Bethlehem’s Rich Local History Revisited

Bethlehem in Pennsylvania is located right at the center of the Lehigh Valley region. The same region is shared by other towns and cities in the state, most notably Allentown and Easton. Although not as big as Allentown, Bethlehem is the region’s second most populous city. Along with it comes a rich history of settlement and industry.

The city’s local history started long before the arrival of Europeans. In fact, the areas surrounding Delaware River and in eastern Pennsylvania has been inhabited by different indigenous cultures and people.

The establishment of the city came to light on Christmas Eve, in the year 1741. A small group of Moravians led by Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf and David Nitschmann arrived and founded the mission community which they called as Bethlehem. The exact location was along the banks of the Monocacy Creek, part of the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania. The purpose of the community was to build missionary communities among the Native Americans and the Christians who spoke German. The settlement was named after the town of Bethlehem in Judea – the same place considered as the birthplace of Jesus.

The Building of a City and Industry

It was in 1762 when Bethlehem as a community built the first ever waterworks in America, the purpose of which was to pump water intended for public consumption. Having achieved a rather quick development, the community eventually was incorporated into a free borough in the Northampton County by 1845.

Bethlehem Steel

Meanwhile, during the industrial revolution, Bethlehem saw itself as the main hub of heavy industry. At that time, the newly established Bethlehem Steel Corporation became the second largest steel producer in the entire United States. It also had the distinction of being one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world. The same company became a major supplier of armor plate as well as ordnance products for both world wars. The company was able to manufacturer more than one thousand warships for America during the war.

Historical Sites

Just like many cities and towns in Pennsylvania and in the Lehigh Valley region, Bethlehem is home to many historic sites, left behind by its rich history of settlement, migration, and merging of cultures. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:

Waterworks – The 1762 Waterworks still standing today is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. As said earlier, it is the very first pumped municipal water system in the U.S.

1761 Tannery – Constructed in 1761, the Tannery is found at the Colonial Industrial Quarter, sitting next to the butchery. The purpose of the establishment was to tan hides to make leather. The old Moravian tanners were able to produce three thousand hides a year.

Moravian Museum – The Moravian Museum meanwhile is one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting Bethlehem. It houses a comprehensive collection of the earliest history of the Bethlehem community, including stories about the founders, Moravian medicinal practices, different cultures, food, and others.

Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts – Another museum which serves as an attraction and a historical collection at the same time is the Museum of Decorative Arts. There are several features including activities, programs, and exhibits intended for young and old alike.

As you can see, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is rich with history and historical destinations.