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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.

By rebeccapricejanney, Mar 10 2017 02:26PM

Several days ago I asked my Facebook friends if they remembered Robert Hall clothing stores where I remember going with my mother to buy Easter outfits, which always included a hat, gloves, and purse—you might say this portended my future membership in the DAR in which hats and gloves are required for certain occasions. Then my grandmother would buy me white or black patent leather shoes to complete the emsemble, usually at Farr’s in Easton.

Many friends not only remembered Robert Hall, one even shared the words of their advertising jingle! Then a conversation began around other Easton-area stores we remembered, ones no longer in business—Laubach’s, Pomeroy’s, Orr’s, Junior Colony, Lerner’s, the Surprise Store. Someone mentioned Bush and Bull’s, which serviced my grandmother’s generation. Downtown Easton was a shopping mecca before the malls squeezed out smaller companies in the 70s and 80s. My uncle worked at Joseph’s Men’s Store on Northampton Street for many years, actually until he died in that very place of a heart attack in his early 50s. Sometimes I would walk “over Easton” to see my uncle, and he’d take me to the Easton Sweet Shop where we’d sit at the counter drinking sodas. He always had time for me. Fresh out of high school, my brother went to work for The London Shop, also on Northampton Street about a block up from Joseph’s and which is still in business, then he worked for Orr’s, becoming the franchise’s general manager.

When I became old enough to choose my own clothes, I often frequented Junior Colony on North Third Street across from the current Subway shop. I also liked Sigal’s, and when I was planning my wedding, I bought my gown at their Bridal Gallery. When I needed career clothes, I took myself to Lenny’s on Centre Square where Mary Albanese helped me select soft suiting pieces that mirrored my personal style. Those clothes contributed to my professional confidence because of their high quality and fit.

Although my memories of those shopping excursions have faded, like the stores themselves, I still cherish those places and the people who worked in them. Please let me know your memories of any Easton stores.

1959 Photo Courtesy of Donald J. Rinker
1959 Photo Courtesy of Donald J. Rinker

By rebeccapricejanney, Feb 27 2017 06:52PM

For the third time to my knowledge, a book club has chosen to read and discuss Easton at the Forks.

The first was a neighborhood gathering in suburban Philadelphia, the second was the DAR's Philadelphia Chapter, and the third was The Liberty Bell DAR from Allentown, Pennsylvania, which had a special meeting last Friday to talk about my novel. Leader Carrie Ballek tells me they especially discussed what they would like and dislike about living in 1766, Sheriff Peter Kichline's era. I was actually asked something like that during a recent radio interview. What I really like about that time period is how close families tended to be, how faith was such an integral part of most people's lives, how they had less distractions and a slower pace of life, as well as purer food, though I'm not so sure about the water! I would definitely miss all the modern conveniences we enjoy, as well as the excellent health care we have access to.

If you're interested in hosting a book club discussion of Easton at the Forks, just send me an email, and I'll give you a list of suggested questions.

Liberty Bell Chapter DAR Ladies Discuss Easton at the Forks
Liberty Bell Chapter DAR Ladies Discuss Easton at the Forks
Rebecca with the Philadelphia Chapter DAR
Rebecca with the Philadelphia Chapter DAR

By rebeccapricejanney, Feb 16 2017 07:05PM

Do you remember growing up near any places that had unusual names? Tatamy, Pennsylvania was one of those towns for me. When I was a little girl, one of my mother’s best friends lived in the small borough of Tatamy just above Easton. I didn’t associate the lyrical name with anything beyond my mom’s friend’s house, somewhere I’d occasional go to visit. I didn’t realize then what I now know and have had the pleasure to write about—Tatamy is named for Moses Tunda Tatamy, a prominent 18th century Leni Lenape leader. One of his sons, Nicholas, is an important supporting character in my novel, Easton at the Forks, a friend of Sheriff Peter Kichline who helps him solve a series of crimes.

Moses Tunda Tatamy was born in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens region around 1690 and became a translator, messenger, and guide for white settlers and officials in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Around 1733, he moved near the area that eventually would bear his name, haven been given 325 acres by the sons of William Penn for his services. Because he lived to see some of the deceitful ways of those and other white officials, Moses Tunda formally purchased his land in 1741 for a little over 48 pounds in order to protect himself and his family.

One of the white men he was closest to and trusted the most was Presbyterian missionary David Brainerd, and under his influence, Tatamy became Brainerd’s first Native American convert, baptized in 1745. He helped bring many of his people to the Christian faith and urged the two groups, European settlers and Indians, to live together harmoniously. When relations between them grew increasingly strained over the years, however, he became increasingly disheartened and at times took to the bottle. His despair only deepened in the summer of 1757 when a white man killed one of Tatamy’s sons because he thought he looked “suspicious.” Three years later, Moses Tunda himself died.

In 1769, the colonial government of Pennsylvania gave his son, Nicholas, a parcel of land in honor of his father’s many contributions. Nicholas’s appearance in Easton at the Forks is my small tribute to a remarkable man and his distinguished family.

By rebeccapricejanney, Feb 9 2017 04:52PM

Where is your hometown? What was it like when you were growing up, and how has the place changed since then?

My novel, Easton at the Forks, is a tribute to my hometowns of Phillipsburg, New Jersey and Easton, Pennsylvania, which are separated by the Delaware River, acting like a large main street. When I was growing up, Easton was the place to go for shopping, entertainment, the library, and other activities. When malls began sprouting all over the Lehigh Valley, however Easton’s downtown area started going to seed, once-trendy department stores began shuttering their windows, and other businesses slowly pulled out, leaving only a few stalwarts braving streets few people wanted to walk at night.

Easton Main Street Initiative’s Manager Kim Kmetz told me, “I have heard from many Lafayette alum over the years stating that they wish Downtown Easton was as clean, safe and vibrant when they were in college as it is now. When I first started in this role 11 years ago, seeing a Lafayette student downtown was like the sighting of a rare bird. I’m glad to say, it surely is not like that now!

The small city began climbing back around 1986 when the one billionth Crayola Crayon rolled off the assembly line in its Easton plant, a place that had been a central part of the area’s economy since Binny and Smith started producing their patented crayons along the Bushkill Creek in 1900. Some thirty years ago, the Crayola Factory opened at 30 Centre Square in Easton, offering a plethora of exhibits and activities for children and their families. The place, featuring a working replica of the canal boats that once plied the Delaware Canal, became a big tourist attraction, but since there wasn’t much else to do in Easton except for riding a canal boat in milder weather, visitors would leave the place afterward.

Within the last twenty years, restaurants began opening, the Farmers Market drew more people to the Circle, the State Theater began offering well-known acts, and the Sigal Museum of local history opened. Suddenly Easton became a tourist destination.

Rather than speak about the city’s renaissance, however, I want to pay tribute to Crayola Crayons because of the huge role they’ve played in Easton’s history, past and present, as well as my own history. I remember my mother smiling down at my box of 64 Crayons (with a built-in sharpener) when I was a little girl. Few things made me happier than a coloring book and crayons. She’d say, “All of my Crayons were broken when I was a girl.” Naturally, I wanted to know why.

My mom grew up during the Depression, and while she never felt like she and her family were poor, there wasn’t much money for extras, like crayons. She told me, “My sisters and brother, and friends, would walk over Easton to the Crayola factory, and they’d put all the broken crayons they couldn’t sell out for us kids. We just loved going over there and thought getting those crayons was the best thing in the world.”

“Wasn’t that awfully far to walk?” I’d ask, guessing the distance from her house to the factory along the Bushkill to be about three miles. “That was nothing,” she’d say. “We walked everywhere back then.”

Maybe it was her fond recollections, or the blissful smell of a newly-opened pack of Crayons, or the dazzling names gracing each color—cornflower, burnt sienna (what is a sienna anyway?), carnation pink, cadet blue, aquamarine—but I won’t buy any other brand of crayon. Is there any other brand of crayon?

David and me at the Crayola Experience
David and me at the Crayola Experience
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