Paradise Lost

Or maybe “Paradise Destroyed” would be closer to the mark. I’ve been on a mini-obsession over that island in the Lehigh (Calypso Island) that Calypso Street and Calypso Elementary are named after. Here’s what I found so far:

It was an island near the south side of the river, maybe a quarter mile west of the current Hill-To-Hill Bridge. Owned by the Moravian Church, it was maybe 13 acres total and covered in catalpa trees, with a pavilion and a natural spring, and was a popular spot for Sunday School and summer picnics — it was named after the Greek nymph Calypso by George Henry Goundie at the July 4th celebrations there in 1869.

Unfortunately, environmental stresses (coal and other pollution from the steel mills and railroads, frequent flooding, and increasing difficulty navigating on the Lehigh) started cutting into the popularity of Bethlehem’s river island resorts in the late 19th century. In the meantime, the Lehigh’s south bank bulged south at Calypso Island, forcing a big curve in the railroad at that point. In 1902, the Moravians sold the island to the railroad, who dug it up to fill in the south channel and straighten their line. (Judging by old maps, I’d say that Reeb Millwork currently sits on the old island’s infill; you can still see the river’s old bulge in the shapes of Brighton street and the millwork building on Google Earth.)

It may have been gone, but I guess it wasn’t forgotten for a while: Calypso Elementary was built around 1916.

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