Bethlehem then and now, from steel town to arts community

Then and Now photos is an ongoing series from Keystone Crossroads that looks at historical images of the past and photographs of today from Pennsylvania cities and towns.

On a recent summer evening, hundreds of people – lawn chairs and blankets in tow – flocked to SteelStacks, a premiere arts campus at the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Some came for the free outdoor concert – an Eagles tribute band, and others to listen to jazz standards played by a local band. Just a short distance away, a line of cars formed at the entrance of the Sands Casino Resort.

With the five remaining blast furnaces as the backdrop of the campus, it’s easy to imagine the Steel in its hey day.

At the height of production, tens of thousands of workers toiled away to manufacture the steel for iconic structures like the Hoover Dam, the Chrysler Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Today, many of the mill’s hulking warehouses have been gutted and turned into empty shells fenced off from the public.

Although the transformation from steel city to arts mecca has been nearly two decades in the making since the plant shuddered in 1995, the renewal is not complete.

There are plans to connect SteelStacks to the Sands Casino Resort with a High Line style elevated park using an existing one-mile long rail trestle. Bass Pro Shops has proposed a mega store in the former Machine Shop No. 2 including a museum dedicated to Bethlehem Steel. And there is buzz about luring California’s Stone Brewing Company to the complex.

Archival images courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library of Congress.

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