Nov 21, 2017

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

reprinted from March 2016 

ADDENDUM NOVEMBER 21, 2017: Mayor Pawlowski recently announced that the Lehigh Street bridge(Wire Mill Bridge) over the Little Lehigh Creek will be closed for repairs. Over the years I have written numerous posts about this historic section of Allentown. In subsequent years I combined some of these posts and reprinted them. In the next several days, current events permitting, this blog will revisit that section of our city.


Jamie Kelton said...

I know the redevelopment along Hamilton Street east of Fifth was for the Lehigh County
Courthouse and for a new City Hall. Also read the wire mill was empty even before World War II. What were they going to build south of Union Street?

michael molovinsky said...

jamie@4:10, to my knowledge and memory they were just creating an opportunity for new construction, although none happen for many years. It was tight knit neighborhood that still has a group that meets, all these years later. I had several friends whose families lived there. There were also several stores and businesses, including at least one black owned market, Brantley's.