A long time ago, over 40 years at this point, we lived in Bethlehem PA. I had a job at Lehigh University as Director of Housing. The campus was founded in 1856 and has always had a strong engineering program.
This was during my higher education employment days. Over the course of the three years we spent in Bethlehem, we got to know a number of people, visited around the area (Kutztown, Bucks County, Quakertown, Philadelphia) and generally had a good time. One of the things I remember vividly was touring the Bethlehem Steel Plant with friends of my parents – a superintendent in the production area. We toured a couple of times and there is something really magical about watching a huge crucible filled with molten steel tip and pour out a river of liquid steel.
Today the plant is closed – and has been for the better part of 20 years –
sections are being reused, Sands Casino, shopping areas, public TV studios, but most is still in rusting degeneration.
The City is divided into two major parts – separated by the Lehigh River. The South side was the home of Bethlehem Steel and Lehigh University. The North side was the City Center, Moravian College, Church and Victorian splendid mansions. It defined itself in the 1980s as Christmas City. Since our leaving the area, with the steel plant closing, the South side has had to reinvent itself around its immigrant population and University students. There are a number of new business buildings, coffee shops and restaurants, plus a large portion of the steel plant was taken over by the Sands Casino. It seems this Casino is the closest gambling spot to New York City and attracts a lot of bused in business. Other sections of the old steel plant have become art studios, a public TV studio, Industrial Museum and other reuse spaces.
The North side has also had to refocus, but seems to be turning around. The old Bethlehem Hotel has been renovated and made much more comfortable, the Old Town has some interesting shops and various business areas have been developed. There are several large warehouse distribution centers in the area (Amazon has a HUGE operation and FedEx is developing a very large center also) helping the City to survive.
When we moved here in 1975 we decided it might be time to actually buy a home and eventually purchased a duplex on Wall Street for $17,000.
We ended up doing a lot of work to this place but it was ready to move in when we purchased it. The house still stands and looks very much like it did when we sold it before moving to California.
During our visit we drove around a bit on both sides of the river.
It is surprising after all the years to be able to find things we remembered from long ago. The Lehigh Campus has expanded with a number of new buildings taking over, many of the fraternities have closed and been taken over by the campus housing operation and the school has become much more of a liberal arts college than just a highly recognized engineering school (which it was when we were here).
When we lived in the city, dining was limited – ok, it was basically none existent. There was a restaurant in Hess Department store in Allentown the country club in Bethlehem, one or two small restaurants – think diners– and nothing like a place with a wine list unless you drove into the Poconos or NYC. Now there are a number of tasty eateries including specialty cafes doing breakfast/brunch only, steak and fish restaurants and a couple of up scale Italian spots.
One of our favorite places to visit while in town was always the Moravian Book Store.
This place is reputed to be the oldest bookstore in the country and always had wonderful books, artistic gift items, Christmas decorations and other treasures. Well, unfortunately, it is not longer the ‘go to spot’ as it is turning into a Barnes and Noble store for Moravian College. We found the change to be very saddening.
On Saturday we connected with friends Chad and Lynne for dinner.
It was really wonderful to reconnect with them – sure we exchanged the occasional Christmas card over the years but really haven’t seen them since we left Bethlehem (well, not entirely true – Janeen went to their wedding which was held in the National Cathedral in Washington DC). They have lived in the area for over 40 years and seem to know all the movers and shakers around plus a good part of the development history and our conversations provided a nice perspective on the changes and progress of the City.
After visiting in Bethlehem for a few days we left and drove up to Fairview Lake – where Jim and Carol have a lovely lake front “cottage” (1930s chestnut log) they have refurbished and made into a lovely retreat.
The home has two out buildings along with the main cabin allowing them to spread family around when they visit.
Our retreat area was the upper portion of the garage, which Jim had added to the property several years ago, with a great view of the lake. While it was a bit breezy and cool while we visited, it didn’t stop us from going on a lake cruise the first evening or enjoying the patio for afternoon relaxation time.
There is no telling when we will be back to either Bethlehem or Fairview Lake but I can certainly see a time when that will happen.