History of South Whitehall

The first settlers of the Lehigh Valley region were Germans who emigrated from earlier settlements along the Perkiomen Creek and into the Oley Valley. The earliest settlers arrived in the region over a 20-year period beginning about 1732. William Penn and his agents aided the immigration of the Germans and other European natives, including Swiss and Huguenots. The land lying south of the Lehigh Mountains (South Mountain) was deeded to William Penn in 1713 by the Delaware Indians. The Delaware Indians deeded the land of Lehigh County lying between the Blue Mountains and the Lehigh Mountains to Penn’s sons in 1732. Emigrants sought the fertile, limestone valley flanking rivers and streams such as the Jordan Creek.

One of the earliest tracts of land purchased in the Township was by Nicholas Kern who took out warrants for lands on December 3, 1735 and October 28, 1737. Some of these lands he sold to Lorenz Guth on February 27, 1739. Guth continued to buy land in the area of the Reformed church property and also in the Guthsville area. By 1769 his holdings totaled 759 acres. The Lorenz Guth house near Wehr Dam still stands in excellent condition and a fine example of colonial architecture.

Much of the history of South Whitehall can be traced to the Walbert-Guthsville region, and especially the two Jordan churches. The first ministration to the Lutheran people in the township occurred in 1734 when Reverend John Casper Stoever baptized Margaret, the daughter of the John Lichtenwalners, on February 6th. In 1736, a Reverend Schmidt preached occasionally to the Lutherans, and in 1739 Reverend John Justus Jacob Birkenstock became pastor of the Jordan Lutheran congregation. In 1845, the centennial of the congregation was observed, which would indicate that the first building was erected in 1745. The first church building was of logs and stood near the north wall of the old burial ground. It was used jointly by the Lutheran and Reformed congregations until about 1752 when the Reformed erected a building half a mile to the east, within sight of the municipal building. The Lutherans built the present church in 1842-43 at a cost of $3,581.24. It was renovated in 1868, and in 1886 a fine, shapely, slate-covered steeple, 138 feet high, was erected.

Members of the Reformed (United Church of Christ) faith were settled in the area as early as 1738, and baptisms of their children during the period of 1740 to 1752 are recorded in the Lutheran record book. In 1752 Lorenz Guth presented the Reformed with a 50-acre tract of land, and a log church was erected in six weeks. The second and present church building, with its 110-foot steeple was built in 1808. It stands as one of the oldest church buildings in the country, and is a fine example of the architecture of that period.

The early schools of the township were connected with the two Jordan churches for many years, possibly extending back to 1739. According to the Roberts history, the congregations were at first supplied not by pastors, but by teachers who used to read sermons on Sundays. Thus, it is possible that church-sponsored schools taught by the readers existed in the earliest days of the congregations.

The original name “Whitehall” dates to 1740 and encompasses the land now found in North Whitehall, South Whitehall, and Whitehall Township. Prior to the establishment of Northampton County in 1752, the area was considered part of Bucks County and the land currently occupied by South Whitehall was known as “the back part of Macungie” on the “Heidelberg District.” The name Whitehall is thought to be derived from one of two sources: either named after a place in England, or for a white house erected as a hunting lodge near the Jordan and Cedar Creeks.

South Whitehall Township was established in 1810 by a petition to the Northampton County Court to divide former Whitehall Township into two areas. In November of the same year the court accepted the report of a board of viewers that all land lying northward of the division line be named North Whitehall, and the other South Whitehall. In 1812, Lehigh County was divided off from the original Northampton County, establishing South Whitehall Township within and nearly at the center of Lehigh County. At that time, according to historians, “… many prominent and influential men who lived in the vicinity of Guthsville exerted themselves to secure the selection of the village as the place best adapted for the county seat on account of its situation in the geographical center of the large area of territory to be erected into a separate county, but their efforts proved unavailing and the advocates of Allentown were successful.” (Quotation from Roberts History published in 1914.)

Agriculture was the backbone of the economy of the township for many years. Even today much of the land is under cultivation. For more than a century at least six grain mills flourished on the Jordan and Cedar Creeks.

In the early 1800’s iron ore was discovered at different places in the Township and mining operations were carried on from 1820 to 1890.

In 1864, the eastern portion of South Whitehall and the southeastern portion of North Whitehall were detached and formed into the Township of Whitehall.

In 1966, South Whitehall became a First Class Township. It encompasses 17.2 square miles and, as of 2000, is home to 18,028 people.