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11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Bethlehem Steel Plant

Year Listed: 2004
Location: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Threat: Development, Neglect

Bethlehem
Bethlehem Steel Original Bessemer Steel Building c 1872, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Bethlehem Steel Plant was on the 2004 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Significance

One of the nation's most important steel plants, the Bethlehem Works in Pennsylvania played a pioneering role in the development of America's steel and defense industries. Steel from the Bethlehem Works was used to build the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, and to reconstruct the White House in the Truman era. Today, the sprawling mill lies dormant, in danger of being cleared for a retail complex or industrial park. Unless preservationists succeed in saving the birthplace of integrated steel-making, there might not be a single blast furnace, machine shop, foundry or crucible building left on the site of one of America's - and the world's - greatest industrial triumphs.

Now known as Bethlehem Works, the former plant, which closed in the mid-1990s, encompasses about 100 acres with more than 25 buildings and other structures dating from as early as 1863. Despite some basic infrastructure investment, virtually nothing has been done to protect the buildings, which have begun to experience deterioration and vandalism. Roofs are leaking and, in some cases, have blown off, and windows and doors have been broken and interior contents damaged.

In December 2006, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board approved Bethlehem and the Sands BethWorks development proposal for a slots casino license. As planned, phase 1 of the casino development will spend $560M on the 126-acre site. The developer's agreement commits to preserving several Bethlehem Steel structures, including the iron foundry, the former headquarters, the annex, the elevated rail ore-moving system, the blast furnaces, the ore bridge, the high house, the gas blowing engine house and portions of the massive No. 2 machine shop (the largest industrial building in the world when it was built in 1890). As envisioned, the Sands BethWorks will be a multi-use facility with housing, retail, events, and the casino, along with the National Museum of Industrial History facility. Owners have stated their intention is to make Bethlehem an "industrial-themed" complex. While promising, the greatest threat now lies with ensuring that the tremendous heritage of Bethlehem Steel remains visible without being overshadowed by the casino or "Disneyfied."