Remembering: ‘A Cement Factory in Autumn’
The painting “A Cement Factory in Autumn” was recently found in storage at Northampton Area High School. The watercolor was painted in 1948 by Garret Conovor, a local artist who at one time resided in Allen Township.
The painting shows the last Coplay Cement manufacturing plant and a view on the west side of the Lehigh River as well as a cluster of homes that were called North Coplay.
At one time, six cement plants operated on the banks of the Lehigh. North Coplay in 1948 contained a dozen or more homes surrounded by cultivated fields and remains of old cement plants. When I drove through North Coplay a month ago, I saw a large housing development. Only a few of the original homes remain.
I was fortunate to speak to Mr. Donald Strini, who was raised in North Coplay. He kindly agreed to help us remember North Coplay’s past.
He recalled, “My parents purchased a single home there for $4,500.”
The home dates back to 1880, an era when the cement industry thrived in the Lehigh Valley. Old-timers said some of the homes were built by cement companies. Many of the residents were cement workers, as a number of cement companies were in walking distance. It was a short walk to the Coplay, Whitehall and Lawrence cement companies.
He remembered, “My father, John, walked each day to the Coplay Cement Company. He worked there for 41 years and walked, regardless of the weather.”
I found Mr. Strini’s name in the May 1961 agreement between the company and the United Cement, Lime and Gypsum Workers Union Local 14, Coplay. John was a cement silo tapper. He received an 8-cent raise, from $2.67 to $2.75 an hour and $108 for a 40-hour week.
He was hired April 18, 1936, during the Great Depression. The Depression was tough on the industry, when the plants worked only a few months each year. The silo tapper and many of the job classifications have been replaced by automated systems.
Donald said, “We knew all our neighbors. I don’t recall any major problems in the neighborhood. We were surrounded by cornfields and plenty of space to explore. We wondered what would happen to all the fields in the future.”
Donald and his friends attended Whitehall-Coplay High School. His father was a proud cement worker who recalled when Coplay produced the cement for Shea Stadium and other projects.
Only a few of those 1880 homes remain, as they have been absorbed by surrounding homes. The cornfields and plants are gone. Only Lafarge continues to operate. A plant has been on the site for 120 years.
The Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum, 1401 Laubach Ave., will exhibit the Conover painting. We invite you to come and see it.
More in two weeks