“The historic Hotel Bethlehem wraps history and hospitality in a neat little package that makes you feel luxuriously special and delightfully comfortable all at the same time.”Jessica James
The historic Hotel Bethlehem in Bethlehem PA, is undeniably grand and sophisticated, but for a history buff like me, it has a deeper attraction as well.
Towering nine stories at the very edge of the city’s charming Main Street, this historic hotel sits adjacent to a complex of original buildings that date back to the 1700s. (In other words, a history lover’s paradise).
For those seeking elegance and genuine old-fashioned hospitality rather than history, the Hotel Bethlehem excels in that department as well. After all, it’s the hotel’s reputation for hospitality and charm that draws people inside the doors and it’s this combination that keeps them coming back year after year.
So if you’re thinking about a visit to the Hotel Bethlehem, here’s everything you need to know.
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A Family Tradition
In all my years of travel and doing hotel reviews, I have never seen so many people mingling, sitting or strolling in and out of a lobby.
Maybe it was the draw of the sophisticated living room style layout of this space, or the fact that when you sink down into one of the luxurious leather couches, you don’t really have any desire to leave.
Since I visited the week after Christmas, part of the draw was the two iconic Christmas trees that ruled the lobby and commanded attention.
Very few people entered the expansive room without oohing and aahing at the sight of them.
But it was obvious from the smiles, laughter and the conversations around the trees that these were more than just part of the beautiful annual holiday decor.
The trees were instead part of a family tradition that required new photos with children a year older, or with grandparents visiting from afar. There were newlyweds, college roommates, sisters and brothers, cousins and friends…
Well, you get the picture.
Christmas at the Hotel Bethlehem needs a complete story by itself, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Even if it hadn’t been exquisitely decorated for the holidays, the lobby would still have been a place to mingle and relax.
Fresh coffee is always available, and the cozy setting of couches and chairs provides the perfect opportunity to watch the foot traffic on main street through the spectacular arched windows.
A piano adds another touch of refinement, tradition and history in the lobby where it provides entertainment on special occasions.
Historic Hotel Bethlehem History
The recorded history of the Hotel spans nearly 300 years, sitting at the site of Bethlehem’s “First House.”
Built in 1741 by Moravians, the First House lasted until 1794. It was then replaced by the Golden Eagle Hotel, which served as a stagecoach stop and popular gathering place.
In its last days, the Eagle Hotel was used for soldiers returning from World War I as a convalescence home, but it met its demise in 1919.
In 1921 Bethlehem Steel President Charles M. Schwab decided to build a new modern 200 room fire proof hotel to replace the Eagle Hotel.
If you visit the Hotel Bethlehem, make sure you go down to the lower lobby, where pictures tell the story of its long history, including pictures of the Moravian’s “Golden Eagle Hotel.”
From the Moravian Missionaries who risked their lives to bring the gospel to the Natives of the Lehigh Valley, to the roaring twenties and the blast furnaces of Charles M. Schwab’s steel empire, Bethlehem has witnessed a lot of changes over the years.
The Historic Hotel Bethlehem stands as a monument to preserve that history and the story of Bethlehem.
‘Speakeasy’ Discovered in Historic Hotel Bethlehem
The Hotel Bethlehem is known for its rich history and opulence, but another hidden gem was discovered within its walls that adds an element of intrigue and mystery.
Tucked away behind a secret door, hotel staff uncovered a speakeasy, reminiscent of the Prohibition era.
A speakeasy is an unlicensed saloon and got its name from speaking quietly about such a place in public during Prohibition, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police and neighbors.
This space would have provided a place for guests who were looking for a low-key and discreet atmosphere to enjoy a cocktail or other drink.
This intimate lounge in the Hotel Bethlehem was found after scrapbooks from the early hotel were discovered. In those scrapbooks was a photograph from the opening of the hotel in May of 1922, showing a bar.
While the barroom itself remained a mystery, the doorway to the bar was recognized because of its peculiar arched shape.
When the photograph was discovered, the door to this room was covered by another door. That door has since been removed so that guests can see the original doorway.
It is thought that this bar existed from 1922 to about 1936. When the repeal of Prohibition took place, the hotel opened its “Pioneer Tap Room” in a public space and no longer needed the speakeasy.
The original speakeasy barroom is now used by the hotel for the housekeeping department with an entrance on the other side of the room.
Famous Guests of the Hotel Bethlehem
The Tap Room, one of the restaurants at the historic Hotel Bethlehem, features a gallery of former distinguished hotel guests.
It is quite a list that includes former presidents, politicians, movie stars and comedians.
Some of the former presidents include: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton.
Other notables from the pages of history books include: Henry Ford, Sir Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison and Amelia Earhart.
From the television era, there was Bob Hope. and Shirley Temple; and from the sports world, Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus and Ron Jaworski.
More recent guests include Bernadette Peters, Alison Kraus and Harry Connick Jr.
One of the biggest names to have visited the historic hotel was the Dalai Lama, who is considered to be the most influential figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
Guests Of The ‘Spirit World’ at Haunted Hotel Bethlehem
The famous figures who visited the Hotel Bethlehem are apparently not the only special guests at the hotel. There are also a few “friendly ghosts” as the hotel calls them. In fact there are four of them!
1. May Yohe
One of ghosts who haunts the Bethlehem Hotel is May Yohe, Lady Francis Hope, a singer who lived from 1866 to 1938. She was born at the Eagle Hotel and would sing and dance in the hotel lobby.
In 1888, “May” made headlines across the country as one of the biggest stage stars. In the 1890’s, she went to England to perform for Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Edward. There she met and married Lord Francis Clinton Hope, a wealthy British Lord who owned a very famous jewel called the Hope Diamond.
Her marriage to Lord Hope didn’t last and by the turn of the century she was making headlines again for leaving her husband for a handsome American soldier (who stole her jewelry, and whom she divorced years later).
She seems to have been unlucky in love and her happiest times are said to have been singing and dancing in the hotel lobby. Some say they can still hear her. Others say it is she who is turning on the hotel’s player piano, which continues to occur.
Miss Yohe has been seen in the 3rd floor exercise room and lobby areas.
2. Mrs. Brong Landlord
This ghost at the Hotel Bethlehem is mainly in the kitchen area, so you don’t have to worry.
It seems that in 1833, a committee of the Moravian Church terminated a Mr. and Mrs. Brong after just six months as the hotel “landlords.”
You see, Mr. Brong had a bit of a drinking problem and was often removed to a nearby bench by the bartender.
Mrs. Brong had her problems as well, perhaps a bit more serious than her husband’s. She had a habit of not wearing her shoes or stockings.
Guests arriving by stagecoach would be greeted by a woman with her “pedal extremities completely exposed!”
When the kitchen staff and some dinner guests spoke of seeing a vision of a woman in period clothing with no shoes or socks, it was easy to guess that it was Mrs. Brong.
3. Francis “Daddy” Thomas
This ghost at the Hotel Bethlehem came to the colonies from Germany as a child, and was known for his fearlessness and total disregard for danger.
His industry, honesty and faithfulness won him the respect of everyone he came in contact with, and after a long and fruitful life, he enjoyed taking care of the visitors to Bethlehem.
He died on April 4th 1822, and some say he still takes care of Bethlehem’s visitors and guests with a wonderful sense of fun and humor. Daddy Thomas has been seen in the Boiler Room area of the hotel.
4. Room With A ‘Boo’
Room 932 has a most peculiar record of paranormal activity. A couple staying in the room reported being woken by a man standing in front of their bed asking “why are you in my room?”
But when they switched on the light, no one was there.
There have been numerous accounts of seeing reflections in the mirrors that are not there a moment later.
Guests of room 932 have reported all kinds of unexplained happenings like papers standing upright or flying off the desk, and lamps flashing.
The hotel has many pictures of “orbs” appearing in Room 932.
In April of 2007 the hotel invited a paranormal investigator to spend the night.
He recorded many voices, saying things like: “it’s Mary,” “What a beautiful bathroom,” “I’ve locked myself in the closet” and “look out the window.”
This is the hotel’s most requested room, so plan ahead to reserve this Room with a Boo.
Historic Hotel Bethlehem Rooms
The historic Hotel Bethlehem has many rooms with a view as well.
In fact it features 125 elegant guest rooms and suites with unrivaled views of the National Historic Landmark District, Bethlehem’s Main Street, Moravian University, Lehigh University and the iconic Bethlehem star on South Mountain.
My traditional king room had a view of the historical district, including the famous building that was used as a Revolutionary War hospital. I also had a wonderful view of the iconic Bethlehem star that shines from a far-off hill.
This room was a notch above most hotel rooms with the special inlaid track lighting that provided a warm glow when the rest of the lights were off. (I loved that)!
It also had a very comfortable king-sized bed and plenty of electrical outlets to plug in my computer and recharge my phone. (Often missing in older hotels).
The bed mimicked an old-fashioned poster bed, and the gold bed coverings inscribed with “HB” for Hotel Bethlehem added a touch of sophistication.
Of course, having a fluffy robe laid out on my bed upon my arrival provided that extra touch of luxury that is another special feature often missing from hotels today.
I was really impressed by the way the hotel blended the modern amenities with historical elements, keeping all the features of old-fashioned grandness and comfort in tact.
Even the refrigerator was hidden inside what appeared to be an antique 6-drawered dresser.
It’s a hard balance to find the perfect combination of old and new, but the Hotel Bethlehem somehow provides guests with the best of both worlds.
In addition to rooms like mine, the Hotel Bethlehem also offers Preferred Rooms that are more spacious than the Traditional Rooms and offer views of the Monocacy Creek.
Premier Rooms features a separate sitting room with views of Main Street.
And Suites provide a variety of corner room views, all with a separate living area.
Suites include a Presidential Suite, Governor’s Suite, four Landmark Suites and four Main Street Double Suites.
You can see the rooms and book a night at the Hotel Bethlehem HERE.
Like staying in Historic Hotels? Check out this list!
Dining At The Historic Hotel Bethlehem
I love staying at hotels that have restaurants and the Hotel Bethlehem actually has two!
The Tap Room and 1741 on the Terrace provide “one menu, two views.”
The restaurants feature traditional cuisine that ranges from burgers and salads to steaks and crab cakes. You pick your view of Main Street or Historic Moravian Bethlehem.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the Tap Room and dinner and Sunday Brunch are served in 1741 on the Terrrace.
Pro Tip: The majestic windows and the historic view make Sunday Brunch at 1741 on the Terrace a must-do.
Polishing a Hidden Gem
It was hard for me to believe that the Main Street of Bethlehem and the hotel itself had fallen into disrepair in the 1990s.
The facilities were outdated and the interior was marred with peeling paint, shoddy green shag carpet (yes, really) and crumbling plaster.
Unfortunately, the state of the hotel was a symbol of the decline of the entire Main Street of Bethlehem. Empty storefronts, fueled by economic hardship, did nothing to help attract visitation, which caused further decline and decay.
The property was being considered for a combination senior living housing/college dormitory when a group of Lehigh University Alumni teamed up with ex-Radisson Hotel employees to purchase the property out of bankruptcy court.
Needless to say, bringing the Hotel Bethlehem back to its former glory was a massive undertaking that required cooperation from many different entities — and it ended up being a huge success.
The hotel refurbishment restored the hotel to its original grandeur, with gleaming marble floors, ornate chandeliers and period-style furnishings.
This helped lead to restoration projects along the main street of Bethlehem, including new sidewalks, streetlights and landscaping — which attracted new businesses.
As the hotel became a destination for travelers again, Main Street also began to bloom, bringing in more visitors and attracting even more retail activity.
Main Street in Bethlehem is now a hub of activity, with restaurants, shops and cultural attractions. The hotel’s restoration and the main streets revitalization are really a model for urban renewal, and show what can be done with the right mindset.
Believe me when I say that Bethlehem has a bustling main street. I couldn’t believe the foot traffic at all times of the day and into the evening on a very cold December day.
You don’t have to accept my opinion that Bethlehem is Pennsylvania’s best kept secret, because it has a pretty good reputation from other sources as well.
Bethlehem is listed as one of the Top 10 Main Streets in the country by USA Today, and the Hotel Bethlehem has been named the #1 Best Historic Hotel in the U.S. by USA Today 10Best.
Perhaps even more significantly, the Historic Moravian Bethlehem District is tentatively listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is quite an honor considering there are only 23 such sites in the United States.
Twelve of those are national parks including Yellowstone National Park, one of the most visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.
Another site given tentative status is George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
Ready To Book A Room At The Historic Hotel Bethlehem? Don’t Wait!
The Shoppe At Historic Hotel Bethlehem
Every hotel has a gift shop, but like most everything else at the historic Hotel Bethlehem, The Shoppe is a cut above most others.
The Shoppe features women’s clothing, jewelry, purses, hats, scarves, wraps and special gifts.
What I liked the most about this Shoppe is that they focus on buying items that cannot be found anywhere locally.
They also offer a wide range of price points, so whether you’re looking for something small to remember your visit, or an extravagant gift, you’re sure to find something.
Best of all, the staff at the Shoppe at Hotel Bethlehem makes an effort to to stock “made in the USA” products. This is very important to me, and will make it my first stop when shopping on Bethlehem’s Main Street.
You can enter the Shoppe from inside the hotel’s lower lobby and from the street.
Parking At The Hotel Bethlehem
Parking for overnight guests is available behind the hotel in the hotel’s parking deck.
Like most small towns, parking along Main Street in Bethlehem is limited. The hotel charges $10 for parking, which is a bargain because you can walk to everything once you arrive at the hotel.
A parking pass is issued to you for each vehicle upon check-in. The hotel also has two charging stations for electric vehicles on the C level of the deck.
Due to limited availability, parking on-site for guests of special events is on a first come, first serve basis. The hotel does offer alternate parking with a complimentary shuttle for the duration of those special events.
Special Events and Weddings At The Hotel Bethlehem
There are so many lovely spaces at the historic Hotel Bethlehem for weddings or special occasions, including two exquisite and unique historical ballrooms.
The Grand Ballroom accommodates up to 250 guests and features elegant cocktail balconies and crystal chandeliers. (It’s so cool).
The Mural Ballroom can hold up to 130 guests and has gilded Corinthian columns and historic murals painted by George Gray in 1936. (They are amazing).
I can only imagine the photos that are taken on the white marble staircases, in front of the beautiful arched windows, or beside the old-fashioned elevators with marble trim in the Hotel.
There are photo opportunities everywhere.
Hotel Bethlehem Not Just for Weddings
The Hotel Bethlehem’s special event space isn’t just for weddings. The Hotel Bethlehem Executive Conference Center just down the street also offers meeting space. From boardrooms for 10 or a conference room for 80, the Main Street Executive Conference Center can provide space for the event.
Check out the room selection at the Hotel Bethlehem.
Things To Do Nearby
Make sure you stop at the Historic Bethlehem Visitor Center so you don’t miss anything during your visit.
Directly across the street from the Hotel Bethlehem is the Moravian Book Shop, the oldest bookstore in the country. Since I’m an author, this was a special place to visit just to browse for books and gifts.
Bethlehem Steel Tour: This is what Bethlehem is known for and it’s an amazing story.
Moravian Museum of History: This is a fascinating museum about a piece of American history that few know about.
Wrap-Up Of The Historic Hotel Bethlehem
There are so many things to like about Bethlehem and the Hotel Bethlehem, that I’m not sure I can pick just one thing.
I guess one of the best features for me was the location of the Hotel Bethlehem and “walkability” of the city of Bethlehem.
Not only is the hotel in the middle of Historic Moravian Bethlehem, but it is literally steps away from unique shops and boutiques, museums, landmark buildings and great dining.
My stay at the Hotel Bethlehem was not only a great treat, it allowed me to check off one of the many historic hotels on my bucket list.
The Hotel Bethlehem is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation that recognizes and celebrates the best and most authentic Historic Hotels.
In conclusion, you can’t help but be impressed by the entire community of Bethlehem that turned a deteriorating main street into a bustling hub of retail activity while maintaining a small town and historic vibe.
This is a city and a hotel that I am going to visit again and again.
Disclosure: A big thank you to the Historic Hotel Bethlehem for hosting me. As always this post reflects my honest opinion.