Our Lower Lobby now tells the fascinating story of how the hotel came to be.
Also find information on the predecessor to the hotel Bethlehem, the Moravian’s “Golden Eagle Hotel” a structure that dates from 1794 (George Washington was in office) to April of 1919, in it’s last days it was used for soldiers returning from World War I as a convalescence home.
Prior to the Eagle Hotel, the famous “First House of Bethlehem” was located on this site. Built in 1741 by missioning Moravians in the wilderness that is now the bustling Lehigh Valley. Where on December 24th of 1741, the Moravian’s patron, Count Nicholas Von Zinzendorf, sang a hymn about Bethlehem, after which those gathered decided to name the town Bethlehem.
So from the roaring twenties and the blast furnaces of Charles M. Schwab’s steel empire and lavish lifestyle to the humble 14 Moravian Missionaries who risked life and limb to cross the Atlantic to bring the gospel to the Natives of the valley at the forks of the Lehigh, we’ve got quite a history.
Voted One of America’s Best Historic Hotels by USA Today 10Best
Hanging on a wall, behind a door of the hotel’s purchasing office has been an old map, it’s been there for years. Upon closer inspection this map turns out to be an oil painting on canvas, and a very old one. If you look hard you can make out the artist signature at the bottom “George Gray.”
In 1936 the Bethlehem Hotel Corporation hired the American Hotel Corporation to run the hotel during the great depression, its President was retired General Lindsay Kinkaid, who, with many of his hotel’s, commissioned the military artist George Gray to come to Bethlehem and paint its history in a set of murals for what was to be the new Pioneer Tap Room.
Prohibition was in effect when the hotel was first built in 1922, but by 1933 the country overturned this law and bars began to open across the country.
The Pioneer Tap room was located on the lower lobby of the hotel and had its own outside entrance. When Gray completed the murals they were placed at eye level and lined the walls of the bar. It was General Kincaid’s objective to “move away from the speakeasy art from when America was on the wagon” and have some substantial art that celebrates history as you were relaxing with a cocktail.
The recently discovered mural is a description of the walking purchase land purchase of 1737 when lands were being acquired from Native Americans.
A Cigar Box (1933-1935)
In designing the hotel’s “Hall of History” we went far and wide looking for photographs, printed materials and artifacts from the early hotel. The Moravian Historical Society in Nazareth has been particularly helpful in this endeavor.
In scouring their files and collections, we were able to find some really amazing photos, ads and old brochures, so I knew when I got a call from their Executive Director, Wendy Weida, about a cigar box that she found, I knew it would be good.
The cigar box itself is not a cardboard box that one is accustomed to seeing, but instead, it is a lovely wooden “Boite Nature” box, which apparently held Dimisco Coronas. We are currently looking into the brand, but the Hotel Bethlehem is prominently printed on both the top of the box and on the interior.
There is also a red interior tag with a blue eagle marked “NRA Member” this indicated that the product was in compliance with the National Recovery Administration, part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the NRA began in July of 1933, by September of 1935 the Supreme Court had deemed it unconstitutional and the use of the blue eagle display was prohibited.
In 1933 Bert Bell (charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame) formed a new NFL football franchise to replace the defunct Frankford Yellow Jackets. He named the new team the Eagles in recognition of the New Deals NRA.
A Cigar Shop
It would seem that the Historic Hotel Bethlehem opened with its own cigar shop somewhere in the lower lobby. We’ve recovered an original cigar box marked “Hotel Bethlehem” as well as found a reference to the cigar shop in historical town directories. We also have listed “cigar shop proprietor” as well as cigar shop “manager” in a number of old U.S. census polls.
In attempting to find where this shop might have been located, (it is listed on the “lower lobby” in an early directory) we have gone back to the original blue prints of the hotel, which we miraculously have managed to keep through all the years and ownership changes. Unfortunately the set that we have was modified and we are left with no idea as to where the Cigar Shop was.
There is however a door in the lower lobby, that I had never noticed until recently (I like many others though it was a linen closet) Upon further inspection I was able to get a key and investigate. So as I opened the door, I found about 2 feet of hall space and another door, this one much older and its frame arched. I had to seek out a separate key for this door and discovered a small room next to the elevator bank that is obviously quite old. It has a number of very old folding tables, a couple of lamps and some lost and found items.
In talking to former hotel owner Dee Decker, this was known to her as the “archive room” the room where all of the old records were kept. Well any records are long gone and we are left wondering if this strange little room might not have been the original cigar shop.
Build in 1922 to cater to clients of the enormous Bethlehem Steel Company, Charles M. Schwab wanted a hotel to be proud. The lower lobby had a “club room” one can surmise that this would be the equivalent to a modern day fitness center, a barber shop, shoe shine and coffee shop. In other words the hotel was equipped with everything a respectable gentleman traveler would need while away from home.
Historic Bethlehem is a town of countless firsts. The 18th century Moravians pioneered many things and boast two National Landmark buildings within it’s National Landmark District. Some of these milestones that Bethlehem has achieved might actually surprise you. Learn about a few of the firsts that help make Historic Bethlehem a compelling authentic colonial destination for heritage traveler by visiting their website.
Enjoy browsing The Shoppe at Hotel Bethlehem on your next visit.
Ladies clothing, Jewelry, Scarves, Wraps, Purses, Hats and so much more is now available in The Shoppe located in the Lower Lobby of the hotel, with a Main Street entrance.
Historic Hotel Bethlehem is affiliated with Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
A glossy 120 page coffee table book celebrates nearly 200 years of hospitality on the site of Bethlehem’s first house in 1741. The book features photographs taken by Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Robin Hood.
Voted #1 Best Historic Hotel by Readers of USA Today 10Best
Honored by AAA for Exceptional Cleanliness
Awarded as a TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice
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