Local History: “Bethlehem Back When” Project

Bethlehem Back When Project Initiated by Historic District Women
by Barbara Diamond

When women get together it doesn’t take long before they come up with a project that involves working together to address some problem or issue. Such was the case at the monthly historic district women’s Happy Hour at Hotel Bethlehem, when Dayna Plocus described how she searched through thousands of photos of historic Bethlehem stored in Luckenbach Mill to find a photo of her house on Market Street in order to recreate the lovely porch that once graced her house. Over months and many martinis and glasses of wine later, the idea was born to approach Historic Bethlehem Museums and Sites to offer help to make these photos more accessible to the community. As it turned out, this offer was an answer to HBMS’s long-held dream to digitize and make this valuable archive of photos available online. And with that, in September the project was launched.

Since 1962, the collection of over 7,000 photographs donated by Bethlehem Steel has been stored by HBMS awaiting the capability and technology to bring them to light. Now with scanning technology, curatorial software and the generous time of over 15 volunteers thus far, this unique and significant historic record of Bethlehem’s people and places will be catalogued in a searchable database that the public can access.

Volunteers are working with Lindsey Jancay, HBMS’s curator, to digitize, catalogue, and identify any conservation needs for the contents of the Bethlehem Steel Photo Archive. Volunteers meet on Monday from 10:30-12 and Thursday from 12-1:30 to scan and record the condition of the photographs. Over the last 4 months, the volunteers have recorded 635 photographs, and helped to identify key themes and images for the Spring exhibition. Upcoming, there will be opportunities to contribute for excel-savvy individuals who wish to work from home to refine the master list of the contents of the collection.

Also, in a very exciting development, reaching out to our neighbor HBMS with an offer of volunteer help also made it possible for HBMS to coordinate an exhibition of these photographs, the Bethlehem Back When Project, in time for Bethlehem’s 275th Anniversary celebration. The exhibition will open in May 2016 at the Luckenbach Mill, featuring a small selection of the photographs to introduce the project to the public, and by the following year, a publicly accessible online catalogue through which the public can search the contents of the collection will be available. This project is entirely volunteer driven, and thanks to the support of women in the historic district working with the dedicated staff of HBMS, these images of historic Bethlehem’s places and people will be available to the public who otherwise would never know what treasures the collection holds!

Volunteers will also be needed to assist with the planning for the Bethlehem Back When Exhibition in Spring. If you would like to volunteer please contact Lindsey Jancay, Curator, at Historic Bethlehem Partnership, 610-868-6868 x 63 or LJancay@historicbethlehem.org.

And, if you would like to join your women friends and neighbors for Happy Hour at the Hotel Bethlehem (3rd Monday of every month), please contact Barbara Diamond at bhdiamond2@aol.com to be added to the reminder list.

Image courtesy of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

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