Mark Iampietro with his maternal and paternal grandmothers on the South Side’s Vine Street in 1956. (Courtesy of Mark Iampietro)

Facebook group connects South Side’s past and present


Mark Iampietro has lived on the South Side of Bethlehem his whole life. Now, he is listed as an expert for one of the area’s largest Facebook groups.

The group “South Side of Bethlehem PA Memories” unites 3,600 members, mainly lifelong South Side residents, to commemorate local history. It was created on June 5, 2013, and features appreciative notes, “Then and Now” side-by-sides of street corners, historical photographs and documents, and questions about neighborhood oddities.

Iampietro was appointed by the group administrators because of his knowledge of the area, which he said he credits to his age and desire to discover more. 

He has written six books on Bethlehem history, including “The Boys from Bethlehem: The stories of one town’s lost heroes from America’s Vietnam experience” and “Bethlehem Profiles: The People Who Made Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.” 

“The best students are the ones who want to learn,” Iampietro said. “The more passionate or interested you are in the subject, the more fertile your mind is, and I’m interested in history.”

South Side resident Phil Morganello, who joined the Facebook group a year ago, is one of the many members who share his childhood memories living in the area. He said he hopes to provoke thought as to where the South Side is and where it has been.

Morganello said while he’s not personally friends with anybody in the group, he recognizes the names of frequent posters like Iampietro. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Iampietro said he began walking daily. He started asking himself questions as he walked by historical buildings and saw blue Pennsylvania historical markers. 

This motivated him to begin posting in the Facebook group and start his YouTube series, “Exploring Bethlehem,” which now has over 50 five-minute videos exploring the people and things that make up the city. 

“The reaction to them is what keeps me going, because if nobody cared, I’d probably just disappear,” Iampietro said. “Not everyone, but a lot of people love to learn about local history. It generates back-and-forth comments. People then get inspired and share pictures that they have.” 

Jim Friedman, a group member and South Side resident, said he thinks the photos and stories that emerge from the group help people find their ancestry and relive childhood memories. 

He said he finds the material he posts by looking through family photos, listening to family stories and browsing local libraries’ websites, including Lehigh University’s Special Collections. 

Friedman and Iampietro are both third-generation South Side residents whose grandparents immigrated to Bethlehem from Europe.

Since their families arrived in the early 1900s, the South Side has gone through considerable changes, most notably the expansion of Lehigh University and the closure of Bethlehem Steel. 

Iampietro’s grandparents lived on Vine and Martel streets. While both streets still exist today, Iampietro said their neighborhood — roughly bounded by Packer Avenue, Morton Street, Broadhead Avenue and Webster Street — was obliterated as Lehigh University began to expand. Farrington Square, Fairchild Martindale Library and Broughal Middle School now make up the area.

“The Bethlehem that I experienced as a 10 year old in the early 1960s was not that much different than the one (my father) grew up in,” Iampietro said. “But since 1970, it’s changed a lot. The last 10 years it’s changed, and I look around and I see how much more it’s going to change.” 

According to the Historical Marker Database, Bethlehem Steel, one of the leading steel manufacturers for most of the 20th century, ended all operations by 1998. 

Morganello said it is important to celebrate and learn Bethlehem’s history to try and correct mistakes from the present.

“A lot of people weren’t sure what was going to happen to the South Side with the demise of the steel company, and a lot of people were ready to throw in the towel, but the ones that stayed seemed to make it better,” Morganello said.

Iampietro said more people want to live on the South Side than ever before, which he never thought he would see happen. He worries this will make it difficult for native residents to stay in the neighborhood. 

“Nothing stays the same,” Iampietro said. “Progress is inevitable.”

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