Until 1918, West Bethlehem, South Bethlehem, and Bethlehem were distinct entities. In 1918, the Bethlehems were consolidated, the city was incorporated, and Archibald Johnston was elected the first Mayor. Each entry below can be expanded for pictures, links, and information on each of Bethlehem’s Mayors.
Archibald Johnston was the first Mayor of Bethlehem. He served as mayor from 1918 to 1921, totaling 4 years in office before his successor, James M. Yeakle, took on the position. A Republican mayor, Johnston graduated from Lehigh University and was very active in the Bethlehem community. Je was Vice President of the Bethlehem Steel. During his term as mayor, Liberty High School was built and plans for the building of Hill to Hill Bridge were made. Hotel Bethlehem also opened during his time as mayor. He passed away on February 1, 1948 at 83 years old in his home in Bethlehem. As the first mayor of Bethlehem, he grew to be a symbol of progress and growth for both the city and its citizens.
James Yeakle was the second mayor of Bethlehem, serving from 1922 to 1930, a total of 8 years in office. He worked in the carriage business before entering politics. While he was in office, the Hill to Hill Bridge was opened in November of 1924, and Bethlehem continued to grow. The Daily Times and the Globe merged into one newspaper to be called the Bethlehem Globe-Times in this era.
During Yeakle’s time as mayor, prohibition was the law of the land; the City was known to host many establishments that sold alcohol illegally, as well as being home to increasing amounts of organized crime. Yeakle was also known for leading the city during World War I as the Bethlehem Steel worked to provide materials for the government and the war cause.
A plaque honors Mayor Pfeifle on the City’s South Side.
Robert Pfeifle was in office as mayor of the City of Bethlehem for twenty years, from 1930 to 1950. He was the third mayor of Bethlehem and was a homebuilder before entering politics. Pfeifle was most famously known for this work as a carpenter and builder before becoming mayor, when he accomplished the merging of South Bethlehem and Bethlehem into one city. During his time as mayor, he was known for campaigning and working to close speakeasies, along with generally confiscating liquor, which was illegal at the time. Also during his time in office, the first Bethlehem Star was put up atop South Mountain in 1937, and later replaced by a new star in 1939, this time having the star built by the Bethlehem Steel. He passed away in 1958. In 2019, a plaque was installed near where his home once stood at 424 Webster St.
Earl Schaffer was mayor of Bethlehem, PA from 1950 to 1962, totaling 12 years in office. He is most well-known for recognizing the need to for a new City Hall complex, as well as increasing recreation services and recognizing the need for a “strong mayor” government. This need for a “strong mayor” would later be realized in his successor, H. Gordon Payrow. During his time in office he oversaw the completion of a new sewer plant, the building of the Penn Forest Dam and Reservoir, earned income tax legislation, and the creation of the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority. He passed away in 1982.
Earl Schaffer was mayor from 1950-1962. He is credited with expanding the City’s park system and the Ice Rink is named for him.
H. Gordon Payrow
Mayoral portrait of Gordon Payrow, City of Bethlehem
Gordon Payrow was the mayor of the City of Bethlehem from 1962-1973. Payrow was a native of Bethlehem, graduated from Bethlehem High School and soon afterwards from the Allentown Preparatory school. He later went on to study business as Lehigh University. During his time in office, he was known as Bethlehem’s first “strong Mayor,” although he himself hated the idiom. In 1943, he married his wife Dorothy Parker. He and his wife both passed away in 2004 and are survived by their family and friends. The Bethlehem City Hall and Public Library Plaza is named after him and includes a plaque in his honor.
Mayoral portrait of Gordon Mower, City of Bethlehem
Gordon Mowrer was elected as mayor in 1974 and stayed in the position until 1978. At 36 years old, he was Bethlehem’s youngest mayor to be elected into office. He is known as Bethlehem’s “Main Street Mayor,” since he is credited for bringing in Victorian lighting and slate sidewalks to the city’s most famous street. He was also known for renewing Bethlehem’s old, historic buildings rather than demolishing him them, giving the city its historic charm that we love so much today. In 2013, a bronze plaque for his accomplishments was put on the intersection of Main Street and Market Street to honor all of the accomplishments he contributed to the city. He passed away in July of 2016 and is survived by his children.
Mayoral Portrait of Paul Marcincin, City of Bethlehem.
Paul Marcincin was the 7th mayor of Bethlehem, PA. He served as mayor from 1978 to 1987. In his youth, he served in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II, graduated from Moravian College with an undergraduate degree in 1948, and later received a master’s degree from Lehigh University. He served as a basketball coach for Moravian College for 24 years. Marcincin was also the mayor of Bethlehem from 1997-1998, when he was serving as acting mayor. Before he passed away in 2009, he played a big role in putting together Bethlehem’s annual music festival, Musikfest, and worked with first lady Rosalynn Carter on a project that focused on the South Terrace area of Bethlehem. He is survived by his children and grandchildren.
Kenneth Smith took on the role of mayor of the City of Bethlehem when he won the election in 1987. He served as mayor until 1997, when he resigned and decided to take on the position of Vice President of Public Affairs at Lehigh University, his alma mater. One of the biggest pieces of legislation he worked on while in office was spending more than $60 million on the city’s water supply by shoring a dam. Smith said his best memory as mayor was the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the City of Bethlehem. Smith and his family spend time between their home in Bethlehem and in Boynton Beach, Florida. His wife owned the children’s store, The Heritage, on Main Street of Bethlehem. He is currently retired.
Mayoral portrait of Don Cunningham, City of Bethlehem
Don Cunningham is currently the President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), but previously served as the City of Bethlehem’s mayor from 1998-2003. He received his undergraduate degree in journalism and a minor in government in 1987 from Shippensburg University, and his masters in political science from Villanova University in 1991. Cunningham was also a Lehigh County Executive and was appointed as Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of General Services during Governor Ed Rendell’s administration. During his time in these positions and as Mayor, he directed urban growth initiatives and economic development projects. He was born and raised in Bethlehem; his family’s roots in Bethlehem go back five generations.
James Delgrosso served on the City of Bethlehem’s Council from 1982-2003. In 2003, he became interim mayor for of the City and served in that position for one year before his successor, John Callahan, took on the position. Delgrosso attended Kutztown University for an undergraduate degree in education before perusing his master’s degree at Penn State and Temple University. Before his passing in October of 2009, he was serving as Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Contractors’ Association. He was a member of St. Anne’s Catholic Church and is survived by his wife, Debbie, his son Jim Jr., his daughter, Lisa, and his grandchildren.
Mayoral portrait of John Callahan, City of Bethlehem
John Callahan, a Democrat, was elected in 2003 as Mayor of the City of Bethlehem and came into office in 2004. He attended Liberty High School and Moravian College in Bethlehem. Before becoming mayor, he was a member of the Bethlehem City Council for six years. During his time in office, Callahan led efforts to redevelop Bethlehem Steel lands and made crucial decisions regarding tax-increment financing. After serving as Mayor for over a decade, Callahan, a father of three, left the position in 2013 and was succeeded by the current Mayor, Robert Donchez.
Mayoral portrait of Robert Donchez, City of Bethlehem
Robert Donchez won the Democratic primary and then ran unopposed in the general election in November 2013. He came into office as the Mayor of the City of Bethlehem in 2014. A retired schoolteacher, he taught American Government for thirty-five years at William Allen High School in the Allentown School District. Prior to becoming Mayor, he had been serving as a City Councilman since 1995. Donchez serves on community boards such as the Lehigh Valley Industrial Park and the Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation Boards; he is an honorary board member of the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley. He has also served on the Bethlehem Area Public Library Board and was Chairman of Council’s Public Safety, Finance, Community, and Economic Committees. He is a member of St. Anne’s Catholic Church, is married to Jayne A. Miller Donchez, and is the father of Robert and Kristen Donchez.