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Charlene Donchez Mowers: Group Preserves Bethlehem’s Past While Anticipating Future

March 26th, 2014 |

March 22, 2014 | In The News

In April 1993, more than 250 years after Moravian settlers founded Bethlehem, Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites was formed by Burnside Plantation, Historic Bethlehem Inc. and Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, joining together. The Moravian Museum of Bethlehem joined several years later.

Over the past two decades, Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites has made significant strides in telling the story of this extraordinary community while preserving some of America’s most treasured buildings, the finest examples of colonial Germanic architecture in our nation.

We have welcomed more than 50,000 visitors, from almost every state and 28 different foreign countries, a year to see our 20 historic sites, five gardens, three ruins and an orchard located on approximately 20 acres in the heart of the Lehigh Valley. We have in excess of 60,000 artifacts, 10,000 photographs, archival documents, archaeological material and a research library.

At the 1748-1848 Burnside Plantation, our 61/2-acre Farm in the City, we restored the 1748-1818 farmhouse, the 1820s summer kitchen, two 1840s bank barns, apple orchard, garden, and most recently opened our Back to Your Roots children’s activity center.

In the Colonial Industrial Quarter, America’s earliest industrial park, we stabilized the pottery and dye house ruins and reconstructed the 1750 Smithy on its original foundations. We restored the waterwheel in the 1762 Waterworks, a National Historic Landmark and America’s first pumped municipal water system. We are currently working to convert the 1869 Luckenbach Mill into our Learning Center where students will be able to experience the science and math of the early trades.

Next to our 1810 Goundie House on Main Street, we improved the curbside appeal by restoring the facade of the 1830s Schropp Shop and converted it into our Historic Bethlehem Visitor Center where visitors can hear about the wonderful experiences our region has to offer.

In 2012-2013 at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, we constructed a $2.7 million, two-story Collections Resource Center addition to house objects in our collection that tell the rich stories of Bethlehem. We added a new Once Upon a Tree House play space, and each month we welcome young children to our Hunt for History and Dolly and Me programs, making the Kemerer a wonderful meeting place for families.

At the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, restoration work was completed on the 1741 Gemeinhaus, a National Historic Landmark. The 1758-1765 Nain-Schober House was carefully restored. The 1744 and 1752 sections of the Single Sisters’ House recently underwent preservation work. Extensive research was done on the records of our 1752 Apothecary, seventh oldest in all of North America.

Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites is more than buildings and artifacts. Always working to improve our visitor experience, we have developed numerous programs, expanded tour offerings, created exhibits and launched our 80-stop Historic Bethlehem Heritage Trail. Thousands of students each year participate in our school tours which meet Pennsylvania academic standards and are approved for Educational Improvement Tax Credit funding.

From the Southside Visitor Center on the SteelStacks Campus, we offer two walking tours of the former Bethlehem Steel site: The Rise and Fall of Bethlehem Steel, and Art and Architecture from the mid-1800s industrial period to the 21st century. Residents and visitors alike are fascinated with the stories of this industrial complex and the three centuries of industrial history that can be experienced from our Colonial Industrial Quarter to the monumental structures of the former Bethlehem Steel plant.

Since 2004, we have been an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, one of only 180 museums in the United States. After a decade of effort, we recently received a nationally significant designation. In 2012, the U.S. Department of the Interior named Historic Moravian Bethlehem a National Historic Landmark District, one of only eight such districts in Pennsylvania and one of 200 in the entire United States. This is an important addition to the landscape of the Lehigh Valley for economic development and tourism.

On behalf of our board and staff, I would like to express our heartfelt appreciation to those of you who have contributed your time, talent, and treasure in support of our mission. In the spirit of those early settlers of Bethlehem and the generations that followed, I welcome your continued support as we begin our third decade at Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites with dedication, anticipation and excitement.

Charlene Donchez Mowers is president of Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites.

Article as printed in the Morning Call on March 22, 2014

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