Placing a zoning map on my wall, and other accomplishments

As of today, I feel accomplished.  As of two days ago, I did not.  I have learned this vacillation in fulfillment characterizes the research process.  Some days I go to bed feeling as though I have accomplished nothing, despite the fact that I have trekked across the city and buried my nose in pages detailing the original Moravian settlement at Bethlehem from morning until evening.

[Sidenote: Currently my nose has become inky from pressing up against: A History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania by Joseph Mortimer Levering – Bishop of the Moravian Church, President of the Moravian Historical Society, and formerly Archivist at Bethlehem.  No detail of Bethlehem’s history registers as too minor to record and thus Mr. Levering has taken me prisoner amidst his 776 pages.  An example Chapter index reads “Chapter VIII. The Course of Things to the Indian Raid, 1749-1755.  De Watteville’s Labors and Journeys – Schools Reorganized – John Nitschmann supersedes Spangenberg – Greenlanders at Bethlehem – The Jones Farm – English Cloth-weavers come to Bethlehem…” (Levering 1903:xi).  Well, I’ll stop there and spare you what I sometimes with I could spare myself.]

Other nights, I do feel accomplished: a full and hearty feeling that fills you up like a good bread.  To combat the bad nights, and reinforce the good, I have posted a City of Bethlehem zoning map across from my bed, so I see it as I wake each morning.  Ideally it functions as inspiration; on rare occasions it serves as intimidation.

But to get to the details of my accomplishments, and lack there-ofs, here is a list (I love lists and outlines, so it seems, dear reader, you will be the victim of such organization in this blog post) of the significant bits of my research lately:

1. I have been delving into Mr. Levering’s thorough recounting of Bethlehem’s early history and have been a bit surprised to already see patterns emerging in the City’s planning scheme.  Specifically, (a) industrial parks and (b) separation of space by use both emerge as themes in the current City, as well as in its infantile Moravian form.

a. Some Bethlehem history buffs like to call Bethlehem’s colonial industrial quarter the  “first American industrial park.” This quarter sprawled along the Monocacy Creek and within only a few years of Bethlehem’s founding housed 25 different trades.  Today, Bethlehem has 6 (maybe 7?  I know that a seventh was in construction in 2007, and have not yet determined if it has been yet completed) industrial parks.  Additionally, one cannot speak of industry in Bethlehem without mentioning the steel factory.  It seems the industrious Moravians used their land in a way that  has pervaded land use in Bethlehem ever since.

b. Mr. Levering has introduced me to the “Choir System” in Moravian settlement organization.  It entails the separation of citizens into several large houses by age, sex, and marital status.  Levering describes these population partitions, writing that there were originally two classes of married couples, one of widowers and married men whose wives were not with them, one of women thus alone, and four of single men.  Now,  naturally, the modern zoning code does not display a key with a red cross-hatch swatch coded as “married couples,” and a light blue solid fill as “women thus alone,” but the essential idea in this separation resonates.  The concept that land should be divided in an appropriate manner to accommodate different types of uses seems to have been present even in the 18th century in Bethlehem.

2. Fourteen “Free-Association Boxes” now sit on counters in various venues throughout the city!  This part of my research most thrills me, but before babbling about my excitement, perhaps I should explain the concept.  I have purchased thirty small coin donation boxes, and outfitted them with a heading: a single question in large print, positioned against the Moravian star: “What makes this area of the city different from another?”  Originally, I planned to pose this same basic question in the form “Write a word you associate with this area of the city.”  But at the suggestion of an interviewee, I decided to reword my query.  I’m not really sure if this phrasing will fair better or not, but it’s not as though the headings can’t be replaced with new questions if these seem not to yield many results in my precious acrylic boxes.  See, the basic idea is that passers-by will take a moment to write down their answer on one of the small post-its provided, and slip it into the box.  So far, as stated above, I have put up only fourteen of the boxes.  They sit demurely in a farmer’s market, an ice cream store, at community tennis courts, and a public pool.  They sit in bookshops, and grocery stores, pharmacies and pizza joints.  I fear the general response will be small, but in two weeks I’ll return to these locations to check on the progress – hopeful nonetheless.  I want to ask these questions, because I want to know what  the citizens believe makes each area of the city distinct from all the rest.

3. Flyers.  Flyers galore hang from windows, bulletin boards, and doors throughout the city – advertising the online survey I have created.  I have also approached many churches and community organizations with flyers – asking them to post them on the premises if possible, and even make an announcement in the week’s bulletin.  Most places have been receptive, yet I must admit the survey tally remains small.

4. In addition to the flyers, I have set about seeking interviews.  These have come slowly so far, but I am fascinated by the sentiments expressed by the interviewees, and hope that this pattern will continue, and that the momentum in acquiring interviews will build.

Although I feel like the word “hope” has been used far too much in this blog entry – indicating how much I still would still like to accomplish, but have not yet been able to, the creation of the above list has filled me with a slightly satisfied feeling.  Perhaps tonight will be one of the nights I fall asleep, staring at the zoning map, and feeling pleased.


  1. mlhoward says:

    Elena! Glad to see your work is going well sometimes…and other times not! Like you said, it’s all part of the process.

    I’m fascinated by this idea of separate living areas for un/married and widowed men and women…why did they do this exactly? Do you think this particular zoning was adhered to in the 18th century? My historian brain is tickled by the thought that someone would have sought to separate the married and unmarried sexes of their town…

    Also, my cynic brain worries for your free-box idea. I absolutely love it! But I wonder what kind of response you’ll get…I will hope for a good one!

    And finally, what kind of questions are you asking your interviewees?

    I find this all rather fascinating, and I can’t wait to read your response!

    Best of luck! I hope you can sleep! MH

  2. Hi Meredith!

    Thanks for the luck and encouragement! As for the Choir System (separation by sex, age, and marital status) among the Moravians, I think it mainly pertains to the concepts of organization and community. The Moravians created a well-structured world, which one can see from their settlement layout and infrastructure, to their societal patterns. The Choir System presents just one microcosm of their systematic nature.

    Additionally, the Moravians valued close communities and from my readings it appears they believed grouping people by their most fundamental commonalities fostered strong bonds and support systems. Of course, they didn’t think of this as “zoning,” but I think they adhered to this societal/municipal organization just as strongly as they did to their religious doctrine (which means very strongly!).

    As far as interviewees, the average individual doesn’t know very much about zoning (I’m studying and still often feel lost myself!). So instead I ask them questions about their neighborhood, and the different areas of the city. I ask them about different issues (i.e. commercial v. residential, redevelopment of the Bethlehem steel land), and about things they would change and not change. The idea is that I’ll translate this data into applicable zoning concepts and examine it in terms of the Bethlehem Zoning Ordinance.

    Hope things are going well with the witches!