The Borough of Bath is a historic place. Rooted in the colonial era, it was laid out when George Washington was 6 years old by the Scotch-Irish, and it went on to become a thriving, largely Pennsylvania-German borough.
This year Bath is planning something that was once common in the Lehigh Valley but is now unique. They were called Old Home Week celebrations.
The name apparently was first used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In those years the changing nature of the country from rural to urban had led to many people the villages and towns for leaving the city. In hopes of encouraging former residents to return to refresh their roots and meet old friends, and not incidentally to show off how the old town had grown, these events were held.
This 21st century Old Home Week will run from August 14th to August 20th and will include a time capsule, community picnic, softball tournament, outdoor movie and more. Keep an eye out for the upcoming events.
Bath, Pennsylvania has a long history back to 1728 when it was named after Bath in Somerset, England, a watering hole of the English upper crust whose mineral baths first became popular when Britain was a province of the Roman Empire in 60 AD. By the 18th century it was drawing invalids from all over Europe. Most were wealthy, titled dyspeptics who came not just “to take the waters” but to engage in high stakes gambling.
Northampton County’s Bath was given that name by Margret Allen DeLancey, a daughter of William Allen who married James DeLancey, a member of a wealthy New York Tory family, for whom DeLancey Street in New York is named. The DeLanceys fled to England during the Revolution never to return. Ironically James DeLancey died at Bath, England in 1800. His wife passed away on October 18. 1827 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England.
The real founder of Bath was Daniel Craig (presumably not an ancestor of the most recent James Bond) who purchased the land and had it surveyed on March 3, 1737. Many of the early settlers, like Craig, were Scotch-Irish, Scots Presbyterians who had settled in Ireland before coming to America. William Allen was Scotch-Irish himself and it was largely on his land they settled with his encouragement. Bath borough historians say the original land spans from Chestnut to the north of Northampton Street.
Not all Scotch Irish were as lucky as Allen. Many had to settle on rugged land and their troubled relationship with Native Americans often boiled over into warfare. In 1776 William Allen turned the land over to his son Andrew, then the colonial Attorney General of Pennsylvania. Before he fled to England, Andrew Allen sold that property to a John Lattimore. The rest of the land west of the Monocacy was confiscated and sold to other local families. After the Revolution Andrew Allen returned to Pennsylvania, hoping to be compensated for the confiscated land but was not and he returned to England disappointed.
By 1912 when the first Old Home Week celebration was planned most of the Scotch-Irish were gone and the population was largely Pennsylvania German. And the crowds it was attracting showed that it was clearly going to be a popular event.
Under the headline “Industrial Parade Opens Bath’s Old Home Week Program,” the Morning Call described the atmosphere on opening day:
“Old Home Week at Bath was in full swing by sunset last evening and the carnival spirit was growing every minute. The old town is filled to the muzzle with returning sons and daughters and the members of their families who have come back from every corner of the nation to mingle with old time friends and scenes of childhood days. The program officially opened at 10’oclock this morning when Rev. JE Smith delivered the formal address of welcome from the platform erected in the square. There was a large gathering from the citizens of the town and visitors on hand for the ceremony.”
As was common at the time the address was printed word for word in the newspaper, mostly because the range from which an outdoor address could be heard was limited. Here are some paragraphs from the heart of Rev. Smith’s address:
“We have anticipated your coming with pleasure. We receive you not as strangers but as old acquaintances and friends. We will take you in not in the modern sense of the expression but in the good old Bible use of it. Children from time to time come back to their dear old homes in which they were raised on some special occasion as a birthday, an anniversary or golden wedding. They are met together in the old home. Former Bathites we are glad to have you return to help celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of the town of Bath that has individuality and quality and proud history to make its inhabitants of living here and to bring back for a visit those who have moved away .”
Smith went on to talk about the history, praising the descendants of the original Scotch-Irish who still live in the town for their “giving tone and backbone to the modern Bath…and we are grateful indeed for our thrifty Pennsylvania German forefathers who became a prominent factor in the making of Bath, who still on occasion can be found speaking their native dialect.”
Smith’s address was followed by that of attorney John Hoffman, praising the morals of small communities compared to those of the larger cities. He noted that is something residents of Bath should always keep in mind when they leave their native town.
The year 1912 was a presidential election year and a unique one. Three candidates, New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson for the Democrats, incumbent President William Howard Taft for the Republicans and former President Theodore Roosevelt on the Progressive ticket were the major party candidates. As all three were locked into the height of the campaign season, it must have been understood that they would not be able to be present. But all three responded to the invitations. Roosevelt, who was a descendent of Daniel Craig, had been especially hoped for. “I wish I could accept,” he replied by telegram. “I would particularly like to visit my ancestor’s place of abode, but this is an impossibility. With regret, T. Roosevelt.” Local Congressmen A. Mitchell Palmer also telegrammed his regrets at not being able to attend.
That afternoon the big event labeled an “Industrial Parade” gathered the most attention. “By 2 o’clock Main Street was alive with humanity,” the press noted. The Allentown Band was on hand to get everyone in just the right mood with snappy Sousa marches and other toe tapping tunes. Finally, behind Chief Marshall Dr. IG Marshall and the Allentown Band, at 3’clock the parade with 31 floats began. Here is a selection:
Mauser Milling Co. was first with a wagon mounted by an extra-large sack of flour. It was followed by Tony Tito, a tailor described by the Call as “a son of Sunny, Italy who conducts a tailoring establishment.” Tito’s float had him “stitching away for dear life,” as it passed the crowd. The float of the Bath Silk Company was hailed as the most inventive. “It carried a bevy of pretty girls busily engaged at their looms. A large mulberry train filled with cocoons was also a feature of the float.”
The biggest was that of the Pennsylvania Cement Co. It showed the workmen surrounded by bags of cement, making small briquets of cement that were passed out as souvenirs to the crowd. Among the others was Beers the ice cream maker featuring a large ice cream cone and the farm of Cyrus Smith of East Allen Township showing an apple butter making party duplicating a large apple tree and girls at work.
The second day was called Education Day. It began at 9:30 with a roll call of the assembled students, followed by the distribution of ribbon badges. Along with many speeches there was a musical event by local women. “The selections rendered by the ladies octette during the exercises were ‘Cupid Made Love to the Moon,’ ‘The Alphabet, ‘and ‘Water Lilies,’ noted the Morning Call.
It was followed by a speech by Dr. Francis March, former mayor of Easton who reminded everyone the role played by the former Governor Wolf, whose former home was Bath and had played a significant role in the founding of Pennsylvania’s public school system. The featured event was the unveiling of a monument at the schoolhouse to the late Miss Matilda Meyer, a much-loved teacher. A parade of school children arrived at the school for the unveiling. This was followed by more speakers who praised her and all the local teachers. One wonders if there wasn’t a yen among the boys for the old swimming hole after all the speeches.
That evening the carnival and the midway was in full swing with crowds flocking to the amusements. But Bath officialdom was aware that in a large crowd there could always be troublemakers and were taking no chances. Here is what the Morning Call had to say:
“The three members of the State Police on duty in the town for this week have a notably deterrent effect on any tendency toward rowdiness in the town. Games of chance on the midway must pass muster with these officers and thus far no ‘easy marks’ have fallen into the hands of any sharpers.”
With such success the third day was looked upon with anticipation. But that was before the rains came.
They started that morning and by afternoon a drenching downpour washed out the entire day. When the church bell rang at the Presbyterian Church about 50 folks huddled under umbrellas made their way there to hear a patriotic oratory about Bath’s role in the Revolution and the contribution Bath’s men had always played in the nation’s wars.
And apparently that was the end of Bath’s first Old Home Week. The story simple disappeared from the newspaper. Perhaps grounds were just too muddy to continue the midway. Hopefully this year’s celebration will have better luck.