Executive Director, Bethlehem Authority
Bethlehem Moment: July 26, 1938
It was July 26, 1938, when the Bethlehem City Council created
the Bethlehem Municipal Water Authority, the first one ever
established in the Commonwealth. The first Authority members
included Mayor Pfieffle and the City Council who submitted the
application to the State for use of the waters in the Wild Creek
Watershed. Once that was approved, they applied for and
subsequently received funding from the federal government for
the construction of the Wild Creek Dam and Reservoir and
In April of 1939 construction began, two tunnels were dug
through mountains in the foothills of Poconos, the dam was
built and starting filling, and in October 1941, the Wild Creek
Reservoir was dedicated and water began flowing to the
residents of the City.
And to this day the water still flows from the Wild Creek
Reservoir to the City and eleven surrounding municipalities and
is considered by many to be the best water in the region, if not
the entire state.
The stories we tell shape the lives we lead (Gadfly)
A whole bunch of Gadfly followers have kicked ass on their Bethlehem Moments, and now Gadfly is ready to take names for the first season of Moments in 2020.
If you need a refresher on the Moments done or the purpose and procedures for these snapshots of our history, look at the last post in this series and the other posts as well. See Bethlehem Moments on the sidebar.
Johanna has broken the 2020 ice. Lots of dates still available.
Reach Gadfly though “Contact” on the top page of the blog or at email@example.com.
There is no crying in baseball, no bashfulness in Gadball. Let’s hear from you.
Jan 7: Johanna Brams
Without a shared history, we are not a true community (Gadfly)
Please consider doing a Bethlehem Moment sometime during the first half of 2020.
Information for Possible Bethlehem Momentors
1) The “Bethlehem Moment” is a scene or event from Bethlehem history anywhere from 1741 to the 1960s, no more than 20 typed lines, that can be read in approximately 2 minutes, that will be presented at the beginning of City Council meetings. The Moments will be archived in Council minutes and published on the Gadfly blog, as well as perhaps other places.
2) The purpose of the Bethlehem Moment in a town that has been the scene of so much important history and has three nationally certified historical districts is to encourage everyone to learn more about that history. (For examples, see: https://thebethlehemgadfly.com/category/bethlehem-moments/.)
3) Willingness and interest are the most important things. You don’t have to feel you know anything at the beginning. A list of resources will be available. There will be people with whom to consult.
4) Help will be provided finding a topic, researching it, and writing the Moment if needed.
5) The topic is open, but you should clear it with the coordinator.
6) Good topics often start with a question: who? what? when? why?
7) Pick a topic that you know about, or, better yet, one that you want to learn about or feel that it is important that others know about.
8) There is no especial need to pick big topics, obvious topics, well-know topics; aspects of our history that are little-known or hidden, that we might not have even heard of, might be better.
9) Likewise, you should feel no especial need to choose a celebratory, feel-good topic – our dark moments are part of our history too and equally important and illuminating.
10) It’s best if you deliver your Moment at City Council yourself, but others can read it for you if necessary or if you prefer.
11) City Council meets at Town Hall the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month.
12) You might not feel that you have anything to say at the beginning, but you will probably struggle to confine yourself to 20 lines/2 minutes after you have done some research.
13) The Bethlehem Moment is a project aimed at fostering a sense of community. You should feel it an honor to do one. We hope you will see it as fun.
14) Afterwards, we hope you will be an Ambassador for the project & encourage others to participate.
15) please contact:
Ed Gallagher, the Gadfly
Standing just across the street from here is a building with an interesting story to tell about the early industrial history of Bethlehem. This modest, single-story white house at 26 W. Church Street was once a cacoonery where silk worms were tended and their mile-long filaments were reeled to produce the precious fabric that was all the rage in the US and Europe.
The silk industry in Bethlehem was established early in our history; there are references to a cacoonery overseen by Rev. Philip C. Bader in the Brethren’s House as early as 1752. Benjamin Franklin was an early and influential promoter of the cultivation and production of silk. He saw economic opportunity for our young country in response to the wild demand for silk in Europe, the need for the colonies to develop domestic industries, and the favorable conditions he found in colonial America for growing white mulberry trees, the silk worm’s essential food. In fact, the trees were so wild and plentiful that the name given by Delaware Indians, Nolamattink, to the area near present day Nazareth means “where the silk worm spins,” an apparent reference to the abundant trees and a later cacoonery operated by Bader.
The revolutionary war interrupted the development of the industry and it sputtered along early in the 19th century before collapsing in the late 1840s. It was a cottage industry in early America, suited to the “weak hands” of women and girls by the men of the day who believed that it could be done during their leisure time to supplement family income. In fact, the work was intense, laborious, and required a high level of skill. Women were expected to master the complex art of raising silkworms: maintaining the cocoons between 50 and 75 degrees until ready to hatch; feeding them multiple times during the day on a precise variable schedule; unreeling the mile-long filaments; braiding multiple filaments together to form strands for weaving; dying the cloth; fashioning it into garments and cultivating mulberry trees.
This underestimation by Franklin and other promoters of the industry of how much time women of the day had to devote to this enterprise accounts in part for its failure as a cottage industry to produce the quality and quantity of silk they envisioned. Other factors that led to the industry’s pre-civil war demise included a nationwide bubble in mulberry trees created by speculators and fraudsters and a mulberry blight. The little house at 26 W. Church Street is of this period, recorded in a 1970 report on historic structures in Bethlehem as having been built in 1826 and operating as a cacoonery in 1837.
The silk industry revived after the Civil War and was centered in Paterson, NJ, where industrial mills were able to produce large quantities of fabric and other silk products (again largely employing women and children as labor). As demand grew, the owners in Paterson searched for areas with a large supply of low-cost labor where they could establish more mills. Bethlehem and surrounding areas fit the bill with its large numbers of immigrants working in the steel and coal industry whose wives and children could be employed in the factories.
“The first silk mill in the Lehigh Valley opened in 1881; by 1900 there were twenty three silk mills in the Lehigh Valley, and Pennsylvania was second only to New Jersey in silk production. The industry in Pennsylvania and the US peaked in the late 1920s, undone by labor unrest, competition from synthetic fabrics and the Great Depression. In the decades after WWII, international competition from low-wage countries eliminated most of the textile employment in the Lehigh Valley. In 100 years the same economic factor – low-wage labor — that brought the industry to the Lehigh Valley in the 1880s led to its demise.”
I would like to acknowledge the extensive research conducted by Stasia Brown Pallrand for this Bethlehem Moment.
Donehoo, George P. A History of Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania. Pickles Partners Publishing, 2019.
Field, J., Senechal, M. Shaw, M. American Silk, 1830-1930 Entrepreneurs and Artifacts. Texas Tech University Press, 2007.
Historical Markers: Dery Silk Mill. Explore PA History.com
Hostetter, Albert K. The Early Silk Industry of Lancaster County (Classis Reprint). Forgotten Books, 2018.
Levering, Joseph M. A History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 1741-1892. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: Times Publishing Company, 1903.
Sure, we associate Puerto Ricans with Bethlehem, with the Southside.
I had seen references in old Globe-Times files to political meetings at the Portuguese Club, which must have meant the Portuguese were once prominent politically.
Follower Dana Grubb pointed out that the Portuguese American Club is still operating at 337 Brodhead Ave. Is it just a social club?
Then Negron wrote:
Holy Infancy Church (yes, Southside!) has the biggest diverse congregation! That’s why we do a Multicultural Fest every year! (see flyer below). We have mass every weekend in Spanish, English and in Portuguese (see bulletin attached), and our weekly bulletin it’s tri-lingual as well. The English-speaking community is a mix of the ambassadors of our parish (Irish, German, Pennsylvania Dutch, etc.); our Spanish speakers are from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico, South and Central America; and our Potuguese are from Portugal and Brazil! Beside the Multicultural Fest, my favorite part is having tri-lingual mass, it’s an amazing experience to be in mass surrounded by people speaking 3 different languages! We also have many events through the year that involve all of our communities, it’s beautiful!
Far out! Who knew?
And then follower Kim Carrell-Smith gave me some leads that I haven’t followed up yet but that I record here so that they don’t disappear and in case anybody wants to use them or can add:
You might want to talk with Tony Traca, the Asst Principal at Liberty about the history of Portuguese folks in Bethlehem. I know that Armindo Souza [is] the godfather of the P. community, [but I] am not sure Armindo is still alive. So Tony might be a good source; he’s been a big actor (and one of the youngsters) in the local Portuguese community . . .
One more possible source would be the Holy Infancy jubilee books (or any anniversary books). Local churches, esp the ethnic ones, often include brief histories of their ethnic communities. Since HI has been so multi-ethnic throughout its history, they might have provided those stories in the celebration books, perhaps? And I can’t remember, but this one might help, too: Journey of Faith: A Brief History of Bethlehem’s Religious Communities (1992) at BAPL, call no. 974.822
Gadfly loves learning more and more about the history of our town. Don’t you?
He sees a Bethlehem Moment here. Anyone interested?
Gadfly is thinking of a Moment analogous to Negron’s Puerto Rican one.
When did the Portuguese come to town and why? Same story or different?
On May 4th, 1742, 16-year old Countess Henrietta Benigna, daughter of Count Zinzendorf, opened a girl’s seminary school in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Initially, the school taught 25 pupils and focused on reading, writing, religion, and the household arts. Seven weeks after the school was founded, it was moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Three years later, it was moved to Nazareth and then returned permanently to Bethlehem in 1749.
In 1785, the school expanded its charter, began accepting girls from outside the Moravian Church, and changed its name to Moravian Female Seminary. The school itself built a tremendous reputation. In fact, as president, George Washington personally petitioned for the admission of his great-nieces. Eventually, in 1945, the Seminary was merged with a local boy’s school to form the coeducational institution we now know today as Moravian College.
As the first all-girls boarding school in the New World, the Moravian Female Seminary holds a special place in the history of education in America. Not only was it a school founded by women and for the benefit of women, but it was also one of the first schools in the New World to open itself to Native American children. This is the legacy of Henrietta Benigna. Henrietta founded the school on the basis that all deserve a quality education, and she did it in a time when that wasn’t a popular opinion. As various stakeholders in the City of Bethlehem today, we should feel proud of this moment in history and look to replicate the principles that Henrietta Benigna displayed back in 1742.
The J. G. Petrucci Company has been working in Bethlehem since the early 90’s, completing such projects as the Perkins on the Southside, the Moravian Health and Science Center, and ten projects in LVIPVII – including Curtiss Wright, Cigars International, and Synchronoss.
(Latest in a series of posts on local color and Bethlehem Moments)
The last two weeks there have been the kind of history stories dear to Gadfly’s heart in the Bethlehem Press.
Stories about the little things and people, the overlooked things and people.
That’s Jason Rehm, Bethlehem native, Liberty grad ’07, a history major at Houghton College, whose final essay on Bethlehem history led Karen Samuels to facilitate his writing occasional pieces for the Bethlehem Press.
Which reminds me to encourage you to subscribe to the BP. BP is our community newspaper. And community is magic for Gadfly.
Subscribe to the BP, and be on the lookout for Jason’s essays.
My grandfather, Woody Rehm, 88, grew up the sixth of seven children during the Great Depression. Like most families during that time, they were poor. The Rehms moved often, all over town and sometimes just down the street, looking for cheaper rent.
The Eliza Richardson Fountain on Main Street has long been a mystery. Who was she and why does the fountain bear her name? Answers were hard to come by, but as various records were unearthed, they began to piece together a picture of a fascinating woman deserving to be remembered.