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Bethlehem: 1935

November 1935. "View of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania." Large-format nitrate negative by Walker Evans for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

November 1935. "View of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania." Large-format nitrate negative by Walker Evans for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Everyone's right!

As a South Bethlehem native, I can assure you-- Bethlehem may have been founded in 1741 by missionaries, but the city they built is very much the part of Bethlehem that's on the north side of the Lehigh. South Bethlehem-- the steel plant and all the residential areas that grew up around it-- are just as much a former company town as downtown is a quaint historic area; they may be halves of the same city but there's a very clear difference between them.

To those claiming claustrophobia, I'd also like to say-- it may not be clear in this photo, but despite the odd tight angles of the streets in South Bethlehem the houses really have some pretty generous back yards.

No "My Space"

As to the discussion of Charm vs Unattractive, perhaps it's because I live in a small, rural town, but this scenery leaves me claustrophobic. There's no space between the houses. Everyone is living on top of each other. There's no yard big enough for kids to play in. Not unless you count that scrubby lot the center house sits in. Speaking of which, if I lived in that center house I would be praying every day that my neighbor's parking brake worked.

Christmas in Bethlehem

My grandparents lived in Allentown, and we had other relatives in Bethlehem for years. One of them lived only a couple streets west of the location shown in this photo. I've spent Christmas in Bethlehem several times. The Christmas Eve service at the Moravian Church is always a moving experience. I just love the town.

My Hometown!

Bethlehem as a physical city hasn't changed a whole lot since this shot. The abandoned steel works are being torn down (mostly), and a casino (!) is opening. Also talk of a museum of industry, possibly affiliated with the Smithsonian.

Bethlehem Musikfest

Just a few blocks from here is the site of Bethlehem's Musikfest. A nine-day festival that's enjoyed by over a million people every August.

Varied Responses

Interesting that some find this view unattractive and others see charm. I count myself in the latter camp, and find the steep grade of the street and the vintage architecture very appealing.

Allentown - Bethlehem - Easton

Laying over at the ABE airport, I and my crew would stay in Bethlehem in a restored older hotel (not motel). We all thought what a quaint, peaceful town. Obviously nothing like during the days when our American steel industry was in full production. In the evening retirees, hand in hand, would come out for a stroll gathering on some of the many benches around town. It’s hard to believe this was the same place pictured on your site.

Also, come Christmas, what better place to be stuck if you’re unlucky enough not to be home with your family.

Not so obvious

This was never a company town. The town of Bethlehem was founded in 1741. Bethlehem Steel was founded in 1857 and took the name of the town.

Step In

This photo just invites you to step in and start walking down that hill. You can smell the boxwoods and the wooden porches.

Paris, It Ain't!

H.L. Mencken once commented on the extraordinary ugliness of Pennsylvania coal and steel towns, and here we see what he was talking about. Obviously a "company town," with only two or three house designs reproduced over and over again. For example, the one with the two cupolas, in the center, and its exact twin on the right. Oh well, at least they had good healthy fresh air (cough, cough, hack ... )

623 Buchanan

The house at the bottom of the street is 623 Buchanan and if you look it up on you can see a bird's eye view of the house since there is no Google street view.

It looks like its a duplex because one half is a different color--roof too!

I was surprised at how many of the houses in this photograph are still standing and identifiable

Hillside & Selfridge

I grew up in the next city east of Bethlehem, but now live in Washington, D.C.

This photograph was taken at the corner of Hillside Avenue and Selfridge Street on the city's South Side, looking northeast toward Bethlehem Steel's massive Bethlehem plant.

In any event, Bethlehem wasn't just steel! One thing I notice about the housing stock back home is the abundance of slate roofs. For many years, up to the 1960s, almost all houses in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas of Northampton County sported them. Northampton County was the leading producer of slate in the United States. In fact, it is not uncommon to see slate-roofed ranch houses in 1950s subdivisions, or slate shingle siding on some older farm houses.

As far as the churches in close are concerned, these were founded as ethnic Catholic parishes during the immigration waves of the late 19th century. In late 2008 the Diocese of Allentown made a controversial decision to consolidate parishes. Consequently, St. John Capistrano, the church with the stone spire, St. Stanilaus, the church immediately to the right, and Our Lady of Pompeii, whose cross can be see to the left of St. John under the wires, were all closed after being combined with another church just out of frame to the left.


As opposed to most other cities this size, I can only spot two ads: One political and the wall for Mail Pouch Tobacco.

Washday Grays

It must be Monday because of the amount of laundry hanging out here and there, even in November. Looks like a nice town to live in. It even has a convenient cemetery on the hillside -- puts me in mind of Grover's Corner.

Count the Churches

I live in Bethlehem, though I'm not a native.

This is a view of South Bethlehem looking north and a bit east. What strikes me about this photo is that there are four churches so close together. Religion and the church had a much diferent meaning back then.

O Little Town

Mill houses and churches - hard-working and God-fearing Americans.

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