I just finished reading The Spartans by Paul Carthage. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. For one thing, Carthage makes them approachable. He reminds me of my high school teacher, Mr. Sullivan, who wisely thought the best way to get his group of sometimes very rowdy teenagers to engage with medieval history was to have them watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s still one of my favorite movies and made the history behind it intriguing. At any rate, Carthage takes the reader through the Spartans’ rise and fall and introduces his audience to all the major players. Who knew how political they were!
What I find intriguing is that many hold the Spartans to be ideal patriots and warriors. People to emulate and hold as upright citizens. That they were, but they also ritually abused their children, engaged in state-sanctioned pederasty, and routinely hunted their Helot slaves as a rite of passage. They also weren’t above assassinating political dissidents.
While the glory of the 300 at Thermopylae with King Leonidas fighting to the death is admirable, it doesn’t offset the dysfunctional nature of the very closed society of elitism. Know the history before you glorify it.
Today was beautiful. The weather was a balmy 37 degrees farenheit up from the cold of single digits just a few days ago. The light was superb; a clear day, sunny with not a cloud in the sky. A day like today makes you glad to be out in the sunshine dreaming of summer days but relishing the bite of the wind, crisp and cool on your cheek.
As I walked around town today, the light struck the side of the summer kitchen of the old Rentzheimer house on Durham Street. The house constructed in 1832 by Tobias Rentzheimer now houses the Hellertown Borough Authority (aka the water company for the town). The site of the building always brings a smile to my face. Why? It’s not a unique colonial house by any stretch of the imagination. No, it’s because it is being reused. It always pains me to see houses built years ago (whether 50, 75, 100, 150 years old) in complete ruin and not being used. It brings me joy to see these structures transformed into something useful for today’s world. They connect us with the past and those who have gone before.
If nothing else, my walk made me curious enough to look up what I could on Tobias Rentzheimer, the original owner. I didn’t find much, to be honest. Tad Miller had a Morning Call article on Hellertown street names in 1992 about the Rentzheimer name and notes that the land the Hellertown Borough Authority, Dewey Fire Company and several housing developments occupy was once part of the original holdings of the Rentzheimer family. Rentzheimer Drive was actually named for Dr. William Rentzheimer who was Tobias E. Rentzheimer’s son and Tobias’ grandson. I did discover that Tobias was the son of Johann Karl Rentzheimer and Anna Maria Catharina Haas and was born November 23, 1790 in Lower Saucon Township. He was one of seven children. He married Hannah Ehrhart and in turn had six children of his own. If you are interested in the Rentzheimer family history, Family Treemaker has the lineage listed.
William J. Heller actually has an excellent (although now very outdated) history of Northampton County and the early founding of the Lehigh Valley. You can download or read it from The New York Public Library’s archives online. Volume 2 covers Hellertown and Lower Saucon and was written in 1920. Heller’s section on the Rentzheimer family notes they settled in Hellertown around 1774 and were farmers. He writes elsewhere in the volume that the family gave part of the land to start a school in the center of town in 1845. Longtime Lutherans, the Rentzheimers also gave the land for Christ Lutheran Church on Main Street in Hellertown.