Mar 17, 2016

A Former Factory and Neighborhood of Allentown, Pa.

The Wire Mill was a sprawling industrial plant along 13 acres of the Little Lehigh Creek, just east of Lehigh Street, near the current Martin Luther King Drive.  An 1899 map of Allentown contains the footprint of various industries of the time, and the Wire Mill was the most prominent.  The Lehigh Valley RailRoad constructed two bridges over the Little Lehigh, to bring its Barber Quarry spur line into and out of the plant. Began in 1886, it produced wire and nails until 1943, and then sat abandoned for another twenty years. During WW1, it employed up to 1,200 men around the clock, producing barbed wire for the trench warfare in Europe. The factory sat on the south side of the former Wire Street, which housed narrow row houses on the other side of the street, and the neighborhood above it.

That entire neighborhood was demolished in the early 1970's, as Allentown embraced the modern urban renewal models of the time. The old, modest neighborhood of small row houses, between Lawrence and Union Streets, and on both sides of Lehigh Street, between 4th and 8th Street, were bulldozed away.  It was, in a large part, home to Allentown's black community. How ironic that we destroyed the cohesion of a neighborhood, but renamed Lawrence Street after Martin Luther King. The only remnant of that community and neighborhood still there is the St. James A.M.E. and Zion Church. A former vibrant neighborhood was replaced by a sterile bank call center, sitting alone on a large vacant hill. That building is now the new Building 21 city operated charter school. I would have complained about that urban renewal plan if I was blogging back then. Now, 50 years later, I still consider that plan a failure. Hopefully, future bloggers will have something better to say about Allentown's current revitalization.

The Wire Mill was at the bottom of the Lehigh Street hill, shown above

Portion of 1899 City Map of Allentown Showing Wire Mill


michael molovinsky said...

this post is an expanded combination of two prior posts, one on the wire mill, another on the Lehigh Street renewal. before the demolition there was a large former textile factory on the corner of Lehigh and Union Streets. the late Patrice Sidolone commented that she had lived in a loft apartment in that former factory, and was displaced by that renewal project. 40 plus years later we would meet as she fought against being displaced again, by the new urban renewal plan, from her shop and home on 8th street.

Anonymous said...


Government can't solve our problems, it can only change them. Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

Isn't the building a ASD leased building and not owned per se by ASD nor Allentown pa¿!)$ This was not part of allentowns perchase of parkland waterwar found said monies for mayors said pension proCUREment proceeds thereof¿!)$
Than there is the larance, martin luther king dr., the name I remember was water street as homes along that particular road flooded in the rainy parts of the years and the inhabitants were pushed from there homes by the powers that be¿!)$
Progress, got to love white boxes build with no chacter, and along with that the comeradary that once madeup pert of the charm tham inhabited homes throughout the etire area¿!)$ The administrational destruction of that way of life is destruction of anything that is well in Allentowns blightable book 101 and below, tell lies about people that there designs are upon as naysayers to create discourse and destruction of something that is very close to inocent indigent childrens moulding institution that will be the sapeing of there future lifes, ie family¿!)$

LVCI said...

I could be wrong but I think Herbst Machinery also occupied a portion of the building later on... somewhere in the 60's-70's. They'd rebuild huge machines for many of the local textile mills in this area at the time.

Whethervain said...

This section from your map shows the wire mill (just a tad below dead center) and surrounding rail infrastructure.

MzNan28 said...

St. Stephens Hungarian Curch has forgot to mention it. I was born and raised on Wire St.and still remain close to many of the old Hungariam families that lived there. My parents felt very cheated when they were to move even though the houses were very old the they really didn't want to leave. My grandparents also lived on Wire St.since their arrival from Europe.

Anonymous said...

I love these historical pieces. Thank you

michael molovinsky said...

mznan28, i had a high school friend who also lived on wire, and another around the corner, whose family had a market in the neighborhood. in addition to homes, we lost businesses and community.

michael molovinsky said...

The following from the Wire and Lawrence St. facebook page.

Welcome to this page dedicated to the old neighborhood origianlly located in Allentown PA between Walnut St. south to the Lehigh River and 4th St.west to the 8th St. bridge. Including streets such as Lehigh, Hickory, Hill, Penn, Lawrence, Water, Union and Wire. The residents of this neighborhood were mostly European immigrants arriving in the early 1900's. Businesses included a wire mill, milk company, sewing factories, shoemakers, barbers, taverns and small grocery stores. Also located here were two schools, Garber Horne and Livingston Elementary and three churchs (Hungarian Catholic, Luthern & Baptist).
Many of the former residents, some friends for 50 yrs, have remained connected through private and public social events, including a picnic held in June at Emmaus Community Park and a Christmas get-together!

Apparently, the city planners succeeded in tearing down the neighborhood, but the sense of community remained.

LVCI said...

My dad (amongst his many jobs) once drove for Bond Bread (Lehigh Street). His route was down in that neighborhood. On Saturdays I'd sometimes go with him. The neighborhood consisted almost entirely of blacks. Never once was there a problem and little crime what I know of. Everyone down there was friendly both to my dad and myself.

As you mentioned previously Allentown systemically removed both that neighborhood, the black owned homes and dozens of black owned businesses going down Hamilton Street hill towards the LV Railroad station (including where city hall sits today) and the homes near Fountain Park that that were once owned by blacks. Later on also tore down the homes along 4th street between Hamilton & Union Streets as well.

Historically speaking, Allentown planners always had agendas much like what we're seeing with today's NIZ. It might be argued they're fighting against blighted properties but in the end it's always the minorities and those with low income most affected.

The arena, hotel and offices could have just as easily been located at Riverfront or by the baseball stadium where it would have been more cost effective. Instead planners socked it to the minorities and low income business owners just like Allentown always has.

Anyone else see a pattern here?

michael molovinsky said...

lvci@1:22, although most of allentown's blacks lived in that neighborhood, they were still a minority there. there was at least one black owned market, brantley's. brantley was a wholesale customer of my father, allentown meat packing, which was down at the end of union st., before the bridge over the lehigh.

George Ruth said...

I love these feature stories. I wouldn't, however, ascribe such evil motives to the 'renewers' of the 50s-70s. Though historic and sentimental most of those homes and businesses were built in the 19th Century with few, if any, code restrictions.

Anonymous said...

I was just perusing the Wire and Lawrence St. Facebook page. I had no idea that neighborhoods existed along Lehigh St. and what is now Martin Luther King Dr.(row homes under the 8th St. Bridge? I never would have thought!). Most of these changes occurred long before I was born (I'm 47), however I'm fascinated by local history and history in general. Is there anybody who can give more information behind the pictures posted on the Facebook page? I'd love to have frames of reference in relation to where these pictures were taken and how it looks today. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Incidentally, can anybody tell me where Lawrence St. ended before the MLK Dr. extension was added?

michael molovinsky said...

anonymous@12:07, you will find the local history room at the allentown library quite helpful. as the map shows in this post, lawrence street ended at S. 5th st., however, union street proceeded east. please understand that i will not host questions and answers between anonymous commenters.

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

This area was an integrated neighborhood before the civil rights movement. It was destroyed along with the relationship between people of different races and cultures that came about by years of free interaction between peoples, Not to dismiss abuses in voting etc. forced integration will never work, just like any other government from the top down social experiment. I as a young man remember that neighborhood and knew some who grew up there. I suspect there was a community of people who knew each other for generations, black and white. I would bet there was a sort of discrimination practiced by the community, not based on race but on behavior whether it was black or white. I remember the days when if someone was out of line , their mother or father was informed by the neighbors not the police. I don't think we have that now anywhere.