Sun Inn to be Restored

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The Sun Inn Preservation Association, with the support of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission acquired Bethlehem’s historic 1758 Moravian Sun Inn in December, 1975. In the near future a capital fund drive will be launched to raise approximately one million dollars to accomplish the restoration. During the past year the association has proceeded with plans for restoration and adaptive uses of the inn.

As one of Pennsylvania’s most historic sites, the story of Bethlehem’s Sun Inn is an unusually interesting sub­ject. Bethlehem’s distinguished hostelry was 1758 to accommodate visitors to this Moravian missionary com­munity on the western “frontier” of Colonial America. As the Moravians’ official “Gasthaus,” the inn welcomed many colonial dignitaries, including Governors John and Richard Penn; Governor William Franklin of New Jersey; Sir William Johnson, British Commissioner of Indian Affairs; General Thomas Gage, Commander of the British forces in America; and many vacationing Philadelphians including James Allen, son of William Allen, the founder of Allentown. The eighteenth-century inn also claims the distinction of having lodged fifty-one chiefs and warriors of the Iroquois Confederation, including Chief Cornplanter, the Seneca leader and noted orator.

Throughout the Revolutionary War and the early years of American independence, Bethlehem’s Sun Inn hosted military leaders and political statesmen whose names represent a roster of the nation’s founding fathers: Gen­erals George Washington; Horatio Gates; Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen; the Marquis de Lafayette; Count Casimir Pulaski and Baron Von Steuben; Captain John Paul Jones; Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury; and John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Sixteen members of the Continental Congress, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, Richard Henry Lee and John Hancock, found refuge here in 1777 when the British occupied Philadelphia.

The Moravian Sun Inn acquired an international reputa­tion for its hospitality, its superior accommodations, fine food and “good cheer its table is proverbial for offering.” John Adams, second President of the United States, called it “the best Inn I ever saw.”

Much altered a11d enlarged in the nineteenth and twen­tieth centuries, the inn continued to attract notable visitors, such as Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon and de­posed King of Spain, who spent the summer of 1821 at the inn. A focal point for significant local and national events, the inn’s courtyard was the site of John Fries’ Rebellion against a property tax levied by Congress in 1799. Bids for construction of the Lehigh Canal were presented at a meeting in the inn. In 1836 General William Henry Harrison, later to be elected ninth President of the United States, led a parade to the inn where he addressed the townspeople gathered on Main Street. At a dinner in his honor in 1865, the Honorable Asa Packer, founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, announced the establish­ment of Bethlehem’s now renowned Lehigh University.

Two hundred years after receiving its original license from King George III, the Sun Inn ceased operations as a hotel in 1961. To save this important landmark from further deterioration and imminent demolition, the Sun Inn Preservation Association, a non-profit membership organi­zation, was created in 1971 by a group of local citizens led by Mrs. James Bender. The association successfully raised funds and acquired the property in 1975.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Sun Inn will be restored to its original eighteenth-century appearance and character as the community’s traditional center for hospitality.

Pending restoration, a portion of the 1758 inn has been reopened to the public and tours are conducted (free of charge) from 1 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday. Visitors are welcome to examine Sun Inn memorabilia, architectural studies for the restoration, and a gift shop featuring handcrafted items designed especially for the Sun Inn.