Bethlehem is a city along the Lehigh River, split between both Northampton and Lehigh counties in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania, in the United States. As of the 2020 census, Bethlehem had a total population of 75,781, making it the eighth largest city in Pennsylvania. Of this, 55,639 were in Northampton County and 19,343 were in Lehigh County.
Bethlehem lies in the center of the Lehigh Valley, a metropolitan region of with a population of 861,899 people as of the 2020 census, making it Pennsylvania's third most populous metropolitan area and the 68th most populated metropolitan area in the U.S. Together with Allentown and Easton, the Valley includes Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon counties in eastern and northeastern Pennsylvania and Warren County in northwestern New Jersey. Smaller than Allentown but larger than Easton, Bethlehem is the Lehigh Valley's second-most populous city.
There are four general sections to Bethlehem: central Bethlehem, the south side, the east side, and the west side. Each of these sections blossomed at different times in the city's development and each contains areas recognized under the National Register of Historic Places. ZIP codes that use the address Bethlehem totaled 116,000 in population in 2000. These ZIP codes include Bethlehem Township and Hanover Township.
The Norfolk Southern Railway's Lehigh Line (formerly the main line of the Lehigh Valley Railroad) runs through Bethlehem heading east to Easton, Pennsylvania and across the Delaware River to Phillipsburg, New Jersey. The Norfolk Southern Railway's Reading Line runs through Bethlehem and west to Allentown and Reading.
Bethlehem has a long historical relationship with the celebration of Christmas. The city was christened as Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1741 by Nicolaus Zinzendorf, a Moravian bishop. In 1747, Bethlehem was the first U.S. city to feature a decorated Christmas tree. On December 7, 1937, at a grand ceremony during the Great Depression, the city adopted the nickname "Christmas City USA" in a large ceremony. It is one of several Lehigh Valley locations, including Emmaus, Egypt, and Allentown's Jordan Creek, whose names were inspired by locations referenced in the Bible.
Bethlehem borders Allentown to its west and is north-northwest of Philadelphia and west of New York City.
The areas along the Delaware River and its tributaries in eastern Pennsylvania were long inhabited by indigenous peoples of various cultures. By the time of European contact, these areas were the historic territory of the Algonquian-speaking Lenape Nation, which had three main divisions, known by the dialects, the Unami, Unalachtigo, and Munsee. They traded with the Dutch and then English colonists in the mid-Atlantic area, in territory ranging from what became Connecticut, Long Island, and the lower Hudson Valley in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
On April 2, 1741, William Allen, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant and political figure, who later founded the city of Allentown, deeded 500 acres along the banks of the Monocacy Creek and Lehigh River to the Moravian Church. On Christmas Eve of that year David Nitschmann and Nicolaus Zinzendorf, leading a small group of Moravians, founded the mission community of Bethlehem at the confluence of the Monocacy and Lehigh rivers. They came to set up missionary communities among the Native Americans and unchurched German-speaking Christians. They named the settlement after the Biblical town Bethlehem of Judea, said to be the birthplace of Jesus. "Count Zinzendorf said, 'Brothers, how more fittingly could we call our new home than to name it in honor of the spot where the event we now commemorate took place. We will call this place Bethlehem.' And so was Bethlehem named after the birthplace of the Man of Peace."
Bethlehem was started as a typical Moravian Settlement Congregation, where the Church owned all the property. Until the 1850s, officially only members of the Moravian Church were permitted to lease land plots in Bethlehem. But a member of a group of families who were Huguenots also settled in Bethlehem. In the late 1700s, Bethlehem established grist and saw mills, known as Calvin's Mills.
The historic Brethren's House, Sisters' House, Widows' House, and Gemeinhaus (Congregation House), with the Old Chapel, are remnants of this period of communal living.
The Moravians ministered to the regional Lenape Native Americans through their mission in the area, as well as further east in the New York colony. In the historic Bethlehem God's Acre cemetery, converted Lenape were buried alongside the Moravians. In 1762, Bethlehem built the first water-works in America to pump water for public use.
American Revolutionary War
In the autumn of 1777, during the American Revolutionary War, many patriots fled from Philadelphia to Bethlehem and the surrounding area as the British advanced in the east. The Marquis de Lafayette recovered from an injury received at the Battle of Brandywine in Bethlehem. Several of the most prominent members of the Continental Congress fled north to Bethlehem before the congress eventually reconvened in Lancaster. Before, during and after the American Revolution, Bethlehem was visited by George Washington and his wife Martha, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and the Marquis de Lafayette. On September 22, 1777, fourteen members of the Continental Congress signed the Moravian Sun Inn register and stayed overnight.
George Washington stored his personal effects at the farm of James Burnside in Bethlehem, this is operated as a historical museum known as James Burnside Plantation.
In 1845 the prosperous village was incorporated into a free borough in the County of Northampton. After the Unity Synod of 1848, Bethlehem became the headquarters of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America. On March 27, 1900, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem presented the United States debut of German Lutheran composer Johann Sebastian Bach's Mass in B Minor (1749) in the city's Central Moravian Church. Bethlehem was one of the four leading Moravian communities in the Northeastern United States (Emmaus, Lititz and Nazareth, each in Pennsylvania, were the three others).
Bethlehem Township has remained a separate political entity. Even after the merger of the two boroughs, the township initially provided a count for the original sections.
After the Civil War, the Borough of South Bethlehem was formed. In 1886, the Borough of West Bethlehem (in Lehigh County) was formed. In 1904, the Boroughs of West Bethlehem (in Lehigh County) and Bethlehem (in Northampton County) merged. In 1917, the Borough of South Bethlehem and Bethlehem merged to become the City of Bethlehem. Bethlehem Steel executive Archibald Johnston (1865-1948) was elected as the new city's first mayor.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of , of which, of it is land and of it (0.88%) is water. Bethlehem is about north of Philadelphia and about west of New York City.
Because large volumes of water were required in the steelmaking process, the city purchased of land in the Pocono Mountains, where its water is stored in reservoirs.
Bethlehem has a humid continental climate (Dfa). Summers are typically hot and humid, fall and spring are generally mild, and winter is cold. Precipitation is distributed throughout the year, with thunderstorms in the summer, showers in spring and fall, and snow in winter. The average high temperature varies widely, from in January to in July. The highest recorded temperature was , while the lowest recorded temperature was .
Bethlehem falls under the USDA 6b Plant Hardiness zone.
Bethlehem is divided into five main areas: Center City, West Side, East Side, South Side, and North Side. The West Side is located in Lehigh County and the other five neighborhoods are in Northampton County.
As of the census of 2010, there were 74,982 people living in the city. There were 31,221 housing units, with 5.9% vacant. The racial makeup of the city was 76.4% White, 6.9% African American, 0.3% Native American, 2.9% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 10.0% from other races, and 3.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 24.4% of the population.
As of the census of 2000, there were 71,329 people living in the city, including 17,094 families and 28,116 households. The population density was 3,704.4 people per square mile (1,429.9/km). There were 29,631 housing units at an average density of 1,538.8 per square mile (594.0/km). The racial makeup of the city was 81.85% White, 3.64% African American, 0.26% Native American, 2.22% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 9.44% from other races, and 2.56% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 18.23% of the population.
There were 28,116 households, out of which 26.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.1% were married couples living together, 12.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.2% were non-families. 32.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.34 and the average family size was 2.95.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 21.0% under the age of 18, 14.4% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 20.1% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $35,815, and the median income for a family was $45,354. Males had a median income of $35,190 versus $25,817 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,987. About 11.1% of families and 15.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.7% of those under age 18 and 8.8% of those age 65 or over.
Bethlehem has a significantly lower crime rate than that of Allentown and Easton. In 2008, Bethlehem had an overall crime index of 244.4, while Allentown's crime index was 510.4 and Easton's crime index was 379.2. The United States' average was 320.9.
Bethlehem became a center of heavy industry and trade during the industrial revolution. Bethlehem Steel (1857–2003), founded and based in Bethlehem, was once the second-largest steel producer in the United States, after Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel. Bethlehem Steel was also one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world and one of the most powerful symbols of American industrial manufacturing leadership, and it manufactured over 1,100 warships used in World War II.
Bethlehem Steel began producing the first wide-flange structural shapes made in the United States and they pioneered the production of the now-ubiquitous "I-beam" used in construction of steel-framed buildings, including skyscrapers. It manufactured construction materials for numerous New York City and other city skyscrapers and major bridges.
The company became a major supplier of armor plate and ordnance products during World War I and World War II. After roughly 140 years of metal production at its Bethlehem plant, Bethlehem Steel ceased operations there in 1995, in the face of overseas competition and declining demand, and the company's liquidation was completed in 2003.
Wind Creek Bethlehem
In December 2006, Las Vegas Sands Corp was awarded a Category 2 Slot Machine License by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. LVSC began work on the site, categorized as both the largest brownfield redevelopment project in the nation and the largest casino development investment made to date in the Commonwealth. Its mission was to create reinvestment and urbanization in the area. At a projected cost of $743 million, the historic Bethlehem Steel plant is being redeveloped as a fully integrated resort, to include 3,000 slot machines, over 300 hotel rooms, 9 restaurants, of retail outlet shopping, and of flexible multi-purpose space. In 2007, the casino resort company of Las Vegas Sands began the construction of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, later rebranded as Wind Creek Bethlehem. The casino has been projected to bring in approximately one million dollars in revenue per day as of 2009.
Another major economic anchor to the city is St. Luke's Hospital located in neighboring Fountain Hill. That Hospital and Health Network is the second largest of its type in the Lehigh Valley. Other major employers include B. Braun, Lehigh University, and the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.
Other companies in Bethlehem include the candy company Just Born. Zulily also has a large logistics operation in the city and serves the United States.
Over the past two decades, many shops and restaurants have opened in the city's downtown and South Side. In the mid-1970s, West Broad Street between New and Guetter Streets in center city was converted to a pedestrian plaza. The buildings on the south side of the block were torn down and replaced by an enclosed mall and 11-story office tower. The tower, at One Bethlehem Plaza on the corner of Broad and New, continues to operate, but the 80,000-square-foot mall, which was erected in response to the development of suburban shopping malls, failed. Since then, the block has been reopened to traffic, and the mall has been converted into offices for PowerSchool, a major software company based in California, and the Internal Revenue Service.
In recent years, retail business in downtown Bethlehem, particularly along Main Street south of Broad, has experienced a renaissance, based on the city's historic character. The two-block shopping area is anchored by Moravian University's Main Street Campus and Central Moravian Church at the southern end and The Bethlehem Commons indoor mall and historic Sun Inn (1758) at its northern end. In between, numerous boutiques have opened, selling artwork, gifts, clothing, antiques, crafted beverages, gourmet foods, jewelry, hand cut crystal, holiday decorations, and other specialties. Among the blocks' additional attractions are the Moravian Book Shop (1745), the country's oldest continuously operating bookstore, and the historic Hotel Bethlehem (1922). Meanwhile, on the city's South Side, stores and restaurants have sprung up on Third and Fourth Streets, largely because of the presence of Lehigh University but also tied to the opening of the Sands Casino and the development of the SteelStacks Arts and Cultural campus.
Outside the center city there are several shopping centers:
Arts and culture
Bethlehem has a long historical relationship with the celebration of Christmas, which is prominently celebrated in the city annually. The city was christened as Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, 1741 by Nicolaus Zinzendorf, a Moravian bishop. In 1747, Bethlehem was the first U.S. city to feature a decorated Christmas tree.
On December 7, 1937, at a grand ceremony during the Great Depression, the city adopted the nickname 'Christmas City USA in a large ceremony that included Marion Brown Grace, the daughter of former South Bethlehem burgess Charles F. Brown and wife of Bethlehem Steel president Eugene Grace. Hundreds of citizens attended the ceremony and thousands more listened to the speeches and musical performances on the radio.
Hotel Bethlehem was chosen for the ceremony because it was built on the site of the first building in Bethlehem, a two-room log house, where the original settlers conducted their evening worship on Christmas Eve 1741. As their benefactor, Count Zinzendorf, observed the farm animals that shared the space and listened to them sing the hymn, "Not Jerusalem, But Lowly Bethlehem", he proclaimed the name of the settlement to be Bethlehem. The people gathered at the 1937 ceremony heard the same words when the Bach Choir sang the old German hymn, "Jesu, Rufe Mich (Jesus, Call Thou Me)", by Adam Drese.
The Bethlehem Globe-Times paid for the large wooden star erected on the top of South Mountain, at a cost of $460. The original star was created with four wooden planks, overlapped to create an eight-point star, 60 feet high by 51 feet wide, mounted on two wooden poles, and lit by 150 50-watt light bulbs. The installation of the star was done by Pennsylvania Power and Light and the Bethlehem Water Department. The star was erected on the top of South Mountain, on property owned by the Water Department, located in Lower Saucon Township.
In 1939, the wooden star was replaced with a star made of Bethlehem steel, at a cost of $5,000. It had eight rays, with the main horizontal ray 81 feet wide and the main vertical ray 53 feet high. In 1967, the current star, 91 feet high, was installed on the old steel frame and set in a concrete base 25 feet wide by 5 feet deep. Plexiglas was installed to protect the 250 50-watt light bulbs. In the summer of 2006, the city repaired the base. A crew of municipal electricians changes the bulbs every two years. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the star was lit from 4:30 p.m. until midnight, every day of the year.
Bach Choir of Bethlehem
Since its founding in 1898, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem has been attracting thousands of visitors to the annual Bethlehem Bach Festival, now held largely on the campus of Lehigh University and on the historic grounds of the Moravian Community. Other festivals include The Celtic Classic, which celebrates Celtic culture, food and music, and the SouthSide Film Festival, a non-competitive, not-for-profit film festival. The city has also been the past, and current host of the North East Art Rock Festival, or NEARFest, a popular three-day progressive rock music event.
Bethlehem Area Public Library
The Bethlehem Area Public Library is a popular destination for recreation and entertainment. The Banana Factory houses studios of area artists and is open to the public every first Friday of the month. Touchstone Theatre, also on the SouthSide, houses the Valley's only professional resident theatre company, producing and presenting original theatre performances.
The city is famous for hosting Musikfest, the nation's largest free music festival held annually each August. The festival spans ten days, attracts roughly a million attendees from all over the world, and features hundreds of musical acts from all genres.
In 2011, the city opened Steel Stacks, a ten-acre campus on the former grounds of Bethlehem Steel, that showcases music, art, festivals, films and educational programming throughout the year. It is located in the backdrop of the blast furnaces of the former Bethlehem Steel plant.
Zoellner Arts Center
Lehigh University's Zoellner Arts Center offers a variety of musical and dramatic events through the year.
On the first Friday of the month, the businesses of the Southside Shopping District hosts First Friday, a celebration of arts and culture. Stores, restaurants and art galleries stay open late and offer special discounts, refreshments, gallery openings and more. The Lehigh Canal provides hiking and biking opportunities along the canal towpath which follows the Lehigh River in Bethlehem. Both the Lehigh Canal and the Monocacy Creek are popular for sport fishing, and both are stocked annually with trout.
The Lehigh Valley RFC rugby union team, founded in 1998, play their home matches at Monocacy Park.
Bethlehem Steel FC, a United Soccer League team founded in 2015, played at Goodman Stadium at Lehigh University, until 2019, when it moved to Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania after concerns about Goodman Stadium's lighting deficiencies went unaddressed.
The Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, a former Professional Indoor Football League, played home games at Stabler Arena in Bethlehem until they moved to Allentown in 2014.
From 1996 to 2012, the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League held pre-season training camp each summer at the football facilities of Bethlehem's Lehigh University.
In the early part of the 20th century, Bethlehem had a corporate soccer team, the Bethlehem Steel F.C., which won the 1918–19 championship in the National Association Football League (NAFL), and then won what amounted to national championships three more times during the next decade (1920–21 in the NAFL; 1926–27 in the American Soccer League I; and in 1928–29 winning the EPSL II). The Bethlehem Steel sides consisted largely of British imported players and also had the distinction of being the first American professional soccer team to play in Europe, which it did during its tour of Sweden in 1919. The team also won the National Challenge Cup, now called the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup after billionaire sports franchise owner Lamar Hunt, five times beginning in 1915, and for the last time in 1926.
Parks and recreation
Bethlehem owns 39 park sites, encompassing . Among the city's parks are Buchannan Park, Elmwood Park, Illick's Mill Park, Johnston Park, Monocacy Park, Rockland Park, Rose Garden, Sand Island, Saucon Park, Sell Field, South Mountain Park, Triangle Park, West Side Park, and Yosko Park.
The city government is composed of a mayor and a seven-person city council. Mayor Robert Donchez was sworn in on January 6, 2014.
Federally, Bethlehem is part of Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district, represented by Democrat Susan Wild.
Colleges and universities
Bethlehem is home to three institutes of higher education. Lehigh University, located on South Mountain on the Bethlehem's South Side, has 5,000 undergraduates and 2,100 graduate students. The university, which was founded in 1865, was ranked No. 44 in U.S. News & World Report's 2017 ratings of America's best colleges.
Moravian University, located in the center city area, is a small, highly respected liberal arts college. Founded in 1742 as Bethlehem Female Seminary, Moravian is the sixth oldest college in the nation. Besides undergraduate programs, the college also includes the Moravian Theological Seminary, a graduate school with approximately 100 students from more than a dozen religious denominations.
The International Institute for Restorative Practices is a graduate school dedicated to the advanced education of professionals and to the conduct of research that can develop the growing field of restorative practices. The IIRP offers two master's degrees: the Master of Restorative Practices and Education (MRPE) and the Master of Restorative Practices and Youth Counseling (MRPYC). The IIRP also offers an 18-credit Graduate Certificate in Restorative Practices.
The main campus of Northampton Community College is located in neighboring Bethlehem Township, but it does have a satellite campus within the city.
Primary and secondary education
Bethlehem public schools are managed by the Bethlehem Area School District, which covers a area that includes the city, the boroughs of Fountain Hill and Freemansburg and two townships, Bethlehem Township and Hanover Township. The district operates two high schools for grades 9–12, Liberty High School near center city, and Freedom High School in neighboring Bethlehem Township.
The district also has four public middle schools for grades 6–8: Broughal Middle School, East Hills Middle School, Nitschmann Middle School, and Northeast Middle School. In addition, BASD maintains 16 public elementary schools for grades K-5: Asa Packer Elementary School, Calypso Elementary School, Clearview Elementary School, Donegan Elementary School, Farmersville Elementary School, Fountain Hill Elementary School, Freemansburg Elementary School, Governor Wolf Elementary School, Hanover Elementary School, James Buchanan Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary School, Marvine Elementary School, Miller Heights Elementary School, Spring Garden Elementary School, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, and William Penn Elementary School. Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts is also operated by the district, though it accepts students in grades 9–12 from throughout Northampton and surrounding counties.
Bethlehem has two private high schools: Bethlehem Catholic High School, which serves grades 9–12, and Moravian Academy, which serves all primary and secondary school grades. Notre Dame High School, located just north of the city, also serves grades 9 through 12.
Each of Bethlehem's three large high schools, Bethlehem Catholic, Freedom and Liberty, compete athletically in Pennsylvania's Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and play their home football games at Bethlehem Area School District Stadium, a 14,000-capacity stadium that is one of the largest high school football stadiums in the state and has been labeled "a local football mecca."
Two daily newspapers currently serve Bethlehem. The Morning Call, based in Allentown, and The Express-Times, based in Easton. Other smaller newspapers include The Bethlehem Press, an award-winning weekly, Pulse Weekly, based in Allentown; Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal, based in Bethlehem, and Lehigh Valley Sports Extra, an all-sports monthly newspaper founded in 2001. A Bethlehem-based daily, The Globe-Times, founded in 1855, ceased publication in 1991.
Religious broadcaster WBPH is the only television station licensed in Bethlehem, though WLVT Channel 39, a PBS affiliate, has its operations in the city. WFMZ Channel 69, an independent station, is based in neighboring Allentown. Bethlehem is part of the Philadelphia DMA and its cable systems also receive select radio and television broadcasts from New York City.
Bethlehem has two licensed commercial radio stations, variety WGPA AM, and hard rock WZZO FM (though the latter's facilities are in Whitehall Township). There is also one non-commercial station, WLVR FM, operated by Lehigh University. In addition, public radio station WDIY FM, while licensed in Allentown, maintains its facilities in Bethlehem. There are numerous other stations broadcast from Allentown and Easton representing a variety of commercial formats, as well as several translators of public stations from Philadelphia and New Jersey.
Lehigh Valley International Airport, the fourth largest commercial airport in Pennsylvania, is located roughly north of Bethlehem.
LANta provides local bus service in Bethlehem, serving points in the city and providing connections to Allentown, Easton, the Lehigh Valley Mall, and other points in the Lehigh Valley. The Bethlehem Transportation Center at Broad and Guetter streets serves as a transit hub for LANTA buses in Bethlehem. Trans-Bridge Lines provides intercity bus service in Bethlehem, stopping at the Bethlehem Transportation Center and the Wind Creek Bethlehem bus terminal. Trans-Bridge Lines provides service from Bethlehem to Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City along two routes, one of which runs from Allentown and Bethlehem to New York City and the other which runs from Bethlehem to New York City via Doylestown, Pennsylvania and Flemington, New Jersey. OurBus provides bus service from Bethlehem to Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey.
Freight rail service in Bethlehem is provided by the Norfolk Southern Railway and Lehigh Valley Rail Management. Norfolk Southern Railway operates the Lehigh Line through the city along the Lehigh River, with the Reading Line splitting from the Lehigh Line in Bethlehem. Bethlehem formerly had passenger rail service at the Bethlehem Union Station, which originally served the Lehigh Valley Railroad and Reading Company and had service along SEPTA's Bethlehem Line south to Philadelphia until 1981, when service was cut back to Quakertown and later Lansdale. The Central Railroad of New Jersey formerly provided passenger rail service to the city at the Bethlehem station.
Electricity in Bethlehem is provided by PPL Electric Utilities. UGI Utilities supplies natural gas to the city. The City of Bethlehem Department of Water & Sewer Resources provides water and sewer service to Bethlehem and parts of 10 adjacent municipalities in Lehigh and Northampton counties, serving 35,000 water customers and 25,000 sewer customers. The city's water supply comes from the Pocono Mountains, with the surface water sources containing 10 billion gallons of freshwater capacity in an area consisting of 23,000 acres of protected watershed. Trash collection in Bethlehem is provided by private haulers while the City of Bethlehem Recycling Department provides recycling collection.
In popular culture
Bethlehem's sister cities are:
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