Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, (population 71,329) was settled in 1741 by the Moravians, part of the oldest organized Protestant denomination in the world, the Unity of the Brethren, founded in 1457. Many of the religion’s founders came from Moravia and Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic.
By 1747, 36 different trades and industries were exporting their goods from Bethlehem throughout the colonies. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington, Samuel Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette met and slept in Bethlehem.
With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, Bethlehem became a center of heavy industry and trade. As steel production grew in the late 1800s, Irish, Slovak, Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Polish workers settled in South Bethlehem. Following World War I, the city saw an influx of Puerto Rican and Mexican residents.
Visitors enjoy the Historic Bethlehem Industrial Area buildings, including the 1761 Tannery, a 1762 Waterworks, the 1869 Luckenbach Mill, and a reconstructed blacksmith and locksmith shop, where live demonstrations are held. Illick’s Mill, an operational grist mill from 1856 to 1915, is being restored as an environmental education center.
Each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, more than 100,000 visitors come to “Christmas City USA” to enjoy Moravian Music Christmas Concerts held in the 200-year-old Central Moravian Church and take in Christkindlmarkt, an open-air market modeled after those in Germany.
Guided walking tours of the historic district feature such landmarks as the church and the 1758 Sun Tavern. The town recently introduced “Bethlehem by Segway,” which runs from April through October, and offers cell phone tours as well as maps and guidebooks to the area. Bethlehem is also part of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and is featured in an online National Register Travel Itinerary.
A lesson plan called “Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: A Moravian Settlement in Colonial America” is available as part of the National Park Service’s “Teaching With Historic Places” series.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2008.