Along with Allentown and Bethlehem, Easton is one of the primary cities that comprise the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania's third most populous metropolitan area. Easton is the easternmost city of the Lehigh Valley, sitting on the confluence of the Delaware River and the Lehigh River, for which the Lehigh Valley is named. Easton is the smallest of the three Lehigh Valley cities, with approximately one-fourth of the population of the largest Lehigh Valley city, Allentown.
The city is split up into four sections: Historic Downtown, which lies directly to the north of the Lehigh River, to the west of the Delaware River, continuing west to Sixth Street; The West Ward, which lies between Sixth and Fifteenth Streets; The South Side, which lies south of the Lehigh River; and College Hill, a neighborhood on the hills to the north which is the home of Lafayette College. The boroughs of Wilson, West Easton, and Glendon are also directly adjacent to the city; the first and largest of which, Wilson, partially aligns in the same North-South Grid as the city of Easton.
Centre Square, the town square of the city's Downtown neighborhood, is home to the Soldiers' & Sailors' Monument, a memorial for Easton area veterans killed during the American Civil War. The Peace Candle, a candle-like structure, is assembled and disassembled every year atop the Civil War monument for the Christmas season.
The Lenape Native Americans originally referred to the area as "Lechauwitank", or "The Place at the Forks". The site of the future city was part of the land obtained from the Delawares by the Walking Purchase. Thomas Penn set aside a tract of land at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers for a town. Easton was settled by Europeans in 1739 and founded in 1752, and was so named at the request of Penn; he had recently married Juliana Fermor, the daughter of Lord Pomfret whose estate was called Easton Neston, near Towcester, Northamptonshire, England. As Northampton County was being formed at this time, Easton was selected as its county seat.
During the French and Indian War, the Treaty of Easton was signed here by the British colonial government of the Province of Pennsylvania and the Native American tribes in the Ohio Country, including the Shawnee and Lenape.
Easton was an important military center during the American Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War, Easton had a military hospital. Easton was one of the first three places the Declaration of Independence was publicly read (along with Philadelphia and Trenton). It is claimed that the Easton flag was flown during that reading, making it one of the first "Stars and Stripes" to fly over the colonies. This flag, which is known to date to the War of 1812, currently serves as Easton's municipal flag.
Easton was a major commercial center during the canal and railroad periods of the 19th century, when it was a transportation hub for the steel industry. Three canals, the Delaware, the Lehigh, and the Morris, served to connect the coal regions to the north and west, the iron works to the west, the commercial port of Philadelphia to the south, and the New York City area to the east via a connection with the Morris Canal across the Delaware River in Phillipsburg, New Jersey. When canal transportation was largely replaced by railroads, Easton was served by five railroads, and only lost its prominence in transportation with the rise of the automobile in the mid-20th century.
Like the Pennsylvania Dutch region to the southwest, Easton has a strong German heritage. The Pennsylvania Argus, a German-language newspaper, was published in Easton until 1917. As part of their heritage, the Germans put up one of the continent's earliest Christmas trees in Easton; Daniel Foley's book states that "Another diary reference unearthed recently makes mention of a tree set-up at Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1816." There is a plaque in Scott Park (along the Delaware River) commemorating this event.
Historians of angling believe that Samuel Phillipe, an Easton gunsmith, invented the six-strip split-cane Bamboo fly rod. A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission plaque near Center Square commemorates this event.