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Historic restoration project underway at iconic structure in Bethlehem’s Colonial Industrial Quarter

June 28th, 2023

BETHLEHEM, PA, JUNE 28, 2023 — After more than 260 years of service and standing, the 1761 Tannery in Historic Bethlehem’s Colonial Industrial Quarter was due for a thorough inspection and meticulous detailing.

Over the past few weeks, a dedicated team of preservationist craftsmen has been working on the building’s third floor to restore the windows and to rebuild elements including the barn doors which have failed from age and deterioration.

Bethlehem’s Mark Southard and his company called Artisanal Structures LLC, are leading the renovation project and are taking great care to craft the restoration — in the traditional way.

“We’re using mortise and tenon joinery, timber pegs for fasteners,” explained Southard, during a recent building session at the Tannery.

“It’s our plan to pay attention to the species of wood used and to be faithful to the original domestic materials,” he added. “At the same time, we’re giving preference to rot-resistant white oak and black locust hardwoods for the future.”

Bethlehem’s Mark Southard, John Perkins, and Marlon Santana (right to left) of Artisanal Structures LLC, are leading the renovation project and are taking great care to craft the Tannery restoration — in the traditional way.

Southard’s team is doing some of the work on-site and has taken some of the pieces back to his shop for repairs and reconstruction. Currently, if you look up at the Tannery’s third-floor windows, you’ll notice that the missing frames, panes, and sashes have been temporarily and smartly replaced by plexiglass panels made to look like the real thing until the actual windows are complete.

Phase one of the project also includes restoring the building’s dormers and the barge boards at the gable ends of the roof.

Phase two involves rebuilding herringbone-patterned doors on the first floor in keeping with the architectural style of the historic Moravian buildings.

HBMS is also investigating the management of the water infiltration into the tanning vats.

“The incredible buildings that surround Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites are a tangible link to our past,” said LoriAnn Wukitsch, President of HBMS. “These special structures tell stories that visitors experience as they walk by or enter. And we want them to come inside. These structures keep community memories alive.”

In 1761, the Moravians constructed the Tannery along the Monocacy Creek to process leather, alongside a neighboring butchery.

They produced roughly 3,000 hides per year, providing materials for clothing, footwear, harnesses, fire buckets and machinery components. The Tannery was equipped with vats for soaking the hides with a mix of tanbark and water. The entire process, in Colonial times, could take up to two years.

Artisanal Structures LLC is doing some of the Tannery work on-site and has taken some of the pieces back to their shop for repairs and reconstruction. Currently, if you look up at the Tannery’s third-floor windows, you’ll notice that the missing frames, panes, and sashes have been temporarily and smartly replaced by plexiglass panels made to look like the real thing until the actual windows are complete.

Eventually, in 1830, the Moravian Church decided to sell the business, but tanning was still conducted there until it was transformed into a multi-family residence in 1873. Almost a century later (1968-1971) the building was restored. In addition, the Historic Bethlehem collection has preserved an archaeological report, remnants of the vats, and tools from the Tannery.

HBMS’s restoration, repair, and preservation efforts have been accelerated in recent months — in preparation for a series of UNESCO World Heritage assessments and evaluations this year.

In February, the U.S. Department of Interior submitted a multi-country nomination to the World Heritage List of historic “Moravian Church Settlements” in Bethlehem, North America, and Europe.

This transnational nomination includes Bethlehem, Gracehill, Northern Ireland/UK and Herrnhut, Germany. If approved by the international World Heritage Committee, these three sites will join the previously inscribed Moravian settlement of Christiansfeld, Denmark to form a single UNESCO listing for the Moravian Church Settlements.

Southard, a former pastor at Bethlehem’s First Presbyterian Church, arrives at the Tannery task following a career as an anthropologist, chairman of Habitat for Humanity Lehigh Valley, and efforts in third-world community partnerships.

John Perkins of Artisanal Structures LLC handles a deteriorated third floor window frame that will be replaced as part of the restoration project.

Additionally, his group conducted structural rehabilitation efforts at George Taylor House in Catasauqua.

Since 2015, Artisanal Structures’ restoration work in and around Historic Bethlehem has included a new wood shingle roof on the Haas Barn and Colonial Garden Shed, period-appropriate repairs to the Johnson Barn, and restoration work on the beehive oven at the 1748-1848 Burnside Plantation.

Southard’s team has also completed restoration work at the 1810 Goundie House, 1869 Luckenbach Mill, the 1782/1834 Miller’s House, Waterworks, and Spring House in the Colonial Industrial Quarter.

Phase one of the 1761 Tannery project is expected to be completed in the next few weeks.

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