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Palmerton enjoyed model village status

Published October 09. 2010 09:00AM

In 1909 a reporter for the Lansford Leader journeyed to Palmerton to get a first-hand look at the fledgling community which had become the envy of the region with its dramatic growth. Tours of the town in lower Carbon County were quite common, even though it was established only 11 years earlier.

A Palmerton News reporter stated that Palmerton's renaissance made the visiting journalist "stare with surprise and gasp with admiration."

Key to the phenomenal growth was the New Jersey Zinc Company. In 1898 by The Palmer Land Co. purchased thousands of acres in the mountain valley for development of its factories, offices and housing for its employees.

A Palmerton News reporter in 1909 referred to S.S. Palmer, the NJZ president, as "a man of broad-gauge comprehension of the needs of the American workman."

Also helping to enhance the quality of life for NJZ workers and their families was Harrison Blunt, an engineer with the company.

"The foreign element of the Huns, Poles, and Slovaks are more comfortably housed than the average citizens of our hundred year old towns," the reporter stated. "They have baths, electric lights, sidewalks, broad avenues, gymnasium, basketball hall and tennis courts, a sewage disposal plant costing $36,000 that is a marvel of germ-destroying effectiveness, that sends a volume of water into the Aquishicola Creek clear as crystal."

Blunt was a nephew of New York City's noted street commissioner Col. George Warring, whose engineering methods and white-uniformed street cleaners were credited with enhancing that city's image in the late 1800s.

Harrison inherited his uncle's talents.

"Mr. Blunt is a man of shrewd practical turn of mind, and knows how to make things go, and how to make life worth living to the average man in a country town," the Palmerton News reporter stated. "He combines the elements of the watchdog with that of the wisdom of the serpent, and harmlessness of the dove; he knows the practical side of civics from the probing of a hole in the turf for a crocus to the laying out of a village that in time will develop into an ideal metropolis."

Legend has it that once at the end of a tour Harrison showed off the town's sewage disposal system by drinking a glass of water at the sewer outlet to prove how effective the system was.

Blunt was also proprietor of the Horse Head Inn, which the reporter called "a model of hospitality and of the culinary art, with its spacious grills, reading courts and lawns." Here, the writer said, "the clerks of the corporation - fine, athletic-looking men from our leading universities - find daily cheer and comfort, and the transient guest is agreeably surprised into the inclination to remain longer than his spare time warrants."

The reporter credited the human element for enhancing the quality of life in "utopian village." He noted that "corner loafers are unknown; the self respect of its citizens is the rule and not the exception."

The Palmerton Hospital under the direction of Reading native Dr. John Luther, opened in 1908 and was seen as "a marvel of snow white cleanliness and a prodigy of up-to-datedness." The reporter observed an "injured foreigner lying in a bed of whiteness, compared with which the average foreigner is a culm bank to an arctic snow drift in point of purity and cleanliness."

One of the town's most valued assets was the Neighborhood House, which was modeled after Chicago's Hull House, the famous mansion converted into a multi-functional neighborhood center. The Neighborhood House housed a library, a model kindergarten and sewing classes.

When it came to location and planning, the writer said Palmerton had no equal.

"As you wander from Lehigh Gap station through the picturesque mountainous gateway to the village nestling along the banks of the romantic Aquashicola and the splendid panorama of plain and mountain scenery burst on your view, you can hardly believe that you have just emerged form the land of sauerkraut, sausages and doughnuts, culm banks and odor of garlic into this Paradise of purity and peace and prosperity. Yet, so it is, for there is the village church with its square Norman tower and turreted walls of native parti-colored rock, embowered in clumps of native rhododendrons and briar rose bushes.

"There are the lawns and downs of the large and spacious Queen Anne manses and cottages; there is a rectory with its shrubberies, along the spacious and stately sweep of boulevards named for Princeton, Columbia, Lafayette and Lehigh Universities, and the whole reminds you of a rural hamlet in Merrie Old England - Stratford-on-Avon - for instance, only Palmerton-on-Aquashicola has more extensive mountain and meadow scenery, and more wealth and thrift - and no brewery."

The Palmerton writer had some parting advice for his coal region guests.

"Our advice to our Lansford councils and school boards is, instead of going annually to court with injunctions, and to jail on warrants of contempt of courts, go to Palmerton with eyes, hearts and pocket books wide open, and be wise and then come home and patiently teach citizens, corporations, contractors and operators to go and do likewise, and then our men will be cleaner, our women purer and our little children happier."

Note: This tour occurred in 1909, three years before Palmerton was incorporated. By 1912, the town had 5,000 people and the borough elected its first government.

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