Museums & Culture

The warmth and hospitality of charming Bethlehem make for an ideal getaway, whether you’re traveling as a couple, with friends or as a family group. On your trip, discover unique museums such as The Moravian Museum of Bethlehem and The National Museum of Industrial History. Learn about Bethlehem’s fascinating past at our historic sites. You’ll find that there’s a lot to do in Bethlehem within a very small geographic area! Be sure to stop in at the Historic Bethlehem Visitor Center and Museum Store on Main Street for great advice, tour information and more.

 
 
 
 

Who were the Moravians?

Deeply religious. Industrious. Undeterred by hardship. Peace-loving. Progressive. All of these words describe the Moravians of Bethlehem, members of a Protestant church that dates back to 15th century Europe. Seeking to spread their faith as missionaries, they immigrated from Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic) in 1735 to the British colony of Georgia. When they arrived, the pacifist Moravians found themselves unwillingly involved in a conflict with the Spanish as well as with Native Americans. This prompted their resettlement to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1741.

The early settlers lived a communal life in the Gemeinhaus (community house), fittingly named because it was not only the center of the community, it actually housed the settlement’s 80+ people for several years. The Gemeinhaus was home, school, doctor’s office and church, all in one. Here, the settlers lived a disciplined and spiritual life, with work and church as their focus. In the early years (through 1762), the Moravians contributed to a communal economy, meaning that all individual labor was for the benefit of the community, its growth and missionary work. As the Moravian community matured, a cash economy was adopted, and settlers established their own businesses.

Progressive in many ways, the Moravians of Bethlehem valued education for girls as well as boys and treasured beautiful music (one of the earliest orchestras in the Americas was founded here in 1744).

To learn about daily life in Bethlehem’s Moravian community in the 18th century, be sure to join a docent-led tour of The Moravian Museum of Bethlehem.

Bethlehem: A National Treasure

National recognition helps historians give visitors a fuller story of Bethlehem, from the Colonial days on. Here are a few reasons why Historic Bethlehem has earned a place among national treasures.

  • 1 of 8 National Historic Landmark Districts in Pennsylvania
  • Two individual National Historic Landmarks
  • “The finest examples of 18th century Germanic-style architecture in America,” - National Park Service
  • Kemerer is the only museum of decorative arts in Pennsylvania; 1 of 11 in the U.S.
 

If you’re someone to whom history whispers its tales, a trip to the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem is a fascinating stop. The museum, a National Historic Landmark, is housed in the 1741 Gemeinhaus, believed to be the largest 18th-century log building in continuous use in the U.S. Its centuries-old white oak timbers support several sections built over the course of three years from 1741 to 1743. To learn about daily life in Bethlehem’s Moravian community in the 18th century, including religion, education, work life and missionary work, be sure to join a docent-led tour of the museum.

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This museum consistes of five self guided tour stops on the first floor only. The Inn hosted dignitaries vistiing the Moravians and stood just North of the Moravian General Economocy settlement. The Inn played a vital role during the Revolutionary Way and is where the Marquis de Lafayette began his recuperation after being wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. The Museum depicts the reproduction of furnishings and accommodations that the Sun Inn uniquely offered in the 1700's that far exceed that available elsewhere including Williamsburg.

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The Kemerer Museum is one of only 15 museums in the USA exclusively dedicated to the decorative arts. Here, visitors can see the extensive collection of furniture, china, textiles, artwork, clothing and other decorative objects collected by Annie S. Kemerer and her family. Not to be missed is the Elizabeth Johnston Prime Dollhouse and Toy Collection, one of the largest collections of antique dollhouses in America. The Kemerer also features a garden designed by Scott Rothenberger’s PLACE that showcases sculptures by local artist Skip Karlik.

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Four galleries of this fascinating museum explore America’s industrial history and how mechanical innovation helped build our nation’s status as a world power. See more than 20 artifacts loaned from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, including an enormous Corliss steam engine and a 20-foot tall steam hammer. Learn about the daily lives of steel workers, how iron and steel were made, and how Bethlehem Steel came to be recognized world-wide. The museum is located on the SteelStacks campus.

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ADDITIONAL AREA MUSEUMS

Whitefield House Museum - Nazareth

The Whitefield House Museum shares over 500 years of fascinating Moravian history, architecture, art, music, and culture. Guests are able to view the earliest known violin made in America, six original paintings by the Moravian artist John Valentine Haidt, a 1776 pipe organ made by early America’s premier organ-builder, David Tannenberg, an early 1850s Martin guitar, and much more! Located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, less than 10 miles from Bethlehem, the Moravian Historical Society maintains the 1740-1743 Whitefield House and the 1740 Gray Cottage - the oldest Moravian structure in North America. The Whitefield House Museum and museum store are open 7 days a week from 1 - 4 p.m.

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Martin Guitar Museum – Nazareth

As a visitor on the factory floor, your guided tour will show you how our guitars come to life through the hands of the craftsperson. Explore the art of guitarmaking, from old world tools to our state-of-the-art facility. Follow a guitar from rough lumber to a finished product which requires more than 300 steps to complete.

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National Canal Museum - Easton

The National Canal Museum is dedicated to telling the story of America’s historic towpath canals. The museum occupies the first floor of the Elaine and Peter Emrick Technology Center in beautiful Hugh Moore Park, a 520-acre City of Easton park nestled between the Lehigh Canal and Lehigh River. The National Canal Museum interprets the history and culture of canals as well as the science and technology behind their building, through exhibits and hands-on activities. Children and adults can harness a mule, steer a canal boat, and engage in activities that help them learn how canals were built.

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Sigal Museum - Easton

The Sigal Museum is Northampton County, Pennsylvania’s leading institution of local history, and home to significant collections of pre-European settlement artifacts, decorative arts and textiles, farming implements and colonial furniture..

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1741 Gemeinhaus - National Historic Landmark

A National Historic Landmark that is the largest Colonial period log structure in continuous use in the US. This structure was the 2nd structure built in Bethlehem and was known as the “Community House”. This building was the home of the first place of worship, the first school for girls, and the first hospital. Countess Benigna Von Zinzendorf founded the first school for girls in the 13 colonies with the first classes held in the Geimeinhaus in 1742. It is believed that the Gemeinhaus could have been "America's First Hospital" because it is a known fact that a Women's Infirmary and Men's Dispensary were housed here as early as 1746. Many Moravians had been trained in medicine in Europe before coming to America. A pharmacy was also housed here giving rise to an herb garden and the apothecary across Heckewelder Street. Today the Geimeinhaus serves as the Museum for Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites to showcase the truly unique story of the Moravians.

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1762 Waterworks - National Historic Landmark

This National Historic Landmark was built in 1762 by the Moravians as the first pumped municipal water system in America. It would be another 35 years before another such system would be put in service in the American colonies. The system features a water wheel and pumping mechanism with 3 pumps for water power to replace human power forcing spring water to a collecting tower near where Central Moravian Church sits today. This water tower then flowed water to 5 locations on the hillside to residences and also to provide water for the fire pumps critical to protecting the community.

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This facility built in 1761 annually processed over 3000 animal hides for the production of leather products from clothing and shoes to harnesses and machinery parts. The nearby Monacy Creek was integral to this process to wash the hides for the highly skilled leather craftsmen to do their work. The hides were then soaked in lime and water in wooden vats dug into the earth for up to 3 months in order to remove the hair to then process into the leather goods needed for the community.

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This impressive structure was the 3rd place of Worship for the Moravians built from 1803 to 1806 in Federal Style Architecture. The church was built to seat 1500 people when only 580 resided in Bethlehem with the concept that Christian Native Americans would unite with the colonists in worship. Six foot foundation walls and large attic trusses allow the sanctuary to be column free with a magnificent Belfry containing the oldest continuous running town clock with 4 faces.

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Built as the 2nd place of worship in 1751 after the “Saal” in the Gemeinhaus became overcrowded. Many of the Revolutionary War visiting distinguished guests worshipped here with the Moravians during their stay at the Sun Inn. Most notable was the 1792 visit by the great chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy who stayed overnight on their way to Philadelphia to meet with George Washington. They gathered in the Old Chapel with the Indians in ceremonial feathers and leggings and the brethren and sisters in their plain black and white garb. The Old Chapel remains in use today along with the Central Moravian Church next door built in 1803 for what was deemed to be increased needs of the growing community. Located to the rear of the Gemeinhaus and adjacent to the Bell House.

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Built and expanded between 1746-1749 as a residence for married couples.This stone structure and belfry are a prime example of Colonial Germanic architecture characteristic of the community. This building later became the home to Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies and currently is closed to the public as private residences.

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Built in 1744 to house the single men and women of the community in what were called choirs, it became the Single Sisters Choir upon completion of the Brethren’s House in 1748. In addition to providing dormitories, a dining room, and kitchen this building the served as a work area for handcrafts for the sisters to contribute to the general economy. This building is open for guided tours.

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The last building constructed for the Moravian Choirs was completed in 1768 for the widows and contained large congregational gardens in the rear. There were additions to this original limestone building in 1794 and 1889 to the rear. The building has since been converted to apartments for use by Moravian College and is closed to the public.

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A great place to stroll and read the flat stones in this serene wooded area as the final resting place for Moravians from 1742-1911. Moravian colonists are buried next to converted Native Americans and African born Moravians in what is referred to as the “democracy of death”. The row closest to Market Street was reserved for non-Moravians who died in Bethlehem.

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Contributing Properties

Currently a Museum and Tavern , the Inn was built to house distinguished guests of the Moravians. During the Revolutionary War, the Sun Inn welcomed many leading Patriots and statesman including 5 men who ultimatately became President of the United States and Martha Washington. The original Inn was built in 1758 and opened in 1760 as a 66' x 40' two story stone building with a mansard roof. In 1826 a 3rd floor was added with17 new rooms. In 1866, the building was again enlarged almost completely hiding the original Inn. The Sun Inn closed to travlelers in the early 1960's. In 1777, Army Troops and upwards of 900 military wagons camped in the fields to the rear and north of the Inn as military stores were moved inland from advancing British Troops. In September of 1777, the Continental Congress met at the Inn while moving for Philadelphia with most of the Army leadership staying at the Inn. In 1792, the Sun Inn welcomed 51 chiefs and warriors of the Iroquis nation including Red Jacket and Cornplanter. In 1865, Railroader Asa Packer announced the formation of Lehigh University at a dinner at the Inn. In 1978 the Sun Inn was named to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1982 the restoration of the Inn was completed.

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This Federal Style home is believed to be the oldest constructed of brick in Bethlehem. J.S. Goundie was a successful brewer and businessman who also served as Mayor and fire inspector. Attached to the Visitor Center, this building serves as a rotating exhibit site for Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites.

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This building was built in 1758 and is the only building remaining in the Delaware & National Corridor that was built by and lived in by Native American Indians. This log building was moved to Heckewelder Place in 1765 when the Village of Nain was disbanded & now serves as exhibition space for Moravian and Native American Relations.

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Once an expansive 500-acre estate, Burnside Plantation’s 6.5 acres still beautifully preserves the essence of an 18th century farm with its farmhouse, summer kitchen, orchard, garden, barn and other structures. This historic site displays one of the few high horse-powered wheels still in existence in the U.S., a tool that allowed one horse to do the work of 15 men. David Tannenberg and Johann Gottlob Klemm, both master Moravian organ builders, foremost organ builders in the American colonies in the 1700s.

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Other Noteworthy Historic Properties

This magnificent structure anchoring the end of Main Street was completed in 1748 and contained the Single Brethren’s Choir for 72 single men during the period of the general economy. It was later expanded to permit trades and crafts including a foundry. On the top of the building is a widow's walk where America's oldest Trombone Choir would play to announce the death of members of the community or to celebrate holidays and festivals. Legend has it that early on Christmas morning of 1755 a group of hostile Indians were about to attack the town when the trombones frightened them from doing so believing that the "Great Spirit" did not want them to harm the community. The Moravians were pacifists and this action reinforced to them that musical instruments were more powerful than guns. While the Moravians did not participate directly in the Revolutionary war, George Washington asked them to turn the Brethren's House into a hospital for the Continental Army. Over 300 soldiers died here from December 1776 to April 1778 along with many Moravians who tended to them from "camp fever". They are buried on the hillside west of the Monacy Creek where a monument exists to commemorate this event. The stone lintel on the north side of the building carries the inscription "May the young men's activity redound to the praise of the Trinity". In 1815, Moravian Seminary for Girls took over the building. Today it serves as the offices and classrooms for the Music Department for the Moravian College.

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The Smithy was built in 1750 expanded in 1761 and a second floor added. The Smithy had workrooms and forges for the nail-smith, locksmith, blacksmith, tinsmith, gunsmith, and gunstock maker. The building stood until the early 20th century when it was dismantled and converted into brownstone dwellings which were later demolished. In 2004, the Smithy was reconstructed of limestone taken from a local 1700s barn being torn down, and was built on the foundations of the original smithy, thanks to detailed records kept by the Moravians and stored in the Moravian Archives Blacksmithing was one of the most important trades in Colonial America, since smiths made or repaired tools, kitchen utensils, weapons, agricultural implements, and household items. LEARN MORE

The Luckenbach Mill was built on the foundations of the 18th Century grist mill that succumbed to fire. The mill was a working mill until the late 1940's grinding grain into flour for the community. Today it serves as the educational space for the adult and school programs. In addition it houses an archive of more than 10,000 historical photographs of Bethlehem as well as thousands of documents such as letters and manuscripts.

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This 4 story brick building was built in 1854 housing the growing number of students at Moravian Seminary for Girls.and was one of the first buildings in Bethlehem with gas lights. This iconic structure represented the location of the famous Lehigh/Lafayette weekend tradition of Lehigh Men parading across the river to serenade the young ladies of Moravian College for Women on friday evening before college football's most played rivalry.

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This federal style home was built later in 1819 for the ninth principal of the Moravian Seminary for Girls. In 1914, the building was sold to Moravian College for Women and converted to offices and classrooms with a second story added to the building. In 1969 the building was converted back to its original smaller design as a single family home and has served as a private residence for Moravian College since that time.

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This building was built in 1858 near the end of what had been a closed community to Moravians only. This building became the day school for both the boys and girls. In 1971, the boys Prep School and Moravian Seminary for Girls merged into Moravian Academy. This magnificent brick building today serves as the elementary school for the Academy.

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This small building nestled back from Church Street served as the cutting and drying house for apples. Extensive gardens existed on the south side of Church Street including extensive apple orchards from trees brought to the community in 1743. This building now serves as a private residence. .

Located across the street from the Nain House is the home of the most prominent Moravian missionary built in 1810. John Heckewelder was a writer and Indian interpreter appointed by George Washington as the 1st US Commissioner to the Indians after the American Revolution. The home is now home to the Bach Choir which is the oldest in the United States dating to 1898. The Bach Choir welcomes visitors to their headquarters.

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This currently private property was one of the earliest private homes built after the transition from a general economy to a private economy in 1762. Built by the Moravians for their new English bursar to manage their business affairs under the new economy. This home is a center entry unlike most other homes with European offset entrances because of the English occupant. Land transactions took place here as Moravians moved from their Church Street communal buildings into private homes. The home has been expanded from its original 1 story structure to a 2 story structure 100 years after it was originally built. It was subsequently expanded to the rear in the late 1800's with its magnificent stone foundation.

Currently a private residence, this stone building was built in 1749 for the Bethlehem’s first Justice of the Peace and enlarged in 1753 to accommodate the first store in Bethlehem. This shop sold over 200 different goods produced by the Moravians in their general economy at that time. This stone home sits directly across from God's Acre on Market Street among a row of magnificent private historic homes in the first block off Main Street. This National Historic District residential community is unique among many cities in that it remains a residential community that extends for four blocks directly abutting downtown containing a vast array of architectural designs from the 18th to early 20th century period.

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This private building on Market Street once served as the Second Store located just a few yards from the Horsfield house first store. The majestic limestone building has been renovated many times over the years but with its associated carritage house adds to the architectural integrity of Market Street. The homes on Market Street represent the earliest private homes in the community after the general economy was changed to permit private residences versus living in the choir system on Church Street. This is a private residence not open to the public.

The Mission of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and its Bach Festival Orchestra is to perform the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and to promote and encourage appreciation of the aesthetic and spiritual value of Bach’s music, while striving for the highest standards of musical excellence. We achieve this mission by engaging our audience – locally, nationally, and internationally – through education and performance, including works by composers who influenced Bach and were influenced by him, and through the programs of our Bel Canto Youth Chorus. Together, we cultivate a lifelong passion for the choral arts.

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Once home to a banana distribution warehouse, this community arts center now hosts 30 resident artists’ studios in several mediums including sculpture, painting, clay, glass, and photography. Visitors may take a guided gallery tour, offered every Tuesday at 10 a.m., or plan to visit during a First Friday event to meet the artists and see their work. Exhibitions change frequently.

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On the campus of Lehigh University, discover this teaching museum whose mission is to inspire visual literacy and cultural understanding of art. Peruse the permanent collection, and be sure to check for frequent events and exhibitions.

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The SteelStacks 10-acre campus hosts a truly impressive list of performing artists and events each year, with more than 1,000 concerts and eight festivals annually. Musikfest, the largest free music festival in the U.S., is held here in August. Visible from all areas of the campus are the 230-foot-tall blast furnaces (or “stacks”) that were last used in 1995 after nearly 120 years of steel making.

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This professional, non-profit organization with its resident ensemble focuses on the creation of original theatrical works. A wide variety of performances are held throughout the year, and the theater hosts a young playwrights festival annually.

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The center opened in 1997 as the home to the Lehigh University Music Department, the Department of Theatre, the Art Galleries and the Guest Artist Series, all of which share the same professional technical, marketing and administrative staff, venues and equipment.

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ADDITIONAL AREA CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS

The State Theatre is Central PA's home for local artists and audiences to experience, appreciate and embrace the transformative power of the performing arts. We are committed to presenting a variety of excellent local and national music, theater, dance, comedy, and film programming. We strive to create a memorable experience for all..

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