Winston-Salem is a very pleasant place. It’s very leafy and green and gives the impression of being fairly well-heeled. It does well to remember that North Carolina was one of the 13 original colonies with all the historical baggage that entails. There are standards to live up to when you’re one of the original 13, after all. You have to know your way around Federalist architecture, you have to be able to handle red brick aesthetically and you have to have a penchant for painting your shutters the right color. Black is preferable, it looks better against red brick.
Winston-Salem has got all that down pat. There’s neo-Federalist architecture in any direction you care to point, the brick is as red as you please and the lawns are impeccable. The locals have the Moravians in their history in addition to a major captain of industry in the person of R.J. Reynolds of tobacco fame (or infamy, depending on your point of view). Old Salem is the Moravian ne plus ultra in the United States but it came after the establishment of Bethabara on the outskirts of Winston-Salem, where the first Moravian settlers from Pennsylvania set up shop. This post is about that first settlement, viewable in Historic Bethabara Park. To get things rolling here’s a schematic:
It’s a small area, in point of fact and the ensemble of buildings is quite modest in size — the Gemeinhaus, the Log House, the Barn and the Distillery, to tick off the main ones. The info supplied by the site’s Wikipedia page (here) makes the reason for this paucity perfectly clear:
Bethabara (from the Hebrew, meaning “House of Passage” and pronounced beth-ab-bra, the name of the traditional site of the Baptism of Jesus Christ) was a village located in what is now Forsyth County, North Carolina. It was the site where twelve men from the Moravian Church first settled in 1753 in an abandoned cabin in the 100,000-acre (400 km2) tract of land the church had purchased from Lord Granville and dubbed Wachovia.
Its early settlers were noted for advanced agricultural practices, especially their medicine Garden, which produced over fifty kinds of herbs.
Bethabara was never meant to be a permanent settlement. It was intended to house the Moravians until a more suitable location for a central village could be found. Just six months after arriving in Wachovia, the Seven Years War (known as the French and Indian War in America) began in western Pennsylvania. The violence quickly spread to southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina. Bethabara hosted a large number of refugees until 1761. The establishment of a central town was delayed for thirteen years because of the growing Moravian population and hundreds of refugees.
Once it was felt safe to do so in 1766, the central town, Salem was begun. Many of the buildings in Bethabara were dismantled, and used for the new structures in Salem. As the houses were taken down, the small rootcellars were pushed in and filled.
With Salem completed in 1771, the official seat of government was transferred from Bethabara to Salem. Only a few residents remained behind. Bethabara became a farming community which supplied food to the other Moravians towns in Wachovia.
Anyone who’s visited Old Salem will recognize immediately the provisional feel of Bethabara. It feels like an outpost rather than a town because that’s exactly what it was. Being familiar with Old Salem as I am, I can easily trace the developmental trajectory from Bethabara to Salem and appreciate both places for what each represents of Moravian history, which is admirable in both its manifestations. The Moravians were as like Quakers as any religious group in America was and their settlements have an air of peace and orderliness about them. So despite the small size I find Bethabara a lovely place and I’m glad I had a visit. I haven’t yet revisited Old Salem after long decades away from the area, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again with the sights of Bethabara in mind this go-round.
Let’s start at the Distillery and work our way over to the gardens. Here’s the blurb on the building:
Without wishing to cast any aspersions I must confess that it’s rather unprepossessing as houses go — there are much posher ones in the neighborhood just down the street. But it’s situated well and has lovely grounds, as the pics show: