Catasauqua was fortunate that those who built the industries in town – also lived in the community. David Thomas, known as the Father of Catasauqua, bought up much of the farm land, laid out the town around the iron works, became the first burgess (mayor), etc. Like David Thomas, many of those who came to build and work in the furnaces, were Welsh. The early community became a Welsh enclave in the midst of German farms. Thomas built houses for the workers – over a hundred in the first 10 years, which the company owned and maintained until its demise in 1926. Some of the early settlers after the construction of the iron works were the Williams family, Fuller family, James Lackey, Samuel Glace, Joshua Hunt, Joseph Laubach, Peter Laux, Charles Schneller, and Nathan Fegley.
Those who invested in the works and nearby businesses became wealthy. Their sons followed in their footsteps and became the next generation of industrialists. Some stayed while others carried the technology beyond Catasauqua – to Alabama’s iron industry, to Pittsburgh, and to other parts of the Lehigh Valley. Their daughters inherited and/or married well. By 1900, Catasauqua is said to have had the highest number of millionaires per capita of any town in the nation. The Mansion Historic District contains many of the homes of the early Industrialists.
Small private schools were followed by public schools (post Governor Wolf). Even so, it was rare to see more than a dozen in a graduating class from HS – so many children left school to begin a trade while still very young. And there were plenty of jobs for children in industry. If you were poor, it meant starting work at age 10; whereas the wealthy would begin their internships at 15. There were also plenty of industrial accidents. Catasauqua had as many as 7 doctors serving the community during the height of industrial activity.
The early industrialists here practiced and preached abstinence. The success of the industries depended on having reliable workers who had vested interests in the industry where they worked and in the community. Employees were encouraged to save money – not spend it in the bars on payday – so they could move beyond the company home and buiild/own their own home. The industrialists helped build most of the churches, created banks and savings and loans. The industrialists who manged the works here were engineers – their first jobs were working in the furnaces and foundries. They weren’t out-of-town bankers and lawyers. Unions and strikes were not as successful or frequent in Catasauqua as in towns where the owners were distant.
That said, before the Welsh came, the German farmers operated a distillery along Race Street, where they also fed their hogs: an early history referred to the area as “Hogtown”. The first liquor licences were issued in Catasauqua in 1850 to the Catasauqua House (NE corner of Front & Willow) and the Eagle Hotel (NE corner of Front & Bridge). There were many private societies at that time who ran lodges or meeting rooms on the second and third floors of businesses: here men enjoyed their cigars and drink in private – especially during prohibition. Two large breweries operated here for decades. Catasauqua was often known for having a church and/or bar on every corner.
It was a very self sufficient community. Initially, it was unique in its industrial setting, with block upon block of well built workers homes. Corner groceries, bakeries, clothing emporiums, boot & shoe shops, cigar stores, tin shops, ice cream and confectionary shops, tailors and milliners, popped up everywhere. For 100 years, residents of Catasauqua didn’t need to leave town for anything. It wasn’t until the malls came to Whitehall that Catasauqua lost its Front St businesses.
Follow the links for more on Catasauqua’s community history.