September 6, 2007

State Historical Marker Unveiled in Downtown Easton

Marker commemorates the founding and naming of Lafayette College

Anyone following the trail of history through Pennsylvania by way of the blue and yellow signs that dot the state’s highways and byways will have one more to see now, this one celebrating the Marquis de Lafayette and the naming of Lafayette College.

During a mid-day ceremony on a sparkling late-summer day, the Marquis himself, as portrayed through the thoughtful eyes of Loic Barnieu, joined local officials and President Daniel Weiss to unveil the new marker.

In a prime location on Easton’s Centre Square, the marker explains the historical significance of the Lafayette College-Easton bond and will be on display for future generations to see and learn from. The marker was issued by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette, and the dedication of the historical marker is part of the College’s day-long birthday party. The College will celebrate the life and legacy of the man for whom it is named with events throughout the 2007-08 academic year. Among the major events are a public lecture series, entitled Lives of Liberty, featuring renowned speakers, and a historical exhibit entitled A Son and his Adoptive Father: The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington.

  • A web site dedicated to the celebration and to the Marquis’ unique connection to the College provides information and updates.

During the dedication, the Marquis spoke of the enormous historical impact the state of Pennsylvania had on the struggle for independence in the late 18th century and the reasons why he wanted to join the conflict.

“My love of the military, my desire of adventure, and the fighting of the English, all these are the reasons I decided to � fight for liberty,” the Marquis, decked out in full French military splendor, explained to the crowd. “The first time I met George Washington it was easy to recognize in him a grand, elegant man.”

Though the Marquis was only 19 at the time he met the 45-year-old Washington in 1777, the two forged a friendship that would span a lifetime and change history. Decades later, after a contingent of prominent Eastonians greeted the Marquis in Philadelphia during his Farewell Tour of the United States in 1824-25, it was decided to found and name a college in his honor.

That fateful decision occurred at White’s Hotel on Dec. 27, 1824 at the northeast corner of Centre Square, and it is there that the plaque commemorating the event now stands.

“There is truly no more perfect place to pay tribute to the Marquis and the College that bears his name,” Weiss said. “The Marquis de Lafayette has only grown greater over time.”

After further remarks from Easton Mayor Phil Mitman, who read a proclamation the city approved in Lafayette’s honor, as well as from John T. Dittbrenner Jr., senior vice president of Lafayette Ambassador Bank, which was started by college alumni, the historical marker took center stage. The bank also donated an original letter written by the Marquis to Lafayette College Special Collections.

The marker, situated among a colorful flower bed near the city’s resurgent business district, drew applause at its unveiling and reads:

Lafayette College Founding

At White’s Hotel near here, on Dec. 27, 1824, local citizens gathered to found Lafayette College. One of their leaders, James Madison Porter, had recently met Lafayette during the French general’s well-received American tour of 1824-25, that revived widespread patriotic sentiments about American independence. The College is one of the principal US memorials to this statesman and military leader instrumental in our nation’s birth.

Michael R. Lefevre, community preservation coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission and Museum Commission, spoke of how “each marker establishes an important link to the past,” and the importance of the event was not lost on those present.

“This is a great thing. To have a historical marker and learn things about this corner I didn’t even know is fantastic,” said Tony Bassil, whose Caramelcorn Shop is directly behind where the marker sits. “We’re going to see more traffic come downtown and hopefully we’ll have many more attractions like this.”

College Hill resident Bob Johnson made the trip downtown and remarked on the importance of such events.

“I think it’s a wonderful commemoration,” he said. “It’s important that we maintain our commitment to our history. This is a special day.”

Local residents Bob Conroy and Joe Radogna also watched with pride as the marker was unveiled.

“It’s about time,” said Conroy, who praised Mitman and former Mayor Thomas Goldsmith for their efforts to reach out to Lafayette and improve town-gown relations.

“Anything that Lafayette can do helps,” said Radogna, who operates the New York Tailors shop on Northampton Street. “This brings a lot of people.”

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