Nestled in North Bethlehem across the Fahy Bridge sits the historic Sun Inn — a place historical figures including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin have lodged in.
Built in 1758 by the Moravians, the Sun Inn is a renovated reminder of Bethlehem’s rich history.
The Moravian area of Historic Bethlehem, of which the Sun Inn is located, is planned to be named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization heritage site in 2024.
Scott Gordon, Lehigh professor and historian, said this has been in the works for 20 years.
“When Bethlehem becomes a world heritage site and people come here to see this 18th century Moravian community, they’re going to go to the Sun Inn because it is the only surviving tavern and house of entertainment from that period,” Gordon said. “I think that will really impact the community more than it does (now) starting next year.”
Since its construction, the inn has changed significantly, but its classic brick exterior and red painted roof make it hard to miss. Originally built solely as an inn, it has since been converted into a tavern and museum where guests can experience authentic 18th-century style entertainment.
The Sun Inn has been preserved in part by the Sun Inn Preservation Association. Randi Mautz, president of the association, said the nonprofit organization was created to protect the Sun Inn from being torn down.
“The Sun Inn didn’t look like it does now,” Gordon said. “It was going to be taken down by the city, but they found that some of the original walls from the 18th century structure were still there. The restoration was built according to its 18th century look with the original plans that had survived at the Moravian archives.”
Gordon said the inn has been a trademark of Bethlehem since the 1750s. It was a place for entertainment and hospitality, as Bethlehem was a well-known crossing place for travelers coming from Philadelphia and New York or those who were heading west.
Mautz said the inn had three suites — something that was rare in the 18th and 19th centuries. Each suite had two bedrooms and a common area.
“There was also a kitchen with a butcher, and on the third floor, people who couldn’t afford a suite would have to sleep in a bed with four people, head to toe,” Mautz said.
In addition to hosting guests, the Sun Inn served as a location for local meetings.
“The meeting of the trustees that founded Lehigh happened at the Sun Inn,” Gordon said. “It was a place for an important crossing space. The Sun Inn got a lot of traffic from important people.”
Today, the inn houses a tavern, a museum and a distillery called Christmas City Spirits. The Preservation Association owns the inn, and the tavern and distillery owners rent their spaces.
Mautz said the tavern and distillery owners are committed to preserving the history of North Bethlehem.
“There is a history of serving spirits at the Sun Inn,” Mautz said. “They learned some of those old recipes for their distillery.”
Brett R. Biggs, co-owner of Christmas City Spirits at the Sun Inn, said they brew authentic historical distilled products — they even replicated a recipe, “The Cherry Bounce,” from Martha Washington, one of the renowned figures who stayed at the Sun Inn.
“We wanted the taste to be very similar to what they would have been drinking back in the day,” Biggs said. “We try to incorporate as much of the Sun Inn’s history as we can into our products and the colonial period.”