[ Main ] Educator's Guide
Outreach Initiatives
[ Site Map ]
Geology | Lehigh River Watershed Explorations | Weather | Environmental Issues | Data Collection Activities

In the late 18th century, Bethlehem was the oldest and largest town in the Lehigh Valley. Bethlehem has actually been referred to as "the metropolis of the Lehigh Valley" during this period, even compared to both Easton and Allentown (Hall and Hall, 1982). The development of Bethlehem is due to the Moravians. In 1741, the land which is now the town of Bethlehem was purchased by the Moravians from a man by the name of William Allen. The first plot of land purchased was 500 acres along Monocacy Creek, which flows into the Lehigh River (Meyers, 1981). The Moravians began to develop the town of Bethlehem. Their accomplished engineers and architects led to the beginnings of buildings and industries in Bethlehem. They even developed the first water pump system (Hall and Hall, 1982). They learned to benefit from the fresh waters of the Lehigh River by fishing for shad near Sand Island (Dennis Scholl, 1997).
Although Bethlehem remained physically untouched by the American Revolution, it was important for the pursuit of independence. The Moravians, who would not pick up arms, helped treat wounded soldiers and provided supplies. The general Lehigh Valley also supplied food because the area was agriculturally rich. Bethlehem itself became an important meeting place for patriot leaders such as George Washington and John Adams (Hall and Hall, 1982).

Once the late 1820’s rolled around, boats going up and down the Lehigh Navigation became a familiar site to those who lived in Bethlehem. Moravian Bishop Levering remarked that the arks carrying coal "were significant … of a transition … of the beautiful Lehigh at Bethlehem from the sentimental to the utilitarian. The pitiless ravages of industry upon the picturesque, which had never ceased along the course of the Lehigh River, had fairly set in" (Hall and Hall, 1982).

The Moravians who lived in Bethlehem did not want to become a part of this new materialistic world. They were protected by the communal system they had established. Various things led to the downfall of this system. The opportunity to become involved in the creation of new industries was tempting to many that lived in Bethlehem. The town also began to experience an influx of people who were not Moravians, leading to more diversity. Finally, the church’s financial difficulties forced it to sell some of their property to new businesses. By the 1850’s, the industrialization of Bethlehem was truly underway (Hall and Hall, 1982).

Various people besides the Moravians were very important to the development of Bethlehem. Asa Packer and many of his associates such as the Sayres and the Lindermans, were involved in the reconstruction of the town. Railroads, banks, manufacturing companies, and, notably, Lehigh University and St. Luke’s found their way to the area. Industries were also formed. The Bethlehem Iron Company (which would later become Bethlehem Steel) and the Lehigh Valley Railroad were important to the town’s development. These industries were major employers for people who lived in the area (Hall and Hall, 1982).

Bethlehem Steel, located in South Bethlehem across the river from where the Moravians originally settled, was the center of industry in Bethlehem. It had a major impact on the town around it (Hall and Hall, 1982). When it eventually closed down in the late 1990s, many people in the area lost their jobs. With the coming of Bethlehem Works, the land will be used in a positive way. Although the land will no longer be used for steel making, industries, stores, and entertainment facilities will be built on the land using structures from the old plant and as newly built buildings. These new plans will provide jobs for many people and help to use the old land for positive developments (Bethlehem Works).


The Basics of the Lehigh River | Early Life along the Lehigh River | The Canal | Cities on the Lehigh River | Industry

Curricular Activities | Lehigh River Photojournal | Water Quality | GIS | History | River Exploration | Fast Facts
LEO EnviroSci Inquiry is brought to you by the Lehigh Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University.
Copyright ©2000-2011 Lehigh Environmental Initiative at Lehigh University. All rights reserved.