GET THE HISTORY

Museums and Tours

Get Downtown and Experience Bethlehem

Museums and Tours

Get The Past

Take a step back in time and explore Bethlehem’s 20 historic sites and 18th-century architecture. A National Historic Landmark District, Bethlehem boasts a history rich in culture and tradition.

Bethlehem’s Moravian History

In 1741, a small group of Moravians settled on the banks of the Lehigh River near the Monocacy Creek. They represented what is now recognized as the oldest organized Protestant denomination in the world, the Unitas Fratrum, or Unity of the Brethren, founded in 1457 by followers of John Hus, a Roman Catholic priest who had tried to reform the Catholic Church. Hus was burned at the stake for his beliefs a full 100 years before Martin Luther’s Reformation. His followers called themselves Moravians because many of the original founders came from the provinces of Moravia and Bohemia in central Europe, in what is now the Czech Republic.

On Christmas Eve of that first year, the Moravians’ patron, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf of Saxony, Germany, visited the new settlement. In a two-room log home that housed both man and beast, the Count christened the community “Bethlehem.”

By 1747, thirty-six different trades and industries exported their wares from Bethlehem throughout the colonies. In the days of the American Revolution, our nation’s leaders, including George Washington, Samuel Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette, met, ate and slept in Bethlehem. By 1845, the more than 1,000 inhabitants voted to incorporate the village into a free borough in the County of Northampton.

In 1937, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, mindful of Bethlehem’s first Christmas in 1741, declared – “Why not make Bethlehem, named at Christmas, the Christmas City for the entire country.” Thus, since 1937, Bethlehem of Pennsylvania has been known throughout the world as Christmas City USA.

From its humble beginnings as a Moravian settlement to its modern status as the heart of the thriving Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem has carefully preserved its past. It is a city that shines as brightly as its huge electrical star atop South Mountain. The Moravian influence remains strong, but many more traditions from many lands have joined in making the city a “melting pot” of cultures.

Bethlehem Steel Helped Shape the City’s Future

Across the Lehigh River, a short distance from Downtown Bethlehem, is the remains of the once vibrant Bethlehem Steel plant. For more than a century, Bethlehem Steel was the city’s economic lifeblood, employing tens of thousands of people. The plant produced the steel that built America’s skyscrapers, bridges and warships. It provided the steel needed to help the U.S. and its allies win two World Wars.
In 1995, Bethlehem Steel closed its doors in Bethlehem, leaving the region with a void that seemed impossible to fill. Rather than demolish the historic mill, community leaders worked to repurpose the steel plant facilities into an entertainment district unlike any other.

Through partnership with the City of Bethlehem, the nonprofit ArtsQuest, the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, local PBS TV Station WLVT-39 and Sands BethWorks Retail LLC, the site was transformed into an arts and entertainment destination that showcases music, art, festivals (including Musikfest), educational providing and community events. More than $70 million was invested into what is now the SteelStacks project through state and federal grants and corporate and private donors. Today, the former steel plant buzzes with activity, including guided tours of the history of Bethlehem Steel on the Hoover Mason Trestle, which rises above the mill.

Get More on a Tour

To learn more about Historic Bethlehem, call 1-800-360-8687 or stop at the Bethlehem Visitor Center at 505 Main Street is recommended. There, you can learn about current exhibits, museum sites and Historic District tours.

Bethlehem also has a Visitor Center at SteelStacks, located at 711 E. First Street on Bethlehem Southside.

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites

Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites proudly preserves 20 historic sites, working tirelessly to restore, educate, and learn all we can about these beautiful buildings and their storied pasts. Learn about our historic sites here and then experience them for yourself with a Pass into History.

Historic Moravian Bethlehem was designated a National Historic Landmark District, one of only eight in Pennsylvania and one of only about 200 in the entire United States, on October 17, 2012 and preserves two National Historic Landmarks, 1741 Gemeinhaus and 1762 Waterworks.

PARTNERS

Tavern at the Sun Inn

Taverns were a center of daily life in colonial times. Tavern at the Sun Inn continues in this tradition offering a Colonial-inspired seasonal food and beverage menu in a truly unique gathering spot that is perfect for a casual meal or drink or any special dinner or event.

1750 Smithy

Blacksmithing was one of the most important trades in Colonial America, since smiths made or repaired tools, kitchen utensils, weapons, agricultural implements, and household items.

1761 Tannery

The Tannery was constructed in 1761 and resides in the Colonial Industrial Quarter next to the butchery to tan hides into leather.

1869 Luckenbach Mill

The 1869 Luckenbach Mill, located within the Colonial Industrial Quarter was built in a few months on the foundations of the earlier 1751 Grist Mill, which was destroyed by fire in 1869.

Apothecary

The 1752 Apothecary laboratory is located just behind the Moravian Book Shop off Main Street. In 1743, within two years of the settlement of Bethlehem, an apothecary was opened in the Gemeinhaus.

Burnside Plantation

Bethlehem’s Farm in the City is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Burnside Plantation lies along the Monocacy Creek, six-tenths of a mile north of the Colonial Industrial Quarter, America’s first industrial park. 

Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites proudly preserves 20 historic sites, working tirelessly to restore, educate, and learn all we can about these beautiful buildings and their storied pasts.

Historic Bethlehem Visitor Center

The Historic Bethlehem Visitor Center is the place to start your visit to Bethlehem and order tour tickets, gather information, and shop in the museum store. 

Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts and the New Collections Resource Center

Discover Bethlehem’s artistic past by ambling through the newly renovated Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts housed in three interconnected homes from the mid-1800s. 

Moravian Museum of Bethlehem

The Moravian Museum of Bethlehem introduces guests to the earliest history of the Bethlehem community.

Nain-Schober House

The 1758/1765 Nain-Schober House is, according to the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Commission, the only extant 18th century building that was built by and lived in by Native Peoples in Eastern Pennsylvania.

Single Sisters’ House

The first section of the Single Sisters’ House was constructed in 1744 parallel to the Gemeinhaus along the limestone bluff and facing south.

Sun Inn Preservation Association

Located on Main Street in Historic Downtown Bethlehem, the Sun Inn is a restoration of a 1758 building which functioned as an inn in Bethlehem from 1760 to the late 1960s. Home of the Tavern at the Sun Inn.

Waterworks

The 1762 Waterworks, recognized as a National Historic Landmark, Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and an American Water Landmark, was the first pumped municipal water system in America. 

To learn more about the Downtown Bethlehem Association