Bethlehem’s Burnside Plantation
With its beautiful natural scenery and unique historic buildings, Bethlehem’s Burnside Plantation is a picture of peace and tranquility. Situated along the banks of the Monocacy Creek, not far from the heart of historic downtown, it offers visitors a unique example of early Moravian and Pennsylvania heritage.
Originally a 500-acre farm, the Burnside Plantation was established by James and Mary Burnside in 1747. James, who had emigrated from county Meath in Ireland, first joined the Moravians in colonial Georgia, where he managed the colony’s public store. However, a string of personal disasters – including the death of his first wife and the loss of two separate homes in devastating fires – ultimately propelled him to travel north and become a Moravian missionary. After meeting his second wife, Mary, in New York, the couple came to Bethlehem to join the Moravian settlement.
Although the Burnsides were part of the Moravian community, they decided not to live according to the standard “choir system”, in which people of the same gender, age and marital situation lived together in a common residence. Instead, they purchased 500 acres of farmland just north of the main Moravian settlement – establishing what would become the first privately owned home and property in Bethlehem.
Three years after James’ death in August of 1755, Mary sold the farm to the Moravian church, where it became known as “Plantation #4” in the Moravian farming system. For the next 90 years, tenant farmers worked the land, rotating crops to keep the fields fertile. Over the decades, the Burnside Plantation produced countless bushels of wheat, buckwheat, rye, turnips, and corn.
During the 1760s, the farm also became home to two of history’s most esteemed organ builders – Johann Gottlob Klemm and David Tannenberg. Known as “Father Klemm” to his fellow Moravians, Klemm is considered by many to be the founder of the Pennsylvania Dutch school of organ building. For five years, between 1760 and 1765, the men worked out of the Burnside farmhouse and built exquisite organs in the German style. Although Tannenberg was Klemm’s assistant during this time, he ultimately went on to achieve a great deal of fame by building some of the most impressive church organs in early America.
Finally, in 1848, at the end of the Moravian lease system, the Burnside Plantation was sold to Bethlehem-native Charles Luckenbach. Now in public hands, the land was slowly divided and sold for commercial development.
By the mid-1980s, only a small portion of the original 500 acres was still intact. In an effort to preserve the remaining land and historic buildings, a small group of citizens convinced Lehigh County to purchase the last 6.5 acres of the Burnside Plantation in 1986.
Today, the Burnside Plantation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Operated by Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites, the farmhouse, summer kitchen, and barn are open for public tours by appointment. The property also hosts a series of annual events, including the yearly Blueberry Festival in July and the annual Apple Days in the fall. This year’s Apple Days will be held September 10 and 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include an apple pie baking contest, live music, crafters, colonial games, and crafts for children, fresh produce and fall mums, and tours of the house and buildings.
During the spring through fall months, workshops by Penn State Master Gardeners and colonial cooking demonstrations also take place regularly. The kitchen gardens, which are still planted with herbs, vegetables, and flowers common in the 18th Century, are open to “adoption” by anyone with an interest in gardening.
“Little Cot”, as the house was called by James and Mary Burnside, is a two-story residence built with rubble stone and brick arches. The sloping roof gives the home a look reminiscent of the “saltbox design”, which was rather atypical for a Moravian building.
Originally constructed in 1748, the farmhouse was enlarged in 1818 with the addition of four rooms. During the 1760s, a second beehive oven was also installed in the kitchen. Although it is unconfirmed, this oven was most likely used to shape pieces for organ building.
In addition to the house, the Burnsides’ farm also originally included a log stable, log barn, and smoke house, none of which still exist.
The restored summer kitchen, wagon shed, and corn crib were all built in the 1820s. In the 1840s, a Pennsylvania bank barn was added to the property. Unfortunately, this barn burned to the ground in the 1920s. However, the stone foundation remained intact, and a bank barn from the same period was rebuilt on the site as part of the farm’s restoration. Located inside the barn is a high horse-powered wheel, which is one of only two working high horse-powered wheels still in existence in the US.
Location & Contact Information
The Burnside Plantation is located at 1461 Schoenersville Road in Bethlehem. For information about tours, events, programs or volunteer opportunities, please visit historicbethlehem.org or call 1.800.360.TOUR.