When I pulled up to the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center in Allentown, I thought for a minute that I was in the wrong place. The large, modern building didn’t seem to jive with the typical historical society museum in Pennsylvania, which is usually in a historic building of some sort.
In fact, of all the historical society museums that I’ve visited in Pennsylvania, I’d have to say that, from the outside, the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center was definitely one of the most impressive I’ve been to. However, I admit that, as I walked in, I was worried that the museum wouldn’t stack up to many of the others in the state since it lacked a historic location.
Despite being called the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center, the museum only chronicles the history of Lehigh County, without much, if any, information about the other half of the Lehigh Valley, Northampton County. If you’re looking for information about Northampton County, you can find information at the Sigal Museum in Easton.
I started my tour of the museum with a quick peek in their impressive events room before heading upstairs.
The first thing I noticed was a large number of items related to Abraham Lincoln, despite there being no local connection to the 16th President. This was the first of several exhibits that had little to do with the Lehigh Valley, but the collection of items related to Lincoln was impressive and would certainly be of interest to anyone wanting to know more about him.
At the top of the stairs is the first exhibit related to Lehigh County: The Lehigh Valley Hall of Fame. While it’s little more than a photo with a bit of description about the person, I really found this section to be interesting.
There are a surprising number of well-known people from this part of Pennsylvania, and it was interesting to read a bit about them. Too often, historical societies only focus on the past, forgetting that history is being made today, and it was refreshing to see some information on recent people from the area making a name for themselves.
Moving into the actual exhibits, the museum starts with a small bit of information about the Lenape Indians that once inhabited the area, before quickly moving onto information about the German heritage in the region. One very cool artifact in this area is an original map of the county from 1862. As someone who loves maps, it was really interesting to see what the county looked like over 150 years ago.
Much of the museum consists of information about local industry and the history of how the area developed over the years. However, I was very interested in the museum’s large World War 1 section, which actually took up more room than all the other wars combined.
This is interesting simply because very few historical society museums in Pennsylvania have more than a handful of items related to the Great War. And, most historical society museums focus on World War 2 or the Civil War. I’m not entirely sure why they have such a large World War 1 collection, but I found it quite interesting to check out.
The other large exhibition area features information about the Revolutionary War. While interesting and well done, it very lightly covers the whole war, without any context as to how the war affected Lehigh County. However, make sure to see the awesome mural in the room, which was painted by a local artist.
Another display not to miss is tucked away in the corner of the second-floor balcony next to the Revolutionary War room. In a small display case is a collection of old banknotes that were issued by local banks in the area. While this was a common practice several hundred years ago, it’s rare to see local banknotes in a historical society museum.
The museum will also soon feature the collection of the Liberty Bell Museum, which closed in April 2023. This is a fabulous collection and story, and I’m excited that it will continue to live on at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center.
Not having spent much time in the Lehigh Valley, I came into my visit at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center not knowing much about the area’s history. However, I found the museum to be a great overview of the region and how it was developed.
If I had one criticism of the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center, it’s that they spend a bit too much space on subjects that have little to nothing to do with the Lehigh Valley. However, these displays are well done and are interesting, so it’s hard to be too critical of them. It just would have been nice to have seen more information about the history of Lehigh County.
If you are looking for more information about the county, the Lehigh County Historical Society does manage six historic sites around the county. These include the 18th century building known as Trout Hall that sits right next to the Heritage Center. Most of these sites have summer hours.
As with nearly all historical societies, the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center is also home to a very large library, which includes historical and genealogical information for the county.
Overall, I definitely enjoyed my visit to the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center. While it might be nice to see a bit more focus on local history, it is a fantastic destination for anyone interested in learning more about the history of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
Note: My visit to the Lehigh Valley Heritage Center was hosted by the museum. However, the opinions expressed in this article are my own.
Lehigh Valley Heritage Center
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-4pm
Cost: Adults: $8, Children: $3
Address: 432 West Walnut Street