A.W. Leh: South Bethlehem Architect – New World Rising
A.W. Leh (1848-1918)
Architect, Civil War Soldier
Albert Wolfring Leh, later known to citizens of the Bethlehems and beyond as A.W. Leh—or Captain Leh, in deference to his Civil War service— was born September 17, 1848 on his father’s Williams Township farm, near Easton, Pa. He might have become apprenticed to a tradesman, or even attended college, if that combination of patriotism and a spirit of adventure known as “war fever” had not seized him in the crucial autumn of 1864.
E.P. Wilbur Trust Company, 1910
On September 8, just shy of his sixteenth birthday, Leh enlisted in the Union Army. He signed up for the 198th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the sixth regiment recruited under the auspices of the Union League of Philadelphia, and was mustered into service at that city on September 15, as part of Company “C.” Leh’s youthful military service marked the beginning of his lifelong involvement in civic and veterans’ affairs.
From 1880 through 1918, Leh’s 38-year career as architect included some of the most significant academic, commercial, ecclesiastical and residential structures in Bethlehem and elsewhere in the region.
—excerpt from A Living Legacy:
Architecture of A.W. Leh
A few of Leh’s architectural designs include Moravian College and Theological Seminary, Broughal Middle School, First Reformed Church, E.P. Wilbur Trust Co., Municipal Market, and Lipps & Sutton Silk Mill.
Phillips Music and Appliance Store by Jennifer Lader
“Businessmen thrive only as their customers thrive.” -The Whetford Book, Bethlehem, Pa. 1915
Today, “24 East Asian Bistro” and “Glen Anthony Designs” occupy the former Phillips Music Store on East Third St.
Abram Philip’s family had a store in Lithuania, so he knew business. On coming to America in the 1880s, he settled in Bethlehem, perhaps because the people here spoke Pennsylvania Dutch.
“He spoke Yiddish and could communicate with the local populace,” grandson Ira Berman says. Abram started as a peddler, then opened a pawnshop. Along the way, he changed his name to Abraham Phillips.
He and wife Sarah Joseph Phillips –niece of America’s only chief rabbi, Jacob Joseph of New York City—had ten children. Raising their children next door to a neighbor who also had ten children, one of them a very naughty child named Morris, they finally changed their own son Morris’ name to Maurice. “They got it corrected,” his daughter Gail Phillips says. “He had to get out of the shadow of the other child.”
Wedding photo of Abram and Sarah (Joseph) Phillips, 1891.
Maurice went on to turn the pawnshop into Phillips Sporting Goods at 13 W. Third St., South Bethlehem. Nephew Ira tells that a customer once wrote that he could not afford to buy a complete set of golf clubs and was amazed to find that every time he went into the store to purchase the next club, it was in stock. He discovered that Maurice had bought the entire set and kept them on hand just for him. Maurice’s brother, Sol, opened Phillips Music and Appliance Store at 24 E. Third Street. Nephew Ira helped out at the stores, although he says, “My aunts would not call my ventures there ‘work.’” By the time he graduated from high school, he made his first big sale —a clock radio. Apropos, he went on to a career in radio broadcasting sales and management.
During the Depression, Sol Phillips advanced credit to his customers. He was later rewarded with customer loyalty after WWII, when appliances were widely available. In those days, South Bethlehem was the place to shop, the sidewalks “packed” [with shoppers] on Saturday nights.
When the fortunes of the Steel changed, though, so did those of the merchants on Third St. Sol and Sadie Phillips closed the music store in the 1970s, and Maurice closed his sporting goods store around 1980. “He [Maurice] was so worried about the store because it was empty,” daughter Gail recalls.
“He worried himself to death, even though a successful photographer was in there for a while.”
She happily points out that Lehigh Pizza on W. Third St. now occupies the building her father once owned, saying, “The store still lives!”
—Jennifer Lader is a new member of SBHS and of the Oral History Association. She writes for The Bethlehem Press and other publications. Her current project, “People of Mettle: Voices of the Jewish Community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania,” features personal interviews with fifty people, and presents a view of local and American Jewish history of the past century and more.
This pastoral scene shows Bethlehem prior to the outbreak of the Civil War.
Beginning in 2011, the country will celebrate the Sesquicentennial (150th) of the Civil War, or, as many refer to it, The War Between the States.
Though most of the tributes will be held during the 150-year anniversaries of battles and related events (2011-2015), some programs will extend through 2016.
“The Pennsylvania Civil War 150 Commemoration is far more than a formal remembrance,” said Barbara Franco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
“It is a collection of stories brought to life that are as epic as the fields at Gettysburg, or as small as the struggles of a soldier’s wife working to survive her husband’s absence on a Pennsylvania farm. Through these stories, Pennsylvania Civil War 150 will renew interest and engagement in our state’s heritage.”
The Pennsylvania Civil War Road Show, a traveling museum experience within a 53-foot trailer, will deliver interactive exhibits and unique programming to all 67 counties in the state.
The Road Show will encourage residents and organizations in each locality to share stories and artifacts with the traveling exhibition.
Pennsylvania Civil War 150 offers a website which unlocks the personal stories of Pennsylvanians on the battlefield and at the home front, the vast Civil War collections of the state’s museums and historical societies, and the state’s numerous heritage tourism attractions and trip-planning resources. Visitwww.pacivilwar150.com for more information.
Site of the first Holy Infancy (1864) Tradition has dictated that the original site was donated by the Moravian Church (see the Borough of South Bethlehem Semi-Centennial, 1915); however, a deed search by Christian Carson, former SBHS Board of Director, revealed the property was sold to “South Bethlehem Catholics and Rev. Wood, Bishop of Philadelphia” by “Joseph McMichael and Wife,” on Sept. 29, 1863 for $500.
Looking east on Third St. at the intersection of New St. hardly seems possible without trolley cars or automobiles choking the streets in this 1921 photo of South Bethlehem. When comparing this view to the present day, a vast number of buildings have disappeared—Clothiers Refowich, on the southeast corner, O’Reilly’s on the southeast corner and buildings on the northwest corner of New St.
Hungarians—the largest ethnic group of immigrants to settle in South Bethlehem—outnumbered the Czechs, Slovaks, German, Italians, Greeks, Poles, Ukraines, Croatian, Slovenes and Windish by the year 1910.
These Magyar immigrants from Hapsburg Austria-Hungary, added to the collective diversity of ethnic groups who labored amidst the clanging metal, searing flames and belching smoke of Bethlehem Steel. Unfortunately, ethnic Hungarians were grossly misunderstood by Bethlehem’s reserved and well-established north side, who lumped all Southside immigrants from Central, Southern and Eastern Europe as “foreigners.” This misunderstanding created ethnic stereotypes perpetuated by newspaper editors who snidely characterized Hungarians as “Huns” and “Hunkies.”
Like most immigrants, the Hungarians got over it and went to work at the blast furnaces at Bethlehem Steel or had their own businesses. Miraculously, Hungarian Lutherans, Jews and Roman Catholics were able to establish ethnic churches with every cent they earned: Zion Hungarian Lutheran Church at E. Fourth and State Sts.; Brith Sholom Community Center at Brodhead and E. Packer Aves.; and St. John Capistrano Roman Catholic parish—a church, a parochial school and a rectory on E. Fourth and Hayes Sts.
Pearl Pondelek Bodor, whose parents Frank and Elizabeth (Ceban) Pondelek, owned Hygrade Meat Market at 418 E. Fourth St. during the 1930s, recalled a favorite Hungarian tradition: “It centered around New Year’s Eve,“ she said. “My brothers, Jimmy and Alfred Pondelek went around to every southside hotel and bar, playing Hungarian songs on their violins.”
Hungarians like John F. Stefko attended the South Bethlehem Business School, then established a liquor store on Third St.; D.B. Czentericz was proprietor of East End Pharmacy on E. Third St.; Adolph Friedman owned Friedmans Hotel at 429 E. Third St.; and Frank Biro, an accomplished violinist and sculptor, who opened his photograph studio on E. Fourth St., earned the reputation of imaging thousands of Southside immigrant portraits and weddings.
The Municipal Market House opened in 1892: it was home of the mayor’s office, the police department and the jail, aka “the Enjoying more “Hungarian Nights” lockup.” But its most important attraction was the first-floor market itself—a favorite destination of north siders and Southside immigrants who shopped side by side until the market closed in the 1960s. In time, the “Hungarian” presence soon became part of the total cloth of Bethlehem in the form of seasonal, and of course—culinary traditions.
Classic Hungarian dishes still enjoyed by Bethlehemites today include: Beef Goulash (Bogracs Gulyas); Pork Goulash (Szekely Gulyas); Potato and Egg Casserole (Rakott Krumpli); Chicken Paprikas (Csirke Paprikas), Filled Cabbage (Sarma) and Dumplings and Rye bread. Meals finished with desserts in flaky crusts—Apple Strudel (Jabocni Retas), Cabbage Strudel (Zelnati Retas), Cheese Strudel (Sir Retas)—and the 19thcentury dessert invented by a Hungarian chef . . . the eight-layer Dobos Torte.
Red and white Hungarian wines were served during dinner, followed by a dessert wine—the sweet Tokay “cordial.”
Enjoying more “Hungarian Nights”
The collaboration between Starters Riverport and the SBHS on ‘Hungarian Nights’ created a family dinner atmosphere for many who enjoyed authentic Hungarian fare, like the Donchez family (above) on the evening of Nov. 2, 2011. photo: Dana Grubb