Historic Bethlehem Pennsylvania of Lehigh Valley
Video released on: October 4, 2011
Welcome to this episode of Lehigh Valley Visions. Today we’re in historic downtown Bethlehem for a little Moravian history, shopping, dining, and fun.
We’re starting our tour here in the Visitor’s Center on Main Street where you can pick up brochures on local attractions and events, get your questions answered, and also do a little shopping. Let’s get started.
The history of Bethlehem begins with the Moravians who founded the city and gave it its name on Christmas Eve in 1741. The industrious and hard working Moravians hailed from Central Europe, and they built several pre-Industrial Revolution structures that are still standing today and can be toured.
The Colonial Industrial Quarter is located along the Monocacy Creek and features several manufacturing buildings including the 1761 tannery and the 1869 Luckenbach mill with its hands on educational displays. The 1762 water works was America’s first pumped town water system and is today a National Historic Landmark.
The reconstructed 1750 smithy offers live demonstrations of metalworking by a blacksmith. He works at the forge and hearth to form molten metal into various shapes to make tools and more. The blacksmith also shares stories of what life was like on the colonial frontier because, as you can see, back then do it yourself really meant do it yourself.
The historic sites continue on Main Street with the 1810 Goundie House which was built by the town’s brewer and community leader John Sebastian Goundie. Today, it houses changing exhibits.
The Moravian Museum is located in the 1741 Gemeinhaus and is the oldest building in Bethlehem and also a National Historic Landmark. It served as home, school, church, and workplace to the Moravians and is one of the largest 18th century log structures in the country. Today, it houses 12 rooms of exhibits on Moravian life, culture, and industry.
Right around the corner from the Moravian Museum on New Street is the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. Its range of collections include furniture, glassware, paintings, and Pennsylvania decorative arts. It’s especially known for the Elizabeth Johnston Prime dollhouse and toy collection with 30 antique dollhouses from 1820 to 1930.
And, the Waldorf Astoria has nothing on this place – the 1758 Sun Inn. Presidents, heads of state, and socialites stayed here including George Washington, John Hancock, John Adams, Martha Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette. While no longer an inn, the site is open for special events, however it’s rumored to be haunted and ghost tours are occasionally offered.
Today, visitors can stay at the historic Hotel Bethlehem. It was built in 1922, when Bethlehem Steel was an industrial powerhouse, at the direction of Charles M. Schwab who was president of Bethlehem Steel and wanted a place for guests to stay. It features 128 restored guest rooms, a restaurant and lounge, and space for meetings and events.
Across the street from the hotel is the Central Moravian Church. The more than 200-year-old building is known for its traditional Lovefeast, Christmas Vespers service, and concerts in the belfry with a trombone choir and ringing church bells. On the second Tuesday of each month, the church hosts the Bach Choir of Bethlehem’s Bach at Noon performances which are free to the public.
Just a few more steps down the street is the campus of Moravian College, the sixth oldest college in the United States. It has two campuses in Bethlehem, one mile apart from each other which is known as the Moravian Mile. It offers more than 50 majors and courses of study to its 1600 students who are proud Greyhounds.
See that over there atop South Mountain? It’s the Star of Bethlehem. The electric star was erected in the 1930s and is 81 feet high with 246 light bulbs. It is lit year round in the evening and can be seen for many miles.
You can purchase your very own star of Bethlehem or Moravian star here at the Moravian Bookshop. It’s the oldest continuously operating bookshop in the United States, and it’s proud to be an independent retailer to this day. But, it sells much more than books. There are also home decor items, jewelry, clothing, and a Christmas shop.
Donegal Square features Celtic imports from Ireland and the British Isles. It even has an Irish themed tea room in the back. Other shops sell everything from high fashion clothing and artistic jewelry to handmade chocolates and even gifts for your pet.
Downtown Bethlehem is the perfect place for eating since it has become well known for its restaurant row among Main and Broad streets. A culinary walking tour offers everything from tapas, Italian cuisine, and burgers to seafood, sushi, and omelettes at one of the many dining spots that dot the downtown landscape.
Now that the tour is coming to an end, I thought I’d stop here for a beer at Bethlehem Brewers. I guess you could say that means I’m drinking on the job. Please don’t tell on me. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of Bethlehem, seeing its history and what it’s become today. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of Lehigh Valley Visions. Cheers!