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Bethlehem City

City municipal offices are located at 10 East Church Street, Bethlehem PA 18018; phone: 865-7000.

Homes in the Elmwood Park Historic District, Bethlehem, PA, National Register

Photo: The Gemeinhaus is the oldest building in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It is a log building, constructed to house married couples of the Moravian community that founded Bethlehem. It is also notable as the residence of botanist Lewis David de Schweinitz, and presently houses the Moravian Museum. The Elmwood Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Photographed by User: Pubdog (own work), 2011, [cc-by-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed December, 2017.

The city is located partly in Northampton and partly in Lehigh County.

Beginnings [1]

On the Lehigh River, connected with South Bethlehem by two bridges. From a hill in South Bethlehem there is a wide view from Delaware Water Gap to the Blue Ridge. South of Bethlehem, near Hellertown, is Lost Cave.

In 1741 a company of Moravians from Bohemia and Saxony, under the leadership of David Zeisberger, arrived here and built the first log cabin, a community dwelling house. It was finished just before Christmas Eve, and on that day the second party arrived, among whom was Count von Zinzendorf, Bishop of the Moravian Church. Immediately they began the erection of the large stone buildings, of European architecture, which are still standing.

The Bach Festival, held annually late in May, is a development of the Moravian "service of song" started by Zinzendorf in 1742. It is one of the outstanding musical events of the country, attracting music lovers from far-away points. Bethlehem is famous for its great iron and steel plants. Of interest:

  • Lehigh University, with one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country.
  • Sayre Park, adjacent to Lehigh University, containing a rock resembling a profile of George Washington.
  • Moravian Seminary, Main and Church Sts., the first girls' boarding school in America, was founded in Germantown in 1742 by the Countess Benigna Zinzendorf. After less than a year it was moved into the Bell House in Bethlehem where it remained until 1791. The school then moved into the old Brethren's House across the street. This building is now known as Colonial Hall and forms the central section of the present Moravian Seminary and College for Women. During the Revolutionary War Colonial Hall was twice appropriated to be the general hospital of the Continental Army. On December 3, 1776, wagonloads of wounded soldiers began to pour into Bethlehem from Morristown, New Jersey. At one time 700 were crowded into this little house. In 1761 a bell foundry was begun by one of the brethren in the cellar of this building. Here the liberty bells of Northampton and Lehigh Counties were cast. When the wagon carrying the Philadelphia Liberty bell from its hiding place in Allentown broke down, the bell was unloaded and repaired in this cellar. Interesting mementos may be seen by visitors. The surgical room of the Continental Hospital on the second floor has been endowed with funds for perpetual upkeep by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
  • Bell House, Church St., was built in 1745. It is an early Saxon type with dormer windows characteristic of Moravian architecture. Its weather vane, of a symbolic lamb and banner design, is as old as the building. The bell in its turret was cast in the cellar of the old Brethren's House and for 100 years was rung only by women. At present it is used as a school bell for the Moravian Preparatory School.
  • Moravian Church, Main and Church Sts., consists of the Old Chapel, built in 1751, and the large turreted construction to its south, which was consecrated in 1806. Outstanding characters of the French and Indian Wars have worshipped in this Chapel Lafayette, Washington, Greene, Von Steuben, Pulaski, John Adams, and Hancock are among the names recorded. The chapel is used today for weekday services. The larger building is an unusual combination of early Saxon and Colonial architecture. It was constructed at a time when Bethlehem's entire population was less than 700 and was the largest building in Pennsylvania. Although it has since been remodeled several times, its dimensions have never been changed.
  • Trombone Choir. The Moravian Church maintains a choir of trombonists to announce deaths in the congregation or to usher in the church festivals by playing appropriate chorales. These chorales are played from the belfry of the historic old church. The choir has been a tradition since 1754. It owns a complete set of slide trombones, including the very rare soprano and F-bass trombones. These two instruments are not to be found in any other place in America. On Easter morning, this choir journeys throughout the city, calling people to the early morning service in the central church by playing chorales appropriate to the Resurrection. After a brief liturgical service in the church, the congregation assembles in the old Moravian Cemetery, where the choir again leads the singing of inspiring chorales.
  • Sister's House, Church St., was built in 1742 and used originally as a Brethren's House. A western wing was added in 1752 and a wing to the east in 1773. It is now an apartment for women. The sundial doors and 24-inch walls show the architecture of Saxony. The first floor is laid with square tiles brought to America as ballast on one of the first Moravian ships.
  • Widow's House, Church St., was built in 1778 with an eastern wing added 17 years later. It is now an apartment house for Moravian women. Visitors are welcome. Oak floorboards in the original structure measure 16 and 18 inches, and the entire third floor is pegged together. Examples of "H", "L", and trefoil hinges and hand-turned nails can be seen. At the stairway the third bell forged in the cellar of the Brethren's House hangs and is still rung to announce the arrival of mail.
  • Moravian Cemetery, Market and New Sts. In it are buried bishops of the church, Indians, missionaries, teachers, soldiers, generals of the Revolution and private citizens. The markers are identical in their simplicity. The first grave was dug in 1742.
  • Schnitz House, Church Str., is a small plaster cottage at the rear and east of the Bell House. It is notable as an example of early Moravian architecture. It acquired its name when the Sisters and Brethren gathered there annually to prepare the village supply of schnitz (dried apples).
  • First Pharmacy in America, 420 Main St., was founded by Dr. John Frederic Otto in 1745. It has been in continuous operation ever since.
  • First House in Bethlehem was started February 4, 1741, and finished March 9, 1741. It was only one story in height and was 20x40 feet in dimensions. This sturdy cabin, built of logs, was covered with a steep pitched roof, and was divided into two rooms, the larger section used as a stable for the first cattle brought over by the settlers. It was in this house that the entire population gathered for worship. During the Moravian candle service on Christmas Eve in this humble dwelling Count Zinzendorf named the town Bethlehem The house was thoughtlessly torn down in 1823 to make room for stables at the rear of the Eagle Hotel A marker designates the site of the original house. On First Avenue may be seen a replica of the first house erected by the Bethlehem Chapter of the D. A. R.
  • First Fire Engine in America was brought to Bethlehem by Captain Jacobsen in 1763. It could send a stream of water 75 feet high and its flow was 78 gallons per minute. It is on exhibition at the Central Fire House, 45 E. Broad Street.
  • First Water Works were located back of what is now Hotel Bethlehem. A two-story building in the valley of Monocacy Creek marks the site of the first water works to be constructed in this country Water carriers were used until 1755. These men were officially appointed and carried the water in leather buckets suspended from long carrier poles borne across the shoulders. In 1754 Hans Christiansen, a Dane, commenced the erection of the first water works.
  • Old Sun Inn, Broad and Main Sts., was erected in 1758. It was licensed as an inn on June 17 1761, by King George III of England. Martha Washington was a guest of the inn in June, 1779, and later in 1782. General Washington, Lafayette, Franklin, and other distinguished patriots signed their names on registers which are still intact. The original building with its massive stone walls and big open rooms still stands on the same ground on which it was built. Some of the old benches, tables, chairs, wash-stands and beds which comprised the original furnishings are still in use and in good condition.
  • Rose Garden, 7th Avenue and Union Blvd., is one of the city's attractive parks. Others are Saucon Park, West Side Park, And Tank Park.
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