Cetronia

Cetronia

Lehigh Valley residents of a certain age may remember entering Dorney Park on Haines Mill Road via Cetronia, a village on the southern tip of South Whitehall Township bordering Allentown’s West End.

Like most places in the area, the village of 2,115 people has experienced change since it was settled centuries ago. But Cetronia still reflects a rugged, agrarian Pennsylvania German past with vintage homes and buildings still used for their original purposes and others renovated for new ventures with utmost respect for their historic charm and significance.

Descendants of founding families—Haines, Knauss, Mertz, Lichtenwalner, Litzenberger, Weaver, Helfrich, Dorney—still remain in the 485-acre village.

“It was always a close-knit community, and people are still proud to call Cetronia home,” says Cetronia native Frank Knauss, a 40-year member of the Cetronia Fire Department, now serving as its deputy chief of fire prevention.

Knauss, a member of the Lehigh County Historical Society, has gathered information about Cetronia over the years, much of it contained in the three-volume “History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania,” published in 1914.

Prior to 1800, the land around what is now Cetronia belonged to the Knauss family; Haines Mill, one of the most iconic structures in Cetronia, was built in the mid-1700s to grind wheat, oats, and corn. By 1852, most of the area was owned by Charles Mertz, who eventually sold off the land in lots, slowly giving the village an identity. By the middle of the 19th century, the area had two churches, Cedar Union Church, founded and shared by Lutheran and German Reformed (now UCC) congregations to share expenses, and Grace Evangelical Congregational Church.

In 1855, James Yeager erected a brick hotel near Haines Mill, and three years later the area took on its first name, Cedarville, named after Cedar Creek.

In 1872, a store owned by Solomon Dorney, a Pennsylvania German farmer who founded Dorney Park, had a post office. Residents asked to maintain Cedarville as the village’s name, but because of U.S. Postal Service requirements, the village was renamed Cetronia, possibly because too many places had already claimed the name Cedarville. By 1884, Cetronia had about 20 dwellings, including a hotel.

“A trolley used to run by Haines Mill, bringing people from center city Allentown to Dorney Park and Kutztown,” Knauss says. “Cetronia was also home to a dumbwaiter manufacturer, which operated in the early 20th century. It was where the Montessori School on Cedar Crest Boulevard is today.”

Today, several businesses are helping maintain Cetronia’s history by reusing and renovating properties that echo an earlier time.

John Trapani opened Grille 3501 in 2001, purchasing the landmark Trinkle’s Cetronia Hotel and transforming it into a restaurant specializing in new but unpretentious American cuisine.

“Trinkle’s was an institution in Cetronia for more than 50 years, and before that, it was a stagecoach stop when Broadway was the main drag through here,” says Trapani, who bought the hotel from Charlie Trinkle, whose grandfather started the business. “There’s a lot of history here, and some say the building is haunted, but I’ve never seen any ghosts.”

The timing for a Cetronia restaurant was right for Trapani, who had sold his former Trapper’s Pub on the south side of Allentown and wanted to establish new American dining in or near Allentown’s West End.

“We renovated the hotel to what it is today,” he says. “We just love the area, and it’s about as close to the West End of Allentown as you can get.”

Further up on Broadway is a renovated brick Pennsylvania German bank barn, which, for decades, was home to Joseph I. Haines Appliance Store. It was renovated by Gregory Ebert, who opened Ebert Furniture Gallery there in 2004.

“We’re in one of the most historic areas of Cetronia,” says Ebert, noting that Haines Mill is in his backyard. “Joseph Haines was part of the Haines family who settled in Cetronia and farmed the whole area.”

Born and raised in Allentown, Ebert chose quiet Cetronia for his furniture store to give himself some unique identity among the chain stores that tend to be clustered together in high-density retail corridors.

“We operate in the same manner as Joseph I. Haines. We’re a full-service store, which is rare today,” Ebert says. “We do our own deliveries and don’t contract out. We’re not like a MacArthur Road store. When you come in, it’s a homier feel than a big box store, in keeping with the products we offer and the legacy of the Haines family. Ninety-five percent of our furnishings are American made, with some products even coming from Pennsylvania.”

Ebert, Trapani, and Knauss all agree that there’s a strong bond to Cetronia among those who live there and those who have moved away.

“People still identify with Cetronia. It’s an area unto itself,” Ebert says. “In this tiny little area, you’ve got history, fine and casual dining, a full-service furniture store, Cetronia Elementary School, dentists, physicians, and two hair stylists.”

Trapani says the explosion of newcomers to the Lehigh Valley has also affected Cetronia; however, “there are reminders everywhere of the Cetronia heritage, like the Cetronia Fire Department, Cetronia Ambulance Corps, the mill, and preserved historical properties like Grille 3501 and Ebert Furniture.”

Call it family, says Knauss with a chuckle.

“If you went to the local churches, you’d almost always hear ‘watch what you say, you might be related.’”

Haines Mill

One of the most familiar landmarks in Cetronia, Haines Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

On the west end of Cedar Creek Parkway East, the four-story grist mill on Cedar Creek serves as a living example of a small-scale rural flour mill.

First erected in 1760, the mill was reconstructed in 1909 after a fire gutted the interior of the building. It was operated by the Haines family into the third quarter of the 20th century.

Haines Mill used a stock water turbine to power a set of milling equipment to grind grains into flour and meal. Designed to be operated by a single person, the mill during its heyday was a commercially profitable enterprise, serving markets in South Whitehall Township and Allentown.

Lehigh County purchased the mill in 1972 for preservation and operates the site with the Lehigh County Historical Society.

Haines Mill is open for free public tours from 1-4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays from May to September. Other hours are by appointment with a guide. Call the Lehigh County Historical Society at 610-435-4664 for tour information and scheduling.

Cedar Creek Parkway East – Haines Mill
3600 Haines Mill Road  | Allentown

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