Romantic Chapter in Pennsylvania’s History By Our Philadelphia Correspondent
There is a little village called Aaronsburg, in the exact geographical centre of Pennsyl- vania, which is today a memorial to the vision of a Jew who was 150 years ahead of his times.
This village is in historic Penn’s valley, Centre Country, was laid out by its founder, Aaron Levy, to be the capital of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Today its wide boulevard is deserted except for tourists. Not even a railroad enters its confines, and it is a curious if ironical fact that over this sleepy village, apparently forgotten by the world, and over the main cross street which this early American Jew called Rachel’s Way, in memory of his wife, there now roars the New York-Chicago air mail.
Levy came to Penn’s Valley in 1779 from Northumberland, Pa., with a reputation as a land speculator. He purchased what was then called the Alexander Grant warrantee, but it was not until 1786 that he founded and laid out the town. As a speculator the situation of the town appealed to him, but his dreams overwhelmed his business sagacity, and, visualizing a great capital city which should bear his name, he laid out the town on a mile square plot, the centre of which is the exact geographical centre of the state.
While he named the town Aaronsburgh, in honor of his own name, early settlers of the region called his village “Jewstown.”
Other persons in the state did not share Levy’s idea of such a capital city, and he was doomed to see his dream go unrealized. Levy did, however, establish a claim for fame in two things. First, he laid out one of the most unusual towns in the nation, the first one projected with wide streets, that only today are becoming recognized as a necessity, and he was the only Jew, so far as records reveal, to lay out a town in this or any other state of the Union.
With his idea of a city beautiful, he planned the main strcet, which he named Aaron’s Square, at a width of 150 feet. Ninety feet of the 150 were for vehicular and horse traffic, and 30 feet on each side of the 90-foot area were allotted for public purposes and grass plots. The main cross street, named for his wife, was about 60 feet wide.
Wooden poles were erected at regular intervals, bearing oil-burning lamps to illuminate the thoroughfare. These have now been replaced by modern electric street lights. At each corner of his mile square area Levy placed a stone marker, but these have long since fallen a prey to vandals and erosion.
From a series of four or five springs in the mountain at the north side of Aaronsburg, wooden pipes were laid to carry water by gravity to the wooden plugs set at intervals of approximately 100 feet along Aaron’s Square. In these plugs was a wooden snout with a wooden peg for a stopper. The up-right part of the plugs was a hollow rectangular piece of wood closed at the top. These plugs and pipes were carved from trees by hand.
When one desired water, the wooden stopper was removed and replaced when a sufficient quantity had been drawn off. Cisterns were placed at the bottom of these plugs, under the ground, to catch the overflow and hold it for an emergency reservoir for fire-fighting purposes.
It was in this way that Levy provided his town with one of the first, if crude, running water systems in America. The village boasted an old fashioned hand-manned pump, which required the services of four men at each handle. The reservoirs were necessary as the wooden pipes, when drained, required a long time for refilling from the springs. Now these wooden pipes and plugs have been replaced by modern piping and fire plugs. A reservoir has been placed on the mountain side above the town and just below the springs.
The first residents in Aaronsburg were given a grant of land from Levy for the erection of schools, burial ground and a church. The grant of land was made in 1793 and in 1851 a brick church was erected. This building still stands.
An academy known as Aaronsburg Academy was established in 1854, and this has now been replaced by a modern building which houses a grade school.
In 1802 Aaronsburg had a population of 32. Today it has 250 residents. Local residents point out with pride that had Levy realized his dream of a capital city, that municipality would rival Washinton for wide boulevards, well-planned development of streets, and its natural setting for a beautiful city.
Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, the well-known Philadelphia art and book collector, is a grand nephew of Aaron Levy.
DOUBTS REPORT ON DUCA
A despatch from Bucharest, which you published under date of Nov. 19th, states that Octavian Goga, Roumanian poet and former Minister of the Interior, and John Duca, also former Minister of the Interior, are “now taking extensive steps to organize anti-Semitic student riots, etc.,” this report being given in the name of the Roumanian newspaper “Kvintul.”
Knowing as I do M. Duca’s record of real liberalism and high-mindedness, as well as his freedom from bigotry and intolerance, I can not bring myself to give credence to a statement which links him with the efforts of the rabid, anti-Semite Goga. The newspaper which is named being presumably of a provincial character, may either have been mis-informed or may have its own purposes for merging these two names, but the facts of history would tend to contradict the report of any such association.
It is to be hoped that no such plans of organizing anti-Semitic student demonstrations will be tolerated by the present Government.
New York, Nov. 21, 1928.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.