Bethlehem was named on Christmas Eve, 1741, by a group of Moravians who relocated from North Carolina and settled at the confluence of the Lehigh River and Monocacy Creek. The canal and the railroads lured large-scale industry to the south bank of the Lehigh River and the Bethlehem Iron Co., soon dominated the town’s economy and way of life. Steel made from local iron, coal and limestone was milled and forged, launching the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th Century.
Bethlehem is the Lehigh Valley’s Oldest City
Bethlehem has six distinct National Historic Districts as well as two National Historic landmarks. Many of its original structures built by early settlers still line downtown streets.
The Central Bethlehem Historic District includes 165 buildings, 6 sites, 9 structures, and 4 objects. It is primarily residential, but also includes commercial buildings along Main Street. Most of the buildings were built between the mid-18th to early-20th century. The district encompasses building that reflect Bethlehem’s development from a Moravian community, 1741-1844, to an industrial based economy, 1845-1938.
The Historic Moravian Bethlehem Historic District encompasses a complex of the oldest surviving buildings in Bethlehem. The district was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012 for its unique assemblage of communal religious buildings and history. It occupies a 14.7-acre (5.9 ha) area of central Bethlehem; at its core is the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem and adjacent properties, located at Main and West Church Streets. The museum property includes a connected series of 18th century stone buildings, several of which served as communal living facilities, and a 1751 chapel.
The museum also owns properties near the creek, including the industrial 1761 tannery building, and the Old Waterworks which is also a National Historic Landmark as the first pump-driven North American municipal water supply. This area is also archaeologically significant, as the early Moravians developed it industrially from an early period.
God’s Acre has been established as one of the oldest colonial cemeteries in America
Sun Inn was created as a place for non-Moravian people to take up residence while they did any sort of business with the people that lived in the town. The Sun Inn was used often during the American Revolution, including George and Martha Washington, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, john and Samuel Adams.