Allentown in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania — part of the Lehigh Valley, a region of the Appalachian Great Valley — is the third largest city in the state and the two-hundred and thirty-third largest city in the United States. With a population of 118,000 as of the last census, it has an estimated population of 121,000 citizens, today, and is generally considered the fastest growing city in the state.
The largest of the region’s three cities — which also include Bethlehem and Easton — it makes up roughly fifteen percent of the Lehigh Valley metropolitan area’s 822,000 citizens. 60 miles north-northwest of Philadelphia, 75 miles west of New York, as well as 60 miles south-southwest of Scranton and 80 miles east of Harrisburg, Allentown and the surrounding region are centrally situated as what was once called the “Elbow of the Northeast,” with nearly 30 million people living within a 100 miles.
Despite the sheer number of people living within a stone’s throw, as part of the Bos-Wash Corridor megalopolis, Allentown itself is a densely populated 18 square mile island within a sea of both conventional suburbs and extensive forest and farmland, making it and the region that rarest of places — one which has all the advantages and pleasures of the city, on the one hand, and within only minutes dissolves into bucolic countryside, on the other.
A Brief History
Originally, a wilderness of scrub oak that served as hunting and fishing grounds for several neighboring tribes of indigenous Americans, it was deeded by the twenty-three chieftains of the Five Nations — the Iroquois Confederacy of Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca — to John, Thomas, and Richard Penn — who were, quite frankly, miserable sots and scoundrels full of chicanery. Regardless, the land passed into European hands and in 1735 a 5,000 acre parcel was purchased by William Allen from his business partner Joseph Turner, assigned warrant on the land by the Penn’s three years earlier.
William Allen was born in Philadelphia in 1704, studied Law in London, and returned to a life in Philadelphia of trade and long civil service, including a common-councilman, assemblyman, Mayor of Philadelphia, Judge in the Court of Common Pleas, and finally as Chief Magistrate of the Provincial Supreme Court. Upon his death, despite his many philanthropies, he was very likely the wealthiest man in Pennsylvania with some of the most extensive land holdings.