GUEST VIEW Jeras Corporation’s history in S. Whitehall goes back to 1905
Jeras Corporation is the largest landowner in South Whitehall Township.
I am the “E” in the Jeras name, along with my mother.
The rest of the letters represent the first letters of the first names of the rest of my family over three generations.
Our family has been here since 1905.
That’s when my grandfather, a chemist and entrepreneur, came to the Allentown area to start a chemical company after working for DuPont.
He had an idea for a new explosive that could be more easily used in frozen ground, which made construction easier.
Eventually, his products were produced in South Whitehall and California.
They helped build roads and railroads throughout the country, much like Bethlehem Steel contributed to our nation’s prosperity.
The stunning Tunnel View at Yosemite National Park was made possible by Trojan products.
My grandfather’s company also created munitions that helped the United States win two World Wars, for which Trojan won an E award.
In fact, when I attended Parkland High School, I was told our sports teams were called the Trojans because so many fathers worked at the Trojan Powder Company at the time.
I’d love to know if anyone can confirm or correct what I heard years ago.
Coincidentally, Parkland now is located on what was originally some of our farmland.
Over several years, my grandfather bought all the farms close to the plant in South Whitehall as would be appropriate when operating an explosives factory.
In 1967, the Trojan Powder Company was sold, and Jeras Corporation was established to retain and maintain the land around the plant, which is now owned by GEO Chemicals.
We have continued to farm the land either by ourselves or through rental agreements with other farmers.
I grew up with tractors and combines and dairy cows and pigs and lots of chickens.
I watched my mother pluck them for dinner right here where we grew up, at the corner of Cedar Crest Boulevard and Walbert Avenue.
The land includes the 1744 Troxell House, the oldest house in Lehigh County.
The adjacent Minnich Barn is beautiful with the most wonderful arches, and the South Whitehall Township building arches were designed by the architect with this historic local barn in mind.
Our Blumer Barn is pictured on the South Whitehall Township website under Explore, and the Rev. Blumer, who lived in the house near the barn, is the person who hid the Liberty Bell in the basement of Zion’s Reformed UCC Church on Hamilton Street in Allentown.
It is quite possible the hay wagon used to transport the Liberty Bell to Allentown was stored in our Blumer Barn.
The upkeep of the historic buildings and land we own has been rather expensive at times over the many years we have cared for them, but it was a joy and honor for us to do so, even when a terrific hurricane came through 10 years ago or so and took part of our barn roofs along with it, which required architectural advice to replicate the original shingles.
I was raised in a family who greatly respects the land and its history, and we have a large number of local history books in our office library.
We hope to continue the Jeras history here by working collegially and helpfully with South Whitehall during its comprehensive plan update process.
Our intent will be to take part in discussions about balancing the future growth in South Whitehall Township with healthy development and open-space preservation.
In that spirit, we are ready to discuss the continuation of the Jordan Creek Greenway through our property as we know how much trails mean to the community.
I recall well the very first Jordan Creek Greenway meeting organized about 10 years ago with South Whitehall representatives and other partners who already seemed to have the full vision of the greenway in their minds.
We have worked closely with the township for years now laying the groundwork for this wonderful addition to the recreational lives of South Whitehall residents and guests.
When we noticed a connection would not be available from the Greenway to accommodate Parkland High School students, township representatives and its legal team jumped in to help us and our advisers create an easement to provide a more direct and safer connection between the high school and the trail.
We expect to donate more than 130 acres for the greenway, and we hope there can be a bit of a historic area surrounding our 1744 House for everyone to enjoy.
Beyond that, we have been considering providing some additional land for more ball fields for South Whitehall near the greenway.
We contributed land for the Greenawalds Fire Company’s current station.
I started my Scouting as a Brownie at the original Greenawalds fire hall, so I enjoyed thinking about that during the fire company’s celebration of 100 years of service to the community this past year.
We also are in the process of donating land for a parking area for the United Church of Christ, Greenawalds, because a relative in need of employment many years ago was given work by the Serfass Construction Company at the time when there was a need.
In retrospect, the employment was very meaningful and helpful to our family at that time. We’re grateful we can return the kindness.
I am pretty old now. The J’s and S’s and A’s in the name Jeras are all at rest in Grandview Cemetery, and now seems like a good time to say thank you to friends, neighbors and the South Whitehall Township community with projects that will benefit many, and recognize the special place where I grew up and still visit regularly.
Editor’s note: Elizabeth Koontz is vice president of Jeras Corporation and a native of South Whitehall Township.