Nazareth is located seven miles (11 km) northwest of Easton, four miles north of Bethlehem and twelve miles northeast of Allentown. It is located in the center of Northampton County, and is part of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley region.
Origins of Name
The borough is named for the Biblical town of Nazareth, where Jesus Christ resided in his youth. The names of other places in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania are similarly inspired, including Bethlehem, Emmaus, Egypt, and Allentown's Jordan Creek. William Penn bequeathed this land to his daughter, Letitia, who under colonial law would have had to pay a single red rose each June 24, if so demanded by the trustees. People in Nazareth celebrate this every year on June 11 and 12 by various organizations selling single red roses throughout the town.
Nazareth was founded in 1740 by immigrants from Germany of the Protestant faith. Their leader was George Whitefield. Initially, Nazareth was specifically Moravian by charter. Outside faiths were not allowed to purchase property within Nazareth, a basically all German Protestant community. Nazareth remained basically all German derivative in population until 1980 at the completion of connecting superhighways to the New York City area. (Interstate routes 78, 33, 80)
In 1735 a small group of the Moravian missionaries had begun work in the newly settled community of Savannah, Georgia. Their intent was to evangelize the native American tribes and minister to the settlers. Governor Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, and John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist Church and deeply interested in Moravian ideals, came along on the same boat. The Brethren settled along the Savannah River in Georgia. Like the Quakers, the Brethren refused to take part in the war with the Spanish and, as a result, they were evicted from Georgia in 1739.
George Whitefield, a widely known itinerant preacher who had served for a time as chaplain of Savannah, brought the group of evicted Georgia Brethren north to Philadelphia in his sloop. Whitefield had grandiose plans, and one of them was for a school for Negro children to be established on his tract of called the Barony of Nazareth. He invited the Brethren who accompanied him to Philadelphia to settle at this location for the time being and hired them to build his school. By the end of June, 1739, the first log dwelling was erected.
The workers struggled, the weather did not cooperate, and winter soon arrived. They quickly erected a second log house. After its completion, word came that Whitefield had returned to Pennsylvania, bristling and angered by theological disputes with certain Moravians, particularly on the issue of predestination. In no uncertain terms he ordered the Moravian Brethren off his land at once.
While evicted from the Barony, Moravian leaders in England were negotiating to buy the entire Barony. When Whitefield's business manager suddenly died, Whitefield discovered that his finances, shaky on more than one occasion, would not allow him to proceed with his Nazareth plan. He was forced to sell the whole tract. On July 16, 1741, it officially became Moravian property.
Nazareth was originally planned as a central English-speaking church village. But in October 1742, its 18 English inhabitants departed for Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Nazareth tract was largely in the hand of Captain John, a Lenape chieftain who (along with his followers) stubbornly refused to leave, even though they no longer owned the land. In December 1742, Count Zinzendorf made a settlement with Captain John, and his tribe moved back into the hinterland. A letter on the settlement was agreed upon, and is available here:
During 1743, the still unfinished Whitefield House was put in readiness for 32 young married couples who were to arrive from Europe. On the second day of the new year, 1744, the couples went overland to Nazareth to settle in the nearly completed Whitefield House.
The result was that Nazareth began to grow rapidly. So many visitors were attracted to the town that the Rose Inn was built in 1752 on an additional tract to the north. Finally, in 1754, Nazareth Hall was built in hopes that Count Zinzendorf would return from Europe and settle in Nazareth permanently, but he never returned to the U.S. However, in 1759 Nazareth Hall became the central boarding school for sons of Moravian parents. Later it attained wide fame as a "classical academy." This eventually led to the founding, in 1807, of Moravian College and Theological Seminary, now located in Bethlehem. The Nazareth Hall Tract was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Pennsylvania Dutch settlements
Up until the mid 1900s, a large part of the native population was of German origin, better known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. "Dutch" was a corruption of the word "Deutsch", which is the original German word for the English word "German." The Pennsylvania Dutch were spread throughout many counties of southern and central Pennsylvania. In addition to Pennsylvania Dutch from Germany, many also came from Switzerland and the Alsace, which is now part of France. Thus Pennsylvania Dutch, the term, includes residents which historically lived near the "German" origin Pennsylvania Dutch of Germany, in both France and Switzerland, whose borders over time had been traded around to be included in one country and then another, and the Pennsylvania Dutch were not then technically JUST from Germany, although they did share common bloodlines and ancestries, living in close locale. Pennsylvania Dutch might more properly include one area of European origin, rather than one specific country of Europe, as the borders were given to vary over the centuries.
Religious diversity of 1900s
Nazareth's residents' religion reflected a largely German background in evangelical churches of fairly large sizes for such a small town, divided among the Moravian, Lutheran, Reformed (now part of the United Church of Christ), and Roman Catholic worship centers of the town. The town also hosted a fairly sizable Italian and Polish population, which largely attended the Catholic Church in the area. Strong religious partisanship was largely a reflection of the seriousness with which the Pennsylvania Dutch took their faith, while only differing in seemingly minor points from each other, at least compared to a more worldwide view of religions and their differences. The churches of Nazareth polarized the town's people with varying interpretations of scripture in ritual and practice.
During a great immigration to the eastern Pennsylvania counties of the late 1900s from New Jersey and New York, the population expanded significantly. Developers from the New Jersey area were responding to tighter controls and regulations on new construction in the state of New Jersey by moving their enterprises to Pennsylvania.
This new expansion and housing boom was enabled by the local completion of the interstate system of highways, first begun by former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s. In the Nazareth area, this was caused by the completion of the nearby Pennsylvania Route 33, which ran north and south, thereby connecting Interstate 78, U.S Route 22, and Interstate 80 (all of which ran east-west), and the completion of the Interstate 78 southern Lehigh Valley corridor high speed interstate, which connected the Lehigh Valley to New Jersey and New York to the east, and Harrisburg and Pittsburgh to the west.