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As the Moravian Brethren in their new settlement, Bethlehem, desired, as far as practicable, to observe a policy of non-intercourse with people of other religious denominations, they decided to purchase land on this side of the river in order to exclude undesirable neighbors. Accordingly, they purchased 274 acres on the south side of the Lehigh, for which they paid $350. Nor was this the first purchase of land within the limits of our present borough, as shall appear further on.

The Deed for the Moravian purchase, dated July 3, 1746, thus describes the property: “Situate on the West Branch of the Delaware River in Bucks Co. (The West Branch is now the Lehigh, and Northampton Co. was then a part of Buck’s Co.) Beginning at a marked Bench Oak by the side of said river opposite to an island (at first called Catalpa Island, later, Calypso Island, and recently removed) in the same, thence extending by vacant land S. 20 degrees, W. 162 perches to a post, thence by same and William Allen to a marked Black Oak by the side of said river, thence by same river the several courses and distances to the place of beginning.” Though this Deed is dated 1746, the sale, it appears, was actually made in 1743. Previous to this earlier date, and indeed even before the Moravians had entered the Province, a few people, some without title, had established themselves here and in our vicinity. From the early records, the following particulars concerning some of these pioneer settlers have been gleaned:

Perhaps the first white settler in what is now South Bethlehem was Isaac Martens Ysselstein, a native of Holland. He located a farm on the site of the former Zinc Works. The precise date of his coming has not been ascertained, but there exists conclusive evidence that he was here prior to 1737. His first unfinished cabin was swept away by a freshet in the Lehigh. He then built a more commodious log house at a safer distance from the treacherous stream. In this house the Moravians passed a night in 1740, when on their way to build Whitfield’s school; and here they found shelter while building their first house in Bethlehem the next year. When, some years later, the Brethren purchased this farm from his widow, it consisted of two tracts, one of 178 acres, and the second 75 acres, due east of the first. Both tracts are now occupied by works of the Bethlehem Steel Company.

Conrad Ruetschi, a Swiss, was the first resident of Fountain Hill. His farm house occupied a position a short distance west of the present Union Station. The exact date of his locating here has not been determined, but a Bethlehem record of 1742 tells that some of their women pulled flax for him that year. It appears that he was a squatter, for when the Brethren had completed their first purchase of land here, they had Justice Irish serve a writ of ejectment on him.

An aged couple, Valentine Loescher and wife, occupied a lonely log cabin near the spring in the present University Park. It is not known when they squatted here. The Brethren, in 1751, secured a proprietary title to this land; but the Loeschers were left in undisputed possession until 1756, when the desperate savages roaming these woods in the early days of the French and Indian War made their situation hazardous, and they were removed to their children, in Philadelphia.

A family named Lee, before and after the coming of the Moravians, lived on the top of the Lehigh Mountain, back of the present Sayre Park. Their place of residence has since been called “Billiardsville”.

Tobias Weber held the title to two tracts of 81 and 114 1/2 acres, respectively, which was later known as “The Hellener Place.” Here he built a house in 1742.

Solomon Jennings, one of the three selected pedestrians in the Walking Purchase, was one of the pioneer settlers on the Lehigh. His place was later known as “Geissinger’s Farm”, the present site of the Bethlehem City Water Company’s pumping station. His son became sheriff of Northampton County, and his son-in-law, Nicholas Scull, was Surveyor General of Pennsylvania.

Soon after 1743, other settlers came here, who, for the most part, became tenants in houses erected by the Moravians.

In the summer of 1743, a tavern was opened in the Ysselstein farm house, by John Adam Schaus.

The river dividing the respective holdings of the Brethren was called by the Indians Lechauwecki. This was in time shortened to Lecha, and then corrupted by the German-speaking settlers to Lehigh. About the time that Schaus established his tavern, the first Ferry across the Lehigh was opened, with Schaus as ferry-man. Its southern terminus was a group of sycamores immediately west of the present railroad bridge.

For a time during 1744, a hospital was maintained in Ruetschi’s vacated cabin, on Fountain Hill.

In December, 1744, work was begun on a new tavern, on the site of the present Union Station, but it was not completed until the following year. This was the first building erected in the Lehigh Valley as a public house of entertainment. Samuel Powell, an English Moravian, took charge of it as the first landlord. Here he also opened the first bookstore in the Lehigh Valley. The name, “Crown Inn”, was first applied to this hostelry in 1756, when a signboard emblazoned with the crown of George II was suspended above its portal. At an early day the Brethren built several houses near the Inn, and thus a small settlement sprang up there.

Powell’s successor as landlord of the Crown was Frederick Hartman. His wife dying the following year, her body was interred on the nearby hillside. A special burial ground was then, 1747, consecrated and opened there on the site of the present E.P. Wilbur Estate greenhouses. Of the 17 recorded interments made in this primitive cemetery, ten were the bodies of Indians. The last recorded burial there was that of Captain Jacob Wetherold, who, with Sergeant McGuire, was wounded in a midnight attack by Indians on a tavern near the present village of Howertown. The wounded men were brought to the Crown, where, October, 1763, the Captain died. It is thought that, during the Revolutionary War, the remains of some of the soldiers who died in the American hospital at Bethlehem were also interred here.



1915 views of South Bethlehem





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