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By rebeccapricejanney, Apr 13 2017 05:39PM

This week I’ve been posting on social media about the 100th anniversary of World War I, namely some interesting facts such as the story about the wounded pigeon who still carried out its duties and managed to save an entire battalion. I talked about Harry Truman’s desire to serve in spite of his poor eyesight, how he memorized the doctor’s chart and managed to get into the service, attaining the rank of captain. There’s also the memorable tale of Sergeant Alvin C. York, a backwoods Tennessee native and conscientious objector who went on to become one of the war’s greatest heroes (I just love the movie about him starring Gary Cooper). There are so many more stories of bravery, patriotism, and honor.

When the U.S. entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson spoke about the great need to “save the world for democracy.” Like millions of Americans, he was burdened by the massive destruction casting a pall over Europe as belligerents hurled horrific new forms of death at each other, made possible by the technology that at the beginning of the 20th century, was supposed to have made such conflicts obsolete. The American forces were viewed by many to be the continent’s last, best hope to bring about an end to the devastation.

We might rightly say the 2.1 million Americans who served on the frontlines from 1917-to 1918 acted in the role of saviors of a suffering humanity. Many tens of thousands of them made the ultimate sacrifice, over 53,000 on the battlefield, and more than 63,000 who perished from disease and accidents. Then there were over 200,000 wounded and many more who would suffer themselves from post traumatic stress.

Each American soldier who stepped on a troop ship as he prepared for war was given a New Testament provided by the New York Bible Society. In it a message from former President Theodore Roosevelt was inscribed, encouraging the men, “Love mercy; treat your enemies well; succor the afflicted; treat every woman as if she were your sister; care for the little children; and be tender with the old and helpless. Walk humbly; you will do so if you study the life and teachings of the Savior, walking in His steps.” He reflected the belief that stretched all the way back to the Pilgrims and Puritans that America needed to set any example for other nations and people who had lost their way in a darkened world.

I find it fitting that we’re observing the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I during Holy Week. For as great as the debt we owe to those “Doughboys,” there is One far greater who paid the ultimate price to save the entire world from the dungeon of sin and death for all generations, until He comes again and beats our swords into ploughshares.

World War One Poster
World War One Poster

By rebeccapricejanney, Apr 5 2017 01:32PM

Are there any bridges of special interest to you or for which you have a certain affection? I recently showed a close friend around Easton, and when I pointed out some houses rimming the Delaware River on the other side, she gasped. “I had no idea Easton and Phillipsburg were so close!” she said. Indeed, when I was growing up there, the bridges connecting the two towns were more like streets running through the middle. If I had a dollar for every time I crossed one of the two bridges, you’d see me dancing around like someone who’s just had balloons and a mammoth check brought to her house by perfect strangers while a camera is rolling.

In Easton at the Forks, I wrote from this perspective while painting a picture of Erin Miles’s relationship to the bridges. Today I’d like to tell you more about them.

Aside from the railroad bridges spanning the Delaware at the forks, there are two for the conveyance of vehicles and pedestrians. (There also is a Route 78 bridge downriver, but being newer and not a whit romantic or historic, I’m leaving it out of the present discussion.) The oldest, and to me the most graceful, of the two is the Northampton Street Bridge, which locals often call “The Free Bridge” for obvious reasons. This is the second span to link Easton and Phillipsburg there, replacing a wooden, covered bridge which served the people for most of the 19th century (1806-1896). From 1739-1806 a ferry had taken passengers and horses from one bank to another. Although the covered bridge withstood the slings and arrows of stormy weather and floods, the revolution in transportation rendered the structure obsolete.

In 1896 a Lafayette alumnus and professor, James Madison Porter III, designed a modern bridge to replace its antecedent. Its delicate, almost lacey, appearance belies its durability, but as the machine age progressed, the Northampton Street Bridge faced the dilemma of its predecessor—larger trucks and buses needing to cross the Delaware were just too heavy for constant use, in addition to an influx of new automobiles in the 1920s and 30s. Instead of simply replacing the bridge to keep up with the times, however, a new one was built just upriver to the north, a bridge that would carry newly minted U.S. Route 22 across the water. The Easton-Phillipsburg Toll Bridge was opened on January 14, 1938, but locals whose lives stretch back a few decades still tend to call it “The New Bridge.”

I took my early memories of these bridges and transferred them to Erin in my novel. Like me, she grew up hearing stories about the great flood of 1955, the one brought about by Hurricane Diane (actually, a previous hurricane had blown through the area a week earlier). So vivid were her relatives’ recollections of what happened next, Erin felt as if she’d lived through the event herself. In August 1955, “Diane” caused the Delaware to rise 44 feet above its normal levels, and on the 19th, they cascaded over the top of the Free Bridge. The stalwart structure held firm, however, that is until the remains of the shattered Portland-Columbia covered bridge smashed into it, tearing away the center portion, leaving the sides sagging like too-big trousers with suspenders hanging down.

In order to accommodate traffic, tolls were lowered on the New Bridge from 10 to five cents for the next two years, and two, temporary, Bailey bridges flanked the Free Bridge as it was repaired. My mother used to tell me stories about using those “pontoon bridges,” as she referred to them, and how scary she found them to be since they didn’t have “sides” like a regular bridge.

I’m including a photo of an ornament I was given of the Free Bridge for Christmas last year. Please tell me any bridge stories you may have to share!

By rebeccapricejanney, Mar 29 2017 01:32PM

Today at breakfast I mentioned this is my maternal grandmother’s birthday, and once again I shared some stories about her with our son. He never met her, but through such tales and photographs, he is getting to know her in a different way. I’d like to tell you something about her as well.

Ethel Ritter was born in Easton, Pennsylvania—where else, right? Her childhood was moderately privileged according to old photos in which she’s seen wearing the latest fashions in hats and the requite furs of her day. She told me about outings with her girlfriends to a hotel in present-day Jim Thorpe and how excited she used to get whenever the circus came to town. When she was a young woman, her world changed when her father was killed in a railroad accident. Not long afterward, she married my grandfather. Together they raised five children, but their marriage didn’t reach far beyond their 20th anniversary because he died after a lengthy illness. There she was, without a father or husband, at the tail end of the Great Depression and on the eve of World War II. She gamely went to work to provide for her family.

By the time I came along, her working years were mostly behind her, but she remained active in retirement, especially as a volunteer at her church. She was Grammy Kocher by then, having married a coworker in her 60s—he was a World War I veteran and lifelong bachelor. To me, they’d always been together because I didn’t know either of them any other way, but when I was five, he died.

I spent a lot of time at my Grammy’s house over the years, including living with her during college, and she taught me a lot. Some things were funny, such as “Never leave the house without earrings,” or when someone dropped, spilled, or broke something, she’d do a quick assessment then pronounce, “Nobody hurt!” It was her way of putting the incident into proper perspective, and the saying is one I still keep handy. I also learned resilience from her. With faith in God, good humor, and determination, a person can get through anything.

Grammy always dressed nicely. For instance, when my mom would take her to the bank, Grammy wore a nice dress and heels, and gloves when women still wore gloves in public. However, she was never prim or prissy. When I was a student at Lafayette College, one day I took her for a ride onto the campus because I needed to get something at the library. As we drove along the Quad, Grammy was waving out the window and calling, “Hello boys!” I was mortified. “Grammy, you’re embarrassing me,” I said. She just smiled and went on greeting my fellow students. I think they were pretty amused because they smiled and waved right back.

When she turned 90, Grammy Kocher declared, “I’m never going to look in a mirror again.” I asked her why, and she said, “Because when I see what I look like, it doesn’t match the way I feel inside.” She died a year later, and I still miss her all these years later. Her warmth and humor, strength, and faith, however, still bless and guide me. Happy birthday Grammy! I love you.

Ethel Ritter Price Kocher
Ethel Ritter Price Kocher

By rebeccapricejanney, Mar 23 2017 01:13PM

Do you have a particular family homestead, either a venerable historic place or a fond house where you spent some important years? I always think in terms of my Grammy Kocher’s twin where so many family gatherings occurred over the years and where I lived during college. There’s another place, though, one I didn’t realize was even my family’s until recent years.

When I was growing up, I passed the Springbrook Tavern hundreds, maybe thousands of times, but I don’t remember really noticing the 18th century building back then. Are you like that? You live near a place others would find fascinating, but because it’s always just been there, you barely see it. I would give a lot now to be able to see the the Springbrook again, but I can’t.

Two miles from the center of Easton, at the corner of 25th and Northampton Streets in what is now Palmer Township, the Springbrook Tavern, aka the Fountain House, first came into existence at the hand of my five-times great grandfather, Peter Kichline, Jr. (1750-1828) A Lieutenant in the American Revolution, Kichline built the two-and-a-half story, stone edifice along the Bushkill Creek near a spring. According to various accounts, he made a trough in the western end of the cellar through which the water ran, and there he kept trout until they were needed to feed his guests. Trout was, therefore, a specialty of the house for travelers making their way west and north out of Easton in the early days.

I also have read when Kichline first built the tavern in 1794, he inscribed the following on an exposed stone in the western gable: “P.K. 1794.”

In the 1880s, the owners of the Fountain House built a clapboard frame addition. I’m not sure at what point the place became known as the Springbrook Tavern, but my parents and others have told me they remembered going there over the years.

In 1978 the old tavern was torn down, and a Silo appliance store erected in its place. That upstart business, however, did not stand the test of time like my ancestor’s did—now there’s a Dollar Store on the premises. I wish historic preservation had been in the 70s what it is today when most people are loathe to destroy 18th century properties. Then the Fountain House could continue to delight more generations. Still, I can’t help but wonder what archeological treasures might lie underneath that parking lot! Is anyone up for a dig?

Image Courtesy of Preston Keith Hindmarch, Aardvark Graphics, Easton, PA
Image Courtesy of Preston Keith Hindmarch, Aardvark Graphics, Easton, PA

By rebeccapricejanney, Mar 15 2017 05:08PM

When I recently asked friends on social media to share their memories of favorite stores from their youth, several mentioned the people who ran those establishments. Most of the memories were good, although some shared recollections of “mean” owners! Fortunately, most of the ones I remember were good folks, like the ones my grandfather used to chat with in their tiny shop while I chose a few licorice sticks.

In Easton at the Forks, one of the “real” characters from 1766 is Meyer Hart, who opened the village’s first store when the town was founded in 1752. He and his wife, Rachel, were on founder William Parson’s list of eleven original families, and in 1755, Hart, whose birth surname is alternately listed as “de Shira” and “Texeira,” contributed twenty pounds of wrought nails, which cost twenty cents per pound, to the construction of Easton’s first school.

In 1763, Hart paid nineteen shillings in Northampton County taxes, more than anyone else in Easton, and according to M.S. Henry in History of the Lehigh Valley (p. 63), at that time the merchant owned three houses and “several negroes.” Before Pennsylvania abolished slavery during the Revolution, a few Eastonians owned slaves. (Before her death, Easton/Northampton County history librarian extraordinaire Jane Moyer, told me these slaves were treated more like indentured servants, a subject I continue to research.)

There is some dispute as to whether Michael Hart of Easton, also a merchant, was Meyer’s son or not. Michael was born in 1738 and died in Easton in 1813. In my novel, I treat the two as father and son. Michael was also known, much to his displeasure as you can imagine, as “the stuttering Jew,” and there’s a story about a woman coming to town and asking whether he was, in fact, the “stuttering Jew.” Michael became so enraged, she ran out of the store and hid as he pursued her. Fortunately, he didn’t catch the miscreant.

There was at the time of the Revolution a small Jewish community in Easton, but there was no Hebrew congregation/synagogue until 1839. I believe in the early days, these families probably worshiped in each other’s homes, but I invite any evidence to the contrary!

Meyer Hart earned a place in Easton history in another way as well. During the construction of the church which would service the large German Reformed and Lutheran believers, he donated two kegs of hand forged nails to the building. To honor his generosity, when the congregation installed stained glass windows in the 19th century, one of them featured a Star of David. I can’t help but wonder whether the writer of the earlier account of Hart’s contribution of nails to the first school might actually have been mixed up with this other story. Perhaps, of course, Hart actually did give nails to both efforts.

During the Revolution he was then in his fifties and was put in charge of British prisoners of war for about two years. Although Hart left a strong legacy in Easton, he didn’t finish his life in the town at the forks of the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers. He moved to Philadelphia around 1782 where his name appears among the roles of the Mickve Israel congregation, and in 1785, in the city’s first directory. He died in 1795.

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