Saturday, June 19, 2010
As the sun was setting on Bethlehem, on August 9, 1814, a crudely built ship, called an ark, was floating by on the Lehigh River. Its cargo would bring Bethlehem into the industrial age. The ark contained twenty-four tons of “black diamonds” or anthracite coal from the Room Run Mine. The ark was sixty-five feet in length and fourteen feet in width and built with hemlock wood. It began its journey at the landings at Lausanne with a crew of six men. Within a quarter mile the ark collided with a slate ledge which caused a gash its side. The crew ripped off their clothing and successfully plugged the hole. The ark stayed afloat all the way to its destination of Philadelphia, five days later.
The Lenni Lenape were the first to discover the coal and spoke of it to the early settlers. Philip Ginter may have heard these rumors so when he stumbled upon some black rocks, in 1791, while hunting on the summit of the Sharp Mountain, he took them home for further examination. Ginter had migrated to the Mahoning region in the 1770s. He was a miller, farmer and landowner of 300 acres. It is believed that Ginter took a piece of this coal to the local blacksmith, Joe Neyer, who was able to ignite the rock, confirming it was coal. Next, Ginter gave samples of the coal to Colonel Jacob Weis who was living in the area of Weissport, formally New Gnaddenhuetten or Fort Allen.
Weiss had served as the assistant deputy quartermaster-general at Easton (1780-1783.) Upon retirement in 1783, Weis purchased 700 acres, which included the former Fort Allen, from the Moravian Brethrens and moved his family to that location. He started a lumber business and farm. Weis took the coal to Philadelphia to seek the advice of his cousin, Michael Hillegas, United States Treasurer during the Revolutionary War, Charles Cist, a printer and his brother-in-law, John Nicholson, the Comptroller General of Pennsylvania. Cist was able to verify that the stone was anthracite coal. With this discovery they decided to form the Lehigh Coal Mine Company, in 1792. Weiss offered Ginter assistance in securing a land warrant in exchange for pointing out the spot where he found the coal.
At first the company’s plan seemed easily accomplished. They needed to find coal deposits, purchase the property containing the deposits, improve the Lehigh River so transportation of the coal by boat would be unimpeded and develop a market for the coal. Every part of this plan proved difficult. Weiss took charge of purchasing 10,000 acres of coal rich land. As he attempted to buy land, counter claims would surface. Weiss eventually sorted out ownership with the company purchasing the land between Mauch Chunk and Tamaqua, along the Lehigh River. The idea of mining coal from shallow pits was abandoned for digging mine shafts at the Room Run Mine near Nesquehoning. This mine was closer to the river therefore reducing the cost of transporting it. Several attempts to clear the Lehigh River for transportation of the coal failed. In 1798, a separate company was organized to deal specifically with this task, the Lehigh Navigation Company.
The War of 1812 raised the cost of coal and limited its availability through the British blockade of Chesapeake and Delaware bays. This inspired a new attempt of transporting coal from the Lehigh Coal Mine Company down the Lehigh River to the Philadelphia market. The Lehigh Coal Mine Company began leasing their mines to other enterprising men hoping to increase the value of their mines. Some of the original investors, Hillegas, Cist and Nicholson, had passed away. The next generation (Jacob Weiss, Isaac Abel Chapman, Jacob Cist, Charles Miner, and John Robinson) took their chances with the mining and selling of anthracite. Arks were produced at Jacob Weiss’ sawmill at Lausanne. They were sixty-five feet long by fourteen to sixteen feet wide. Each ark could carry from twenty to thirty tons of coal. The ark was controlled by a pilot who navigated with a pole.
Josiah White and Erskine Hazard purchased a cart load of the coal that was piled on the ark that passed through Bethlehem in 1814. They wanted to investigate its usefulness for heating the furnace at their mill, the Fairmount Nail and Wire Works, at the Falls of the Schuylkill (northwest of Philadelphia). They experimented with lighting the coal for several hours but soon gave up. They shut the furnace door and left the mill, greatly discouraged. One of the mill workers realized that he had left his jacket. He returned to the mill thirty minutes later to find the furnace to be red hot. The closed furnace door increased the flow of oxygen and facilitated the combustion. White and Hazard saw the great potential of anthracite. Their involvement in the anthracite mining industry solved many of the problems encountered by the Lehigh Coal Mine Company.
Charles A. Babcock, the Superintendent of Schools in Oil City, PA, had noticed that his students were keenly interested in the study of birds. He thought it would be useful to devote an entire day to presentations, discussions, and nature trips centered on Pennsylvania birds. Babcock wrote to a number of bird enthusiasts to ask their opinion of instituting an annual "Bird Day" in the schools. He received exceedingly positive responses to the idea from such notable people as the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture J. Sterling Morton, known as the father of "Arbor Day," ornithologist Olive Thorne Miller and writer John Burroughs.
On May 4, 1894, the school children of Oil City celebrated the first Bird Day. The students spent the day discussing birds in literature and visiting bird habitats. The day was such a success that Bird Day became an annual event, in Oil City.
Oil City’s curriculum called for more than the scientific study of birds. The educators sought to impart the immorality of harming birds. In 1894, J. Sterling Morton summed up this sentiment in his letter to Babcock, “We should strive continually to develop and intensify the sentiment of bird protection, not alone for the sake of preserving the birds, but also for the sake of replacing as far as possible the barbaric impulses inherent in child nature by the nobler impulses and aspirations that should characterize advanced civilization.”
Word spread quickly about Bird Day. Newspapers and magazines praised the goals of Bird Day. The American Ornithologist Union made a plea for a national Bird Day at their annual meeting in 1897. Educational journals promoted books and other material for a Bird Day curriculum. One popular book was written by Ida S. Elson, Birdies; what they do (1900.) Her 104 page, cloth book is included in a collection of literature that reflects the Bird Day movement in the Library of Congress. Before Ida married Henry W. Elson, a history professor at Thiel College, she ran a kindergarten school, out of her Market St. home, in Bethlehem. Ida S. (maiden name McMullen) was fondly remembered by her students, such as well-known writers Hilda Doolittle, Laura and William Rose Benet.
A typical Bird Day program would involve students installing bird houses, singing songs “Peep Said the Little Bird”, reading stories such as Abbott’s The birds about us and reciting Longfellow’s poem “The Birds of Killingworth.” Charles A. Babcock wrote his book Bird Day; How to prepare for it (1901) to instruct educators on all aspects of Bird Day. He included the history of the movement along with specific program suggestions. He warned that the numbers of songbirds were declining. He stated, “It is currently reported that a million bobolinks were destroyed in Pennsylvania alone last year to satisfy the demand of the milliners.”
It was a popular trend in Victorian times for women to wear dead songbirds or their feathers on elaborate hats. The fashion was started by Marie Antoinette and spread throughout Europe and the United States. These feathered hats eventually inspired the first U.S. grass roots conservation campaign. Audubon Societies were formed across America to advocate bird protection from the bird and feather trade. Finally in 1900, the U.S. Congress passed the Lacey Act. This was the first federal legislation to address conservation and it effectively stopped the interstate shipment of wild birds killed in violation of state laws.
By 1910, Bird Day became a fixture in the schools across the United States. Twenty-five state legislatures went so far as to establish Bird Day as an official day of commemoration. Two of Pennsylvania’s Governors, Gifford Pinchot, in 1923, and Arthur H. James, in 1940, made official proclamations about the importance of Bird Day.
It was widely celebrated in conjunction with Arbor Day. Arbor Day is a day dedicated to tree planting and increasing awareness of the importance of trees. In Pennsylvania, National Arbor Day is still celebrated each year on the last Friday in April. Both events focused upon conservation awareness.
The Nature Conservancy, incorporated in 1951 and the Ecology movement, begun in the 1960’s (inspired by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring), shifted conservation efforts toward other goals. Earth Day, started in 1970, promotes environmental citizenship which encompasses the objectives of Bird Day and Arbor Day.
The Lenni Lenape (Delaware) tribes hunted, fished, and quarried jasper in the area that became the Lehigh Valley. Europeans first arrived in the area in the early 1700s to trade with the Indians. By 1730, German settlers were drawn to settle the Lehigh Valley after reading favorable descriptions of the land in advertisements promoted by William Penn. In 1737, Penn’s sons expanded their land holdings to include most of the Lehigh Valley through their swindle of the Lenni Lenape called the “Walking Purchase.” The Lenni Lenape retaliated with occasional raids in the 1750s and early 1760s upon the European settlers. However by the mid-1760s, the Lenni Lenape moved out of the area, allowing Europeans to settle it.
The Lehigh Valley was considered part of Bucks County, established in 1682 then became Northampton County in 1752. In 1812, Lehigh County was divided off from Northampton County. The first European settlers were families that moved from the more populated areas around Philadelphia to the valuable farmland further north.
There was no organization to the immigration of thousands of German settlers in the Lehigh Valley in the 1800s. Most of these settlers came to farm and each member of the farming family needed to learn a variety of skills. Their survival depended on it.