One Square Mile • One Dozen Firsts
Brimming with heritage, authentic Colonial history, dining and shopping
Moravian missionaries from Germany settled in eastern Pennsylvania in 1741, and named the town “Bethlehem” on Christmas Eve. Much of the original settlement remains today at the southern end of USA TODAY’S “Top 10 Main Street” all within a unique destination full of culture, distinctive architecture, and friendly people. But don't take our word for it! According to the US Department of the Interior, Historic Downtown Bethlehem is one of the "finest examples of 18th century architecture in America."
Discover the HeritageUS World Heritage Site candidate
Discover great Shopping, Dining, and HospitalityBrowse America's oldest bookstore
Discover the Roots of Industrial AmericaTake a walking tour of Bethlehem Steel
US TENTATIVE LIST WORLD HERITAGE
World heritage sites recognized by the United Nations represent cultural or natural locations of “Outstanding Universal Value”. While there are over 1121 sites in 167 countries, the U.S. only has 25 such sites to date to such noted designation. US Tentative list designation authenticates “Moravian Bethlehem” as a truly unique colonial destination.
Each year, the US Department of Interior can put forward one tentative site for consideration by the world heritage commission. In 2015 the World Heritage Commission designated a Moravian settlement in “Christiansfeld, Denmark” as part of a future transboundary, transnational serial nomination for Moravian settlements worldwide.
Independence Hall, Statue of Liberty and the Guggenheim Museum are the only World Heritage Sites within 90 miles of Moravian Bethlehem.
“TOP 10 MAIN STREET”
Historic Bethlehem was named a “TOP 10 MAIN STREET” by USA TODAY in 2015. The Visitor Center is located in the Center of Main Street and serves as the Tourism Center for Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites (HBMS).
In addition to more than two dozen boutique retail shops and two dozen different dining options – Historic Bethlehem is anchored by :
- Moravian University – 6th Oldest University and First to Educate Woman
- Moravian Book Shop – World’s Oldest Continuously Operating Bookstore
- Historic Hotel Bethlehem – #1 Best Historic Hotel in the US by USA TODAY 2020
Colonial & Industrial History
The 1740’s Colonial Industrial Quarter became linked economically to the region and nation with the opening of the Canal System to Bethlehem in 1829. The D&L Trail provides recreational opportunites for travelers today along the Lehigh River to the National Canal Museum.
The opening of the Lehigh Valley Railroad in the 1850’s corresponded with the discovery of Iron Ore across the river. This ushered in the Industrial Revolution with Bethlehem at the leading edge. Ironmaking and ultimately steelmaking flourished through the late 20th Century at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The plant closed its doors in 1995 with the furnaces preserved to permit heritage travelers to witness these massive structures on the Hoover Mason Trestle.
The opening of the National Museum of Industrial History, a Smithsonian Affiliate, provides the visitor ability to experience 19th – 20th century Industrial History within one square mile of Moravian Bethlehem.
One Square Mile. One Dozen Firsts.
Historic Bethlehem is a town of countless firsts. The 18th century Moravians pioneered many things and boast two national landmark buildings within it’s national landmark district. Some of these milestones that Bethlehem has achieved might actually surprise you. Learn about a few of the firsts that help make Historic Bethlehem a compelling authentic colonial destination for heritage travelers, then explore our interactive map to plan your trip.
- First National Register Historic District in Pennsylvania
- First municipal pumped water system in America (1762)
- Earliest Industrial Park in America’s original 13 Colonies - 35 crafts/trades in the (Colonial Industrial Quarter – 1740s )
- Largest 18th Century log building in continuous use in America (Gemeinhaus – 1741)
- Moravian University (6th oldest in the U.S.) was the first to educate women (1742)
- First school to teach Native American Languages (1744)
- Oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world - The Moravian Book Shop (1745)
- Oldest continuously operated Town Clock in America (1747)
- Oldest continuous Trombone Choir (1754)
- Oldest Bach Choir in America (1898)
- Oldest continuously operating apothecary (1743) in the U.S. when it closed in the 1950s
- First documented Christmas Tree in America (1747) decorated with apples, candles, and bible verses in the Gemeinhaus
Historic Bethlehem Highlights
Historic Bethlehem echoes with the voices of the past, but it’s also a wonderful place for a modern-day getaway. Discover over 20 historic sites, three museums, fun walking tours and exciting events year-round. Here are some highlights of any visit to our friendly town:
Discover a Rich Culture
Through well-preserved artifacts, knowledgeable museum docents and tour guides, you’ll learn about the history and culture of the Moravians. These stalwart settlers founded Bethlehem in 1741 as our nation’s first Moravian settlement – before we were a nation, in fact. In September of 1777 the Continental Congress met at the Sun Inn since most of the Army’s Leadership was staying in Bethlehem.
Take a Tour
Historic Bethlehem may be small in size but we do tours in a big way! Choose from intriguing seasonal walking tours of the Moravian Settlement, Ghost Tours, Hotel History Tours, Industrial History Tours and much more! And, if you happen to be visiting near the holidays, don’t miss the Christmas City Stroll and the Bethlehem by Night Bus Tour.
See Unique Architecture
As you tour Historic Bethlehem, you’ll have an opportunity to see stellar examples of 18th century colonial Germanic architecture, a movement toward classicism after the German Baroque period. Pennsylvania’s 1st National Register Historic District extends 3 blocks beyond the original Moravian settlement. Venturing beyond the 18th century area, visitors will marvel at the 19th and 20th century preserved mansions of America's Industrial barons. Linderman Library at Lehigh University is a Top 10 library destination for college architecture and design.
Experience Christmas City in a New Way
Strolling Main Street at Christmas is truly a time to be treasured. Carriage rides and German style huts add to the Top 10 shopping and dining experience. Travel and Lesisure magazine proclaims “This Christmas City in Pennsylvania might be the most festive in the entire Country!” Oprah magazine declared Bethlehem as one of the Top 20 Best Worldwide places to spend Christmas.
Your Visit to Historic Bethlehem
Historic Bethlehem wants you to get out, enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, and have a little fun and enrichment. All our shops, restaurants, attractions and museums are welcoming visitors back after implementing rigorous health and safety measures. We also are following State and County requirements that all visitors, residents, business owners and their staffs observe physical distancing, frequently wash hands, and wear a mask at all times (sensibly of course, so not for little ones or if you have a health condition or other exception to the policy). For full details to plan your visit safely and responsibly, please review the current notice from Northampton County and see our complete update for the Historic District.
The Local’s Perspective
Moravian MuseumKeith Sten
One of the things I love most about the Moravian Museum is that it is an excellent example of the interaction between Bethlehem's rich history and the ongoing traditions in Bethlehem today. The museum is within the oldest building in Bethlehem (known as the Gemeinhaus or Community House), which has been a vital part of the community since the city was founded and continues to captivate visitors throughout the year. I love being able to share the rich history of Bethlehem with our museum visitors, and it is a really rewarding experience to talk with so many visitors who leave the museum with a new passion for our city's heritage.
2. What surprises visitors when they come to the Moravian Museum?
We get a lot of visitors from the U.S. and from around the world, and visitors are always impressed by the history and ingenuity of the Moravian community that founded Bethlehem. For example, visitors are often surprised to hear that the small community of early Bethlehem established a large number of industries within a few years, including the first pumped water system for any town in America. It never ceases to surprise me how many visitors say at the end of the tour that they have a new interest in an aspect of our history that they did not know anything about before their visit.
3. Can you share a tip for someone’s visit to the Moravian Museum?
Something visitors don't always know is that when they visit the Moravian Museum there are many historic buildings within walking distance that we also offer tours for, such as our Single Sisters' House, Nain-Schober House, and the Apothecary building. Our multi-site admission also includes our Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, so there are a lot of places visitors can experience during their stay! We can schedule appointment tours of most of our sites throughout the week, so visitors who are not staying during the weekend can still experience one of our tours during their stay by contacting our Visitor Center in advance. The Visitor Center also has a useful guide book for purchase if interested in a self-guided exploration of the historic district.
The Sun InnSeth A. Cornish, Past President
On September 11, 1777, there was a battle fought at Brandywine. It was a huge defeat for the Americans, and as a result, Philadelphia became untenable. Bethlehem was the Continental Army Hospital, so many wounded men were shipped here and their generals also came to check on them. Additionally, the Continental Congress came to Bethlehem from Philadelphia on their way to York. And on the night of Sept 21, the Sun Inn became the epicenter of the entire American Revolution. The government was here, the Continental Congress was here and so were the generals. What’s really cool is that there was a proclamation signed right in this Great Room by the 14 members of the Continental Congress. John Hancock might have sat right where I’m standing. That’s why I am here.2. What surprises visitors when they come to the Sun Inn?
In addition to the Continental Congress, there have been 5 United States Presidents who stayed here: George Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, and Benjamin Harrison. In this tiny little town, this building has housed some really great American people.3. Can you share a tip for someone’s visit to the Sun Inn?
I have two tips for when someone visits
Tip 1: Come to the Sun Inn when the Tavern Inn is open, this way you can go upstairs and see the Great Room.
Tip 2: Don’t believe the story of the tunnels. Despite the 1902 book, Brother Albrecht’s Secret Chambers, the Sun Inn does not have any secret tunnels.
National Museum of Industrial HistoryAndria Zaia, Curator of Collections
NMIH is a place for telling and learning from stories. Children want to know what work was like decades ago and our elders have a place to share their experiences, inspiring younger generations. I love hearing these engaging conversations happening in the museum!2. What surprises visitors when they come to the National Museum of Industrial History?
Visitors are surprised to learn about the rich industrial history of the Lehigh Valley, where so many raw materials were harvested and sent on to usher in our nation’s industrial revolution. Iron and steel, textiles, and energy played an enormous role globally and all of this came right out of our own backyard!3. Can you share a tip for someone’s visit to the National Museum of Industrial History?
Remember to talk to the docents! Many of our docents have worked in industry, engineering, and manufacturing and are happy to share their knowledge with museum visitors. You just might be sparking up a conversation with a research scientist, steelworker, inventor, or an industrial entrepreneur!
1750 SmithyEd, Head Blacksmith
The ability to show history in a great, authentic setting.2. What surprises visitors when they come to the 1750 Smithy?
I think what surprises visitors is that the forge generates 3000 degrees to make the metal pliable to shape any forged projects.3. Can you share a tip for someone’s visit to the 1750 Smithy?
Watch “History Get Hammered”! Take a class and learn how to shape metal, make your own project to take home and enjoy learning more about history, metal forging and yourself!