Nazareth Borough

Northampton County, Pennsylvania

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Nazareth Borough Hall is located at 30 Belvidere St, Nazareth PA 18064.
Phone: 610‑759‑0202.

Population forecast project that the year 2010 will find approximately 6,100 residents of the boro.

Significance of the Nazareth National Historic District [1]

The Nazareth Historic District is historically and architecturally significant during its Moravian period of development from the mid-eighteenth century to 1858, and during its post-Moravian period of evolution from 1859 to 1938. The district has importance in the areas of community planning, education and religion as one of the three principal, planned communities of Moravians in Pennsylvania, and as the main educational center for Moravian boys in the Commonwealth. The -. district is also important as an outstanding collection of Moravian architecture in Pennsylvania. The district has significance between 1859 and 1938 in the areas of architecture and commerce. Nazareth evolved into the main commercial center of central Northampton County during this second period of development, and gained the largest collection of period high style architecture in central Northampton County.

The Moravian settlement of Nazareth began inauspiciously. The colonial evangelist George Whitefield purchased the area within the district from the Penn family in 1740. Whitefield hoped to establish a school for orphaned blacks on the parcel known as the Ephrata Tract. He attracted a group of Moravians from Georgia to establish his school. However, after erecting a small cabin that still stands (now known as Gray Cottage) and beginning a stone school building, Whitefield and the Moravians split over an obscure theological issue, and Whitefield ordered the Moravians to leave his property in 1740. The Moravians moved out of Nazareth and established what would become their main Pennsylvania settlement in nearby Bethlehem. Only a year later it was a financially strapped Whitefield who left the Ephrata Tract. He sold his property to the Moravians, who re-established their settlement on the Ephrata Tract.

During the mid-eighteenth century Nazareth became one of the three principle Moravian settlements or "home congregations" in Pennsylvania. Home congregations were established to be the financial, administrative and spiritual bases for "pilgrim congregations" that would move into the wilderness to evangelize Indians. Bethlehem flourished as the primary Moravian trade and manufacturing center, and Lititz was begun in 1754 as a third home congregation in southeastern Pennsylvania. Nazareth expanded from the Ephrata Tract to the Nazareth Hall Tract when Nazareth Hall was constructed in 1755 -1756. Originally intended as an administrative center for the Moravian church, Nazareth Hall instead became the community's chapel and the home of a Moravian boys' school.

During the 1770s Nazareth expanded again to the area known as New Nazareth. New Nazareth was laid out in the shape of a cross with the two main streets in the settlement, Center and Main Streets, intersecting at a square. New Nazareth quickly became the commercial heart of the local Moravian community. Shops and houses continued to be built along Center and Main Streets into the early nineteenth century as the community gradually expanded.

The community that slowly grew in Nazareth was a carefully planned religious community. The Moravians were a pietistic German sect that wanted to establish communities ruled by God's law, and to evangelize the unconverted. The Moravians opened the community only to Moravian settlers. The congregation closely supervised every aspect of village life from birth until death, including religious, social and economic affairs. Children were sent for training to Moravian boys' or girls' schools, and members and Indian converts were buried in the Moravian cemetery in the northwest corner of the historic district. The congregation was divided into choirs of widows, widowers, married couples, unmarried men, unmarried women, boys and girls. Choirs were assigned to live in communal quarters such as the Single Sisters' House. During the first generation of settlement all members of the community pooled their labor for the common good of the congregation as part of the "General Economy." All land in Nazareth was owned by the church. This General Economy ended in 1764. Although the congregation continued to exercise strict control over the community's affairs, individual members were allowed to purchase land. During the 1770s members purchased land in New Nazareth and opened their own businesses, leading New Nazareth to become the commercial heart of the settlement.

Education also played a significant part in this planned religious community. Each choir had its own educational activities. The girls' choir had a school that opened in Bethlehem in 1742. During 1743 a school for the boys' choir was started at Gray Cottage. Although this school left Nazareth in 1745, it returned in 1758 and with the exception of a brief interlude during the American Revolution, it was an active part of Nazareth until it closed in 1929. The boys' school was located in Nazareth Hall after its return in 1758, and quickly gained a widespread reputation for its innovative curriculum which featured vocational as well as classical courses. It was the leading Moravian boys' school in Pennsylvania. In 1785 the school began accepting non-Moravian boys, and soon grew in size to occupy new buildings erected on the Nazareth Hall Tract. In 1819-1820 the Moravian Theological Seminary was founded and housed in the same complex of buildings. This institution was the only Moravian theological seminary and became a focal point of the denomination's activities. The seminary moved to Bethlehem in 1838, relocated to Nazareth in 1851, then returned permanently to Bethlehem in 1858.

The year 1858 marked an important turning point for the evolution of the Moravian congregation and Nazareth. Until the mid-nineteenth century Nazareth was open only to Moravian residents. However, by the 1840s Moravian inhabitants had begun to fall away from the strict religious conduct and exclusivity demanded by the church. Several members were cited during the mid-1840s for having dances and disturbances in violation of the church's rules. Members had also begun to marry non-Moravians, leading to requests by Moravians that they and their non-Moravian spouses be allowed to live in Nazareth. In 1845 the church compromised for the first time and granted these requests by special permission. The congregation also faced mounting debts as income from rental of church land declined. Compromises in church rules and a worsening financial plight led the congregation in 1856 to formally dissolve its rule over the community and to open the town to non-Moravian settlers. In 1858 Nazareth was incorporated as a borough. Nazareth was the last of the three major Moravian settlements in Pennsylvania to end Moravian government and adopt civil government. Today only the Moravians' buildings and cemetery are left to represent the planned religious community that governed residents' lives from cradle to grave.

Nazareth expanded greatly after 1858 as non-Moravians settled in town. From 1855 to 1880 the population swelled from just over 400 people to approximately 1,000 people. The population more than doubled again by 1900 when approximately 2,400 people lived in the borough. The population continued to grow through the early twentieth century reaching over 3,000 people by 1930. These new residents bought houses erected on streets laid out parallel to Center and Main Streets. By 1899 they had erected just over half of the contributing buildings in the historic district. Another third of the contributing buildings were constructed between 1900 and 1938.

This post-1858 population growth was spurred first by the opening of Nazareth to non-Moravians, and then by the advent of industries. One of the earliest industries that located in Nazareth was the C.F. Martin Company, a guitar manufacturer that built a factory on N. Main Street between North and High Streets in 1858-1859. Other small mills, including a planing mill, machine shop, and carriage factory opened in the borough during the 1860s and 1870s. The coming of the Delaware Lackawanna and Western Railroad in 1880 fostered the opening of two textile factories during the 1880s which brought more industrial workers to settle in town. The growth of the cement industry just outside the borough brought more residents to Nazareth. The Nazareth Cement Company built its first plant immediately outside Nazareth in 1898, followed by the Penn Dixie, Phoenix and Hercules Cement plants in the early twentieth century. A large proportion of the houses constructed within the historic district between 1900 and 1938 were built for cement plant workers. Nazareth continued to grow after 1938, particularly outside the boundaries of the proposed historic district, reaching a population of 5,800 by 1980.

Business opportunities also attracted new residents to Nazareth between 1858 and 1938. Indeed, Nazareth quickly became one of the largest, most important business centers in central Northampton County. Nazareth was located north of the much larger business centers of Bethlehem and Easton, which served the southern part of the county, and south of Bangor which served the northern section of the county. Through the late nineteenth century Nazareth was rivaled only by Bath as a business center in central Northampton County. In 1880 Nazareth had 124 people engaged in a wide variety of business that served the borough and surrounding towns, including tailors, blacksmiths, bakers, hardware dealers ,dry good merchants, watchmakers, lumber dealers, dressmakers, shoemakers, and carpenters. Bath, whose prosperity was based on nearby slate quarries, was the only other sizable business center in central Northampton County in 1880, when it had 115 people engaged in a similar variety of occupations. By 1900, however, Nazareth had grown to become the most important business center in central Northampton County. With its textile mills and first cement plant, Nazareth's population had already become much larger than Bath. Nazareth's businesses expanded to serve the rising population of textile and cement workers while Bath's growth slowed considerably by comparison. Nazareth remained the foremost commercial center in Northampton County through 1938.

Nazareth is also outstanding in central Northampton County for its large collection of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century high style architecture. No other collection of architecture in the central part of the county rivals Nazareth in terms of the numbers of high style buildings. Bath contains a much smaller number of high style homes from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. The great majority of buildings in Bath are small vernacular workers' homes that are generally two stories high, two to three bays wide, with gable roofs and simple wood trim. Other towns in central Northampton County have even fewer high style buildings than Bath contains. The only collections of high style architecture that rival or exceed Nazareth in terms of numbers of buildings appear in cities at the edges of Northampton County. Bangor has a sizable collection of high style commercial and residential buildings dating from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries scattered through the city. Easton and Bethlehem have considerably larger collections of such commercial and residential architecture, including the Easton Historic District, and the Fountain Hill Historic District in Bethlehem, both of which have been listed on the National Register.

Nazareth also contains one of the state's premier collections of Moravian architecture. Only Bethlehem rivals Nazareth in terms of the numbers of large communal buildings built by the Moravians. As in Nazareth, the large communal buildings with their massive stone wall s stand out on the streets of central Bethlehem. These Bethlehem buildings include the 1748 Brethren's House, built in 1748 at 89 W. Church Street, the 1744 Sisters' House at 44 W. Church Street, and the 1768 Widows' House at 53 W. Church Street. Bethlehem is also the state's only Moravian community that rivals Nazareth in terms of the number of smaller Moravian single family homes and shops. Smaller buildings found in Bethlehem include the 1749 Horsfield House at 42 W. Market Street, a 1764 house at 67 W. Market Street, and the Boeckel House and Store at 446-448 Main Street. Lititz, which once was a major Moravian community, today contains fewer small Moravian buildings, and far fewer large communal buildings than Nazareth has.

Thus the Nazareth Historic District is an outstanding representative of the Commonweal thIs architecturally and historically important Moravian heritage. This historic district also has importance in central Northampton County for its high style architecture and its commercial role during the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.

  1. National Register of Historic Places,i>Nazareth Historic District: Nomination Document, 1988, excerpt,

Nearby Towns: Bath Boro • Bethlehem Twp • Bushkill Twp • Chapman Boro • Easton City • Forks Twp • Glendon Boro • Hanover Twp • Lower Nazareth Twp • Palmer Twp • Plainfield Twp • Stockertown Borough • Tatamy Boro • Upper Nazareth Twp • West Easton Boro • Wilson Boro •

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