The sentiment and economy of historical heritage, by Don Cunningham


My kids learned early on that vacations with dad are often anything but.

This usually involves visiting a place with historic sites or buildings which results in long walks and sightseeing for everyone involved.

My daughter’s first day trip as a baby was to Lancaster to visit the home of Pennsylvania’s first President, James Buchanan.

She remembers it as well as history remembers the Buchanan administration.

Other visitors to this guided tour in the fall of 1990 most likely remember it well. For that, I offer you a belated apology.

Bridget’s mother will not forget her.

After withstanding about 20 minutes of crying at the top of her lungs, Laura turned to me and said, “She’s a little too young for that, maybe we can come back when she’s at least 3 year.

I didn’t seem to get the message.

Eight years later, our third child, then 2-year-old Brendan, spoke his first full sentence at the end of a long day’s walking tour of colonial Philadelphia.

With a gaze that was both plaintive and provocative, he looked at me and, in a mutilated syntax, pronounced a phrase that had become famous in our family: “Do you see my legs getting tired? »

A toddler’s way of saying, “Man, I’ve had enough, I’m tired and I don’t care about this.” What’s wrong with you, I’m only 2? “

But hey, it made him talk.

A few decades later – the kids in high school and college, and me at a new wedding – I took some of them on a week-long vacation on the East Coast to Bar Harbor, in Maine. We stopped in Lexington and Concord for groundbreaking battlefield and museum tours and a visit to Walden Pond.

On the way back, we stopped in Boston for two days, where I had secretly planned to slip into the Freedom Trail historic sites walking tour.

We emerged from the hotel room on a hot August morning and I guided the team to the Old State House subway station. With the scorching sun and humidity already sucking sweat from our pours, my wife, Lynn, reached up, stopped the brigade, and said, “It’s too (expletive deleted) hot for the story.” We’ve had enough.

There are times when mothers-in-law are accepted. This one was almost biblical.

The tribe had united against its leader.

The above has always fascinated and intrigued me.

As I got older, I understood his allure more clearly. Nothing lasts eternally. Life continues to move forward, very quickly. This is the mystery and majesty of the lineage. The streets I walked with my grandfather, I now walk with my granddaughter.

As James Joyce wrote, “As you are now, so were we then.”

Places last longer than people. We come and go.

There is a connection to where we came from – and how we got here – in the dirt, bricks and mortar of construction and place.

Bethlehem, like the rest of the Lehigh Valley, is blessed with a rich history. Many of its early buildings are still standing, and its history is preserved and learned from the Moravians, a Protestant sect of missionaries who left what is now the Czech Republic to settle in the New World and throughout the ‘Europe. A group settled at the confluence of Monocacy Creek and the Lehigh River in 1741 and called it Bethlehem. Other groups settled elsewhere in North America and Northern Ireland, in Germany and Denmark and eventually in many other countries.

Today, Bethlehem is part of a multinational effort to have this Moravian heritage of communities declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The US Department of the Interior has cleared a preserved 14.7-acre settlement in the heart of Bethlehem as one of only 19 locations on the US Tentative List.

There are only 24 declared World Heritage Sites in the United States, including Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Monticello. There are approximately 1,100 sites worldwide.

UNESCO designation translates to significant international recognition, visitation, and increased economic activity through tourism and awareness of a place. The international prominence of Bethlehem and therefore the Lehigh Valley will increase if the designation is conferred.

There were many important elements of engineering, commerce and education that developed in this Moravian settlement, but its status is little recognized as one of the greatest final resting places for soldiers of the war of American independence in the United States.

Pacifists by education and relatively newcomers to the Colonies, the Moravians supported the Revolution with financial support and care for the wounded. The Brethren’s House, now home to the Moravian University School of Music, was one of the first Continental Army hospitals.

At least 300 Patriot soldiers died of wounds or illness at the corner of Main and Church streets. They are buried in unmarked graves on the hill beside the stream west of Bethlehem. There’s a little marker for them on First Avenue.

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However, not everything that is old is historical.

Bethlehem City Council recognized this when it recently granted ArtsQuest a demolition permit to remove five disparate factory buildings of no historical significance on Third Street in order to build a new Banana Factory Arts Center for the community. .

A historic advisory commission previously said ArtsQuest should retain these buildings. Fortunately, the voice of the council prevailed.

Critical thinking must be applied to the balance between preserving meaningful history and building a future. We need to make room for the next generation. The kids and grandkids don’t really want everything in Grandma’s attic just because it meant something to her. Our treasure may be their bric-a-brac. It’s like that.

The key is to understand what we cannot lose because it is essential to who we are, a physical memory of family, community and place to remind us that we are only passing through.

And, yes, sometimes it’s too hot for the story.

Don Cunningham is President and CEO of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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