If you’ve every driven on Roth Avenue near where it joins 16th Street in Allentown, you’ve probably seen a large, pillared house that seems to tower over the corner as you drive toward it. It's as if Scarlet O’Hara’s beloved Tara had suddenly been crammed into a suburban housing plot.
But it was not always that way. About 100 years or so ago, this structure stood on a 200 acre property that was one of the showcase farms of the Lehigh Valley, one that was also the first in the United States to use electricity to power farm machinery. And its owner, Jeremiah “Uncle Jerry” Roth, a former state legislator and president of the Lehigh County Agricultural Society, was among its leading citizens.
Recently the stately home’s current owner, Simonee de Fuccio, decided to rescue both the building and Roth from what she feels is an undeserved obscurity. “We bought the house 19 years ago,” says de Fuccio, who raised four children there. “We had young children at the time and wanted a bigger backyard and decided when we saw it that it would be ideal.”
Although she has long enjoyed the house, de Fuccio had not really known much about its former owners. “But I was surprised and pleased to discover Jeremiah Roth and fascinated to find out what a well-known person he was at the time,” she says.
De Fuccio decided that to make Roth better known she would write about him. The result was “Uncle Jerry Roth: Father of the Great Allentown Fair.” This 30 page, profusely illustrated work is well-documented with footnotes from de Fuccio’s extensive research. Among those she cites in aiding her are Bonnie Brosious, marketing director and talent buyer for the Allentown Fair, Joseph Garrera, executive director of the Lehigh County Historical Society and local historian Kurt Zwikl. She also thanks members of the Roth family for sharing their photographs and family memorabilia.
It is interesting that a man so prominent in Lehigh County like Roth was actually born in Lower Saucon Township, Northampton County on May 20, 1833. His father, Jesse Roth, was Pennsylvania German and a farmer, as were his ancestors.
By the standards of the day young Jerry Roth received what was then called “a good common school education.” And at a time when a sixth grade education was considered more than adequate, he attended and graduated from Bethlehem High School. After graduation Roth spent 3 years as a school teacher.
But Roth was raised on the land and was drawn back to it. In 1858 his marriage to Angelina S. Mink led to his taking over her family’s farm in Salisbury Township. He was apparently very good at it. In 1864 Roth was elected as a local Justice of the Peace. Although an agriculturalist for the rest of his life, Roth ceased at that point to be a full-time farmer. Instead he combined the business aspects of agriculture with a career in public service.
In 1866 Roth relocated to the thriving borough of Allentown. Here in 1873 he purchased a home at 11th and Hamilton Streets. It was a brick structure at a time when most Allentown dwellings and commercial buildings were of wood or stone. According to de Fuccio, at a time when most dwellings were built right up to the street, the home had a large, beautiful lawn.
The late 1860s and early 1870s were boom times in Allentown and across America. Local iron furnaces were turning out railroad rails at a rapid pace. One of those making good money was Roth.
“By the time the census was taken in 1870, Jeremiah had increased his estate value twenty times over what it had been when he had gotten married, making him a wealthy man,” de Fuccio notes. Apparently there was huge demand for beef to feed the railroad crews headed west and immigrants arriving in east coast cities.
Although the Panic of 1873, which brought a collapse in the local iron industry and the end of the railroad building boom, caused economic hard times, they apparently had very little impact on Roth.
On July 28, 1877 he purchased a 200 acre property from a bank that was in financial difficulty.
It was a summer home where Roth could pursue both his personal and business passion: the raising of cattle and horses. Soon the Allentown Stock Farm, as it came to be called, had “made a specialty of raising Jersey and Holstein cattle and draft horses,” says de Fuccio. He also became a major supplier of horses to New York City’s fire department and many others across the country
Along with T.S. Cooper of Coopersburg, Lehigh County’s other great cattle breeder in the late 19th century, Roth was a regular at the national cattle shows and even crossed the Atlantic to attend cattle sales in Europe.
Roth’s other interests were politics and the Allentown Fair. He served five terms in the state legislature. During that time he served on many committees but was best known for a humorous bill he proposed that put a tax on bachelors for not marrying, the proceeds of which were to be given to support unmarried women.
Locally Roth was best known for moving the Great Allentown Fair from 5th and Tilghman Streets to its current location, giving the Fair the space it needed to grow.
Despite his success, Roth’s personal life was married by discord and tragedy. He became estranged from his wife and his children whose interests were not inclined to cattle or horses. The years following Roth’s death in 1907 led to the early deaths of both his son and grandson.
It is de Fuccio's hope that her work will inspire others to be interested in this unique figure from not so long ago.