Bicycle or Walk the Ironton Rail Trail

 

The Ironton Rail Trail

Where is it?

There are several access points to this trail. The access described here is reached by taWooden Railroad Carking route 145 north from route 22 in Allentown, Pa. Go past the shopping malls. A few lights after the malls will be a cross street called Chestnut Street. Go left onto Chestnut Street. Watch for a small parking lot on the left adjacent to and just before an old red barn. It is about a quarter of a mile from the left turn you made. From the parking lot, head down to the stream. There is a path on the left when facing the direction of the stream. Walking your bicycle down this path will take you to a path along the stream. This is labeled Charles Neff trail. Head to your right and this will "T" into the Ironton Rail Trail. Turn left onto this trail. Just under an overpass, this trail forks. A trail map is located at the fork. This fork is the beginning of the loop portion of the trail. The left fork is recommended. The left fork corresponds with the sequence depicted in the following trail description. Incidentally, the Charles Neff trail also includes some interesting places to poke around. And there are several side trails going to an old quarry and quarry related ruins.

Description

This Ironton Rail Trail has no motorized vehicles allowed. It is good for walking and just right for a bicycle outing. The loop portion of the trail is about six miles long. It is delightful to pedal along without the constant worry of traffic. The trail does have several points where it is necessary to cross a road. The trail is mostly paved with stone, although one section is paved with blacktop. Because of the stone, a wide bicycle tire is advised.

The trail derives from the Ironton Railroad purchased in 1882 from the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The Thomas Iron Works needed transport of coal, iron ore and limestone to its blast furnace.

One should plan to take stops along this trail as there are a number of interesting things to see. After making the left from the Charles Neff Trail, several old structures stand alongside the road. These are remnants of a bygone era. The first on the left is rather collapsed and is one of the first pCement Packing Houserefabricated buildings in Pennsylvania. The tin roofed structure that follows was once a machine shop. The building with so many archways was the cement packing building. The firehouse for the cement company is seen on the right side of the trail. The building, which appears to house a pump, was indeed the pump house. And the building with the pit was once a powerhouse. The pit provided room for the flywheel to rotate. The old wooden railroad car was used as an office for the conductors of the Ironton Railroad. This railcar has a section for passengers and a section for freight. Watch for another old railcar later on the trail.

Near the fork that starts the loop once stood Fort Deshler. The Fort is no longer to be seen. The site is now under MacArthur Road. The Fort was a settler's safe haven from Indians. A historical plaque can be found on MacArthur Road but is not visible from the trail.

As the trail continues, the large abandoned complex on the left was the Coplay cement mill.

Further on, the trail passes the Saylor Cement Museum in Coplay. The museum is notable for its kiln towers. It is adjacent to a park. One can see a section of the first concrete highway in the United States. Through the exhibits, one will learn a number of interesting things about concrete. This was an industry of historical importance to the Lehigh Valley.

Lehigh RiverThe trail continues along the Lehigh River. In this length of the trail are some spots suitable to stop for a picnic. The leaves on the trees hide the surroundings in this area and create the illusion of being almost in the middle of the wilderness.

The final leg of the loop passes the backyards of houses, a park, and a picturesque stream.

At one point is a warning sign to walk bicycles down a steep hill that ends at a road crossing. It would be wise to heed this advice. A future pedestrian bridge is planned. At the bottom of this hill is Hokendauqua Park. Mr. Thomas of the Thomas Iron Works founded Hokendauqua to provide housing for his employees.

Maps of the trail are posted at various locations along the trail. Also, there are several benches available for those wishing to take a rest.

Most of the trail is a loop. This is very nice because you do not have to retrace your path to come back. You get to see new sights on the return trip as well.

Another section of the trail continues towards the historic Lehigh County Troxell-Steckel House. This section would be accessed by turning right where the Charles Neff Trail joins the Ironton Rail Trail. This section is not a loop and includes a stretch along a lightly trafficked, wide public road. This portion of the trail continues for about three miles.

The Troxell-Steckel House was one of the first houses in the area. It is a county museum that is generally open to the public in the summer months and may be available by request at other times. The barn houses several buggies.

The Ironton Rail Trail is an interesting ride with a variety of scenery. Some is quite industrial, some quite historical, and some quite natural. It can be taken simply as an exercise ride or explored to experience local history. The choice is yours.

Trail maps are available from the Whitehall Township Bureau of Recreation 610-437-5524.

For more information about:

New as of 4/17/01: For current information about the Ironton Rail Trail including events, news, additional photos, and the complete trail map, visit irontonrailtrail.org. 

Local History:

Lehigh County Historical Society 610-435-1074

Whitehall Historical Preservation Society 610-776-7166

Troxell-Steckel House 610-262-8991

A History of Lehigh County (3 volumes, published in 1914. Available in the reference section of the Whitehall, PA library).

The nationwide program converting rails to trails

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy www.railtrails.org

This site includes a listing of trails that can be queried by state

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