My Hometown: Nazareth, PA
My father got his first, and only, teaching and coaching position at Nazareth High School, in Nazareth, PA. As a result, we grew up going to sporting events and competing in sports at Nazareth, despite living in a neighboring school district until 6th grade when we moved into a township in the Nazareth School District.
I went to college in Tucson, AZ for two primary reasons, first, I had family there (my father's brother was a professor at the University of Arizona) and second, I wanted to see a different part of the country.
I loved Tucson, the weather, the mountains, the culture, the history and of course the University and the people I met there.
At the same time, it taught me to better understand and appreciate the town I grew up in. Nazareth gives you a small town feel, but provides access to pretty much everything you could want. There are many more things to do, than I thought there were as a kid. Its history is unique and diverse given its size and I've outlined some of these aspects in the next section.
Everything is nearby and there are a great diversity of activities and entertainment.
The Poconos are just to the north of Nazareth and access to the Appalachian Trail is in Wind Gap, a few miles from town. New York City and Philadelphia are an hour and a half away and the nearest Jersey Shore points are within one hour. Baltimore, DC, the Delaware and Maryland beaches are all within a three and a half hour drive.
Since returning from college, I've made Nazareth the home for my family. We live in town and have enjoyed taking walks to sporting events at the high school, when they were little taking the kids to the many local playgrounds, walking to the Library, the corner-store where the kids enjoyed getting ice cream on hot summer days, and attending the many community events held throughout the year.
I personally have invested in the community. I started a community site in 2006 to share news and information, NewsOverCoffee. I served on the Borough Council's Economic Development Committee. I was a member of the Downtown Development Committee. And I was the inaugural manager of the Nazareth Center for the Arts, which is now celebrating its 10th Anniversary (I was involved the first two years of operation).
While working with the Downtown Development Committee I created the concept for "Martin on Main", which is now an annual event in the downtown celebrating music performed using Martin Guitars. I also was a main organizer of a day-long event the day before the final race at the Nazareth Speedway, which featured the official driver autograph session, an appearance by Miss Pennsylvania (who as a side note, I introduced to Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish as they waited to accept an award for Roger Penske), and a concert that evening.
A long history, short, King Charles II granted a province to William Penn as a feudal estate. Under the feudal system, Penn created manors, or large estates of land that Penn could grant to individuals. One of these manors was granted to his daughter, Letitia, and it was the Barony of Nazareth. Though pledged in 1682, it wasn't until 1731 that this land was selected as the final parcel of the 25,000 acre grant to Letitia.
Under the feudal system, as a token payment for allegiance, Letitia gave one red rose every year on the 24th of June and to this day Nazareth is known as the Barony of the Rose.
Nazareth's founding is deemed as being in 1740 when Moravians settled on the land due to world-famous itinerant preacher George Whitfield who had secured 5,000 acres of the Barony. Whitfield brought the Moravians to settle his land and build a school for Negro children.
The first settlers arrived last in summer and were ill-prepared for winter. Whitfield then had a falling out with the Moravian church and ordered them off his land. However, in 1741, Whitfield sold the property to the Moravian church on account of his own unstable financial situation.
While this was taking place, Lenape chieftain Captain John settled his people on the land and refused to leave until December of 1742, when Count Zinzendorf made a generous offer and the Lenape left the manor territory.
Nazareth functioned as a closed religious community operated by the Moravians until 1856 when it became secular and open to all.
For a small town of 6,000 within a school district of 25,000, Nazareth has a rich history and some rather famous people and products.
Built in 1754, Nazareth Hall began as a boarding school and during the Civil War era it became a first class, classical academy. Although, military drills were added for exercise, it never became a military academy. This became a pre-cursor to Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.
In 1780 William Henry II moved to Nazareth and established the Henry Gun Factory on South Main Street in 1781. With a large government contract he had to expand and moved north of Nazareth to Jacobsburg where he had acquired a large tract of land in 1798.
In 1838 C.F. Martin moved his guitar making business from New York City to Nazareth, PA. The instruments were originally made at the family homestead. The North Street Plant was built in 1859 to accommodate the needed additional space. Today, the factory is located just outside of town and features daily tours, an area for visitors to play a range of Martin's, and a museum.
In 1898 the Nazareth Cement Company built its first mill and by 1901 it was shipping cement as far as New Orleans. The Pennsylvania Geological Survey determined that Nazareth was at the center of the cement rock formations in the region and as a result many more cement plants were built in the area. They continue operating today.
Nazareth's original fairgrounds began operation in 1855 and featured horse racing along with agriculture. It was located right in town between Main and Broad Street a few blocks south of Center Street. At some point around 1900, the fairgrounds were moved further south to a larger tract of land. It was in 1910 when motor events began to be hosted.
Eventually there were two tracks the original 1/2 mile dirt track and a larger 1.125 mile track. The two operated into the early 1980s.
In 1986 Roger Penske purchased the facility and in 1987 the track re-opened. It closed in 2004. During the time it was open CART, IRL, IROC, NASCAR and USAC held events at the speedway, dubbed "The World's Fastest One Mile Oval".
Maybe the most important aspect of the history of having the fairgrounds track in Nazareth is the fact that it became the start of the careers of Aldo and Mario Andretti.
In 1969, when Mario won the Indy 500, he also won the USAC sanctioned Nazareth 100 at the fairgrounds. Later that year, the town held a day of celebration for Mario including a parade and the renaming of the street he lived on, Market Street, to Victory Lane.
His home was located across from the local elementary school and three homes down from the high school. Mario has since moved just out of town, next door to what was his son Michael's home and now, grandson Marco lives there.
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Ross R. Nunamaker