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Community group makes Easton 'lit' -- one neighborhood at a time

Centre Square tree lights peace candle
Ryan Gaylor
The lighted trees of Easton's Centre Square surround the city's Peace Candle, along with booths of the Winter Village on Dec. 6, 2022.

EASTON, Pa. – Since 2019, trees in Easton’s Centre Square have held twinkling lights among their branches, lighting up the area year-round, thanks to a local nonprofit called Friends of Easton.

Starting Friday, the same organization responsible for those lights will brighten up streets on South Side in collaboration with Easton's public works department.

  • New lights in trees around St. John Street in Easton will brighten the area year-round
  • They were placed by Friends of Easton, in collaboration with the city's public works department
  • Organizers will flip the switch Friday night

The new lights will be switched on for the first time during a celebration set for 5 p.m. Dec. 9, at the intersection of Madison and St. John streets. Organizers say to expect music, hot drinks, a couple of short speeches, and community.
“We want it to be a part of a community gathering and all parts of Easton coming together to recognize this unique community and how important it is to our city,” said Friends of Easton President Diane Haviland.

How it started

Friends of Easton began as a way to support existing organizations in the city.

“We established this mission,” said Haviland. “We wanted to provide strategic support and direction for local organizations that foster a vibrant, clean, safe, walkable environment for residents and visitors.”

At first, that meant raising money for the Greater Easton Development Partnership to support the Easton Ambassadors, or for the Easton Block Watch Association to build relationships between police and the community.

“After a while, I said, ‘You know, I don't think anybody knows who we are,’” Haviland said. “We re-strategized, and we ended up coming up with a new strategy called ‘Bright Lights, Vibrant Easton.’”

Though the goal of building a safe, walkable city didn’t change, Haviland and the group wanted to try new ways of achieving it.

One evening, as the group was brainstorming options, one member who worked as a police officer noted that many of the streets in Easton were too dark. Haviland and the others realized that adding lights to parts of the city fit the bill. From there, the group took a vote, and chose Centre Square.

Centre Square tree lights
Ryan Gaylor
The lights wrapped around trees in Easton's Centre Square light up the area on a chilly Monday night.

The idea to put lights in trees originally sprang from necessity: the group wanted to put lights somewhere they would survive then-upcoming renovations to Centre Square.

“The city said, ‘Well, that's great, but we're going to remodel it,” said Haviland. “And so we said, look, are you going to… tear down any trees?”

The city said they were not, and the rest is history.

“I have been really blown away by the reaction, and by the people's reaction (to the lights). I can't go out walking anywhere and not see a couple taking photos of themselves,” Haviland said.

The South Side gateway

Not long after Friends of Easton successfully lit up Centre Square, the organization’s board voted to bring their lights to another neighborhood. South Side seemed like a natural next step.

Haviland said that, within the last few years, many of the people visiting Easton arrive from Interstate 78, entering the city through the South Side. The most direct path from the interstate to Downtown runs through St. John Street, and past the new lights.

“We're calling it the South Side gateway. It's sort of an entryway to the city,” said Ken Greene, treasurer for Friends of Easton.

Plus, for Haviland, it’s personal.

“From my family, my great grandmother emigrated to the South Side, had nine children and raised them all up on the South Side,” she said. “It’s a little emotional for me.”

She said the response from the South Side community has already been very positive.

"I was shocked how excited they were about lighting Southside, because they sort of felt like they were sometimes forgotten.”
Friends of Easton President Diane Haviland

“When we were up last week,” Haviland said, “talking to people in the community, I was shocked how excited they were about lighting South Side, because they sort of felt like they were sometimes forgotten.”

“A happy, joyful thing”

With major projects complete in two Easton neighborhoods, Friends of Easton wants to expand its large-scale signature work to the city’s West Ward and College Hill. Meanwhile, they hope to take on smaller, community-driven projects in each neighborhood as well.

They plan to announce their next big project by spring of 2023.

“We're just one among many volunteers who are adding to the city's life,” said Greene. “It's gratifying to be part of that. And if we all do our own little part in the city, whether it's volunteering or opening up a business, or contributing in some other way, it just makes the city vibrant.”

“It's a happy, joyful thing,” said Haviland. “I know we're not solving world hunger here, or world peace, but it's something that we can do for the city that just makes…it a great place where people want to live and visit.”