The Moravians and The Steel

Bethlehem Travel Blog

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Victorian storefront

Today the plan was  to see the historical sights of Bethlehem. First on the agenda was the Christmas Putz--the local Christmas Story or Nativty display tradition. Before that, though was the complimentary breakfast at the hotel.  As we sat in the breakfast room, we noted there were a number of children, moms, and other people about all in a group. One wore an "Annie National Tour" denim jacket. That gave it away. We were in the midst of the national touring cast of the musical Annie. In fact, their tour bus was at the hotel entrance. They had just performed the previous evening at the National Theatre in neighboring Easton, PA.

Eliza Richardson water fountain
Well, that would be something to tell Julia about! Maybe be she'll be with a road tour one day. (Though the tech crew and their bus had already hit the road by then for the next performance venue.)

Driving downtown, we parked again at the convenient public gararge on Walnut Street and retraced our steps to the Central Moravian Church grounds. It was just about 10:30 a.m. and, with Christmas Putz presentations beginning on the half hour, we hurried to the Education Building to see the display. A Moravian Putz is a decorated model or diorama depicting the Biblical events surrounding the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. (Putz comes from the German root putzen meaning to clean or decorate.) For this public Putz display, church members annually collect moss and other natural materials from the Pocono Mountains to form the scenery.

Bethlehem Visitor Center
Some of the rocks and driftwood used in the landscaped scenes have been in use for 100 years. Handcarved wooden figures, many antique, are used to illustrate the story. 

The presentation is in a small auditorium. A narrator tells first the story of making the Putz and Putz traditions.  (Families may also have their own Putzs at home and a local tradition is to go from house to house to view everyone's display.) Putzs came with the Moravians, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1741. They were used to instruct members of the congregation about the story of Jesus' birth. The presentation switched to a recorded narrative of the Christmas Story itself, with different members of the church taking the different roles. The corresponding figures and scenes on the Putz are illuminated along with the telling of the story.

Pilgrim water fountain

After seeing the Putz, we went to the Moravian Musuem to learn more about the community that had founded Bethlehem. Along the way, we saw the Moravian Cemetery. The cemetery dates to the 1740s. One thing I noted was that all of the gravestones were flat, as in a modern cemetery. (Eighteenth century cemeteries in Virginia have above-ground monuments) We later learned that Count Zinzendorf had felt this arrangement would show that no on one in the community was higher than anyone else. Another unusual feaure of this cemetery was that burials were by "choir". That is, burials were by men, women, boys, and girls (and there were a lot of children) together by social group rather than by family. The communial lifestyle of the early Moravians continued on to the cemetery.

Public School water fountain

The museum is in the Gemeinhaus, the oldest structure in Bethlehem, begun in 1741.  (Bethlehem likes to remind visitors that it has more original 18 cenrtuy structures than does Colonial Williamsburg.) The Gemeinhaus was the early communial living and worship center for the community. (The Moravian Church originated with the followers of Jan Hus in 15th century Bohemia. Moravians came to the Pennsylvania colony in 1740, by way of Saxony and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. A very interesting story of a very progressive denomination.) Nearby are additional structures that were added as the community grew. The Sister's House housed the women and girls, the Brother's House the men and boys. The Old Chapel was the first freestanding church building as worship services moved out the Geminhaus.

Clergy House/Apothecary (now part of the Moravian Book Shop)

We wanted to see the interior of the Central Moravian Church with its large Moravian Star. It's right next door to the Gemeinhaus. As we approached the rear doors, a woman came out. Susan asked her if the church was open. No, she replied. But, she quickly added, if we wanted to see inside she would unlock the door for us. Just lock it on our way out, she asked. Another very nice example of Bethlehem's hospitality towards strangers!

As we made our way back along Main Street, we stopped at the Moravian Book Shop. The Moravians were very interested in promoting literacy and the boosktore is said to be the oldest in the world still in operation.

Next to the Visitor Center is the Goundie House.

Pharmacy historical marker
Bethlehem's brewmaster, John Sebastian Goundie, built the Federal style brick house in 1810. There are exhibits here on the history of beermaking in Bethlehem. (The Moravians, originally from Central Europe, liked their beer and brought  a tradition of beermaking with them. They did not understand why the 19th century Temperance Movement sought to ban beer along with distilled spirits.) The tradition continues today, for we had lunch at Bethlehem Brew Works restaurant, with a microbrewery on site

After lunch, Susan and I decided it was time to conclude our tour and think about returning home. But, we needed to first visit "The Steel" we had heard so much about. A drive across Fahy Bridge and the Lehigh River took us to South Bethlehem.

Moravian historical marker
This was a very different community. It is beginning to be revived, but is not so quaint as downtown. It defintely had been the working class neighborhood, literally on the "other side of the tracks". The Bethlehm Steel mill absolutely dominates the landscape as one crosses the bridge.  I can't begin to describe how huge it appears. Multiple railway tracks and trains adjacent to it look like models.

Bethlehem had an industrial tradition beginning, again, with the Moravians and their blacksmithing and woodworking. Construction of a steel mill began in 1860. From that time until its demise in 1995, Bethlehem Steel became one of America's largest industrial concerns. Bethlehem supplied steel for construction projects ranging from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Chrysler Building and for US Navy ships.
Brother's House


The site is largely derelict today. The Sands Casino has purchased to property to develop a casino and resort at the mill's location. A small slot machine casino is already in operation, but if gaming legislation is passed, the Sands will open a full casino and resort hotel. We drove around the site  to get a feel for the size of the remaining buildings and blast furnaces. (Susan's greatuncle had been a foreman at the steel mill, another reason we wanted to see it.) We stopped at the far end of the casino's parking lot to take photos and marvel and the size of it all. However, a security guard shortly chased us away. (Not sure why. It was a public parking lot and clearly nothing was happening in the abandoned structures .) But not before I had a few photos.

OK, time to go. But our trip wasn't quite over yet.
Moravian College
We headed back to Center Street and then to US Highway 22.  As we headed west on US 22, we became aware that there was no eastbound traffic.  Accident?  Then, we noticed there were police on every overpass. Curious. It turned out President Obama had been in Allentown that day to deliver an economic development address. (Approriate place to do that.)  Anyway, there we were when the Presdential motorcade passed just on the other side of the Jersey barrier traveling in the opposite direction! We saw Obama's flag bedecked limousine if not himelf.
bigmac993 says:
Good review Andy. I visited there many years ago but had forgotten much of history.
Posted on: Dec 19, 2009
bernard69 says:
great info
Posted on: Dec 18, 2009
Dr_Seuss says:
Very interesting Andy.
Posted on: Dec 16, 2009
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Victorian storefront
Victorian storefront
Eliza Richardson water fountain
Eliza Richardson water fountain
Bethlehem Visitor Center
Bethlehem Visitor Center
Pilgrim water fountain
Pilgrim water fountain
Public School water fountain
Public School water fountain
Clergy House/Apothecary (now part …
Clergy House/Apothecary (now part…
Pharmacy historical marker
Pharmacy historical marker
Moravian historical marker
Moravian historical marker
Brothers House
Brother's House
Moravian College
Moravian College
Old Chapel historical marker
Old Chapel historical marker
Moravian Academy
Moravian Academy
Christian Education Building (site…
Christian Education Building (sit…
Moravian Putz: Moravians in America
Moravian Putz: Moravians in America
Moravian Putz: Old Testament proph…
Moravian Putz: Old Testament prop…
Moravian Putz: The Annunciation
Moravian Putz: The Annunciation
Moravian Putz: The Angel appears t…
Moravian Putz: The Angel appears …
Moravian Putz: The Three Wise Men
Moravian Putz: The Three Wise Men
Moravian Putz: The Three Kings vis…
Moravian Putz: The Three Kings vi…
Moravia Putz
Moravia Putz
Moravian Putz: The Flight into Egy…
Moravian Putz: The Flight into Eg…
Christmas Putz: moss and driftwood…
Christmas Putz: moss and driftwoo…
Moravian Cemetery
Moravian Cemetery
Moravian Cemetery historical marker
Moravian Cemetery historical marker
Moravian Cemetery
Moravian Cemetery
Market Street
Market Street
Stone house
Stone house
Gemeinhaus (1741)
Gemeinhaus (1741)
Gemeinhaus historical marker
Gemeinhaus historical marker
Bell House
Bell House
Sisters House (1744)
Sister's House (1744)
Central Moravian Church
Central Moravian Church
Interior of the Central Moravian C…
Interior of the Central Moravian …
Moravian Star
Moravian Star
Sanctuary at Central Moravian Chur…
Sanctuary at Central Moravian Chu…
Decorated doorway
Decorated doorway
Door pull
Door pull
Central Moravian Church (1803)
Central Moravian Church (1803)
Blacksmith shop
Blacksmith shop
Goundie House (1810)
Goundie House (1810)
19th century beer making equipment
19th century beer making equipment
19th century beer making equipment
19th century beer making equipment
Sun Inn (1760)
Sun Inn (1760)
Lehigh Valley Railroad station (no…
Lehigh Valley Railroad station (n…
The Steel viewed behind Fahy Bri…
"The Steel" viewed behind Fahy Br…
Fahy Bridge
Fahy Bridge
Bethlehem Steel works
Bethlehem Steel works
Abandoned blast furnaces at Bethle…
Abandoned blast furnaces at Bethl…
Abandoned Bethlehem Steel works
Abandoned Bethlehem Steel works
Bethlehem Steel works
Bethlehem Steel works
Bethlehem Sights & Attractions review
The Moravian Putz in Bethlehem
The Christmas Putz has been presented annually by Central Moravian Church since 1937. A Moravian Putz is a decorated model or diorama depicting the Bi… read entire review
Bethlehem Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Good food at the Brew Works
Bethlehem Brew Works is a restaurant and brewpub in downtown Bethlehem. The restaurent offers sandwiches, salads, pastas, and meat and seafood ent… read entire review
Bethlehem Sights & Attractions review
The Moravian Book Shop
The Moravian Book Shop, founded in 1745, is said to be the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world. It has been at the same location on M… read entire review
Bethlehem Sights & Attractions review
Colonial history at the Moravian Museum
The Moravian Museum in Bethlehem is located in the wooden Gemeinhaus built in 1741. The Gemeinhaus was the center of the newly arrived Moravian settle… read entire review
Bethlehem
photo by: binky