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The world is watching us. That’s because Historic Moravian Bethlehem is poised to become a World Heritage Site. That’s big. Very audacious. Being named a World Heritage Site puts us in the same league as national treasures like Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty, and the Grand Canyon, and globally iconic sites such as the Great Wall of China, Acropolis, and Pyramids of Egypt. Historic Moravian Bethlehem is a masterpiece of human creative genius with culture, architecture, and design that are exceptional and have universal value to humankind. That is what the team that evaluates potential World Heritage Sites looks for, and we’ve had it for centuries here in Bethlehem.
THE STORY, BRIEFLY
Almost 275 years ago—in 1741, to be exact—a community of Moravians, a Protestant group from today’s Czech Republic, settled on the rich land near Bethlehem’s Monocacy Creek. But they had more in mind than farming: they were missionaries and amazing town planners. They settled in. Then they began to build, making Bethlehem a phenomenon of extraordinary buildings, music, and values that were centuries ahead of their time. (More on that in a second). The Moravians built America’s earliest industrial park with a pottery, tannery, soap mill, wash houses, grist mill, oil mill, blacksmith shop, and brass foundry. Within six years, 35 crafts, trades, and industries filled that stretch of ground, and there were butchers, clockmakers, bakers, saddlers, and masons. And by 1762, the Waterworks—the first pumped municipal water system in America—was pumping fresh water for the entire town.
BUILDING A TOWN. (LITERALLY)
The 1741 Gemeinhaus on Church Street—the community house—was a home, church, infirmary, school, and workshops. It’s not only the oldest building in Bethlehem, but the largest surviving 1700s log structure in continuous use in the United States. A home for single women, a home for single men, and more followed. Then construction moved onto Main Street with an enormous church, a tidy apothecary (think drugstore), and an inn for travelers. Ten buildings became part of a National Historic Landmark District in 2012 and were officially recognized by the government for their outstanding historical significance. Two of these are singled out as National Historic Landmarks: the Gemeinhaus and the Waterworks.
While the town kept growing, it never outgrew its core Moravian values that were part of that 1741 journey. Moravians didn’t just construct buildings: they forged a value system that echoes down Main and Church Streets today. Moravians believed that people of all races, genders, and ethnicities should receive the same education and health care. Europeans, African- Americans, and American Indians lived, worked, worshipped, and went to school together, and then were buried side by side. Think for a moment about the world in the mid-1700s and you’ll realize how radical some of these ideas were. And more than 275 years later, our society is still grappling with many of the same issues that the Moravians embraced from their first days here. These walls have stories. Come learn more about your local treasures.