By M. Minti Ray

A scenic drive along Route 248 North reveals a majestic view of the Appalachian Mountains and the confluence of the Lehigh River and Aquashicola Creek. Here lies the area of Palmerton, nestled along the northern base of Blue Mountain. Anchored by the borough of Palmerton which is home to around 5,200 residents, the area encompasses neighboring villages and municipalities such as Little Gap and other portions of Lower Towamensing Township. The unique setting of well-planned civic infrastructure sprinkled with ethnic churches and industrial plants marks its rapid 20th Century evolution from colonial farmland to bustling company town. It is an area steeped in historical and economic significance and has played an important role in weaving the social and cultural fabric of the greater Lehigh Valley. A testament to the fortitude and longevity of small town America, Palmerton has survived the downturn of local zinc manufacturing and retained a thriving landscape of close-knit community, local businesses, historical landmarks, and recreational tourism.

The area of Palmerton began to take shape after the controversial Walking Purchase land grant by which the Penn family obtained ownership of the Lenni Lenape populated portion of eastern Pennsylvania including present day Lehigh and Carbon Counties. Nicholas Opplinger was one of the first of the new colonial residents to settle in the area. It is at his home that Benjamin Franklin, travelling in the area to oversee the building of forts in response to local Native American uprisings, spent his 50th birthday. As peace was gradually attained in the area, predominantly German settlers developed a small farming community. Over time, the community grew into the small villages of Little Gap and Hazard which included a hotel, general store, post office, blacksmith shop, and railroad station. Urban and economic development continued when the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company began shipping coal through the area using the Lehigh Canal.

Then in the late 1800s, under the leadership of President Stephen S. Palmer, the New Jersey Zinc Company identified the area as the ideal location for consolidated production operations because of its proximity to New Jersey zinc ore and Pennsylvania anthracite coal fields, as well as its access to a strong transportation network. As two plants were built, Palmer began crafting his vision for a benevolent company town. The company carefully planned the urban infrastructure to include wide streets in a grid pattern anchored by a large park. Private residences, a hospital, school system, and sociological department were all developed by the company to ensure a healthy, educated, and satisfied workforce. The area continued to enjoy rapid growth and prosperity due to the paternal relationship with the company and the strong work ethic of the immigrant community. Named for the individual responsible for the area’s development, the borough of Palmerton was incorporated in 1912.

The success of New Jersey Zinc and the Palmerton area continued until the 1960s when the depletion of mines, rising fuel costs, and new environmental regulations sparked a decline in revenue and profitability. The company was later purchased by a large industrial and media conglomerate which went on to acquire Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster, Madison Square Garden, and the New York Knicks. The zinc manufacturing operations were spun off via leveraged buyout and still exist today as Horsehead Industries with only one local plant operating at limited capacity. In 1983, local areas were categorized as the Palmerton Superfund site and targeted for remediation due to the negative environmental ramifications of the zinc operations. CBS, a divestiture of New Jersey Zinc’s parent company, is one of the corporate entities currently funding the cleanup efforts.

Despite the downfall of local zinc manufacturing and its adverse environmental effects, Palmerton has endured the test of time and remains a bustling small town with a strong local economy and solid infrastructure stemming from the New Jersey Zinc Company’s efforts. Borrowing from a longstanding sign in the area, Mayor Brad M. Doll describes Palmerton as, “a nice place to live.” He elaborates, “our community continues to thrive because of the strength and unity of our residents and the efforts of local business owners.” A visit to the area easily lends credibility to this statement and makes for an enriching and entertaining experience.

Since the 1800s, generations have heard about the haunted house on the red hill. A dominating landmark upon the hillside while entering into Palmerton, The Marshall Mansion was built by the reclusive Elisha G. Marshall, a Union Army Brevet Brigadier General, and his wife, Janet Rutherford. When General Marshall left the area upon separating from his wife, local stories included that Janet had murdered her husband and hidden his body in one of the alleged underground tunnels resulting in the blood stained red hue of the hillside. The stories of the house’s haunting were only exacerbated by the death of Mrs. Marshall in 1911. While historical records indicate General Marshall died in 1883 and was buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in New York, the vacant home continued to fuel stories well into the 1980s. Most recently, the home has been restored as a private residence.

Located along the main street of Delaware Avenue, Borough Hall was erected in 1911 by the New Jersey Zinc Company to house community amenities including a gym and kindergarten. Today, the stately building of stucco and brick houses local government offices and historical archives. In sharp contrast, the bunk bed filled basement has been providing overnight accommodations to thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail since the 1970s. Known by hikers as the “Jailhouse Hostel”, as the local police station was once housed in the building, the Hall provides a welcome respite for over 400 weary visitors annually. Grateful hikers leave comments and even mail photographs and postcards after completing the 2,179 mile journey that are meticulously retained in yearly hikers’ logs. 423 Delaware Avenue, 610.826.2606.

At The Palmerton Area Heritage Center, original photographs and historical artifacts bring to life the colorful history of the area. Open for visits Wednesday through Saturday or by appointment, the Center features a permanent exhibit detailing the economic, social, ethnic, political, and cultural development of the Palmerton area. The Center is run solely by generous volunteers of the Palmerton Area Historical Society with the goal of creating awareness, appreciation, pride and respect for the people and heritage of the area. 410 Delaware Avenue, 610.824.6954,

With 37 slopes, five terrain parks, and the state’s highest vertical drop, Blue Mountain Ski Area is a premier destination for winter snow sports. The meticulously groomed mountain features 162 acres of skiable slopes with trails of varying degrees of difficulty including a 3,000-foot double black diamond. For those looking to perfect their aerial maneuvers, the mountain uniquely features the Big Air Bag, a massive air filled landing cushion designed for training purposes. A 21 slide snow tubing park is also available.

The Blue Learning Center provides a range of training programs for beginners and experienced students looking to improve their skills. Premier programs offer focused workshops and clinics for advanced skiers and snowboarders. An adaptive, special needs program has been introduced this season for guests with visual impairments, forms of autism spectrum disorder, and other types of developmental delays. The three expansive lodges provide guests with a myriad of options for post-activity dining and relaxation. The full service Summit Lodge includes the Vista Bistro, where guests can relax over family style dinners. At the Last Run Lounge, guests can order food and drinks while enjoying the breathtaking mountain views and listening to live music.

The appeal of Blue Mountain Ski Area is not limited to the winter season. Summer activities include lift serviced mountain biking at the Vertical Earth Gravity Park and disc golf.

The mountain also hosts special events including the annual Blue Mountain Wine and Beer Festival and Pennsylvania Blues Festival. 1660 Blue Mountain Drive, 610.826.7700,

For the past 30 years, nature lovers have been enjoying the beautiful scenery of the area at Don Laine Campgrounds. Open from the beginning of May through the end of October, the grounds feature 166 campsites, as well as a game room, recreation hall, and outdoor sports facilities. Guests can frequently enjoy special events and activities such as athletic tournaments, country fairs, and comedians. Bands and DJs also provide live entertainment on weekends. 790 57 Drive, 610.381.3381,

A favorite place of many local residents including Mayor Brad M. Doll, Palmerton Borough Park, located in the center of town along Delaware Avenue, was created as part of the New Jersey Zinc Company’s infrastructure development program. The creek runs through the park where summer concerts are still held in the bandstand gazebo. The original flag was donated in memory of Stephen S. Palmer by Zylf Palmer, his granddaughter. A monument in the southeast corner of the park commemorates the old chain bridge that was built across the Lehigh River at the Lehigh Gap which was damaged by fire in 1926. The bridge’s remaining iron links were incorporated into the fencing on the monument, while the etching was done on a zinc tablet originating from the local zinc foundry. Delaware Avenue between Third and Fourth Street.

At One Ten Tavern, husband and wife team Michael and Sandra Lucas, offer upscale comfort food with an emphasis on local ingredients and seasonal influences. Chef Michael, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, has created a varied menu of traditional favorites such as fish & chips and lobster bisque coupled with unique offerings such as the bison burger and blackened shrimp & crabmeat pizza. Customer favorites include the crab macaroni & cheese, pierogies, and rib-eye steak sandwich. 110 Delaware Avenue, 610.826.3333,

Just a few blocks away, Bert’s Steakhouse & Restaurant has been offering traditional diner fare for over 50 years. One of the dining areas creates a nostalgic atmosphere with its black and white checkerboard floor, retro barstools, and 60s memorabilia on the walls. This Palmerton favorite is known for its cheese steaks and myriad of freshly made desserts. 416 Delaware Avenue, 610.826.9921.

A stone’s throw from the historical Little Gap Covered Bridge is the Covered Bridge Inn. Built in the early 19th Century, the Inn served hearty meals to travelers passing by on the local stagecoach route. Today, owner Ron Gilbert espouses the farm to table philosophy and makes weekly trips to acquire fresh, local ingredients. Guests can sip drinks by the cozy fireplace and enjoy live entertainment on weekends. 4300 Little Gap Road, 610.826.5400,

Blue Mountain Pub, owned by Glenn Kahn and operated by his son Bob, has been a favorite among both locals and visitors for the past 15 years. Traditional pub fare and the drink of your choice are served in this fun, intimate setting with a lively night scene. The most popular dishes include burgers and wings made with homemade, secret sauces. Patrons can enjoy shooting a game of pool, throwing darts, or listening to bands and DJs on select weekends. 3790 Forest Inn Road, 610.826.5554.

The Roth House is the labor of love of lifelong Palmerton resident Mar Costenbader and his late wife Barbara Duda. The property was part of a 176 acre land parcel purchased by Jonathan Pettit in 1759 and remained unoccupied until 1825 when David Greenswaig built the existing structure. In 1893, it was purchased by John I. Roth, Costenbader’s great grandfather, who as the local postmaster of Little Gap operated the post office and general store there. The couple purchased the property in 1999 and painstakingly restored it into a four guestroom bed and breakfast with a charming décor featuring historical documents, photographs, and artifacts. Costenbader and his charming companion Jane Fisher offer scintillating stories about local history over a complimentary Pennsylvania Dutch style breakfast. In the warmer months, guests spend time on the outdoor patio while listening to the sounds of the adjacent stream and enjoying the mountain views. 4285 Little Gap Road, 610.824.5341,

A traditional 1950s cape cod style house has been home to Ralph and Carole Cortazzo’s Grassy Hill Bed & Breakfast for the past 12 years. Featuring picturesque views of the mountain and surrounding countryside, the bed and breakfast is a popular accommodation for visitors across the Northeast, hikers of the Appalachian Trail, and locals returning home for family events. The inn features four charming bedrooms, a large outdoor patio, and cozy common areas filled with an eclectic collection of books, movies, and games. Guests enjoy a hearty, country style breakfast in the sunny dining room and can also request campfires and in-room massages. 80 Carpenter Lane, 610.826.2290,

Because You Live Here® introduces readers to a Lehigh Valley neighborhood or local point of interest and its history. This offers both lifelong residents and newcomers a chance to discover the hidden treasures the Lehigh Valley has to offer.

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