Beginning in late November, I started a series of posts about Lehigh Valley, PA. This is the third of this series. To see others in this series, click on the label “Lehigh Valley” below this post.
So long-time readers of this blog know that I’m pretty much fascinated by any history — whether it be of rail trails and the rail roads that preceded them or of the origins of a long-abandoned ghost town. So it should be of no surprise to anyone that when presented with the opportunity to tour the old blast furnaces of the former Bethlehem Steel mill, I was, quite literally, ecstatic!
The cool thing is that Bethlehem has turned what was an eye-sore into a community asset. A community concert pavilion uses the blast furnaces — called the Stacks — as a backdrop. The Bethlehem Sands Casino and Hotel is based at one end of the former steel mill, with an outlet mall and restaurants overlooking the river and several of the old buildings. Community events and festivals are held on the grounds of the former steel mill, including a music festival in the summer and Christkindle Market in late November and December.
The town also has erected the Mason-Hoover Trestle — similar to the High Line Park in New York City — so that visitors can explore the remains of the steel mill and the four intact blast furnaces from 45 feet up in the air.
Opening 20 years after the last blast furnace went silent, the 45-foot high Hoover-Mason Trestle is a 1650-foot elevated linear park on the reclaimed industrial site of Bethlehem Steel. The trestle was originally an elevated narrow gauge rail line for raw materials, built around 1905, making this a rail trail.
As you stroll along the trestle, gazing up at the aging machinery, you are immediately faced with the enormity of the machinery. It’s overwhelming. Signs posted along the trestle help you learn about the steel industry — the working conditions, a little about who the laborers were (immigrants, mostly), how steel is manufactured, and how the furnaces worked. It’s really quite fascinating!
Bethlehem became a center of heavy industry and trade during the industrial revolution. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation, founded in 1857 and based in Bethlehem, was once the second-largest steel producer in the United States, after Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel. Bethlehem Steel was also one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world and one of the most powerful symbols of American industrial manufacturing leadership.
The steel mill supplied armor plate and ordnance products during World War I and World War II, helping build 1,100 warships. After roughly 140 years of metal production at its Bethlehem plant, Bethlehem Steel ceased operations on 19 November 1995, in the face of overseas competition and declining demand.
Now the steel mill has quieted: birds now live and sing where once the din of the machinery and the heat would have driven them away. It’s quiet now, a place to learn about and remember the hard work and sacrifice of the steel mill workers, whose efforts literally built America.
Getting there: SteelStacks, 711 First Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015. Stairs and elevator located between the Bethlehem Visitor Center and the Levitt Pavilion.
Website: www.steelstacks.org/about/venues-at-steelstacks/hoover-mason-trestle/ and http://hoovermason.com/#/
For other day trip destinations in Lehigh Valley, go to the Blog’s Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Lehigh Valley label below.
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