Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

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Just in time for the Holidays, A “new” set of Shutters for the Gemeinhaus

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This winter, visitors to Bethlehem – the City in Northampton County, Pennsylvania – may see some new changes in the Historic Moravian Bethlehem National Historic Landmark District.  Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites just completed the restoration of 88 shutters on the 1741 Gemeinhaus, the oldest building in Bethlehem. 

The 1741 Gemeinhaus

The 1741 Gemeinhaus (PA-SHARE Resource #1975RE00003) housed the first place of worship in Bethlehem and was home to the entire Moravian community. It initially contained a chapel, twelve rooms and two dormitories.  Through the years the building served many purposes, but it remained first and foremost a residence for Moravian Church officials and their families.

Gemeinhaus Marker, Photo provided by PHMC.

It is the flagship historic structure within the historic district and is the largest 18th century log structure in continual use in the United States. In all, there are 20 historic structures under the stewardship of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites; the Gemeinhaus is one of two National Historic Landmarks.

The 1741 Gemeinhaus currently serves as the home of the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem housing collections of historical artifacts and art pertaining to the Moravians who founded Bethlehem in 1741 which tell the story of early life in this communal colonial town. In its collections are a 17th century German bible, the first two fire engines in Bethlehem used in 1762 and 1792, various antique musical instruments including a rare Serpentine, and original Delftware apothecary jars.

The museum is currently open Saturday and Sunday afternoons, but their hours increase during the peak holiday season.

Gemeinhaus, Photo provided by Historic Bethlehem.

Its Shutters

The 1741 Gemeinhaus, like any historic building requires continued maintenance and restoration. Restoration of interior plaster work, replacement of copper gutters and downspouts, and roof restoration were recently completed so the next priority project identified was the restoration of the 88 shutters.

Although not an original feature, they are long-recognized features appearing to date to the 1810-1860s period to the building.  Documentary evidence states that the Gemeinhaus was protected with parging by July of 1777 which was subsequently replaced with wood clapboards in 1868. An 1812 painting of Bethlehem shows the parging but no shutters, however an 1866 photograph of the building depicts both the parging and shutters.

Although the shutters were repaired as part of the exhaustive restoration in 1999, years of paint touchups and weathering have advanced their condition to a state of needed restoration in early 2020.

Shutter Condition, Photo provided by Historic Bethlehem.

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites leveraged a Keystone Historic Preservation Grant to help fund the restoration.  This project is a perfect example of how PHMC can support smaller isolated construction projects that protect important character-defining features of the resource, especially those that are well planned prior to the application submission. 

The application focused on much of the planning efforts that designed the project, beginning with consultation of a nineteenth century photographs to confirm the design of the shutters and hardware and identify any alterations that were made over time and resulted in a preliminary Condition Assessment to drive the scope of work.  Luckily an in-depth paint analysis of the shutters was completed in July 1990 as part of the most recent full building restoration.

Shutter Removal, Photo provided by Historic Bethlehem.

Each shutter was numbered, systematically removed and evaluated for restoration needs, restored and protected against future weathering and waterproofing, and reinstalled in their original location. Paint was removed from all shutters, the boards sanded and spot primed, and given two full coats of paint and the installation of metal capping to further protect against weather.

Obviously, some shutters needed more extensive carpentry repairs while a few required full replacement, utilizing historic materials of the same time period. Of course, the shutter hardware also needed careful attention that necessitated handcrafted repairs or complete replacement using traditional methods. Finally, the shutters were painted the color as identified in the paint analysis: Munsell Color Matching System number 5Y4/1 which closely matches Benjamin Moore #1477.

Keystone Project Sign, Photo provided by Historic Bethlehem.

Why the Shutter Project is so Important

Many of the historical and cultural organizations within Historic Moravian Bethlehem including Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites, City of Bethlehem, Moravian College, Bethlehem Area Moravians, and Central Moravian Church nominated the area to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Heritage List in 2016.  As part of their initiative, an extensive group of professionals assessed the associated properties to prioritize needed restoration projects. 

As the flagship structure of the future World Heritage Site, the 1741 Gemeinhaus shutters were identified as one that would improve the nomination.  If successful, Historic Moravian Bethlehem would join the two Pennsylvania sites (Independence Hall and Fallingwater as part of the 20th Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright) of the twenty-four recognized sites in the United States.

Completed Project, Photo provided by Historic Bethlehem.

Want to Learn More?

If you are looking for an opportunity to visit this winter, feel free to check out the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem and see the completed shutter restoration on the Gemeinhaus.  Visitation information can be found at Historic Bethlehem’s website: https://historicbethlehem.org/

There is a fascinating video of the Gemeinhaus Shutter Restoration projects and its importance to their efforts to list the property as a World Heritage Site.  https://vimeo.com/596739475

Keystone Grant Opportunities

PHMC will again offer Keystone Historic Preservation Grants this fiscal year to nonprofit organizations and municipal governmental agencies who own and operate historic sites through out the commonwealth. 

Like the 1741 Gemeinhaus, the property must be eligible for listing in or listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Applications open on December 1, 2021 with a due date of March 1, 2022. Learn more about the eligibility information and guidelines here on the PHMC website.

PA-SHPO staff will again offer dedicated webinars to assist prospective applicants with the submittal process.  These webinars are free but registration is required.

Author: Karen Arnold

Karen Arnold manages the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant program at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: PA Historic Preservation: Just in time for the Holidays, A “new” set of Shutters for the Gemeinhaus - Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

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