BETHLEHEM, Pa. – A stately and longstanding property in Bethlehem has found new life as a dining, lodging and private event venue.
“We still have some finishing touches like artwork and tabletops, but we’re aiming to be open to the public in early December,” sales director Emily Bettys said. “It’s been a long road bringing this project to life, and we can’t wait to welcome visitors.”
Husband and wife John and Lynn Noble purchased the mid-19th century building in 2015, sensing it was rich with history and potential.
The couple was struck by its impressive architecture as well as its unique location at the gateway to Bethlehem, with views of the SteelStacks campus and other parts of the city.
“It is literally one of the few fully intact mansions from the era,” John said in a post on The Wilbur’s website. “We want to preserve that and bring it back to life and make it a showcase.”
The Nobles spent more than three years renovating the mansion, restoring original features such as hardwood and tile flooring and ornately carved wooden columns and staircases, while adding aesthetic upgrades such as new light fixtures, furniture and wall paint.
The ground floor will feature a 100-seat fine dining restaurant, with seating available in three dining rooms and a bar room.
The menu is still being finalized, but Bettys said diners should expect “worldly cuisine with an American twist,” with dishes featuring organic, sustainable and locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
Leading the culinary team will be chef John McCain, a Pittstown, New Jersey native who previously served as executive chef at Durham Springs in Durham Township, Bucks County after stints at various Michelin star-rated restaurants.
“I’m thrilled to be preparing a menu to share with the guests that come to The Wilbur Mansion— whether it be for their wedding, dinner in the restaurant, or a quick bite at the bar during their stay,” McCain said on the business’ website.
The restaurant will operate Wednesday through Saturday, with the bar opening at 4 p.m. and dining room seating beginning at 5 p.m., Bettys said. Reservations will be accepted.
The restaurant also will include a 40-seat outdoor patio and a lounge area, adjacent to the bar room, featuring a transparent floor.
“It’s a really cool talking point as well as a way to bring natural light into the basement,” Bettys said of the see-through flooring.
The mansion’s upper floors will house a boutique hotel, complete with nine unique rooms, available for booking any day of the week.
Each room will feature a private bathroom, king-size bed with luxurious linens and room service (available until The Wilbur restaurant closes).
“The tile work in the bathroom is original to the building,” Bettys said. “The owners really wanted to maintain as much of the building’s original features as they could.”
Adjacent to the restaurant and hotel, a new event center was built on the site of the former Masonic Temple, which was demolished in late 2020 after 90 years of hosting celebrations.
The Masonic Temple was unable to be preserved due to damage from water and mold, but the Nobles were able to save the temple’s chimney, which is a resting stop for swifts along their migratory route to South America.
The new event center features exposed wooden ceiling beams, modern circular light fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows that open to a lawn that overlooks the city and is “perfect for wedding ceremonies,” Bettys said.
In addition to weddings, the center can host other functions like birthday parties and corporate mixers.
Up to 250 guests can be accommodated, with the center providing tables, chairs, linens, food and beverages services – “everything you’d need to host your perfect event,” Bettys said.
“It’s a breathtaking space,” Bettys said. “We actually recently hosted our first wedding for Lynn and John’s daughter, Bailey. She’s also a big part of this project, helping with marketing, design work and other aspects.”
The Wilbur Mansion was built in the 1860s in an an area known as the “Fountain Hill Mansion District” by industrial capitalist Elisah Packer Wilbur.
Wilbur was the nephew and private secretary to Asa Packer, a pioneer in railroad construction who was also one of the founders of Lehigh University.
E.P. Wilbur married Stella Mercer Abbott in 1859 and created a large family of 10, which kept The Wilbur Mansion bustling for decades.
In 1925 the Masons swooped in to give The Wilbur Mansion new purpose. By 1926, they added the Masonic Temple, which was home to many celebrations.
“A main marvel of the property during this time was the nature that spanned nearly two city blocks,” a historical description on The Wilbur’s website reads. “The members and their wives greatly enjoyed this beauty.”
The Nobles, who also own the newly constructed Wilbur Views apartment building behind The Wilbur Mansion, also improved the property’s exterior.
Outside, features include new landscaping and accent lighting, a new parking lot and a newly installed metal smiley face sculpture.
Lynn did a TEDx talk about “The Power of a Smile” in 2016, and she’s spoken to many colleges and groups over the years.
“I believe that if you put smiling energy out into the world, you will be met with that same positive energy,” Lynn said in post describing the sculpture’s origin. “It will come to you in good health, friendships, incredible opportunities, unlimited happiness and lots of love.”