My new book, Perkasie and the Baby Boom: Times of Progress, Times of Change (1946—1971), is now available online and will soon be available at several local outlets. The book has two sections. The first is a series of short stories about major developments, top news stories, and key local leaders. The second section is a monthly chronology of headlines over a 25-year period. The combination shows how quickly big changes happened, and the trends that still influence us today.
Featured below is an edited version of the Introduction. More ordering information about the book is at perkasiebook.com. The book should be available at the finest Perkasie locations in about two weeks, where you can get a signed copy and save on shipping costs!
My first book about Perkasie, An American Hometown, covered a lot of ground about Perkasie Borough’s origin story from 1871 to 1945. This new book is longer, and it only talks about the 25-year period after World War II. Truly, a lot of important things happened to Perkasie as a typical suburban town in a brief period of time after 1945.
The ”Baby Boom” is usually defined as the era between 1945 and 1964. In my opinion, the period lasted longer in the borough, which was still experiencing growth at the end of the 1960s. It took an unforeseen situation to stop the boom in its tracks.
In 1972, the local sewer authority was at capacity. The state banned new sewage permits in Perkasie until 1977. By one estimate, a combined 1,500 housing units were on hold in Perkasie and Sellersville when the ban was lifted. New sewer interceptors had to be built, pushing back the expected housing boom to the early 1980s.
What caused all that growth before 1972? What happened to Perkasie in the Baby Boom was typical of the American suburban experience in some ways, especially for towns with a business area that depended on transportation for their financial success.
The combination of the automobile and the suburbs drove the Baby Boom. Between 1950 and 1980 the American population grew by 50 percent, while the number of automobiles grew 200 percent. For boroughs like Perkasie, the agents of change were the highway systems that favored towns with modern shopping districts.
For this book, I read 25 years’ worth of local newspapers and talked with many people who lived in the region. Comparing their stories with my personal experience growing up in Lansdale, another borough on the old North Penn train line, it was obvious that many people still identified with the Perkasie region and have strong community ties. But it was also obvious that people identified with two communities: Perkasie and Pennridge.
A key part of the story is how Perkasie and its neighboring boroughs and townships pulled together during World War I and World War II. The Community Service Group, with its anonymous civic leaders, laid the groundwork between 1942 and 1946 for what would become the Pennridge School District’s eight members: Perkasie, Sellersville, Hilltown, Bedminster, East Rockhill, West Rockhill, Dublin, and Silverdale.
Perkasie residents, of course, still had strong cultural ties within the borough. In 1954, Perkasie had more than 100 retailers in town and a strong manufacturing base. Along with its neighbors on the North Penn train line—Lansdale, Souderton, Sellersville, and Quakertown—the region had a series of suburban towns that people from other communities could visit for socialization, shopping, work, and various gatherings.
Through the 1950s, transportation would push the Baby Boom in a new direction. The Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension opened in 1954 with an exchange in Quakertown. By then, the Lehigh Valley Transit System trolley had left Perkasie, and the Reading Railroad was cutting back on service. In the late 1950s, modern shopping centers opened in Souderton and Quakertown that advertised in the Perkasie newspaper, as did stores in Lansdale and Doylestown. Also in the late 1950s, Sellersville lobbied heavily for a modern four-way expansion of Route 309 that would unclog its jammed downtown with a bypass to Sellersville’s west.
Perkasie still had a strong manufacturing base, led by Delbar Products, Royal Pants, Freed Glass, and newer businesses such as Prodesco, and Perkasie Industries. Between 1962 and 1966, Perkasie added more than 500 new manufacturing jobs in the borough. Housing also was going strong.
However, Perkasie had lost more than 20 percent of its retailers by 1962 compared with 1954. By early 1963, Perkasie’s retail leaders were demanding more parking downtown as essential to keeping shoppers in the borough. The borough’s answer was Urban Renewal, and the proposal in Perkasie’s situation was to demolish the original block of town built in 1872—the area that established Perkasie as a new place to live. As expected, the idea caused a good deal of controversy. In April 1966, Perkasie Borough Council passed in a 5-4 vote its urban renewal plans.
After the vote, Mayor Claude Renner, a local furniture retailer, made a prediction. “The decision you have just made took great courage and I hope prayerful consideration. … In the eyes of many people, you will not be heroes. The chosen few must always make great decisions. Twenty years from now, they will say that you looked into the future.” In fact, the state’s sewer-connection ban in 1972 created a bright line between two different eras for Perkasie Borough and Renner’s future did not come to pass.
“Perkasie and the Baby Boom” talks about many successes in the community aside from some setbacks. Certainly, the Pennridge School District’s growth was a constant story. In 1955, Pennridge Senior High School had 129 graduates and the district had 3,451 students. By 1971, the graduation class had grown to 370 students with 6,449 students in the district.
Culturally, Perkasie celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1954 and then saved its covered bridge in 1958. But the community also endured two wars during the Baby Boom and some big societal changes during the 1960s. Hopefully, this book provides some type of road map for interested readers to learn from our past mistakes and celebrate Perkasie Borough’s many successes. They were indeed times of progress and times of change.