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Then & Now: Hellertown’s Detwiller Plaza

Detwiller Plaza

Containing two of Hellertown’s most beloved landmarks, the borough’s Detwiller Plaza has become a time capsule. Helen Behe explains how in ‘Then & Now.’

Est. Read Time: 3 mins

Detwiller Plaza

As the clocktower chimes 8 p.m., I scrape the bottom of my cup for the last melting dregs of mango ice. When I was younger, Mom used to buy us Rita’s and then take us over to the Plaza to eat it, thus creating a summer tradition. With its fountain ringed by round bushes and geraniums, the Plaza is a perfect place of repose from which to view the passing traffic or simply enjoy the June weather, all while seated on a sun-heated park bench.

Detwiller Plaza is a book that never ceases adding new chapters. Named after the pioneer physician Henry Detwiller, a Hellertown resident and practitioner of homeopathic medicine in the early 1800s, the Plaza was originally a parcel of land owned by Albert Knecht Detwiller, the grandson of Henry. Albert donated the land to the Borough of Hellertown, so that, in 1940, a public park could open in memory of Dr. Henry Detwiller and his service to the community.

With the foundation set, Detwiller Plaza expanded its story. In the 1940s, former buildings on Main Street and Easton Road were demolished, and the rubble was repurposed for the construction of the public fountain that is found in the Plaza today. Light fixtures from the 1939 New York World’s Fair were set into the fountain’s base to provide illumination. 

The old fountain has now been the recipient of penny wishes for decades. Oftentimes I’d see coins sparkling in the water of the fountain, and carefully ponder and choose a wish before tossing in my own penny and hearing it sink with a satisfying ‘blip’ sound. Making a wish at the fountain is a now a mandatory activity for my out-of-town friends who have come to visit. I make a point of telling them the history of Detwiller Plaza, a focal point of Hellertown.

Eleanor Delfoe and her since-passed husband Joe, both residents devoted to civic action, installed the clocktower in 1987 with the help of volunteers. Fittingly, the construction of the now beloved landmark was the result of an amalgamation of community efforts. Jeff King is to thank for the masonry, while the tower’s chimes are due to the generosity of Walter and Addie Frey. Jeff King is a resident of Hellertown who regularly gives back to his community, including donating the cornerstone of a former Lower Saucon schoolhouse, while the late Freys were similarly involved in bettering the community.

It was the Freys’ chimes that served as a teaching tool for me one Sunday afternoon long ago. As my Dad drove our car past the plaza, I noticed that the chimes didn’t sound right. Dad explained that it was sound distortion caused by something called the Doppler effect. The clocktower chimes weren’t just enchanting to hear; they were also a science lesson.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Detwiller Plaza is that it is not only historically significant, but also important to future generations. This is due to the time capsule that lies buried deep beneath the plaza’s unassuming pavement. The one-ton capsule was filled with mementos such as VHS tapes, sports cards, a band uniform, coin proof sets, a scooter and newspaper articles. It was set in the ground in September 1990 and will be opened in 2038—the 50th anniversary of the clock tower’s dedication.

The whole Plaza has itself become a time capsule, I think to myself while finishing off the last of my mango ice. The honoring of Henry Detwiller began the story, and with subsequent installations the Plaza grew to contain more and more local history. Now the fountain, clocktower and even the chimes serve as a reminder of the dedication and care of past citizens, and encourage current residents to show the same effort in helping their community.

Helen Behe is an MFA candidate at DeSales University, where she is studying through the program’s poetry track for a degree in creative writing and publishing. Aside from her studies, Helen enjoys gardening, boxing and rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles. She is a resident of Bethlehem. Read more of Helen’s Then & Now series here.

Hellertown’s Detwiller Plaza as it appears on an afternoon in mid June. The plaza is decorated with flags for Memorial Day and Independence Day.


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Helen Behe

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