District of Allentown were announced in late 2009 as a result of Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) legislation passed by the Pennsylvania legislature. Focused on the 7th and Hamilton Streets area, a 5-acre (2.0-hectare) one square block was acquired in 2011 in which several new structures are planned or have already been erected: The project has generated some concern centered on the huge cost of the endeavor from funding the plan. The estimated cost of the project is currently $277 million. As of October 2012, $224.3 million in bonds have been sold.
Existing structures were demolished in early 2012. Several lawsuits filed against the project were settled in mid-2012, and construction by 2015 was largely complete for the first phase.
The City of Allentown is characterized by a large stock of historic homes, commercial structures and century-old industrial buildings.
Allentown's Center City neighborhoods mainly consist of a variety of Victorian and Federal rowhomes. The stately homes around West Park are mostly Victorian and Craftsman-style. The houses on the city's tree-lined streets in the West End were mostly built in the 1920s and 1940s. Houses in the City's East Side and South Side are a mixture of architectural styles and are generally single and twin family homes built from the 1940s through the 1960s but there are also some older Victorian homes. Allentown also has loft apartments in converted mills and historic brick manufacturing buildings and modern and historic high-rise apartment buildings.
The PPL Building is Allentown's tallest building at 322 feet (98 m). It is 23 stories high and is located at the northwest corner of 9th and Hamilton Street. It was designed by the New York architectural firm of Helme, Corbett, and Harrison. Wallace Harrison came to Allentown to design the building, which was a prototype for the Art Deco architecture of Rockefeller Center in New York City. The decorative friezes on the exterior of the building were designed by Alexander Archipenko. It was built between 1926–28 and was opened to the public on July 16, 1928. It has been illuminated at night since it was opened and in clear weather, the tower can be seen from as far north as the Blue Mountain Ski Area.
One of the city's older surviving structures, Miller Symphony Hall, at 23 North Sixth Street, dates from 1896 and originally housed the city's public market. It is the premier performing arts facility in Allentown, home of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Pennsylvania Sinfonia, Community Concerts of Allentown, Allentown Band, and Community Music School of the Lehigh Valley. Built around 1896 as the Central Market Hall, the structure was converted to a theater in 1899 by the architectural firm of J.B. McElfatrick and renamed the Lyric Theater. Perhaps one of only a dozen of the famous McElfatrick designs still standing, the building has been used for burlesque shows, vaudeville, silent films, symphony orchestras, and other forms of entertainment for well over a century.
There are three historic districts in Allentown: Old Allentown, the Old Fairgrounds and the West Park neighborhoods. Old Allentown and Old Fairgrounds are Center City neighborhoods that hold a joint house tour organized by the Old Allentown Preservation Association (OAPA) once a year in September. The West Park neighborhood also offers a tour of this district's larger Victorian and Craftsman-style homes.
Allentown is home to Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, one of the nation's largest amusement and water parks. Dorney Park is home to Steel Force, the tallest and longest roller coaster on the East Coast of the United States.
Allentown has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfa), using the 32 degree isotherm. Summers are typically hot and muggy, fall and spring are generally mild, and winter is cold. Precipitation is almost uniformly distributed throughout the year.
The average temperature in January is 27.8 °F (−2.3 °C), and the lowest officially recorded temperature was −15 °F (−26 °C) on January 21, 1994. July averages 73.4 °F (23.0 °C), and the highest temperature on record was 105 °F (41 °C) on July 3, 1966. Early fall and mid-winter are generally driest, with February being the driest month with only 2.75 inches (70 mm) of average precipitation.
Snowfall is variable, with some winters bringing light snow and others bringing numerous significant snowstorms. Average snowfall is 34 inches (86 cm) seasonally, with the months of January and February receiving the highest at just over 11 and 9 inches (230 mm) each. Rainfall is generally spread throughout the year, with eight to twelve wet days per month, at an average annual rate of 43.52 inches (110.54 cm).
Allentown falls under the USDA 6b Plant Hardiness zone.
As of the 2010 census, the city was 58.5% White (43.2% non-Hispanic white), 12.5% Black or African American (10.2% non-Hispanic black), 0.8% Native American (non-Hispanic), 2.2% Asian (non-Hispanic), and 5.0% were two or more races. 42.8% of the population were of Hispanic or Latino ancestry, mostly made up of Puerto Ricans. 14.6% of the population were foreign-born.
As of the census of 2000, there were 106,632 people and 25,135 families residing in the city. The population density was 6,011.5 inhabitants per square mile (2,320.8/km²). There were 45,960 housing units at an average density of 2,591.1 per square mile (1,000.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 72.55% White, 7.85% African American, 0.33% Native American, 2.27% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 13.37% from other races, and 3.55% from two or more races.
There were 42,032 households in the city, of which 28.8% had children under the age of 18, 39.4% had married couples living together, 15.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.2% had non-families. 33.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The city's average household size is 2.42 and the average family size was 3.09.
The city's population broken down by age ranges was 24.8% under 18, 11.2% from 18–24, 29.8% from 25–44, 19.1% from 45–64, and 15.1% 65 years or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there are 91.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $32,016, and the median income for a family was $37,356. Males had a median income of $30,426 versus $23,882 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,282. 18.5% of the population and 14.6% of families were below the poverty line. 29.4% of those under the age of 18 and 10.3% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate for the entire Lehigh Valley area is 9.8% as of February 2010, with Allentown's unemployment rate estimated at over 10%.
For 2010, crime was down in the City of Allentown for the fourth consecutive year. The decline was led by a 31 percent drop in the number of homicides from 13 to 9. Motor vehicle theft fell 11 percent. Burglary was down 6 percent. Reported robberies, rapes and property crimes also fell. There were slight increases in the number of aggravated assaults and arsons. The number of violent crimes in the city fell more than 30 percent since 2006.
Primary and secondary education
The City of Allentown is served by the Allentown School District, which is the fourth largest school district in Pennsylvania, with 18,118 students (based on 2005–2006 enrollment data). A small portion of the city located near Trexler Park is serviced by the Parkland School District. In 2013, the district's enrollment had declined to 16,966 pupils. In July 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) released a report identifying seventeen Allentown School District schools as among the lowest achieving schools for reading and mathematics in 2011 and 2012. Eleven of the District's elementary schools, all four middle schools and both high schools are all among the 15% lowest achieving schools in the Commonwealth. ] The city maintains two public high schools for grades 9–12, William Allen High School, which serves students from the southern and western parts of the city, and Louis E. Dieruff High School, which serves students from the eastern and northern parts. Each of these Allentown area high schools competes athletically in the East Penn Conference. Both schools play their home football games at J. Birney Crum Stadium. Students may also attend Newcomer Academy at Midway Manor or the Allentown School District Virtual Academy (grades 8–12).
Allentown School District's four middle schools, for grades 6–8, include: Francis D. Raub Middle School, Harrison-Morton Middle School, South Mountain Middle School and Trexler Middle School. The city is served by 16 elementary schools, for kindergarten through fifth grade, including: Central, Cleveland, Hiram W. Dodd, Jefferson, Lehigh Parkway, Lincoln, Luis A. Ramos, McKinley, Midway Manor, Mosser, Muhlenberg, Ritter, Roosevelt, Sheridan, Union Terrace and Washington.
The Allentown School District is currently undertaking a 10-year, $120 million facilities improvement plan. The plan includes renovation of all 23 schools in the district. Most of the schools to be renovated will be expanded. Two additional elementary schools and a fifth middle school are expected to be built.
Allentown has two public charter schools: the Roberto Clemente Charter School, located at 4th and Walnut Streets in Allentown, is a Title I charter school which provides educational services to mainly Hispanic students in grades 6 through 12 and the Lincoln Leadership Academy Charter School provides a K-12th program and is located at 1414 E. Cedar Street.
Allentown has two parochial high schools, Allentown Central Catholic High School and Lehigh Valley Christian High School, though both schools draw students from both Allentown and the city's suburbs. Other Allentown-based parochial schools (serving grades K-8) include: Saint John Vianney Regional School, Holy Spirit School, Lehigh Christian Academy, Mercy Special Learning Center, Our Lady Help of Christians School, Sacred Heart School, and Saint Thomas More School. The Roman Catholic-affiliated parochial schools in Allentown are operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown. The Grace Montessori School is a pre-school and early elementary Montessori school run as an outreach of Grace Episcopal Church. The city also has a private Jewish school, the Jewish Day School.
Lastly, Allentown has two independent day schools, CAI Learning Academy and The Swain School. Both schools are ranked among the best in eastern Pennsylvania. After graduation, most students continue on to local public high schools, Moravian Academy, or boarding schools throughout the Northeast.
Colleges and universities
Two four-year colleges are located in Allentown: Cedar Crest College and Muhlenberg College. A satellite campus of Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC), a comprehensive community college which offers two- and four-year degree programs, continuing education and industry training, is located in Center City Allentown. Pennsylvania State University's Lehigh Valley campus is located in Center Valley, approximately nine miles away from the city.
Other nearby universities include Moravian College and Lehigh University in Bethlehem and Lafayette College in Easton.