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William Allen: The 2nd Most Famous William in Pennsylvania

A Primer About William Allen, Founder of Lehigh County

Many know of a famous Pennsylvanian named William Penn, but William Allen was an important part of this state’s history as well as the founder of Lehigh County (1812), Allentown (1762), and Mount Airy (which was actually an estate and manor first, built in 1750). Speaking of Allentown, Allen chose the location due to the Lehigh River and its ability to easily transport goods to and from Philadelphia. Today, Allentown is Lehigh County’s county seat.

  • Lehigh County (Founded 1812)
  • Allentown (Founded 1762)
  • Mount Airy (First an estate and manor, built 1750)

Born in 1704, William Allen spent his time between England and America. In fact, this Loyalist wasn’t quite sure separating them via America’s independence was such a great idea at the time. He did support the colonists, but wasn’t sure total separation was the right path and didn’t fully agree with the Declaration of Independence. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into William Allen’s story and his connection to some well-known historical people. 

Well-connected with wealth and power

While Allen was a merchant and lawyer, he also held two other prestigious roles in his lifetime. First, he was a Chief Justice, and secondly, he was the mayor of Philadelphia for a stretch of time. This was an era where Pennsylvania wasn’t a state yet, and it was still considered a province. 

While he served in these important roles, a lot of his ability comes from being well connected, wealthy, and powerful. We’re not even digging into his connections to Benjamin Franklin, here! 

Independence Hall - Courtesy of Wikipedia

William Allen purchased then donated the land that would be become Independence Hall.

During this time, the American Revolution was starting, and Allen was torn on the idea of breaking free. He felt that being part of the British Parliament was the way to go, and in fact during the war he spent most of his time back in England, only to return to America in 1779.

So, earlier we spoke of his wealth, power, and connections. How does that all tie together? Glad you asked! It turns out that William Allen and William Penn both had a hand in building Independence Hall. Yes, that Independence Hall.

Penn sold the property to Allen and Andrew Hamilton (another trustee). Oh, and by Andrew Hamilton, don’t get the names confused. He was a Philadelphia lawyer, not the future president Alexander Hamilton.

Anyway, they planned the new state hall, but before it was finished Hamilton had passed. Allen constructed the historic building according to their earlier plans. For the record, Andrew Hamilton was also Allen’s father-in-law after he married Hamilton’s daughter Margaret. 

He also went on to build the Philadelphia Hospital and the college that would become the University of Pennsylvania. He was a key figure in the growth of Philadelphia’s landscape and helped mold the future growth. Even with his traversing back and forth between England and America, he served quite a length of time in PA, and carried the role of Chief Justice for over twenty years from 1751-1774. (source)

Another interesting connection between William Allen and William Penn came when Allen’s daughter Anne ended up marrying John Penn. John is William Penn’s grandson. John’s father was Richard Penn. He also served as governor to Pennsylvania while it was still a colony. 

As for Lehigh County itself, today it houses over 350,000 residents as of the 2010 Census. Locals know of the Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton triad of cities, but it is Allentown that is the county seat and most well-known. This large city falls in size only to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. It is the third largest populated city in the state. 

While the area was settled in 1730, it was not founded until early 1800s, 1812 to be precise. Lehigh County gets its name from the nearby river. 

William Allen High School - Courtesy of Wikipedia

William Allen High School in Allentown. GO CANARIES!

What else is Lehigh County famous for?

While Lehigh County was founded by William Allen, it’s been home to other famous people through time. A couple of those people are Lee Iacocca (of Chrysler fame), Michaela Conlin, Christine Taylor, and Amanda Seyfried (actresses), football players Matt Millen, Andre Reed and Chuck Bednarick, along with congress member Charlie Dent.

If you’re interested in historic places, the Masonic Temple in Allentown was registered with the National Registry in 2004, as was the Allentown National Bank in 2005, along with the Americus Hotel in 1984. As for National Historic Landmarks you’ll find George Taylor’s residence listed (signer of the Declaration of Independence).

A Few Historic Landmarks and Registry Entries

  • Masonic Temple (2004)
  • Allentown National Bank (2005)
  • Americus Hotel (1984)
  • George Taylor’s residence 

Lehigh County is full of rich, vivid history and a full past of interesting residents. William Allen was a longtime resident as well as founder, though his travels saw him between both America and the U.K. quite regularly.

Have you been to Lehigh County lately? Be sure to show your support, and grab your Lehigh County, Pennsylvania apparel today. Tell us what your favorite location is. Are you a fan of the amusement park? Historical sites? Have a favorite restaurant or brewery? We’d love to know. 

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