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The corporate history of Bascom & Sieger, Inc. has been a long and distinguished one. It has been behind many of the now historical structures located in and around the Lehigh Valley area for 152 years. The business was purchased and incorporated in January of 2005 and is now under the ownership of Robert H. Piligian, PLS. He has over 20 years of surveying experience in the industry, as well as, being a past adjunct instructor at Lehigh Carbon Community College, and is the Vice Chairman of the Whitehall Township Planning Commission.
In the paragraphs below you will read how Bascom & Sieger, Inc. started out over 152 years ago. The article below appeared in the November 2004 edition of "Professional Surveyors Magazine".
It’s almost over. If I don’t mention it, the occasion will pass without notice.
The sesquicentennial is that of my business. Although it has gone by the name of Bascom and Sieger only since 1908, it has been in continuous operation since 1854 (the same year, incidentally, in which Henry David Thoreau published Walden).
The business was started that year by Gustavus Adolphus Aschbach (1826-1875). While attending the University of Heidelberg, Aschbach participated in a revolution that failed and he had to flee for his life. He went to Switzerland, studied engineering, and immigrated to this country in 1850, intending to settle in New York. Aboard ship, he met a young woman with relatives in the Borough of Northampton, in eastern Pennsylvania. He followed her, married her in 1854, and began a remarkable career.
The borough had been founded in 1762 by William Allen, a Philadelphian of some renown. It was prospering at mid-century, and Aschbach readily became borough engineer. In 1858, he prepared its first grading plan. In 1867, when it was incorporated into a city, changing its name to Allentown, he prepared the first city map. Five years earlier, he had already made the first map of Lehigh County. With the help of these maps, he laid out railroad lines that were just beginning to traverse the entire county. He also designed a Lutheran church and the city jail, a red stone fortress that has only recently been replaced. During the civil war, he advised Union generals on the construction of fortifications in Ohio and Kentucky. As a result of “exposure” in the war, he became an invalid and died rather young.
His successor in the business was Samuel D. Lehr (1838-1911). As a teenager, Lehr worked with the engineering corps of a local railroad company, making topographic surveys. In 1862, he entered the employ of Aschbach, but before the end of the year he joined a regiment of the Pennsylvania Infantry. On his return from the war the following year, he rejoined Aschbach. On Aschbach’s retirement in 1869, he acquired not only the business but also the position of city engineer, which he filled for the next twenty years. Being a prominent citizen, he entered politics. He was mayor of Allentown from 1890-1893, and served on the City Council for six more years. During these years, he also prepared maps of more than a dozen boroughs in five counties. He laid out large tracts of land into residential lots, many of which were later annexed to the city. (In all, twenty-seven annexations to the city were made out of this office.) The plans in the first two volumes of maps in the courthouse are almost entirely his.
Growing a City
Harry F. Bascom (1873-1953) came here in 1899 from Whitehall, New York, to supervise the construction of a cement mill for the Atlas Portland Cement Company in Whitehall Township, just north of Allentown. As a graduate of Rensselear Polytechnic Institute (located in Troy, New York, just up the hill from the Gurley instrument factory), he had expertise in a wide range of engineering techniques, and in 1901 entered into a partnership with the best engineer in town. He became engineer for many municipalities in four counties, among them Whitehall Township from 1900 to 1940, and the City of Allentown from 1903 to 1906 and again from1918 to 1924. During his tenure, the city more than doubled in size. The entire stretch between the Lehigh River and the City of Bethlehem was annexed, and the fifty north-south streets renamed in alphabetical order, each two consecutive streets beginning with the same letter (none starting with Z). The alley separating the two cities became Bascom Street. The city also annexed large areas to the south and west. To accommodate all these additions, he redesigned the city’s water and sewer system. With partners, he developed Sterlingworth, a suburb to the west of the city, extending the grid system across a large park with remarkable accuracy. He also developed an area to the north of the park called Parkside Courts, this time replacing the grid system with concentric ovals. A city planner at heart, he was responsible for installing the street lights and planting the sycamores on the street on which I live.
The partnership with Lehr lasted seven years. Lehr then sold his interest in the business to his protégé, John H. Sieger (1883-1949), whereupon it acquired its present name. Sieger was county engineer for much of the time he was a partner in the firm. As an expert in designing bridges, he supervised the construction of spans across the Lehigh River and its tributaries, some of which still stand.
With Sieger’s passing in 1949, Harry &’s eldest son W. Broughton (1904-1980), became his business partner. Like his father, “Brody” attended Rensselear, as well as Lehigh University. For several decades, he was engineer for South Whitehall Township, west of Allentown. He attracted sizable surveys, such as tracts that became part of the extensive park system of Allentown and of Lehigh County. The largest is the Trexler Game Preserve, approximately 1,400 acres, now a small zoo, but originally set aside for the breeding of buffalo. He also laid out numerous cemeteries in the area. An avid researcher, he indexed all the plans his predecessors had produced.
My association with Bascom and Sieger began in the summer of 1958, after my sophomore year in high school “Remembering a Mentor”, Professional Surveyor, September 2000). During my college years, I did mostly drafting and calculations for the business. After college, I pursued an academic career. When it came to a grinding halt, I found a job with another surveyor in town, became licensed at the earliest opportunity (1977), and went into business for myself (1980). But Brody’s widow seemed to have had me in mind as his successor, and sold me the business when the estate was settled (1983).
Now, it is time to pass it on to someone else. I can only hope that it will still be around in another 150 years.
Wilhelm Schmidt is the former owner of Bascom and Sieger in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a Contributing Writer for the magazine.
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