Mr. Michael Fink, as a youth, lived in a company home in Evansville. The former house is now the site of the Lehigh Heidelberg office. He was born while his father, Dennis, was serving the nation in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
He recalled, “After Dad returned home, we moved to Fleetwood. Soon, all the old company homes were gone; only a few old steps remain as a reminder of the past.”
Michael graduated from Fleetwood High School in 1988. A month later, he joined his grandfather and father at the plant.
In this fourth column, Mike Bednar, local railroad historian, is over at the old Northampton-Bath Railroad yard in Northampton. The N&B was incorporated in 1902. It was a major carrier of cement from the Atlas Portland Cement Company, the largest in the world.
The rail yard was named Navarro in honor of Jose Navarro, the founder of the Atlas. The railroad extended 8 miles to Bath, where they could transfer cars to the Lehigh New England and Delaware Lackawanna and Western railroads.
Today, I am over in Hokendauqua with my friend Mike Bednar, a Darktown resident and noted railroad historian. We are looking at what remains of the Thomas Iron Company and Ironton Railroad.
Both companies were very important to the residents, providing employment and company homes. Thomas even provided electricity for Hokendauqua homes — but forgot Darktown.
We recently wrote a five-part series on railroad memories, which resulted in a number of people sharing their own railroad experiences with us. So I called my friend Mike Bednar, a former railroad engineer and author of a number of railroad books, requesting more information. He graciously agreed.
Mike and his friend Ken Bealer authored the book “Trackside Around the Pennsylvania Cement District” in 2010. They write that seven railroads at one time served the area.
In this fourth column, we are speaking to the Rev. Jerry Mraz, a native of Czechoslovakia, who was the last full-time pastor at Holy Trinity Slovak Lutheran Church in Northampton.
The church was organized in 1905, an era when many ethnic churches were formed by immigrants in the Lehigh Valley. Holy Trinity’s roots were laid by dedicated Slovaks, who constructed the church on land formerly owned by John Smith, a wealthy local property owner.
Mr. Ronald Silfies was born in Chapmans Quarry, graduating from Northampton High School and vo-tech in 1972.
He recalls, “I had good teachers at both schools; at tech, I completed the drafting blue print class.”
Ron was hired at Keystone in 1974 by manager Steve Hayden Sr. to work on the labor gang at a rate of $4.10 an hour. His grandfather and father were Keystone employees.
Always interested in electricity, he joined the electrical department.
In this second column, I am continuing to speak to the Rev. Jaroslav “Jerry” Mraz, former pastor of Holy Trinity Slovak Church in Northampton, who, with his mother, came to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1939. With war clouds on the horizon, his father had arrived in New York in 1937 to work for his uncle.
Mr. Rodney Hartzell was reared in Nazareth, graduating from Nazareth High School in 1971. His first job was at a local textile factory, earning $3.50 per hour. In 1973, Rodney followed his three uncles and was hired at Nazareth Cement Company, starting on the labor gang.
One of the former managers was Mr. Paul Lentz. The plant, at one time, operated eight kilns. There were various jobs no longer found at cement plants. The roof cleaners, sweepers and dust collectors have been replaced by modern, clean technology.
A few months ago, I wrote a series on Austrian immigrants who came to America for opportunity and a new life in a new country. Another large migration from the old Austria-Hungarian empire were people of Slovak origin. Many settled in Northampton, Cementon, Egypt, Coplay and Catasauqua.
My mother, a Slovak, also made the long journey to the United States and settled in Northampton. She was very proud of her heritage. I wonder how many of their descendants can converse in their native tongue.
I recently made my semiannual visit to the historic Horner’s Cemetery in East Allen Township. The cemetery was part of Craig’s Scotch-Irish Settlement founded in 1728. The cemetery is the oldest cemetery in Northampton County. The first burial there was in 1747.
Ten years ago, my friend Peggy Moser organized a group of dedicated volunteers who cleaned and restored the cemetery. A 10th anniversary program will be held there 1-4 p.m. Sept. 22 on the cemetery grounds, 4965 Nor-Bath Blvd. The mission is to raise funds to place name plates on unreadable tombstones.