Posted by Lehigh Valley Ramblings.
When Archibald Johnston, Bethlehem’s first Mayor and one-time President of Bethlehem Steel retired in 1927, it was to what he called “Camel’s Hump,” a large tract along the Monocacy Creek. It included a three-story mansion that the engineer designed and built himself. He spent his last twenty years calling himself a “farmer,” but still had The New York Times delivered daily from the open cockpit of an airplane.
During the Great Depression, this capitalist steel magnate started a bartering system among local farmers, making sure they each had work.
Johnston’s granddaughter, Janet Housenick, would later convey 36 acres of Camel’s Hump to Northampton County as the Archibald Johnston Conservation area. In her Will, she devised another 55 acres, including the mansion, to Bethlehem Township as a park. She also set aside $2 million for the Township to maintain the property.
But other lands next to the park, once owned by Johnston, were being threatened with development. Luxury apartments. Another strip mall along Route 191. Development was being planned at a recharge point for the Monocacy Creek, where hundreds of small springs combine to replenish a Class A trout stream.
The storm waters generated would undoubtedly cascade into downtown Bethlehem during heavy downpours.
But last night, thanks to the Central Moravian Church and the Leckonby Estate, Northampton County will be able to preserve 44 acres surrounding the park and conservation area.
Executive John Stoffa told Council that nobody will remember the Budget they voted on, but everyone will remember the decision to preserve this land.
Victoria Bastidas, living proof that one person can make a difference, spearheaded this project when luxury apartments were being contemplated at the site. But she did not credit herself. “This is not just about a park, not just about stormwater management, not just about buffering,” she said. “This is about a community coming together.”
Bethlehem Attorney Don Miles, President of the local Sierra Club, called this tract the “most environmentally sensitive land in Northampton County.” In addition to being a recharge point for the Monocacy Creek, Miles told Council there are nine different eco systems inside Camel’s Hump farm. He indicated that preservation of this land would mitigate the flooding in downtown Bethlehem.
Another Sierra Club member, Bib Adams, called it “a breath of life that will come to Bethlehem.”
County Council unanimously authorized the following fee simple purchases by the Natural Lands Trust, of both the Central Moravian and Leckonby tracts.
The Central Moravian tract consists of 26 acres along Christian Springs Road, and the County will contribute $367,000. A matching grant of $367,500 will come from DCNR.
The Leckonby tract consists of 18 acres along Santee Mill Road, and the County will contribute $290,000. A matching grant of $290,000 will come from DCNR.
Council member Bob Werner called this project the kind of thing that “draws people to the community.” John Cusick had another justification. “We’re preserving history as well as open space.”
Scott Parsons, who somehow got this in front of Council almost as soon as it was proposed, called it an “unbelievable great piece of property.”
In his final month in office, this is probably John Stoffa’s greatest achievement as County Executive.