Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is a city that became well known throughout the country for its industrial history. For almost 100 years, the city revolved around the Bethlehem Steel plant, which made Bethlehem an important part of American development and industry. The plant was permanently closed in 1995 and was transformed into a cultural center that celebrates a variety of different art forms. Stay at Historic Hotel Bethlehem which has been restored to its original 1922 grandeur and has hosted many celebrity guests and heads of state.
1. Burnside Plantation
2. Banana Factory Arts and Education Center
3. Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts
4. Colonial Industrial Quarter, Bethlehem, PA
5. Historic Bethlehem Tours, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
6. Hoover Mason Trestle, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
7. Lit Roastery and Bakeshop
8. Moravian Museum of Bethlehem
9. National Museum of Industrial History
10. Fegley's Brew Works
11. Things to Do in Bethlehem: SteelStacks
12. Billy's Downtown Diner
13. Wind Creek Bethlehem
14. Lehigh & Keystone Valley Model Railroad Museum, Inc.
15. Things to Do in Bethlehem, PA: Black River Farms
16. Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave
17. Captured LV Escape Room
18. Freefall Trampoline Park
What is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania known for? What to do.
What are the top attractions to visit in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania?
The top attractions to visit in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania according to local experts are:
- Burnside Plantation
- Banana Factory Arts and Education Center
- Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts
- Colonial Industrial Quarter, Bethlehem, PA
- Historic Bethlehem Tours, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
- Hoover Mason Trestle, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
- Lit Roastery and Bakeshop
- Moravian Museum of Bethlehem
- National Museum of Industrial History
- Fegley's Brew Works
- Things to Do in Bethlehem: SteelStacks
- Billy's Downtown Diner
- Wind Creek Bethlehem
- Lehigh & Keystone Valley Model Railroad Museum, Inc.
- Things to Do in Bethlehem, PA: Black River Farms
- Lehigh Millennium Folk Arch and Art Enclave
- Captured LV Escape Room
- Freefall Trampoline Park
Attraction Spotlight: Banana Factory Arts and Education Center
Located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Banana Factory Arts and Education Center is a complex of six buildings hosting a number of cultural organizations, including ArtsQuest, the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, and Santa Bannon Fine Art.
The history of the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is closely intertwined with the Bethlehem Steel corporation, which served as the basis for the city’s economy for more than seven decades in the 20th century. Following the increase of competition from foreign steel companies, the company experienced a series of layoffs in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The company’s downsizing, combined with the emergence of suburban malls, caused the city’s SouthSide and Moravian Districts to experience a downturn in economic development, leading to a number of vacancies within the city’s downtown area. A number of cultural redevelopment endeavors were embarked upon by the Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee in the 1980s to revitalize the city’s downtown, including the development of the annual Musikfest event, which led to the formation of the Bethlehem Musikfest Association nonprofit organization in 1993.
In 1996, the BMA embarked on an effort to create a cultural center in the city’s downtown district aimed at a youth educational audience. A vacant former banana distribution warehouse located on the city’s SouthSide was selected as the location for the complex, and funding was secured to purchase the facility throughout the donations of local philanthropists. Following major renovations to the facility, the Banana Factory Arts Center was opened to the public in 1998, offering studio, gallery, and classroom spaces for several regional arts organizations. In 2000, the BMA rebranded itself as ArtsQuest and extended its facilities into an adjacent former auto parts store, expanding the complex to encompass an entire city block. Throughout the mid 2000s and early 2010s, a number of additional facilities were added to the complex, including the Olympus Digital Imaging Center and the Pediatric Cancer Foundation’s arts center.
Organizations and Programming
Today, the Banana Factory Arts and Education Center complex encompasses an entire city block in the city’s SouthSide district, featuring six renovated historic buildings, including the original former banana warehouse building. The complex is home to a large number of regional arts organizations, with a specific focus on arts programming geared toward youth and children. Gallery exhibitions, public performances, outreach initiatives, and educational and special event programming are presented by the Center, which serves as the anchor of the city’s revitalized downtown cultural district.
The Banana Factory’s artist in residency program provides artist studio space for up to 30 artists at a time, with rent subsidization providing affordable living and work conditions. All artist-in-residency participants are offered the opportunity to participate in the organization’s annual group show and First Friday events, as well as space on the complex’s featured artist wall. Communal work and discussion are encouraged among artists in residence, and public workshop programming is presented periodically at artists’ discretion.
Several art galleries are located within the complex, including the Banko Family Community Room and Gallery, a multipurpose venue that showcases five annual exhibitions of works by regional and national artists. The Crayola Gallery offers a multipurpose gallery and creative space with rotating exhibitions, and a Hallway to the Arts bridges the two facilities with unique art exhibitions. The Olympus Digital Imaging Center, opened in 2005, is the only freestanding permanent digital classroom in the United States officially sponsored by Olympus America, offering digital imaging workshop stations for student and teacher use as part of public programming and open drop-in time. The R.K. Laros Ceramics Classroom and Photography Darkroom also provide community spaces for pottery and photography work.
Fine art is showcased at Santa Bannon Fine Art, which opened at the complex in 2013. The Center is also home to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley, which offers art therapy to young cancer patients, and the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, a nonprofit performing arts organization that presents musicals and plays throughout the year for acting, dancing, and singing students. A variety of public art is also showcased at the facility, including the Mr. Imagination Bus Shelter, Susan Small’s A Joyful Noise, and Karel Mikolas’ Homage to Humanity.
A wide variety of public art programming is presented at the Center, including arts courses and workshops for students of all ages hosted by ArtsQuest. Courses focus on multidisciplinary arts such as drawing, painting, fiber arts, ceramics, mosaics, and jewelry and glass work and are offered for participants of all skill levels. STEM-focused summer art camps and teen intensive workshops are also offered on a periodic basis, and an Arts Education Fund offers outreach programming to local schools and community groups to supplement shrinking arts and arts education funding nationwide. Public special events hosted at the complex include the monthly First Friday open house community celebration, the SouthSide Arts and Music Festival, the InVision Festival, and the ArtPop contest, which gives local youth and professional artists the chance to be featured on local billboards.
25 W 3rd St #300, Bethlehem, PA, Phone: 610-332-1300
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Attraction Spotlight: National Museum of Industrial History
Located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the National Museum of Industrial History is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum presenting exhibits related to the historical industrial businesses of the Pennsylvania region, including the steel, iron, textile, and propane gas industries. The vision for the National Museum of Industrial History dates back to the late 1990s, when a museum facility was proposed for the preservation of America’s industrial heritage, with a particular focus on artifacts related to the steel industry.
The museum project was sidelined temporary throughout the mid-2000s due to legal issues connected to the mismanagement of funds connected to a $17 million public fundraising campaign, but in 2014, the project’s organizing group was cleared of wrongdoing allegations by the United States Attorney General and given approval to continue with museum construction and development within a two-year window. Though the plans of interpretive planner Rosalind Remer had been structured to be completed within a three-year window, construction was fast-tracked under the supervision of museum design project manager Aaron Goldblatt. A former electrical repair shop at the site of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s historic steel mill was acquired as the future site of the museum and renovated with a $4.5 million grant by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and an agreement between the Smithsonian Institution, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and the museum’s overseeing organization was established for the installation of museum exhibits and collections, which included more than 100 machines donated from the Smithsonian’s 1876 collection. In August of 2016, the museum was officially opened to the public in a dedication ceremony featuring keynote speeches from National Museum of American History Director John Gray and United States Representative Charlie Dent.
Permanent Collections and Exhibits
Today, the National Museum of Industrial History is housed within the former Bethlehem Steel plant building in a facility formerly used as a concert venue and historical walking path site. As a public museum facility, the museum is dedicated to forging connections between the nation’s industrial past and future and educating the public on the history and innovations of the steel, iron, textile, and propane gas industries. The Museum is a Smithsonian-affiliated institution and receives financial support and artifacts on loan from the National Museum of American History.
More than 200 industrial artifacts are displayed within the museum’s exhibit, with many artifacts of note as the first-produced, last-produced, or longest-operating examples of their type of technology. Major artifact collections have been donated or loaned by the National Museum of American History, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and silk manufacturers Scalamandre, Inc. Artifacts on note on display include machines presented at the Centennial International Exposition in 1876, including a variety of engines and pumps. The first and last pieces of steel and Class-A armor rolled at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation are also displayed.
The museum’s Machinery Hall exhibit focuses on items from the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair, including 21 loaned artifacts from Smithsonian Institution collections. A 115-ton Corliss steam engine is displayed, formerly used for water pumping for the city of New York, along with a crane produced by Milwaukee’s Pawling and Harnischfeger Company and a Bethlehem Steel H-beam. An Iron and Steel exhibit is dedicated to the history of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, showcasing historic company artifacts such as worker training equipment, uniforms, and time cards. An interactive map exhibit also allows visitors to trace the impact and distribution of Bethlehem Steel products throughout the United States during the company’s operations.
In the Silk Gallery Hall, the story of women and children workers at the Lehigh Valley Silk Mills is chronicled, with historic artifacts on display such as bobbin trays, line shafts, and looms. A Jacquard loom used by Long Island’s Scalamandre Silk Mill is displayed, famously used to produce fabric utilized in interior design at the White House up to the presidency of Bill Clinton. A Propane Gallery focuses on the technologies of the American Gasol Company and its founder, Allentown chemist Walter O. Snelling. A climb-aboard hot air balloon is displayed within the exhibit, along with a collection of historic laboratory items and a display detailing American propane usage during World War II. A Rotating Exhibit Gallery also showcases a variety of exhibits connected to American industries and historic events.
Ongoing Programs and Events
In addition to standard visitor admission, the museum offers regular guided tours for visitors on Saturday afternoons for an additional fee, exploring museum exhibits with a docent and elaborating on artifact significance and history. Group guided tours are available by appointment, including curriculum-incorporated field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school students. Add-on workshops are available for student groups, and Badge Day programs are offered for scouting groups looking to complete history and engineering-related badges. Public special events include celebrations for American-history-related holidays and an annual student summer camp. The museum’s facilities may also be rented for private special events, including cocktail receptions, team-building retreats, and business functions.
602 East 2nd Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015, Phone: 610-694-6644
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