Fountain Hill

If a sense of history involves both a perception of the pastness of the past, and of its presence, then T.S. Eliot might well have had Fountain Hill in mind. A small borough only three-quarters of a square mile in size, Fountain Hill is huge in terms of its historical past, and its contributions to the present character of the Lehigh Valley.

Birthplace of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Stephen Vincent Benet, Fountain Hill was home to or had strong ties with many historic personages whose names are found today on local streets and buildings – names such as Fiot, Broadhead, Linderman, Packer, Benner, Sayre and Jeter.  These visionaries founded Lehigh University, built the Lehigh Valley Railroad, established what was to become Bethlehem Steel, or made possible the growth and prosperity of St. Luke’s Hospital.

Tinsley Jeter, recognized as the “Father of Fountain Hill,” sold his iron mines to dedicate himself to laying out the plans for a significant amount of the village that originally occupied the northeast section of the present borough. Once Moravian farm land, the site grew from Jeter’s Fontainebleau estate, which he purchased in 1866 from its original developer Charles Augustus Fiot.  By 1868, Jeter had expanded the Fountain Hill town plot to what is now the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Broadway.

Garrett Brodhead Linderman, M.D., was director of the Lehigh Valley railroad and a trustee of Lehigh University and St. Luke’s Hospital.  He also organized the Lehigh National Bank of Bethlehem and was managing director of the Bethlehem Iron Co., precursor of Bethlehem Steel.

In 1870 he built a magnificent mansion on Delaware Avenue, which today stands on the boundary between Bethlehem and Fountain Hill.  It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as part of the Fountain Hill Historic District.

Judge Asa Packer undertook the building of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. One of the richest men in Pennsylvania at the time, he was also a generous philanthropist, donating the money to found Lehigh University in 1865, and financing the purchase of land in Fountain Hill for the relocation and expansion of St. Luke’s Hospital. An original trustee of the hospital, he contributed generously to it all his life and left a $300,000 bequest at his death. Packer’s son, Robert Asa, lived in Fountain Hill at the corner of Ottawa (now Cherokee) Street and Delaware Avenue. His house, built in 1864, is still standing.

Engineer and philanthropist Robert Heysham Sayre, another original trustee of St. Luke’s Hospital, built the first modern house on any of the original area that was called Fountain Hill.  His home is now Sayre Mansion Inn, which became part of Bethlehem when the boundaries with Fountain Hill were changed in the last century. An added tidbit of history, Sayre’s son married President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter.

The opening of the railroad from Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe) to Bethlehem spurred industrial development throughout the area.  In 1886, the Lipps & Sutton Silk Mill opened in Fountain Hill, followed in 1895 by the Warren Mill.  The Lipps & Sutton Mill was designed by South Bethlehem’s prominent architect A. W. Leh (1848-1918), who was noted for designing many of the Lehigh Valley’s churches, schools and commercial buildings. In the early 1990’s, the two silk mills were completely renovated for multiple uses: apartments, municipal offices, and police headquarters. Because it was one of the first silk mills built in the area during the Industrial Revolution, the Lipps & Sutton building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Today it houses the administrative offices of Fountain Hill Borough, which was incorporated in 1893.

Today, Fountain Hill is home to nearly 4,600 residents who live within a territory sandwiched between Salisbury Township and the City of Bethlehem that has no real discernible downtown or town center, and that is predominantly residential in nature. Virtually landlocked in terms of building expansion or commercial development, the Borough has only a tiny industrial area in its northeast section. Its major employer is St. Luke’s Hospital.

Despite these challenges, Fountain Hill is proud of its legacy and has been diligent in preserving its historic districts and promoting the physical attractiveness of the borough.  Delaware Avenue, one of the key sites of mansion construction in the 1880s and 1890s, is today a busy, but pleasing tree-lined roadway in the heart of the borough. All the trees were planted by the public works department as part of the borough’s beautification efforts. “Every time we do road work we plant trees,” Public Works Supervisor James Levernier explained. Twenty years ago, the borough, which has its own Shade Tree Commission, was designated Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

The once prestigious neighborhood for the rich and influential in the Lehigh Valley, and the hub of activity in the so-called “Golden Era,” Fountain Hill is now described by Executive Administrator Rick Prill as a “quiet community.” He says the demographics are changing to a more eclectic population and primarily single-family homes.  With an elementary school on Church Street that serves approximately 750 students, Fountain Hill maintains an active recreation program. Facilities include an outdoor swimming pool and playground at Stanley Avenue and N. Lynn Street. The highlight of youth activities is Little League baseball.

Although St. Luke’s Hospital enjoys non-profit/non-tax status, Prill says it has contributed substantially to improve and maintain the borough’s recreational facilities and programs. “In the last three years, they [St. Luke’s] have kept the pool and playground going.”

Fountain Hill’s mixed commercial area along Broadway has remained fairly stable, with a number of long-time family or independent businesses, including the Fountain Hill Pharmacy, Friedman’s Texaco and Cantelmi’s Funeral Home. The granddaddy of them all, though, is Coaches Flowers, founded in 1901. True to its heritage, Coaches is located in an early brick and wood period home with antique woodwork and furnishings at 835 Broadway.

Just down the road at 1529 Broadway, newcomer Bottom Dollar Food, a low-cost supermarket chain store, opened last year.

EAT/DRINK

The Vineyard has been a Fountain Hill restaurant favorite since 1990, serving traditional Italian dishes, such as lasagna and ravioli, along with a diverse menu of steak, chicken, veal and seafood. Listed among the pasta choices are fettuccine carbonara, rigatoni and broccoli, cavatelli, tortellini Bolognese and penne puttanesca. Among the seafood dishes are lobster, scallop scampi, shrimp ala Romano, zuppa di mare and scungilli. Located just west of Route 378, and north of Broadway, the intimate dining room, decorated with grape vines and wooden lattice work, has the feel of a Chianti wine cellar. A large room downstairs is available for groups and special events. 605 Fiot Street, Fountain Hill, 610-867-2441, thevineyardrestaurant.net.

Nearby in a historic home built in 1866, the Benner Street Restaurant & Bar is open for lunch and dinner with an extensive menu from seafood and classic Italian pasta, to steak, chops and stir fry. Among the notable dinner entrees is Veal Chausser, a combination of sautéed scaloppini of veal with diced plum tomatoes, wild mushrooms, fresh tarragon and deglazed with white wine and a touch of demi-glaze. As impressive as the menu is the history of the Benner Street building.  Located on what was once an old Indian trail, it was built by Eugene J. Benner, who opened the East End Hotel on the site. In 1906 the hotel was purchased by Louis Schuster, who later changed the name to Schuster’s Hotel, the name it kept until 1950.  In later years “Benner Street” was a tavern, until being purchased and opened as a restaurant by the Williams Family. 1028 Broadway, Bethlehem, 610-861-8181, bennerstreet.com.

Newcomer Claudio’s is a family style, BYOB restaurant serving home-cooked Puerto Rican cuisine. Open for lunch and dinner, take out and catering are also available at Claudio’s. Owners Robert and Susan Claudio provide a casual dining atmosphere in their ample dining room. In addition to staple items on every Puerto Rican table, Claudio’s features Spanish and Basque dishes. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Friday, Claudio’s is closed to the public on Saturday and Sunday when it hosts private parties.  205 Broadway, Bethlehem, 610-419-4793, [email protected]

Bolete, a sophisticated and splendid restaurant, resides in a 200-year-old farmhouse and former inn. Fitting, since the menu changes daily to reflect the freshest ingredients purchased from selected farmers and purveyors. Be adventurous and choose the Chef’s Tasting Menu which includes six courses chosen daily by the chef. Or, order off the ever-changing menu that can include appetizer Rhode Island Fluke Sashimi or main course Seared line-caught day boat Alaskan Halibut. Bolete is open for brunch on Sunday and dinner Tuesday – Saturday. 1740 Seidersville Road, Bethlehem, 610-868-6505, boleterestaurant.com.

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