Since we at High on Poker’s Central Office discovered that Bethlehem, PA will be overtaking Atlantic City, NJ as the nearest legal poker to New York City, we asked fellow blogger and Bethlehem-native Queens Up to provide a brief guide to Bethlehem. Happy Travels!
The History of Bethlehem
Bethlehem, AKA The Christmas City, was founded by the Lehigh River by a group of Moravians in 1741. In the past it gained notoriety as a stopping place for George Washington and his troops on the way to Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. More importantly, the area began to bloom when Bethlehem Steel was founded in 1857, which peaked as the 2nd largest steel producer behind US Steel out of Pittsburgh. During WW2, Bethlehem Steel had in their employ over 30,000 workers. The last smelting took place in 1995, and the company ceased to exist in 2003. You would be hard pressed to find a local who doesn’t have some kind of connection to the plant, personally my father worked there as a teenager, and my uncle worked there until it closed.
The casino came about as a result of an original idea started in 1997-98 by Mayor Cunningham to turn the island that Bethlehem Steel’s buildings were located on into an attraction. The south side of Bethlehem where the major office buildings were located and Lehigh University sits became run-down; the project was supposed to revitalize the area.
The original idea called for an ice skating rink, and 20+ movie screen Cineplex, artistic building, and a Bethlehem Steel historical museum. The opening date was set for mid-1999 but due to a failure to come to agreement with the city council and prospective builders, most of the idea was scrapped at the time. The only idea that did come to fruition during this time was the artistic building known as “The Banana Factory”.
In the mid-2000’s the idea was pushed again, this time with the idea that Sands would build a casino and hotel on the old BS site, and other attractions would be added. Currently the hotel is not finished, as a result of some work stoppage as Sands struggled with funding during the recession. The casino is currently scheduled to open along with the ice skating rink in Nov of 2010.
Attractions and Events
Ever since I was little the Bethlehem Tourism Bureau has sought to market Bethlehem as a vacation spot. They saw this as feasible since Philadelphia is a 45 minute drive down the turnpike (I-476) and New York City is a 90 minute drive down I-78. The first (and still biggest) thing they did was start a music festival called Musikfest.
Musikfest was started in August 1984 as a primarily German music festival. It started out having just a few platzes (places) where various music could be heard. Since 1984, it has grown into the one of the largest mostly free outdoor music festivals in the country, boasting a yearly attendance rate of over 1 million unique visitors during the span of the 10 day festival, and draws not only current big name artists, but runs the gamut of music from all across the globe. And the global theme doesn’t just stop with the music but also includes the food. Where else can you get Crocodile on a Stick or an Ostrich Burger to go with your funnel cake? Musikfest is held every August and is capped off by a fireworks display to close the festival.
Other events that occur throughout the year include the Celtic Classic, Christkindlemarkt and First Nicht. The Celtic Classic features Celtic games, beer, dancing competitions, and bagpipes! Christkindlemarkt spans 4 weekends starting at the end of November and features samples of various foods and crafts from vendors from across the local region and the country. First Nicht is held every December 30 to December 31 and features music, food, and drink in the downtown historical area that culminates in a huge fireworks display at midnight of the new year.
While you are visiting Bethlehem, you will want to stop by Main Street which is located in the historical section. On both sides of the streets you will find niche shops with various wares. The big attraction is The Moravian Bookshop which is the oldest continuously operated book store in the United States. For a good place to eat, try Brew Works which has good American cuisine and various homemade brews. Brew Works also has a downstairs bar where you can get my personal favorite, the $16/bottle Beelzebub.
Notable Persons and Businesses
-Jonathon Frakes attended Liberty High School (my alma mater) and was a Trumpeter in the Grenadier Band.
-Chuck Bednarik, the famous Eagle and last true Ironman in the NFL, played for the Liberty Hurricane Football Team.
-Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played football for Freedom High School (Liberty’s main rival).
-Daniel Dae Kim (Jin on Lost) was born in Easton and attended Freedom High School.
-Daniel Roebuck (Dr. Arzt on Lost) is a graduate of Bethlehem Catholic High School.
– Just Born Inc, the maker of famous candies such as Peeps and Mike N Ikes, was founded and resides on Stefko Blvd in Bethlehem.