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By Rebecca Price Janney, Mar 1 2018 03:44PM

An article in a recent edition of the Allentown Morning Call addressed an issue that is very close to my heart. The steeple of Easton’s First United Church of Christ is in dire need of repair, and funds are needed to preserve this treasure.

Since I was old enough to be aware of my surroundings, the slim, elegant steeple has been a landmark for me of faith, hope, stability, rootedness. Actually, I’m guessing several generations of my family would gladly say the same.

The church itself has served the community for nearly 300 years, most famously during the Revolutionary War as a hospital for wounded soldiers. It also hosted any number of Indian treaties. My six times great-grandfather was an elder of the church when the congregation worshiped in a log school, then the courthouse at the center of the village. He helped build this, Easton’s first dedicated house of worship, right before he served as Colonel of the Northampton County Flying Camp at the Battle of Brooklyn.

This Greek Revival church has been, and remains, a sanctuary for the community in the truest sense of the word. Generations of my family have worshiped and served in this church, and I am honored to carry on the line as an associate member. Each time I arrive in Easton from my home near Philadelphia, I look to the skyline for the elegant steeple, a beacon of light and hope for Easton across the centuries.

According to the newspaper article, the 160 foot steeple was built in the early 1800s by Thomas Ustick Walter, the same architect who designed the U.S. Capitol Dome. In 1971 the steeple was last restored and is now greatly in need of repair with significant decay inside and out. The total cost will be around $350,000, and the church is appealing for a Keystone Historic Preservation Construction Grant through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

In order to help save this treasured landmark, I hope and pray the grant will come through, as well as many more funding sources so future generations can continue looking to the skies and drawing strength from this historic and cherished steeple.

By Rebecca Price Janney, Jul 12 2017 08:10PM

Easton's Heritage Day weekend is always special for me, but this last one will linger in my memory for a very long time. I'll give you reasons for both.

Back in 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial, Easton put on quite a celebration. After all, this town was one of the first three in the new nation to have a public reading of the Declaration of Independence--along with Trenton and Philadelphia. The bands played, flags waved, and fireworks soared into the nighttime sky. The following year was much quieter, which prompted my mom to write a letter to the editor of the then-Easton Express to suggest we should have a similar festival every year. While I don’t know for sure her letter is the actual reason we have a Heritage Day, I believe her ardor contributed to the present commemoration. Thanks Mom! You were a true Patriot in so many ways.

Easton has observed an annual Heritage Day since the late 1970s on the Sunday closest to July 8th, the date Robert Levers read the Declaration of Independence to the villagers on the Courthouse steps. My beloved ancestor, Colonel Peter Kichline (one of two main characters in my Easton Series), led his regiment to the Great Square in a display of patriotism amidst shouts of “Hip hip huzzah!”

For the past few years, my husband has portrayed the Colonel, and myself and our son as his wife and son, in a parade from the Bachmann Publick House on Second Street to the “Circle” where our good friend, Christopher Black, skillfully plays Levers before enthusiastic crowds. Needless to say, my heart swells as I stand there hearing those words read, and I often feel tears coming on at the end when we all pledge “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

This past weekend was even more amazing for me than usual. On Saturday morning I participated in the 265th birthday of the Easton Farmers’ Market at the invitation of another dear friend, Paul Strikwerda. There I spoke about, and signed, copies of my brand new book, Easton in the Valley. The weather was gorgeous, and I so enjoyed meeting many people who came by to see me.

In the evening I had the honor of participating in a book launch sponsored by the Sigal Museum/Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society at the 1753 Bachmann Public House. Fellow authors Jeff Finegan and Richard Hope joined me there as we spoke about our books and welcomed a sell-out crowd of well-wishers and book lovers. What fun I had greeting friends from nearly every part of my life in that historic place! I even ran into my former German professor and his wife from Lafayette College! Thank you, Carey Birgel, for making the evening such a success.

Sunday morning dawned much more comfortably than any Heritage Day I’ve ever known, and I scurried with a friend and my family to the interfaith service at Riverside Park. The town criers called us into the outdoor amphitheater, and the Rev. Michael Dowd of the First U.C.C. gave a stirring sermon. From there, I mingled with Heritage Day festival-goers, then marched in the noontime parade. At the end I ran into several of my DAR friends, including Carrie Ballek and Tracy Dejonge. Having lunch at the Sigal Museum with many new and old friends was a special treat, followed by some time in the historic First U.C.C., which served as a hospital during the Revolution. Although I was too tired to stay for the parade which include the famous Clydesdale horses, I came home with a truckload of happy thoughts and touching memories. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since!

Celebrating Easton Farmers' Market's 265th and Easton in the Valley
Celebrating Easton Farmers' Market's 265th and Easton in the Valley
Book Launch at the Bachmann Publick House
Book Launch at the Bachmann Publick House
With Sarah, Tracy, Carrie (DAR friends) and the Colonel
With Sarah, Tracy, Carrie (DAR friends) and the Colonel

By Rebecca Price Janney, Oct 25 2016 06:03PM

When Erin Miles begins searching for her family roots in my novel, Easton at the Forks, she discovers the vast majority of ancestors on her mother’s side hailed from Easton, Pennsylvania, a picturesque small city at the Forks of the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers about midway between Philadelphia and New York City. Stretching all the way back to Easton’s founding in 1752, Erin’s ancestors were in the thick of building a village, at the heart of which were the German Reformed and Lutheran congregations. Today the elegant spire of The First United Church of Christ bears witness to the steady presence of its lovely edifice erected in 1775 and used shortly afterward as a hospital during the Revolutionary War.

According to historian Thomas E. Jones in a 2013 report, “The German Reformed Church Congregation that is your ancestor is actually older than what is currently understood.” He cites a 1910 document indicating there was an association of German believers gathered at the Forks as far back as 1733 and that a stone and log edifice was constructed around that time on the Old Philadelphia Road. The church’s website states, “According to tradition, huge bonfires were lighted at the summit of Morgan’s Hill, south of the Lehigh River, on the night previous to services. These beacons informed members of the congregation of services on the following day.”

In the mid-1750s, worship took place in Easton’s first school, built of logs in 1755 near the site of the current church building. When the second schoolhouse was constructed in 1778 of stone masonry, some of the original logs from the first one were used as floor beams. Construction began on the Georgian stone church in 1774, which would serve as a union congregation for both the Reformed and Lutheran believers, and was likely completed by the end of the following year.

“First Church,” says the website, “played a prominent role in the turbulent years of the American Revolution. Since the Church and the courthouse were the largest buildings in Easton, both were used as hospitals for wounded and infirm soldiers after the battles of (Brooklyn), Trenton, Brandywine, and Germantown. It is believed Gen. George Washington visited these soldiers in the Church during one of his visits to Easton. In 1777, meetings were held at the Church between the peace commissioners appointed by Congress and representatives of various Indian nations. Thomas Paine, the famous Revolutionary pamphleteer and author of “Common Sense,” served as secretary to the commissioners at these meetings.”

A touching story involves the Northampton County soldiers who barely survived the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776. When the survivors were able to return to their beloved Easton, word of their impending arrival stirred the women of Easton to begin preparing food for the weary and starving men. However, as the soldiers arrived, they were so hungry they grabbed raw dough and began eating it.

Not only does fictional Erin Miles love the very site of this beautiful church, but I do as well because my actual ancestors, as well as more recent family members including myself, have worshipped there from the 1750s until the present day. I was very happy to include the German Reformed Church—as my mother knew it in her childhood before the name change in the 1950s—in the plot line of Easton at the Forks, including a critical scene toward the end of the novel.

I’m looking forward to worshiping there this coming Sunday and holding a book signing after the 10 AM service. If you’re in the area, please plan to stop by to see this beautiful place.

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