Drinking coffee in post-industrial Bethlehem: Happiness among the ruins

Have you ever driven past an uninhabited, now defunct industrial site and wondered what happened there, what was made there, and who lived and worked there? These sites exist all over the United States, and because of an EPA program started in 1995, many of these sites have become cultural meccas that revitalize old industrial towns, like Bethlehem, PA.

Bethlehem, PA, is famous for Bethlehem Steel, which was a major industrial giant in the 20th century. Originally incorporated in 1904, Bethlehem steel manufactured the steel that was used to make the Empire State Building in 1931; the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937; and Madison Square Garden in 1968.

But even the greatest of empires decline, which is what happened to Bethlehem Steel, starting with huge losses in the 1970’s and eventually progressing to bankruptcy in 1997. The story of post-industrial economic despair is well-known and recounted in many stories and songs about the LeHigh Valley. However, the story that is not told as often is the story of communities revitalized by brownfield projects---projects in which old industrial sites are turned into community-based cultural, social, and educational hubs. These hubs generate jobs and income, while providing a central cultural venue for the local community and attracting tourists from all over. One example is the ArtQuest Building, which is part of a 10-acre brownfield project that is literally surrounded by steel stacks.

Not only are there concerts, movies, social events, comedy acts, speakers, and art exhibits here, but there are 8 festivals a year, including the Peeps Festival. The bright, neo-hued, bright-as-morning –light, pastel-colored Peeps exist in sharp contrast to the gray, stark skyline of Bethlehem in late December---but that contrast is oddly beautiful.

I should note that coffee is readily available in the Steel Stacks facilities, and it’s fairly good. On the downside, there is only half and half---no other creamer options. But, overall, the experience is breathtaking and inspirational, and having any kind of coffee feels great---especially with a nice sugary marshmallow shaped like a rabbit.

If you're interested in learning more and making a visit, here is a full overview and schedule.


Teresa Stevens said…
Awesome! Great reporting—why didn’t I know there was a “Peeps Festival”??! Let’s have coffee soon!

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