(Photo illustration by Jake Weir/B&W Staff)

Edit desk: An ode to Bethlehem


Erica Ashby

Two hundred fifty years ago, the Moriavans landed where the Monocacy Creek flows into the Lehigh River. While singing a stanza “Not Jerusalem, Lowly Bethlehem,” they named their town Bethlehem, The Christmas City. 

That night, little did they know what their land would evolve into. 

Bethlehem Steel was founded in 1857. The city imported immigrants while exporting steel to build the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center, the Hoover Dam and Alcatraz. 

Asa Packer built the Lehigh Valley Railroad system, transporting coal around the nation. Yearning for societal improvements, he established Lehigh University to train those of the Lehigh Valley to serve as engineers for our country in the post-civil war era. Lehigh’s first graduates engineered the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge. 

What has been formulated within Bethlehem’s 19 square miles has radiated across the country.  But, as current Lehigh students, do we continue to embrace this spirit of Bethlehem? 

When entering Lehigh’s campus after driving through Bethlehem, it felt like a whole new world, so different from the surrounding town. During my first semesters, it felt as if we were living in a bubble distant from the town surrounding us. I neglected to integrate myself into Bethlehem or learn much about the town. 

In January of my freshman year, I was reluctantly assigned as a reporter to the metro beat of The Brown and White. One of my first assignments was covering the demolition of the Martin Tower. To my surprise, I found the tower to be far more than just an abandoned building I saw on my walk to class every day. Citizens and officials I interviewed expressed how the building stood for Bethlehem’s contribution to the world and how it embodied historic city pride.  

I came to understand that Bethlehem, like the Martin Tower, was more than just a city, but a community that has embodied culture and innovation. I learned that Bethlehem’s sister cities provide outlets for immigrants to express their heritage while politically connecting the town to Europe and Asia. The Banana Factory and ArtsQuest in Bethlehem represent the city’s history of commitment to music and art. 

Having the opportunity to interview City Councilwomen Paige Van-Wirt and Olga Negrón proved that the Bethlehem government strives to carry on the success of the city. Every metro article I write, I’m proud that I’m able to immerse myself more in historic Bethlehem throughout my four years at Lehigh.

Packer founded Lehigh with the purpose of teaching those the “Bethlehem Dream,” to innovate and build for the betterment of our country. Therefore, it is our vow as students to embody the spirit of Bethlehem. Packer hoped for all students to embrace the past and importance of the city. 

Like those first graduates of Lehigh, it is our duty to take what we learn here and use the knowledge we gain to build bridges, make discoveries and contribute to our country. 

Erica Ashby is an associate news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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