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Book offers ‘A Stroll Through the Past’

Thursday, December 13, 2018 by APRIL PETERSON in Local News

It is everything you wanted to know about Alburtis and more.

The Alburtis Lockridge Historical Society released the 170-plus page volume “Alburtis: A Stroll Through the Past” in 2017 and, with its conversational tone and easy pace, the book feels very much like a relaxed chat with a friendly historian.

The book opens with a history of the borough. Readers learn the contemporary iteration of the borough started as two separate villages: Alburtis and Lockridge, the latter a company town providing housing for workers at the Lock Ridge Furnace.

Readers first take a walking tour of Alburtis, named for railroad company executive and civil engineer Edward K. Alburtis, described as “responsible for the construction of the railway” and putting the village on the map, so to speak. Readers learn such gems of information as the location of the first post office, the reason for the reconstruction of the American House hotel, later the Alburtis Tavern and the worship space where two congregations held services on alternate Sundays.

Readers learn of devastating fires, the importance of shirt and silk manufacturing to the growth of the borough and what it was like to attend school from first to eighth grade in Alburtis School. A portrait of a small town emerges as stories of residents, such as town doctor Solomon K. Barndt and his wife Mary E. (Harley) Barndt and daily happenings mix with larger events such as world wars.

Contemporary Alburtis is home to two sites recognized on the National Register of Historic Places: The George F. Schlicher Hotel, also known as the Keystone Hotel, added in 1992, notable for its Late Victorian architectural style, architecture and engineering; and the Lock Ridge Furnace complex, added in 1981 and notable for its significance to industry and manufacturing, according to the website for the National Register of Historic Places.

In a simulated guided walk through what was the Village of Lock Ridge, readers learn how workers from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Germany made their way to the village to work for the Thomas Iron Company, which had purchased “170 acres and 92 perches on the outskirts of Alburtis and constructed two anthracite blast iron furnaces,” according to the book. Workers put in long hours, 12 hour days, often every day.

The company entered many aspects of workers’ lives, helping build the Lock Ridge Memorial Presbyterian Church and requiring workers to take a pledge not to drink alcohol.

The village also was home to other vital businesses including a large butchering facility and a slag company providing materials for the building of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“Alburtis - Then and Now” is the second section of the book and features comparison pictures of historic photographs with more current photographs of the same locations. The historic photographs, according to the introduction to the section, were shot by photographers Charles and Linnie Ross from the fall of 1905 to the winter of 1906. The Ross photos give readers, history buffs and those interested in the past a unique glimpse into the present day of the early 20th century. The photographs also are featured in the documentary “Alburtis: Then and Now’ available on DVD. The documentary, produced by the company The Media People, earned a Hermes Creative Award in 2016.

Of particular interest to readers may be photographs of residences, many of which feature residents and their families appearing to be dressed in their Sunday best for the photographs. A particular favorite is the photo of Grace Hensinger, bows decorating the ends of her ponytails and her dog Petey, photographed on the stoop of 205 S. Main St. in 1906.

News stories and anecdotes close the book, although many stories of life in Alburtis and Lockridge appear throughout. Readers will learn of the family who sent five sons to serve in World War II, the woman who organized the first Camp Fire group in Lehigh County and the co-ed civil defense unit organized in 1943. The story of the Alburtis Area Swimming Pool is found here along with a short history of the Alburtis Fire Company. Recreational pursuits, including baseball and band performances, civic organizations and other interesting facts are highlighted as well.

Knowledge gained through “Alburtis: A Stroll Through the Past” may serve a reader particularly well during the holiday season as an anecdote drawn from local history often makes a good ice breaker at holiday parties.