Bethlehem Moment: Lucy and Mary Packer, Asa Packer’s Daughters

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Bethlehem Moment 18
City Council
January 6, 2020

Johanna Brams
1727 Elm


Bethlehem Moment: January 1873

January 1873, 147 years ago.  Lucy Evelyn Packer Linderman is recovering from a serious horse and carriage accident on the ice-covered what is now Packer Avenue – just down the hill from Lehigh University, founded by her father Asa.

She, at 41, and her sister Mary Hannah Packer, at 34, are the two surviving female adults of Asa Packer’s seven children. Lucy

Lucy is considered beautiful and an image of her,  with her stylish clothes and carefully coiffed and braided hair, show a handsome woman, a leader of Bethlehem society, married to a doctor, Garrett Linderman, who showed up in the cholera epidemic some years before – and is now a Lieutenant in her father’s businesses

An image of young Mary, on the other hand, shows her as short, plump, with coke bottle Young Maryglasses and plainly dressed.  At 34 she would be considered a spinster, dedicated to serving her family’s needs.  A contemporary narrative says: “There were suitors . . . who were anxious for the hand of Miss Packer, but she stubbornly avoided all advances in that direction.”  Mary was known as somewhat of a recluse, as result of an accident and subsequent eye ailments that had led to her being blind in one eye, and with limited vision in the other.

Lucy survived the accident but dies later that year, in July, of pneumonia – contracted as she attempted rehabilitation in a spa in mountains to the north.

Asa, grief-stricken, builds Linderman Library in Lucy’s honor in 1875, and dies in 1879.

Within five years, by 1884,  all the remaining members of the Packer family – two brothers and Asa’s wife – also pass – and Mary Hannah Packer is the only surviving member of the family.

Mary may be reclusive and nearly blind, but she is not stupid.  A woman ahead of her time, she recognizes that she cannot inherit the fabulous Packer fortune – built on canal boats and what would become the Pennsylvania Railroad and Bethlehem Steel – in her chosen unmarried status.

In order to take advantage of the then recently passed Women’s Marriage Act – which guaranteed married women the right to inheritance – she enlists Charles Cummings, a former conductor on the railroad and a loyal family friend – to marry her.

She pays him 100,000 dollars – worth about 2 and a half million today — and has him sign one of the first pre-nuptual agreements in the state.

Charles and Mary never live together and are divorced in 1893.

Upon her marriage, Mary Hannah Packer Cummings, as the sole heir to the Packer fortune,  inherits 54 and a half million dollars – worth about 1.5 billion today.  She becomes the most wealthy woman in the country and second in wealth in the world – to only Queen Victoria.

She travels around the world 17 times.

She becomes a philanthropist and is considered a bit of a Bohemian, a patron of the arts, literature, and music.Older Mary

She builds Packer Church at Lehigh, and supports the university well and repeatedly over the years.

She also builds All Saints Episcopal Church down the hill from her house in Mauch Chaunk (now Jim Thorpe) in 1906.

Mary Hannah Packer Cummings died in 1912, the only member of her immediate family to see the 20th century.

There are many accounts of sightings of her ghost, still short and plump, plainly dressed and with coke-bottle glasses — as she wanders about – checking on the properties she built.

Now a tip o’ the hat to the early 2020 Bethlehem Momentors

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The Bethlehem Moment — a scene or event from Bethlehem history anywhere from 1741 to the 1960s — is a project aimed at fostering a sense of community.

“Without a shared history, we are not a true community.”

Click “Bethlehem Moments” under Topics on the right-hand sidebar to see what we’ve done so far.

Gadfly thanks the following residents for stepping up to fill slots in the first quarter of 2020.

Welcome, camaradoes!


Jan 6: Johanna Brams

Jan 21: Ken Raniere/Dana Grubb

Feb 4:

Feb 18: Martha Larkin

Mar 3: Carol Burns

Mar 17: Grace Crampsie Smith

Gadfly is accepting bookings for later in the year.

Have you done a Bethlehem Moment yet?

Tip o’ the hat to the 2019 Bethlehem Momentors

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“Without a shared history, we are not a true community.”

End of the year approaching.

Time to thank those who did Bethlehem Moments in 2019.

We now have done 17 Moments.

2019 was the year that wonderful volunteers took the podium away from the Gadfly.

The Honor Roll for 2019 includes Lynn Rothman, John Smith, Kate McVey, Olga Negron, Jim Petrucci, Joe Petrucci, Barbara Diamond, Stasia Browne Pallrand, Steve Repasch, Rayah Levy, Robert Bilheimer, Alan Lowcher.

Well done, camaradoes!

Have you done a Bethlehem Moment yet?

Bethlehem Moment: Seeing the Elephant — The 129th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at Fredericksburg

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Bethlehem Moment 17
City Council
December 17, 2019

Alan Y. Lowcher
438 High St.


Bethlehem Moment: December 13, 1862

Bethlehem’s Moravian history is well known and its preserved buildings – the Gemeinhaus, Single Sisters house, Single Brethren house, and the Colonial Industrial Quarter, to name a few —  have earned the Moravian Historic District the distinction of consideration as a World Heritage Site.  Bethlehem’s place in the Revolution is enshrined in the patriot graves memorialized in the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier.  The Moravians were pacifists in principle – and were recognized as such by the Continental Congress.  Most of the men paid a fine rather than fight.  During the winters of 1776 – 1777 and 1777 – 1778 Bethlehem’s residents provided care to sick and wounded soldiers.  The Sun Inn hosted many Continental Army general officers and members of the Continental Congress.

By the time of the Civil War, attitudes had changed and many a Bethlehem boy – willing to fight against a rebellion against constitutional authority — stepped forward to serve in the Union army.  The Synod of the Church passed several resolutions indirectly supporting the Union cause, effectively making it a just war.  The firing on Ft. Sumter in April 1861, led to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to serve 90 days and Co. “A”, 1st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, drawn from Bethlehem, was quickly formed and sent to Washington to protect the Capitol.  Pennsylvania answered Lincoln’s call for additional troops as the war progressed, and the conflict widened by filling three-year regiments and shorter term nine-month regiments.  Among those regiments was the 129th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

Company “C” of the 129th Regiment was recruited in Northampton County and included many Bethlehem men.  The Regiment was organized on August 15th, 1862, to serve for nine months.  Politicians wanted to avoid a draft at all costs and calculated that shorter service commitments would be easier to fill than “three years or during the war.”  After being hastily armed and equipped, Company “C” entrained to Alexandria, Virginia, arriving on August18th.  Two weeks later it was under fire during the battle of Second Bull Run but not really engaged in combat.  Two weeks after that, the 129th marched to Sharpsburg, Maryland, arriving on the field along Antietam Creek, but too late to participate in the fighting.  At the end of October, the 129th marched into Virginia until it arrived opposite Fredericksburg.  On December 13th, the Regiment crossed the Rappahannock River with its division marching through the town to its assault position in full view of an open field.  Advancing, the brigade that included the 129th Regiment halted in low, open ground and was ordered to lie down, where it came under artillery Lowcherfire.  Rising up, the division formed in line of battle with the brigade in two lines, and the 129th Regiment on the left front.

This was the Regiment’s trial by fire (experiencing serious action for the first time) as it advanced over open ground, over the bodies of the dead and wounded, in the face of incessant musketry and artillery fire toward an enemy behind a stone wall.  In a matter of minutes, the Regiment lost 142 killed and wounded.  Among them were the sons of old Bethlehem families such as Benner and Luckenbach.  We should pause to consider the courage it took to make that charge knowing full well that the five previous charges were driven back with heavy losses. They went forward with fixed bayonets without waiting to load their muskets, intent on giving the Confederates “the cold steel.”  The division succeeded in getting closer to the stone wall than any other Federal assault.  Caps from the 129th’Regiment were found within a few yards of that stone wall.  Those “Bethlehem Boys” had “seen the elephant” and showed their mettle. Retreating in semidarkness into the town, the Regiment re-crossed the river under fire and went into camp.

After suffering the misery of Burnside’s “Mud March” in January 1863, the 129th took part in the battle of Chancellorsville, fighting on May 1st, 2nd and 3rd, even though the term of service of many of the men had expired.  The Regiment’s term of service having fully expired on May 6th, the remnants of Company “C” arrived in Easton on May 18th to the welcoming cheers of its citizens.

Later that summer of 1863, the Federal troops at Gettysburg, crouched behind a stone wall on Cemetery Ridge, cried out “Fredericksburg!  Fredericksburg!” as Pickett’s Division advanced across an open field into a storm of bullets and artillery fire.  The butcher’s bill was repaid.


Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion Compiled and Arranged from Official Records of the Federal and Confederate Armies, Reports of the Adjutant Generals of the Several States, the Army Registers, and Other Reliable Documents and Sources. Des Moines, Iowa:  The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.

Stackpole, Edward J. Drama on the Rappahannock — The Fredericksburg Campaign. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The Military Service Publishing Company, 1957.

Bethlehem Moment: Mr. Schwab Comes to Bethlehem

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Bethlehem Moment 16
City Council
December 3, 2019

Robert W. Bilheimer
General Manager
Industrial Archives & Library


Bethlehem Moment: January 1905

 Mr. President, members of City Council, Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen.  My name is Robert Bilheimer, and I am general manager of the Industrial Archives & Library, a Private Operating Foundation based here in Bethlehem and organized as an independent institution to collect, organize, conserve and preserve industrial records and to make them available for education and research to historians, scholars, and the public.  It’s a pleasure to be here tonight to see so many familiar faces and to present my “Bethlehem Moment.”

I take you back almost exactly 115 years ago.  It’s a chilly day in early January 1905.  A train from New York City pulling a private railcar, The Loretto, slowly pulls into Union Station in South Bethlehem.  And, yes, it’s the borough of South Bethlehem, for Bethlehem is not yet a single unified city.  Just the year before in 1904, the Borough of Bethlehem, Northampton County, had annexed the Borough of West Bethlehem, Lehigh County, but Bethlehem and South Bethlehem were still very much separate communities.  In time, a man on that train would do much to change that, but that was not why he had come to town.

As the train comes to a stop, out of The Loretto steps Charles M. Schwab, his reputation preceding him – at age 19, chief engineer of the Carnegie Steel Works at Braddock, Pa.; general superintendent of the famous Carnegie Edgar Thompson Works at age 27; Bilheimer 2president of Carnegie Steel Company at just 35; and the former first president of this nation’s first billion-dollar corporation, United States Steel Corporation.  He was a titan of industry, one of America’s most distinguished citizens and one of the wealthiest.

Schwab had had a recent falling out with J. P. Morgan, Judge Elbert Gary and the Board at U.S. Steel, and he had come to town to take the reins of a new entity, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the key asset of which was the Bethlehem Steel Company and its single steel plant in South Bethlehem.  Just one month before, in December of 1904, Schwab had founded Bethlehem Steel Corporation out of the ashes of the failed United States Shipbuilding Corporation, which had included the Bethlehem Steel Company and a handful of shipyards on the East Coast and the famous Union Iron Works in San Francisco – itself the builder of some of America’s earliest steel warships, including Admiral Dewey’s cruiser U.S.S. Olympia and the battleship Oregon.

Call it a bit of Schwab bravado, one-upmanship, or just Schwab’s typical desire to “do something else, yet,” as he liked to say, Schwab was bound and determined to go out and build a bigger and better U.S. Steel – and Bethlehem was his vehicle.  He was very much a man on a mission, and he got started right away.

Concerned that Bethlehem Steel’s fortunes were too closely tied to military contracts – Bethlehem had enjoyed great success as the birthplace of the American defense industry in the late 19th century when it developed America’s first heavy forging complex and supplied all the armor plate, big guns and ordnance for the modern U.S. Navy – Schwab was looking for ways to diversify Bethlehem’s commercial, non-military product line.  He found his answer overseas.

Early in 1905, Schwab secured the rights to the Grey Mill Process, a revolutionary but unproven process developed by Englishman Henry Grey for continuously rolling a wide-flange beam, or structural shape.  Up to that point, structural shapes were rolled in pieces and bolted together, thus limiting their strength and utility.  People in the steel industry said, “Charlie, you’re crazy, it’ll never work.”  Schwab, ever ready for a challenge, believed otherwise and literally bet the company on it.  He said at the time, “boys, if we are going to go bust, we’re going to go bust big.”  Well, it did work, and in 1908, the age of the skyscraper came into its own, right here in Bethlehem.  The sky was now the limit and Bethlehem became the “go to” for structural steel and construction engineering expertise for the next 90 years.

Also in the crowd that day to welcome Schwab to Bethlehem was a young engineer and a rising star at Bethlehem Steel, Eugene G. Grace.  An 1899 graduate of Lehigh University, Bilheimer 3Grace joined Bethlehem Steel that year as a crane operator, making $1.80 per day.  By the time Schwab arrived in Bethlehem, Grace had advanced to superintendent of yards and transportation.  Grace’s abilities quickly caught Schwab’s eye, and like the young Charlie Schwab at Carnegie Steel, Eugene Grace began a meteoric rise at Bethlehem Steel.

After a stint in Cuba reorganizing Bethlehem’s iron ore mines there and successfully directing the development of the Grey Mill project, Grace advanced in rapid succession to general superintendent of the Bethlehem Plant in 1906 and then general manager in 1908.  By 1911 he was named a vice president and director of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, president of Bethlehem Steel Company in 1913 and then president of Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1916, where he effectively ran the corporation for the next 41 years.

Schwab would slowly recede from the day-to-day management of the company and would die in 1939 and Grace would become chairman in 1945.  But Schwab and Grace, two of this country’s greatest industrialists would together build one of the most remarkable and significant industrial organizations of the 20th century.

Before he even bought a home here, Schwab spent six months living and working twenty hours a day out of his private railcar to get the new company started.  And, with Grace’s help, together they took a single-plant money-losing steel company and built it into the second largest steelmaker in the country and the largest shipbuilder in the world through two World Wars and into the 1950s.

Dubbed “The Arsenal of Democracy” and arguably America’s most important defense contractor through both World Wars, Bethlehem’s industrial output was staggering.  Bethlehem built nearly 3,000 ships during that period, including 1,121 alone in World Bilheimer 4War II in what was the largest and most diverse shipbuilding campaign in world history.  Mr. Grace pledged that Bethlehem would build a ship-a-day by the end of the war – and delivered — with an amazing 380 in 1943!  Bethlehem’s shipyards also repaired and/or converted an astounding 30,000 other ships during World War II.

Coming out of Bethlehem shipyards in the 20th Century were warships and commercial vessels of every class and size including America’s first aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Lexington and six other Essex Class carriers, six battleships, scores of heavy cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers, destroyer escorts, troopships, auxiliaries, landing craft, tankers and super tankers, America’s first Liberty Ship – the S.S. Patrick Henry, cruise liners, America’s first nuclear-powered surface warship, the U.S.S. Long Beach and eventually, off-shore oil rig platforms.

It was quite a record.  But that’s only part of the story!  For not only did Bethlehem Steel play a pivotal role in defending this country, but it also helped build the very landscape Bilheimer 5of our modern world and the infrastructure to transport its citizens.  Out of Bethlehem’s mills came such landmark structures — many also fabricated and erected by its diverse workforce – as The Golden Gate Bridge, The George Washington Bridge, The Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges in Philadelphia, The Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Plaza, Madison Square Garden and The Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., Los Angeles City Hall and the locks of the Panama Canal.

Mr. Schwab and Bethlehem Steel also played a key role here at home, with Schwab’s instrumental role in merging the two boroughs into our modern City of Bethlehem in 1917 and his leadership in linking the two sides of the river via the Hill-to-Hill Bridge.  And you don’t have to look any further than Bethlehem’s magnificent public water system to see one of the many, many large and small ways that the company has touched our community.

Bethlehem was not just another steel company under founder Charles Schwab’s tutelage.  Bethlehem Steel was a paragon of American industry that helped touch society and shape our country in many diverse ways, perhaps none grander than playing a central role in winning World War I.  Proof is in the words of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain, who after the war said, “Charles Schwab was the first American to help us.  He gave us the necessary equipment to continue the war to a successful ending for the Allies.”

And it all started that day, when Mr. Schwab came to Bethlehem.

Thank you!

About the Industrial Archives & Library

Established in 2015, the Industrial Archives & Library (IAL), is a 501(c)(3), private operating foundation located in Bethlehem, Pa., organized as an independent institution to collect, organize, conserve and preserve industrial records and to make them available for education and research to historians, scholars, and the public.  Current holdings include records relating to banking, slate quarrying, coal mining, silk and textiles, steel, shipbuilding, transportation and railroads.  IAL also houses an oral history program and offers repository services for corporate and industrial records.

“Preserving Historical Records for the Ages”

For More Information: Robert W. Bilheimer, General Manager, Industrial Archives & Library (610) 868-1115

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