Local History Timeline

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

1741

Bethlehem’s land deed from 1741

Bethlehem founded by the Moravians.

More information can be found here.

1742

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.

1754

The Bethlehem Waterworks

Bethlehem establishes the first public waterworks in the American Colonies

1758

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.

1758

The restored Sun Inn.

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

1763

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

1773

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

1777

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.

1777

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.

1785

Boarding School for Girls opened to any denomination.

1794

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

Sketch of the 1794 Bridge

1800

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

1806

Central Moravian Church built in Bethlehem.

Central Moravian Church plans, circa 1806

1807

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

Nazareth Hall, c. 1830

1822

Eagle Hotel built and Bethlehem’s first house removed.

Eagle Hotel Bethlehem, c.1880

1826

First iron furnace in PA (Beckel’s).

1829

Lehigh Canal opens.

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

1830

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

Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company c.1860

1836

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

1845

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

1845

Bethlehem incorporates into a borough.

1846

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

1846

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.

1865

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

Lehigh University: Packer Hall, circa 1868.

1867

Bethlehem Daily Times newspaper begins publishing.

1869

New Street Bridge built.

1870

Broad Street Bridge built.

1872

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

 

1882

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.

1886

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.

1890

Bethlehem Town Council votes to construct a Central Fire Station.

1891

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

1893

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

1894

Bethlehem Globe newspaper begins publishing.

1898

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.

1899

Bethlehem Iron Company reorganized as Bethlehem Steel Company

1901

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

1904

Consolidation of West Bethlehem with Bethlehem.

1918

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

1919

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.

1922

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

1922

James M. Yeakle becomes 2nd Mayor of Bethlehem.

5 September 1922

1924

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

1925

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

1929

Zone map of the City of Bethlehem compiled.

1930

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

1937

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.

1950

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

1962

Gordon Payrow becomes Bethlehem’s fifth mayor.

1966

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.

1967

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.

1972

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.

1978

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

1978

Paul Marcincin becomes Bethlehem’s 7th Mayor.

1984

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

1988

Kenneth Smith becomes Bethlehem’s 8th Mayor.

1991

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

1995

Bethlehem Steel Corporation ends steelmaking operations in Bethlehem.

1997

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

2001

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

2003

International Steel Group buys Bethlehem Steel. Don Cunningham steps down as Mayor of Bethlehem to serve in Cabinet of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

2004

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

2005

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

2006

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, allowing new development of Sands Casino complex on former Bethlehem Steel Company site.

2009

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

2010

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

2011

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.

2014

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

2016

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

2017

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

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.