In 1741 a small band of Moravian missionaries representing the Unitas Fratrum, founded in 1457 by followers of John Hus and now recognized as the oldest organized Protestant denomination in the world, walked into the wilderness and began a settlement on the banks of the Lehigh River near the Monocacy Creek. From the start it was to be a planned community in which property, privacy and personal relationships were to be subordinated to a common effort to achieve a spiritual ideal. On Christmas Eve of that first year the Moravians’ patron, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf of Saxony, Germany, visited the new settlement. Over dinner, the Count christened the community “Bethlehem” to commemorate his visit.

To encourage communal living the Moravians built large Germanic-style structures of native limestone known as “choirs.” Choirs were organized by gender and age and marital status so there were choirs for single men, married couples, little girls and so on. Some of these sturdy structures, among the most impressive buildings constructed in pre-Revolutionary America, have been in continuous use for over 250 years. The self-sufficient community wasted no time in building industry - more than three dozen trades and mills were in operation within five years. Goods from Bethlehem were known throughout the American colonies.

This heritage of manufacturing braced Bethlehem perfectly for the oncoming Industrial Revolution. When the Lehigh Canal opened in 1829, quickly followed by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Bethlehem became a nationally known center of heavy industry. The zinc industry was centered here and iron companies were established by the 1850s. Through the building of government ordnance the Bethlehem Iron Works and then Bethlehem Steel Company were supplying war efforts around the globe.

Much of the face of present-day Bethlehem dates back to 1904 and the arrival in town of 42-year old Charles Michael Schwab. At age 39 Schwab was president of the biggest company in the world, United States Steel Corp. But after personality conflicts there, he left to take over and remake Bethlehem Steel Company and began pushing for a new type of wide-flange steel beam that required building an entire new mill. The H-beam and its descendent, the I-beam, would revolutionize the construction trade and make Bethlehem Steel the second largest steel company in the world.

Away from the office Schwab united the city from four fractious municipalities. He filled the surrounding neighborhoods with Bethlehem Steel employees and spurred the building of landmark neighborhoods such at Mt. Airy, where many of his executives set up camp. Our walking tour will focus on the streets and buildings of the Moravian community in historic central Bethlehem but, before that, we will start at one building that stands as a legacy to Charles M. Schwab and the halcyon days of Bethlehem Steel... 

Hotel Bethlehem
437 Main Street 

The hotel rests on the site ofthe famous “First House of Bethlehem” built in 1741 by missioning Moravians in the wilderness. Here on December 24th of 1741, the Moravians' patron, Count Nicholas Von Zinzendorf, sang a hymn about Bethlehem, after which those gathered decided to name the town Bethlehem. The “Golden Eagle Hotel” operated here from 1794 to April of 1919; in it’s last days it was used for soldiers returning from World War I as a convalescence home. In 1922 Charles Schwab created the Hotel Bethlehem so his Bethlehem Steel clients could stay at a classier place than the Colonial-era Sun Inn. Military artist George Gray painted a series of murals for the hotel that depict the history of Bethlehem. 


Colonial Industrial Quarter
Old York Road, west of Main Street 

Among the earliest of urban planners, the Moravians sited their heavy industry along the Monocacy Creek. By 1745 there were 35 industries humming in Bethlehem, the remains of several that are preserved in the Colonial Industrial Quarter. The oldest is the Tannery, from 1761, where over 3,000 animal hides were processed each year into leather for shoes, harnesses and belts for machinery. Also in the complex is the Luckenbach Mill, a descendent of a wooden 1743 flour mill. That mill was replaced with a limestone model in 175 that was gutted by fire in 1869. The third mill was this brick one that operated well into the 1900s and was restored to working order in 1982. Of particular note is a small limestone building that functioned as a waterworks for the community beginning in 1762. It was, in fact the first pumped municipal water system in the American colonies and would not be duplicated elsewhere for another 35 years. An undershot waterwheel powered three pumps, forcing spring water uphill into a collecting tower where Central Moravian Church now stands. From here it flowed into cisterns and then into individual houses and shops. The restored Waterworks is a National Historic Landmark.

Central Moravian Church
73 West Church Street at Main Street 

By 1802 there had been agitation for a larger church in the Moravian community for a good twenty years. Finally the church Council received a unanimous vote to proceed but then disagreement arose over the location. This location, which necessitated the clearing of two log buildings, was the compromise choice. Construction began with the building of massive six-foot thick foundation walls on April 16, 1803. This enabled the sanctuary to be completely free of interior pillars normally necessary to support the roof and belfry. When the building was completed in 1806 the Moravians had the biggest church in Pennsylvania. The final cost of $52,000 well exceeded the $11,000 estimated when the plans were approved. It was capable of seating 1,500 at a time when the total population of Bethlehem numbered 580, the better to reach out to the growing and expanding community.

Brethren’s House
south side of Church Street at Main Street

Believing that men and women had different religious needs, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf in 1736 organized the Moravian community around groups of members known as “Choirs.” Age, gender, and marital status determined what Choir a person would live in, and each group provided spiritual and social guidance to its own. When children reached eighteen months of age, their parents sent them to the communal Nursery. At four they moved to either the Little Boys’ or Little Girls’ Choir. At age twelve, they joined the Older Boys’ or Older’ Girls’ Choir and at nineteen they moved into either the Single Brothers’ or Single Sisters’ Choir. Married members became part of the Married People’s Choir and when a spouse died, the surviving spouse joined the either Widows’ or Widowers’ Choir. The “Brethren’s House” housed the community’s single men. Because of the variety of skills brought to the community by this group they required an unusually imposing building. The workshops of the tailor and shoemaker were located here as was the silkworm industry and bell foundry. The Moravian bakery operated in this 1748 building. Twice during the Revolutionary War, the building became an official hospital of the Continental Army. Casualties were brought to Bethlehem from both the New York and Philadelphia areas but few returned - the mortality rate was nearly 50 percent. General Washington was entertained here in 1782 in what is now called the Washington Room. Restored to its original appearance, without change to the original walls, Brethren’s House is home to the Moravian College Music Department.


Main Hall
north side of Church Street, east of Brethren’s House 

This handsome four-story Greek Revival brick building was constructed in 1854 to house the growing number of students enrolled in the Moravian Female Seminary. It remains a a women’s residence, featuring original double parlors with paintings by early College art master Gustavus Grunewald. It was one of the first Bethlehem buildings lighted by gas. Organist, composer and conductor John Frederick Wolle was born in Main Hall in 1863 and raised here. He founded the Bethlehem Bach Festival and conducted the Bach Choir of Bethlehem. The choir sang the first complete American presentation of Bach’s Mass in B Minor in the Central Moravian Church in 1900, an occasion that landed the church on the list of National Landmarks of Music.

Moravian College President’s House
north side of Church Street, east of Main Hall

This Federal brick home, a single story when built in 1819, was the home of John F. Frueauff, ninth principal of the Moravian Female Seminary. It received a Victorian second story but was lassoed back to its original appearance in 1961 and today is the residence of the college president. 


Old Chapel
west side of Heckewelder Place 

This was Bethlehem’s second place of worship after the congregation outgrew the Gemeinhaus chapel in 1752. Services were held on the second floor and the ground floor contained a large tiled dining hall. The Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington bowed their heads here during the Revolutionary War. The stone structure was renovated to its present appearance back in the 1860s. Today it is used for special events.

Nain-Schober House
429 Heckewelder Street 

This is the last remaining home from the American Indian mission village of Nain which existed from 1758 to 1765 in the vicinity of 12th and 13th avenues in West Bethlehem. The house was originally built around 1758 by Moravian missionaries with the help of American Indians. It was a log structure with a wood-shingled roof. In 1765 the home was sold to Andreas Schober, a Bethlehem Moravian, who moved the house up the street. In 1906 it was moved to this location. The current metal panel siding is temporarily protecting the building as it is being restored. John Heckewelder, famous Moravian missionary and writer, moved to this alley in 1810 at the age of 61. Heckewelder, who was appointed the first United States commissioner to the Indians in the Ohio territory by George Washington, traveled over 30,000 miles to spread the Moravian word. His house in the middle of the block still stands although it has been completely altered.


66 West Church Street 

Erected in 1741, the Gemeinhaus is the oldest structure in Bethlehem. The massive building served as a school, house of worship (the Saal on the second floor was the place of earliest worship in Bethlehem), and a workspace for the growing Moravian community. Inside the frame cladding the building is constructed of logs, probably the largest log structure in continuous use in the United States, today as the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem. 

Bell House
north side of Church Street, set back, west of Gemeinhaus

When it was built in 1746 this was the residence for Bethlehem’s married couples but was quickly expanded and turned over to the Moravian Seminary for Girls. The present bell, still in use, was cast in Bethlehem in 1776 by Matthias Tommerup. The turret housed the first town clock back in 1746; the weathervane is the church seal in metal.

Sisters’ House
56 West Church Street 

This stone building was originally erected in 1744 as the Brothers’ House for single men but was turned over to the single women in 1748. Here the sisters had dormitories, a chapel, a dining room and kitchen, and a workshop area for crafts. Buttresses were added in 1756 to support walls weakened by the weight of the original tile roof.

Widows’ House
south side of Church Street, across from Bell House 

This was the last of the choirs, or residence halls, built by the Moravians. It was erected on the site of a large congregational garden in 1768 for 30 widows who moved into the community from Nazareth.  

Clewell Hall
southwest corner of Church Street and New Street

This brick Second Empire-influenced house was built in 1870 and eventually acquiredthe name of John H. Clewell, a college president in the early 1900s. The building is now a 21-room dormitory.

City Center
south side of Church Street at New Street

City Center was developed of granite and quartzite in 1967 and contains civic buildings, the Town Hall rotunda and town library. The Symbol of Progress  is 60 feet high and weighs 12,000 pounds. Joseph Greenberg of Philadelphia designed the sculpture to be representative of the diversity of Bethlehem’s people welded in the pursuit of progress. It is made of Bethlehem Mayari-R Steel. Also in the plaza, on the west side of the library, is a Japanese garden that was a gift to Bethlehem from its sister city in the Land of the Rising Sun, Tondabayashi.


Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts
427 North New Street 

The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts uses period rooms to showcase nearly three-hundred years of folk art, furnishings and paintings. Its unique collection of cast-iron toys, maps, prints, and textiles open a window into the past. Incorporated in 1954, the museum set up in this stylish Federal brick home in 1969.


Bernard Lehman House
northwest corner of Market Street and New Street

This Italianate-flavored house was built by Bernard Lehman, whose father Ernest started a brass foundry in a building behind his house in 1832. When he moved the shop and foundry to South Bethlehem in 1864 it triggered the coming industrialization of the community. 

Devey Building
11 West Market Street

These walls have seen a bit of everything since its construction in the 1850s. Charles Schwab purchased it to house the Bethlehem Steel company band. It later became the town library and for a short time housed the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce. It now serves the Moravian Academy as their middle school. 

God’s Acre
south side of Market Street

The Moravian cemetery was laid out in 1742; the flat stones indicate that all were equal in death as they were in life. One of the 56 Indians buried here was a Mohican named Tschoop, popularly thought to have been the character of Uncas popularized in James Fenimore cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. The graves along the fence were known as Stranger’s Row, reserved for non-Moravians. 

Horsfield House
42 West Market Street

Timothy Horsfield constructed this stone house in 1749 and a few years later built an addition to the west end that was the first store in Bethlehem. The inventory included over 200 items, most of which were made by townsfolk. The store addition was demolished in 1890.  


Sun Inn
564 Main Street 

John Adams called the Sun Inn, the best Inn I ever saw.” Opened in the Colonial crossroads town of Bethlehem in 1760, the Sun was the official “Gasthaus” for travelers to the Moravian community. With its widely established reputation for hospitality, superior accommodations and fine food the guest book at the Sun Inn reads like a Who’s Who of the Founding Fathers. A full second story was added in 1826 and the hostelry operated as the Sun Hotel into the middle of the 20th century. In 1975 the building was acquired by the Sun Inn Preservation Association and restored to its original interior and exterior appearance and opened for tours in 1982.


Goundie House
501 Main Street

Dating to 1810, this Federal-style house is considered the oldest brick structure in Bethlehem. John Sebastian Goundie was a brewmaster and businessman who served the community as mayor and fire-inspector. 

Temperance Fountain
Main Street at head of Market Street

Water fountains like this one were donated to towns around America by temperance groups in the hope that access to cool drinking water would keep people from consuming alcohol.