Just in time for its 100th birthday, the little borough of Alburtis in southwestern Lehigh County is getting a big gift from the county commissioners.
On Wednesday night, the commissioners unanimously approved turning an old church over to the community, as well as two tracts of forested open space totaling 17 acres.
Commissioners also are paying $50,000 to the borough to make repairs to the Lockridge Church, which stands at the corner of Church and Franklin streets.
The church is the home of the Alburtis Historical Society.
“I’m very pleased this happened,” said former Alburtis Mayor Scott Stoneback, who is chairman of its centennial committee. “It’s a great gift the county has given Alburtis as we approach our centennial celebration in May. It reinforces the history of Alburtis and preserves open space for future generations.”
The ordinance approved by commissioners states the county wanted to transfer the three parcels of land to the borough “because they are small tracts and serve a more local constituency than other more regional county parks.”
Stoneback attended the commissioners meeting with Kevin Shoemaker, president of the historical society, but neither addressed the board before the vote.
“This looks like a win-win situation,” said Commissioner Percy Dougherty, who sponsored the ordinance. He said the church is not in the best shape, but Alburtis can take it over, improve it and “have a real gem there for the historical society and residents of the borough.”
Dougherty said the county attempted to give the church to Alburtis several years ago. He explained it’s a very small property, but requires at least $4,600 worth of county maintenance a year.
Said Dougherty: “Even with our excellent maintenance, it doesn’t look like it’s in that good a condition. It needs a lot more tender loving care, which the borough of Alburtis could give it and which the county cannot.”
No other commissioners commented before the vote.
Construction of the church began in 1870 and probably was completed the following year, according to Stoneback, who is a former county commissioner.
Stoneback said the wooden church is structurally sound but needs repainting and repairs to its slate roof. He presented commissioners with photos showing how badly the paint is peeling. He said that old paint will have to be removed and some water-damaged wood will have to be replaced.
The county’s 59-acre Lock Ridge Park, where iron was made at Lock Ridge Furnace in the 19th and early 20th centuries, is just a short distance from the church.
Stoneback explained that section of Alburtis once was a separate village named Lock Ridge, home of the Thomas Iron Company. The company owned the homes, store and the Presbyterian church at 407 Franklin St. Lock Ridge united with another small village named Alburtis in 1913.
The former mayor said repair work on the church will not be completed in time for Alburtis' May 10-12 centennial celebration.
Stoneback said one of the other two parcels being turned over by the county is known as the “cemetery lot” He said it is a wooded wetland covering three acres south of the intersection of Main and School streets. While it is believed it once was an active cemetery, he said there are no gravestones and no evidence of graves. He explained core samples were taken and cadaver dogs were brought to the property, but no evidence of graves was found.
That property adjoins another 14 forested acres Alburtis is getting from the county.
Stoneback said it is known as the bird sanctuary and is just north of Fort Sumpter Road/W. 5th Street.
Stoneback said deed restriction on those properties will ensure they remain open space.
Dougherty said they will be open to all county residents.
Also during their meeting, the commissioners approved the sale of a county-owned parking lot at 15 N. Church St. in Allentown for $162,800 to mid-city developer J.B. Reilly of CityCenter Lehigh Valley.
In his offer letter, Reilly told the county he was offering a 10 percent premium over the “per square foot price” the county recently got by selling another parking lot at 618 Hamilton St.
N. Church Street is an alley linking Hamilton and Linden streets, between Sixth and Seventh streets. It is behind Two City Center, the office building Reilly is constructing on the northeast corner of Center Square.
Commissioner Dan McCarthy, who proposed the sale of the 16-space lot, said it will put the land back on the tax rolls. He said the county administration has assured him county employees who use that lot will be able to find other adequate parking.
McCarthy, who is a lawyer, abstained from the vote because his law firm has done legal work for Reilly. He said he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Dougherty said the property will become an “important part of the renaissance of downtown Allentown.” He said the parking lot will become open space that will “fit in nicely” with plans for an arts walk.