Along the Lehigh River: The Rise & Fall of Bethlehem Steel

November 1st, 2011 posted by Mike Keller

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Blast Furnaces

The week before last, my fellow Discover Lehigh Valley staffers and I took the “Along the Lehigh River: The Rise & Fall of Bethlehem Steel” tour. As you might imagine, the tour consists of a stroll alongside what remains of the Bethlehem Steel plant on the south side of the city. We were led by our guide, Loretta, whose father worked in the plant for over 40 years.

We had a special guest with us that day; Sheila Scarborough from Tourism Currents, who was in Lehigh Valley as the featured speaker for our 2011 Annual Meeting. This was the perfect opportunity to show her a side of our area that is not as well-known, unless of course you grew up here or currently live here.

The tour began outside the SteelStacks campus as we were told the history behind the iconic blast furnaces. At their peak, they churned out more steel than almost every other plant in the United States, second only to Pittsburgh. We walked past the old machine and tool shops, through the streets and past the ancient warehouses. For the photographers out there, this tour is definitely something I would recommend putting on your “To-Shoot” lists.

We were told of the integral role Bethlehem played in the production of America’s railway system, as well as laying the groundwork for major infrastructure across the country. Some of the more popular icons include the George Washington Bridge, the roof of Madison Square Garden, and the famous Golden Gate Bridge. If you’ve been to the new entertainment venue on the grounds, you’ll notice much of the steel is the same rust-orange color of America’s most famous bridge.

I did not grow up here, but I certainly appreciate the fact that organizations such as Historic Bethlehem Partnership and ArtsQuest are turning the old steel grounds into a destination once again. Understandably, many people remain upset over the closing of Bethlehem Steel over a decade ago, but the history of one of America’s greatest steel powerhouses is still kept alive through this tour.

What are your (or your family’s) favorite memories of the Bethlehem Steel plant?

This article mentions the following partners:
ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites, ArtsQuest

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