Today it’s little more than a windswept pass-through along a busy parkway, but in the late 19th century the area near Old Bethlehem Pike and Center Valley Parkway in Upper Saucon Township was home to a significant piece of American industrial history.
That history will be formally recognized by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC), which announced last week that the site of the former President Pumping Engine will be adorned with one of 36 new Pennsylvania Historical markers.
What was the President Pumping Engine?
In operation from 1872 to 1900, the engine was used in the mining of zinc in the area; an operation that made Friedensville in Upper Saucon Township world-famous.
“The massive engine attracted worldwide interest as the largest and most powerful single-cylinder rotative steam engine ever constructed,” a PHMC news release about the recognition said. “Said to be named for President Ulysses S. Grant, the engine lowered the water level in the Friedensville zinc mines so that mining could continue. Lehigh Zinc Company’s Cornish-born engineer, John West, designed the engine and pumps, which were manufactured in Philadelphia foundries.”
A historic photograph of the President Pumping Engine may be viewed online as part of a presentation on zinc mining in the area that a Lehigh University student made in 2018.
At the time, ruins of the structure were still standing and the presenter advocated for their preservation.
“The existing President Engine House and the area surrounding the structure is a 19th century mining industry time capsule,” wrote Mark Connar. “Protection, preservation, interpretation and recognition of this engine house and its surroundings is of vital importance because: it is the only structure and physical setting remaining of the earliest industrial age enterprise in the Lehigh Valley; the engine house is part of, arguably, the largest single cylinder stationary steam engine ever built anywhere in the world; the engine house is a unique structure which is the only surviving example in the United States.”
In an email to Saucon Source, Connar said a new exhibit on The President Engine is open to the public at Bethlehem’s National Museum of Industrial History (NMIH).
“The exhibit, timed to recognize the 150th anniversary of the operational start of the engine, includes a scale model of The President Engine which was made by an award winning UK model engineer,” he said.
More information about The President Engine and the Friedensville Mines may be found on Connar’s website, FriedensvilleMinesHeritage.org.
In addition to the President Pumping Engine, another Lehigh County site will receive official recognition by the PHMC with a new historical marker.
The site of the former Allentown State Hospital will be recognized for several “firsts” practitioners there achieved in the course of their pioneering treatment of mental illness.
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