Our HistoryHistoric New Bethlehem was incorporated in 1853.
The town of New Bethlehem, which is located just ten miles south of Exit 64 off of I- 80 on Route 66 south, was originally named Gumtown. The name Gumtown came about after a group of men went out searching for honey. The men would often go out and cut down a bee tree and collect the honey and carry it home. Henry Nolf, one of the pioneers of southern Clarion County and a very active citizen of the community, had accompanied these men. He very enthusiastically cut down a gum tree, which had no bees. His comrades did not try to stop him and instead dubbed him “Gum” Nolf. The first name used for the settlement was then “Gumtown” in honor of Mr. Nolf, one of its leading citizens and operator of a grist mill, saw mill, and store.
In 1756, a Moravian Christian, Frederick Post, left eastern Pennsylvania and came west with the intention of starting an Indian mission. He crossed the Clarion River, then known as Stump Creek, and continued south. When he saw the valley that later became known as New Bethlehem, it is reported that he exclaimed, “It looks like Bethlehem.” Whether he was referring to the settlement in eastern Pennsylvania or to Bethlehem of Judea, it has never been made clear. The community began to be called Bethlehem and later the postal authority added the word “New” to distinguish it from the town in the east.
Harry B. DeViney founded the H.B. DeViney Company in 1946 and used the old New Bethlehem Brewing Company’s facility to create peanut butter for the J.M. Smucker, Inc. company, which is the nation’s leading producer of jams, jellies, preserves, ice cream toppings, natural and specialty peanut butters, and natural fruit beverages. The H.B. DeViney Company changed its name to J.M. Smucker (Pennsylvania), Inc. in 1997, reflecting its relationship with the J.M. Smucker Company headquartered in Orrville, Ohio. Today, the New Bethlehem plant produces all of the peanut butter products under the Smucker’s and Laura Scudder’s label. A significant portion of its volume is exported.
In July of 1996, a devastating flood destroyed many homes. Redbank Valley High School was shut down. It took a few months to clean and fix the damage until students where allowed to attend again. On a garage east of the Redbank Valley High School there is a line that shows how high the water level was at its highest point.
Proving that the town was resilient and strong, the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce organized a peanut butter festival later that very year, and it is now an annual event. The festival is held the second weekend after Labor Day in September and includes carnival rides, crafters and sidewalk sales, food vendors, music, a parade, and lots of other fun.