Ever dream of owning your own island? There’s one for sale in the Lehigh Valley.
Getters Island is known for its grisly past.
But a real estate listing this week invites prospective buyers to imagine a future on the island that’s a stone’s throw from downtown Easton.
Mystery has always shrouded the wooded 6-acre tract in the Delaware River, thanks to its namesake, Carl Getter, who was hanged there in 1833 for murdering his wife.
Nearly 30 years later, another footnote was added to the island’s grim history when the Alfred Thomas steamboat’s boiler malfunctioned as it neared Getters’ banks, causing an explosion that killed 12 passengers.
Lee Heilman, whose family has owned the island for nearly 80 years, remembers hearing those stories as a little boy, but his own pleasant memories are the ones that stand out.
He remembers paddling a canoe to the family’s retreat, where he would spend afternoons on the sandy banks, wading into the river until he had to tip-toe to touch the bottom.
“We did treasure hunts and picnics and swimming,” said Heilman, 60, of Forks Township.
He hopes the island’s new owners will enjoy it as much.
Priced at $150,000, the island has generated nonstop inquiries, said Theresa Barlow, the listing agent.
“I’ve had countless calls, from Realtors to interested buyers, who are looking to start maybe a fishing club, a row-up snack stand or camping,” she said.
The island is zoned low-density residential, meaning no more than a few houses would be allowed, and is in the Easton Area School District, though the only way to reach the city is by boat. There are no water pipes, sewer lines or roads, though trees and fish are in abundance.
Flooding is an issue, especially in the spring when ice breaks up in the Delaware.
Barlow reached out to Mayor Sal Panto Jr. to see if Easton wanted to buy the property, but on Wednesday Panto said he thinks not.
“I think the biggest problem in selling the island is how do you get to it,” he said.
Panto thinks the island could be a stop for people canoeing and tubing down the river during the summer.
“Canoeing and tubing is becoming very popular. If there were a soda stand or a coffee stand where you could get a snack, that would be interesting,” he said.
The decision to sell wasn’t an easy one, Heilman said. It came after his mother’s death in March.
His mother, Charlass Wyly, was very fond of the property. In a 1988 interview with The Morning Call, she talked about it being a fun place where she spent entire summers camping with the family. If the property ever sold, she thought it would be perfect for a canoe club.
“It was a hard decision to actually make because you still have all those thoughts and memories as a child,” Heilman said. “It was our own little hideaway island as a family, and we were able to disengage from everything else.”
But life gets busy, and Heilman said he realized it had been about 20 years since the family regularly visited the spot.
His grandfather, Leo Cericola, bought the island in 1939 from Zearfoss and Hilliard Co., a lumber company with a mill on the Easton shore near the island’s southern end, according to The Morning Call archives.
In 1942, Cericola opened a park there called Tropical Island Beach that offered swimming, picnicking and pony rides. He constructed a suspension bridge that connected the island to the mainland. Heilman also remembers his grandfather running pontoon excursions from the island.
But in 1944, a flood destroyed the bridge and Cericola’s sideline.
Cericola died in 1983, leaving the island to his wife, who died two years later, leaving it to her children. Their daughter, Wyly, later acquired it.
She was interviewed by The Morning Call shortly after the release of a 1988 report by the National Park Service that examined how to protect some 56 islands in the Delaware River from development. Commissioned by then-U.S. Rep. Peter H. Kostmayer, the report suggested the islands could be managed as one entity, either by a governmental agency or private conservation groups.
Barlow said the island never received any protected status from the state.
The first recorded transaction for the island occurred in 1787, when John Penn and his son, descendants of William Penn, sold it to five Easton businessmen for 225 pounds, according to The Morning Call archives.
Before Carl Getter met his fate there, he was a 25-year-old farmhand in Forks Township accused by Margaret Lawall, 31, of fathering her unborn child.
Getter married Lawall to avoid jail time, but he repeatedly said he did not like her and refused to live with her.
About a month later, she was found strangled in Forks Township. Getter was charged with the crime and, in spite of a spirited defense by well-respected lawyer James Madison Porter, convicted and sentenced to be hanged.
According to an account in the Oct. 11, 1833, Easton Sentinel, the hanging attracted tens of thousands of people, so a gallows was built in the center of the island, enabling people to see it from the surrounding hills and banks.
The gallows was built in what was then referred to as the “New York style,” in which the condemned was jerked from the ground using a system of weights and pulleys rather than dropped from a platform, according to the Sentinel.
A makeshift bridge of boats stretched from the mainland and militia ringed the island to keep out the curious.