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Former silk mill and Rodale building is demolished to make way for town homes.

The skyline of Emmaus is changing.

An iconic office building at 554 North St., once home to Cumberland Silk Mills, Inc., and long part of celebrated local publisher Rodale Inc., is being razed.

The 57,000+ square foot building is being demolished, Wesley Barrett, of real estate firm Wesley Works Real Estate, said in an email dated March 22.

The project was approved March 2, 2020.

The site will become home to 22 town houses. Eleven two-story residences will face North Street and 11 two-story town houses will face Long Street.

Each residence will have a yard, garage and driveway, according to Barrett.

In an email to The Press, Emmaus Borough Manager Shane Pepe noted numerous potential buyers had looked at the site.

Several developers considered apartments, Pepe said.

“It was an industrial building slapped in the middle of a residential area, which makes it a challenge for much more than residential use of some sort,” Pepe said.

The building needed upgrades, among the most significant a new roof, heating and cooling system and an elevator to the second floor.

“For most of the developers looking at the property, this was definitely a roadblock,” Pepe continued.

The building also lacked handicapped accessibility.

“Cost was a factor in determining what to do with the building, but doing what we felt was best for the town and the neighborhood was the biggest deciding factor,” Barrett said by email.

The building started its life in Emmaus in the last century.

Once housing operations for Cumberland Silk Mills Inc., the building was emblematic of the once thriving silk industry in the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania, according to writer Elizabeth Hall in her article “If Looms Could Speak: The Story of Pennsylvania’s Silk Industry” in the journal Pennsylvania Heritage.

Allentown’s Adelaide Silk Mill, Alburtis Silk Ribbon Mill and Macungie Silk Company were among bustling silk businesses in the early to mid-20th century in the area, Hall writes, blooming from seeds planted before the Revolutionary War and blossoming in the post Civil War era in silk industry leader Sanquoit Silk Manufacturing Company located in Scranton.

By 1920, Hall writes, silk was the largest employer in Pennsylvania, offering steady work for working class women and men.

Lehigh and Northampton counties boasted 75 silk mills, according to Hall.

In an email to The Press, Maria Rodale, daughter of Robert and Ardath Rodale and former chief executive officer of the company, noted her parents purchased the building in the 1970s as the company expanded and needed more office space.

Known as the North Street Building, during its tenure the building was home to the photography and video studios for the company and the first company gym as well as “Bicycling Magazine” and “Runner’s World,” Rodale wrote.

“At the height of our business we had buildings all over Emmaus, which made it challenging to get from meeting to meeting,” Rodale recalled.

Wesley Works Real Estate bought the building from Rodale Inc. in December 2018, according to Barrett. The building had been on and off the market since 2009.

“We tried selling North Street to someone who would be willing to renovate it, but due to all the renovations it had already experienced over the years it would have been cost prohibitive to renovate it further,” Rodale wrote.

The demolition site will be completely cleared. Initial work will include preparation for utilities and stormwater management.

“To preserve the character of the neighborhood and mitigate parking concerns, we chose not to turn this large building into apartments and to build only half the permitted number of homes,” Barrett continued.

“In the long term, this construction project will be a substantial benefit to the value of surrounding properties,” Barrett said.

“Thankfully it was purchased by people who have the best interests of Emmaus at heart,” Rodale said.

PRESS PHOTO BY APRIL PETERSON Demolition of the former Cumberland Silk Mills, also known as the Rodale North Street Building, started earlier this month. ABOVE: The site is under demolition as rain falls March 18.
Heavy equipment is used to demolish the site.
PRESS PHOTOS BY APRIL PETERSON Plans are for 22 town houses, yards and accompanying garages to rise on the site.
The building once housed photography and video studios for Rodale Inc. and was the site of the first company gym, according to former Rodale Inc. CEO Maria Rodale.
The building was once home to the Cumberland Silk Mill, according to the Emmaus Historical Society President Andrew Kerstetter. ABOVE: An outer wall displays the company name during demolition March 23.
A truck waits to be loaded with debris at the demolition site at 554 North St. March 18.
The site is purchased by Wesley Works Real Estate from Rodale Inc. in 2018. Built in the early 20th-century, the building was purchased by Rodale Inc. for office space in the 1970s.