Catasauqua Press

Friday, May 24, 2019
PHOTOS COURTESY OF LARRY OBERLYThis building was the former office of Penn Dixie Cement Company. PHOTOS COURTESY OF LARRY OBERLYThis building was the former office of Penn Dixie Cement Company.
A group of veterans formed the Eckley Patch American Legion Post 470 in Bath. A group of veterans formed the Eckley Patch American Legion Post 470 in Bath.
A World War I memorial stands in the borough. A World War I memorial stands in the borough.

Cement is big business in Bath

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by ED PANY Curator, Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum in Columns

In this fifth column, I am continuing my visit to the Bath Museum, recalling 200 years of local history.

In our last column, we remember when the cement industry had a great impact on the Lehigh Valley. In 1926, the Penn Allen, Pennsylvania Cement merged with a Tennessee company and changed their name to Penn Dixie Cement. They would now have three plants in the area, Nos. 4, 5 and 6.

The company became a very large employer in the area and continued in operation until 1978 when plant No. 4 would close, ending the Penn Dixie era in Bath. The company had produced cement for many famous projects, including the New York City water system.

The railroads hauled most of the cement from our plants — trucks were in the distant future. Bath also was part of a trolley system; the long-forgotten system transported passengers to Tatamy, Easton, Bangor, Pen Argyl, Wind Gap and Bethlehem. One stop at Penn Allen required passengers to exit the trolley, walk a few steps and board another trolley. Penn Allen Cement demanded this be done as it controlled the right of way — sounds foolish, doesn’t it?

In April 1917, the United States entered the “Great War,” World War I. Seventy men from Bath served in the military. A group of women formed a group named Needle Guild. They prepared medical supplies and knitted and made various garments for the soldiers. The organization even adopted a World War I orphan.

After the war, a group of veterans met at the Bath Hotel and organized an American Legion post and named the post after Eckley Patch, a local veteran who served in World War I. Initially, they met in a store, until a legion home was constructed on land donated by Keystone Cement.

The “Golden ’20s” saw a booming economy. There was employment for everyone. Bath joined the boom. There were football, basketball and baseball teams. For outdoorsmen, the East Bath Rod & Gun Club and the Keystone Gun Club were organized.

The Home News provided readers with hometown news. Some still remember the Halbfoersters’ stationery store on Main Street with a printing press humming in the back room. The last editor, Bill Halbfoerster, a friend, challenged me over 25 years ago to write a history column, so this so-called “writer” picked up his No. 2 Faber pencil and started writing. I still have an endless supply of the graphite Fabers.

The prosperity of the ’20s collapsed in October 1929 with the stock market crash. Fortunes and savings were lost, ushering in the Great Depression. Locally, our cement plants worked only a few months each year. Farm prices fell to all-time lows, and unemployment reached 25 percent. What was the future of our country?

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World War II in two weeks.