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.

A shrewd mer­can­tile mind, whose rival­ry with the Penns was the stuff of leg­end, Allen sought to estab­lish Northamp­ton Town in 1762 to dis­place Eas­t­on as the seat of Northamp­ton Coun­ty, as well as serve as a cen­ter of inter­course and com­merce due to its posi­tion on both the King’s High­way (between Eas­t­on and Read­ing) and the Lehigh Riv­er, as well as its prox­im­i­ty to Philadelphia.

As one gen­er­a­tion frets about “our own kind” and strives to police the bound­aries between eth­nic groups, their kids are already cross­ing them, hang­ing out in the streets, mak­ing eyes.