Local History Timeline

For more information about Bethlehem’s early years through 1844, visit the Bethlehem Digital History Project web site (BDHP).


Bethlehem’s land deed from 1741

Bethlehem founded by the Moravians.

More information can be found here.


First entry in the Bethlehem Diary, June 17th.

4 May 1742

Bell House, built 1745

Precursor to Moravian College established as a girls school in Germantown, PA. Moves to the Bell House in Bethlehem in 1749.

19 July 1742

Brethren’s House, built 1748

Boys school established.  Moves into the newly built Brethren’s House in 1748, relocates in 1755 to the newly built Familienhaus, and again in 1759, merging with the boys school in Nazareth.


The Bethlehem Waterworks

Bethlehem establishes the first public waterworks in the American Colonies


Nain-Schober House, only remaining structure from the Nain Village.

Village of Nain is erected from 1758 to 1762 along the banks of the Monocacy Creek.


The restored Sun Inn.

The Sun Inn established in Bethlehem.  A thorough look at its history can be found here.


American Indians living in the Bethlehem area ordered to Philadelphia by the colonial government.  More information can be found here.


Dr. John Matthew Otto, surgeon in the Moravian settlement, introduces inoculation for smallpox. More information on the story can be found here.


Brethren’s House used as a hospital for soldiers of the Revolution. Marquis de La Lafayette recovers from wounds received at the Battle of Brandywine at the Beckel House. Visit this page for more information on Lafayette’s stay in Bethlehem.

Eleanor Barba’s painting depicting Lafayette at the Beckel House.


Wagon carrying the State House Bell aka The Liberty Bell, breaks down on King’s Road on September 25th in Bethlehem (Bethlehem Pike). For more information on the road, and the incident, go here.

April 1778

Pulaski’s Banner

The Moravian Sisters of Bethlehem present Casimir Pulaski with a banner honoring his service to the Revolutionary cause.


Boarding School for Girls opened to any denomination.


First bridge over the Lehigh River is completed on Saturday September 27, 1794.

Sketch of the 1794 Bridge


According to Joseph Scott’s A Geographical Dictionary of the United States of North America (1905), Bethlehem’s population is 543.


Central Moravian Church built in Bethlehem.

Central Moravian Church plans, circa 1806


Moravian Theological Seminary organized in Nazareth. Reorganized in Bethlehem in 1858 as Moravian College and Theological Seminary.

Nazareth Hall, c. 1830


Eagle Hotel built and Bethlehem’s first house removed.

Eagle Hotel Bethlehem, c.1880


First iron furnace in PA (Beckel’s).


Lehigh Canal opens.

Gustavus Grunewald’s painting of the Lehigh Canal c. 1830


First public printing establishment opened. First zinc ore found on Jacob Ueberroth’s farm.

Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company c.1860


First public school opens on what is now 14 West Broad St. in Bethlehem


The Moravian Church opens up Bethlehem to non-members of the church, and begins selling off some of the land.


Bethlehem incorporates into a borough.


Railroad charter obtained for what would become the Lehigh Valley Railroad. For a brief history of the railroad, visit here.

Union Depot, Bethlehem c.1900


First bi-weekly newspaper, die Biene.  Francis Henry Oppelt opens his Water Cure in what is now Fountain Hill.  For more information about Oppelt’s venture visit here.

8 April 1857

Saucona Iron Company chartered (what would become the Bethlehem Steel Company.) More information can be found here.


Lehigh University chartered by Judge Asa Packer. South Side becomes a borough.

Lehigh University: Packer Hall, circa 1868.


Bethlehem Daily Times newspaper begins publishing.


New Street Bridge built.


Broad Street Bridge built.


St. Luke’s Hospital receives its charter to open a hospital in South Bethlehem (later moved to Fountain Hill).

17 October 1873

First patient admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital. For more information on the founding of St. Luke’s, see “Our History” at St. Luke’s website and The history of St. Luke’s Hospital: a story of big-city medicine and hometown care in BAPL’s Bethlehem Room



Childen’s Home started by W. W. Thurston, Vice President of Bethlehem Iron Company, later to be renamed Wiley House and today is know as KidsPeace.  For more information about the history, visit this page.


West Side made a borough; map of the Bethlehems compiled by Mansfield Merriman.

10 September 1886

Poet Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle born in Bethlehem. She would go on to become a very notable 20th century poet and is regarded as Bethlehem’s most important literary figure.


Bethlehem Town Council votes to construct a Central Fire Station.


Bethlehem Fair and Driving Park Association grounds open with Pennsylvania State Fair.


Fountain Hill officially incorporated as a borough.  For a brief history of Fountain Hill, visit here.


Bethlehem Globe newspaper begins publishing.


America’s oldest Bach Choir is organized by Dr. J. Fred Wolle.  More information on the library’s collection of material on the choir can be found here.


Bethlehem Iron Company reorganized as Bethlehem Steel Company


Bethlehem Free Public Library founded. Charles Schwab purchases the Bethlehem Steel Company.


Consolidation of West Bethlehem with Bethlehem.


Consolidation of Bethlehem, South Bethlehem and West Bethlehem. Archibald Johnston becomes 1st mayor; begins practice of annual mayor’s report. Bethlehem’s first City Council sworn in. Charles Schwab appointed Director General of Emergency Fleet Corporation.


Bethlehem Community Chest incorporated.

1 July 1919

R.K. Laros opens his first silk mill in Bethlehem. Laros Silk Company would become one of the country’s top silk manufacturers and one of the most influential companies in City.


Hotel Bethlehem opens. For more information about the hotel’s history, visit this page.


James M. Yeakle becomes 2nd Mayor of Bethlehem.

5 September 1922


Hill-to-Hill bridge opens. For more information on this historic bridge, go here.


Daily Times merges with the Globe to form the Bethlehem Globe-Times


Zone map of the City of Bethlehem compiled.


South Side library completed. 1930 Census shows total population at 57,892. Robert Pfeifle becomes Bethlehem’s 3rd Mayor.


Bethlehem officially named the “Christmas City”; Community Christmas Celebration street lighting begins. Bethlehem Community Christmas Star erected on the highest point in Bethlehem.  For more information on the star’s interesting history, go here.

Bethlehem Star, 2017.

January 1941

Construction of the Wild Creek Reservoir is completed. For more information about this historic project, visit this page.

24-28 March 1941

Bethlehem Steelworker’s strike lasts for four days in a violent labor dispute. For more information, including historic newspaper clippings and photographs, visit this page.

1 February 1948

Bethlehem’s first Mayor, Archibald Johnston dies. See his obituary here.


Earl Schaffer becomes Bethlehem’s fourth mayor.

8 November 1961

Plane crash kills 29 Lehigh Valley area Army recruits on way to basic training.  For more information, visit this page.

Flight 201 Memorial in Bethlehem

January 1962

Elaine Meilicke becomes the first woman sworn in to serve on Bethlehem’s City Council.


Gordon Payrow becomes Bethlehem’s fifth mayor.


Construction of Route 378, from Broad Street to Route 22, begins. For more information on the history of Bethlehem’s own highway, visit this page.


Bethlehem’s new City Center and Library open. Read an article about the huge volunteer effort to move all the books to the new library. See the entire project documented in the Luckenbach Family Scrapbook at Lehigh University’s digital local history collection.

For more information about the sculpture, “Symbol of Progress” in the City Center visit this page.


John Strohmeyer, editor of the Bethlehem Globe-Times, wins a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial campaign to reduce racial tensions in Bethlehem.  For more information including the winning articles, visit this page.

John Strohmeyer

7 July 1973

Philip J. Fahy Memorial Bridge dedicated, honoring Bethlehem policeman killed in line of duty. See press coverage of the bridge’s June opening here.

Press coverage of the July 7 dedication can be found here.

7 July 1973

Gordon Mowrer becomes Bethlehem’s sixth mayor.


Dolores Caskey elected to Bethlehem’s City Council. She would serve with distinction for over a decade, become the City’s first woman to serve as Council Chair, and earn a reputation as an advocate for Bethlehem’s Latinx community.


Main Street revitalization project begins. For more information on the history of this project, visit this page.


Paul Marcincin becomes Bethlehem’s 7th Mayor.


First Musikfest takes place in Bethlehem from August 18-26, 1984. View the first Musikfest map and additional coverage.


Kenneth Smith becomes Bethlehem’s 8th Mayor.


Bethlehem Globe-Times merges with Easton Express to form the Express-Times


Bethlehem Steel Corporation ends steelmaking operations in Bethlehem. The date of the official “last cast” is noted as November  18,  1995.


Donald T. Cunningham elected Bethlehem’s 9th Mayor.


Bethlehem Steel Corporation files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Mayor Don Cunningham re-elected to second term.


International Steel Group buys Bethlehem Steel. Don Cunningham steps down as Mayor of Bethlehem to serve in Cabinet of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. Ismael Arcelay becomes the first Puerto Rican to serve on Bethlehem City Council.


John Callahan sworn in as Bethlehem’s 10th Mayor.


John Callahan re-elected Mayor of Bethlehem. Former Bethlehem Mayor Don Cunningham elected Lehigh County Executive.


Money magazine names Bethlehem as one of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live” in the USA. City is awarded gaming license from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, allowing new development of Sands Casino complex on former Bethlehem Steel Company site.


Sands Casino opens to public on former Bethlehem Steel Company site.


Official opening of Bethlehem Skatepark, Phase 1, on South Side of City.


Completion of the first leg of the South Bethlehem Greenway. 

Blue Herons, a new sculpture by Virginia Abbot, is dedicated on site, along with garden of native plants.


Robert Donchez sworn in as the 11th Mayor of Bethlehem.


The National Museum of Industrial History opens in South Bethlehem. Visit the museum’s website here.


The Bethlehem Area Public Library celebrates 50th anniversary at the City Center. For a detailed look at BAPL’s history visit here.


Bethlehem breaks ground for a memorial honoring the Borinqueneers, the 65th Infantry Regiment of 20th century Puerto Rican soldiers who fought in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.


J. William Reynolds is sworn in on January 3, becoming the 14th mayor of Bethlehem.


With the swearing in of new members Rachel Leon, Hillary Kwiatek, and Kiera Wilhelm, Bethlehem’s City Council has a female majority for the first time in the city’s history. They join Grace Crampsie Smith and Paige Van Wirt, as well as Councilman Michael Colon.

For more information about Bethlehem’s early years through 1844, visit the Bethlehem Digital History Project web site (BDHP).

Excerpted in part from: Cressman, Austin M. Historical Bethlehem 1741-1950. c1941.

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Bethlehem Area Public Library is a great place to learn more about the rich and diverse history of our city, region and people.