First Planned and Last to Stand; the Moravian Village of Bethania, NC

 

Moravia is the easternmost of three historical territories in the Czech Republic and it dates back to the Holy Roman Empire. Political developments in the early 1900s all but erased the Moravian national identity that is as large and comparable to that of the well-known Bohemian people. More recent census reports indicate that between 5-13% of the Czech population are actually Moravian, now that they have the option to claim it on paper.

Digging a little deeper, the Moravians began as a Western Slavic tribe with a large population of ethnic Germans, so countless dialects were created and many Moravians still speak German. In fact, the Moravians are sometimes referred to as German Protestants and even the First Protestants.

Gregor Mendel, Sigmund Freud, Alphonse Mucha, Oskar Schindler, Ivana Trump, and composer Leoš Janáček are just a few notable icons that claim or are allegedly of Moravian descent. 

My song for this blog is a selection of Moravian folk poetry songs by composer Leoš Janáček and singer Iva Bittová:

 

Bethania is a historic Moravian community in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was the first planned Moravian community in North Carolina, designed by Christian Philip Gottleib Reuter, and remains the only active one in the United States. Bethania has over 500 of its original 2500 acres registered as a National Historic Landmark.

Just like the nearby Historic Bethabara Park and Old Salem, Bethania was founded and settled by Moravians who immigrated to United States after being exiled from Moravia. They were seeking religious freedom, opportunities to evangelize, and land to develop and support their people.

At first they settled in Savannah, Georgia or in Bethlehem, Lititz, and Nazareth, Pennsylvania, but by the 1750s the main hub was in what is now Winston-Salem.

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Check out this interesting article on historical Moravian missionary work with enslaved African Americans over the last couple hundred years. It began with fighting for their spiritual salvation and later became an effort towards their emancipation. Recently discovered documents in this collection detail much of that effort, for better or worse, and archivists are working to make them available to the public. 

As a result of this new knowledge, Moravian Church leaders formally issued an apology for the mistakes their ancestors made before evolving as whole. Being a non-religious person, I find this especially admirable. Ongoing mission projects have always aimed to build up vulnerable populations. Currently the highest population of Moravian Church members is in Tanzania, which speaks volumes about their missionary work. 

Many former villages are now historic sites, but a few active ones can still be found all over the USA. Someday we will return to see more of Moravian Old Salem, but I was most intrigued by the lesser-known Bethabara and Bethania.

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Bethania Moravian Church is a central, prominent feature of the village and it was established in 1759. This active church belongs to the Moravian Unitas Fratrum (worldwide church) and the congregation observes the same core principles as followers have since the 1400s. 

The Alpha Chapel now serves as the Town Hall. It sits right next to the Wolff-Moser farmhouse that serves as the village welcome center. 

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Several nature trails begin by the chapel and there is a large lot where you can park and explore on foot. 

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Many of the homes and structures in Bethania look like those of average North Carolina communities but a closer look will reveal some unique old-world European embellishments amid the Federal and Greek Revival styles. 

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Spea’s House was built in 1914 on a lot originally occupied by the family of Gottleib Grabs, first to settle in Bethania. 

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Shore-Lehman House, originally the shoemaker’s shop, was built in 1805. 

Bethania

The Rufus-Transou House below was built in 1880. It is the former site of the Old Yellow House that was built in 1813 and served as a school and parsonage. 

Rufus House

Antiques in Bethania is a relatively newer structure in the village, built in 1948. It was originally a grocery store with apartments on the top floor. 

Store

These and most other historic buildings are now private residences, so be mindful that you are venturing through someone’s yard during your visit. Watch carefully for signs that indicate if a site is open for tours or if you should stay out.

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Bethania is such a lovely place all around. We felt a bit timid at first about really getting close up since people are actually living here, but they are friendly and seem to be well-adjusted to curious visitors. 

Click here to download/print the walking map we used. 

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We noticed right away that the houses were closely connected by large lots of communal land that was being used for gardening, hosting animals, and recreation.  

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I had read that Bethania holds the distinction of being the only known German Linear Agriculture Village remaining in the southern United States, but you have to see it up close and in person to realize how cool it is.

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In the area for a while? Check out another awesome Moravian village nearby called Historic Bethabara Park!

 

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One thought on “First Planned and Last to Stand; the Moravian Village of Bethania, NC

  1. Pingback: God’s Acres and the Moravian Village of Bethabara Park | Fernweh

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