Bethlehem and Vicinity, 1959

Lehigh University & Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Bethlehem and Vicinity, Pt. 2. Lehigh University Area (North). Bethlehem, PA: 1959.

The booklet shown to the right is one of four created by Bethlehem Steel, at the request of Lehigh University, to help visualize the university's property buying in 1959 and the early 1960s. Throughout 1959, Lehigh University purchased at least 48 properties in South Bethlehem.

The mapped aerial photograph covered in the red adhesive film highlights properties purchased by Lehigh. As you can see in the map, the city blocks in the project area are identified by section, denoted by a Roman numeral, and by the individual property lot, denoted by an Arabic numeral. The lines on the booklet's pages use these numerals to provide information on each property, such as the lot's then-current owner, the street address, and an estimated fair market value.

Lehigh's property acquisition was encouraged by the 1959 modifications to the Federal Housing Act, which created financial incentives for colleges, universities, and hospitals in blighted urban areas to initiate urban renewal projects. According to the FHA, the Federal government would pay two-thirds of the cost for an urban renewal project, with the remaining cost to be split between the state and municipal governments. Further, the university initiating the project could credit the municipal government with the value of any properties they owned in the area prior to redevelopment.

The 48 properties purchased by Lehigh were credited to the City of Bethlehem and were used to represent the city's contribution to what was called the Packer Avenue project – the section of campus that is now home to the Whitaker and Sinclair laboratories, Fairchild-Martindale library, Maginnes Hall, and, later, Campus Square. Once the credits were in hand, the city declared the entire Packer Avenue project area blighted and invoked eminent domain to acquire nearly 80 other properties in the area. All the buildings were torn down to make way for the university's new construction. This action created division within the South Side community, with many residents holding Lehigh accountable for tearing down South Side neighborhoods, and also suggesting that Lehigh underpaid residents and let university-owned property deteriorate so that the city could invoke eminent domain.

Jeff Remling
Doctoral Candidate, Department of History