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Steeples and Steel bus tours return

After a hiatus due to the COVID pandemic, the Steeples and Steel bus tours returned to southside Bethlehem Oct. 29.

History tourists began their two-part morning journey at St. John’s Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church, 617 E. Fourth St. As the bus passed more than 20 churches that served congregations in various ethnic neighborhoods, docent Don Elliott provided brief historical background for each. Elliott is a member of South Bethlehem Historical Society.

He described the connections between these houses of worship, immigrant steelworkers, famous architects such as A.W. Leh who designed them, the stone masons who built them and industrialists like Asa Packer who provided funding.

The churches and synagogues served the Windish, Germans, Italians, Hungarians and those from other ethnic backgrounds who clustered together in segregated neighborhoods to be around folks who spoke the same language as they did. Many of the services were conducted in the immigrants’ native languages.

A stopover at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church provided an opportunity for attendees to stretch their legs and learn about the site. Speaker Richard Elterich explained the church was founded in 1863. Construction on the current building was started in 1873. The church underwent major alterations and expansion into the 20th century.

The steel part of the tour, led by Steelworkers’ Archives Chairman of the Board Mike Dzwonczyk, outlined the history of “the second largest steel company in the world” as the bus passed the veterans memorial, iron foundry, carpenter and pattern shop. Dzwonczyk spoke about his experiences as a Bethlehem Steel employee as the group walked the Hoover-Mason Trestle by the former blast furnaces.

Other places of interest on the former industrial site included the corporate office, plant dispensary, blowing engine house and the No. 2 Machine Shop, which Dzwonczyk described as once being the largest machine shop in the world.

Back at historic St. John’s Windish, church archivist Frank E. Podleiszek gave a history lesson on the site, as well as on the people who emigrated from Slovenia to Bethlehem. Some of the history is personal for Podleiszek, as he shared photos from the collection that included one of his parents’ wedding.

Local authors Carol Henn and Tracy L. Berger-Carmen were available to autograph their books. Henn’s “Oilcloth Stories” features fictionalized ethnic tales the author has collected. Berger-Carmen’s “Images of America: Bethlehem Steel” is a photographic nonfiction book.

The Bethlehem/Murska Sobota Sister City Association was on hand to furnish “Fun Facts About Slovenia.”

To connect today’s generation to the stories and places of those who came before, the Steelworkers’ Archives launched the Steeples and Steel bus tours several years ago. According to Susan Vitez, from the archives, one church or cemetery is entered during each bus tour. Afterward, a Bethlehem Steel plant site is explored.

This day’s tour package included a typical steelworkers’ “overtime meal” of sandwiches, chips, fruit, sweets and an A-Treat beverage. Vitez said it is reminiscent of what Bethlehem Steel served their laborers who worked past their regular shifts. A special treat of kiffles was also provided by Stehley’s Bakery & Eatery.

Steelworkers’ Archives is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of Bethlehem Steel and its links to the surrounding community.

Two more Steeples and Steel tours were scheduled to take place Nov. 12, with a morning run to Fritz Memorial Methodist Church and an afternoon tour that stops off at the historic Fountain Hill Cemetery and travels through the former Bethlehem Steel site. Goulash, made by Mary Karol of St. John’s, was the featured meal with kiffles for dessert.

Visit steelworkersarchives.com for more information.

PRESS PHOTOS BY ED COURRIER Steeples and Steel bus tour participants line up at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church's altar for a photo Oct. 29. Bus tour docent Don Elliott is at left. Speaker Richard Elterich, at right, provided a talk on the church's history.
St. John's Windish Evangelical Lutheran Church archivist Frank E. Podleiszek identifies members of his parents' wedding party in a photograph from the church's collection.
Elterich points to drawings depicting St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran's transformation from its founding in 1863 to the building as it looks today.
Local author Carol Henn is on hand inside St. John's Windish Evangelical Lutheran's recreation hall to autograph her book “Oilcloth Stories.”
Retired steelworker Mike Dzwonczyk shares memories with fellow docent and former steelworker Don Elliott as they take a break from walking the Hoover-Mason Trestle.