June 5, 2011

Why is Bethania North Carolina a National Treasure and a Landmark Town?

On June 12, 2011, the tiny town of Bethania, North Carolina will turn 252 years old. On this coming Saturday June 11 the town will hold a celebration honoring this event. Few towns in our country, even any country can boast of such extensive record taking, or documentation of family histories. Although the beginnings of Bethania are deeply rooted in the Moravian Religion which is the oldest protestant religion in the worlds, the town itself was settled by both Moravian and non-Moravian families. 

Bethania, North Carolina, is the last of its line,a pioneer town founded on June 12, 1759, out of the need to establish the roots of religious freedom. A historically significant town, Bethania is the first planned Moravian town lot in the Wachovia tract of North Carolina. Listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, the town became a National Landmark in 2001. 

Colonial homes, some still lived in by descendants of the first white Moravian settlers, line Bethania’s main street and are symbols of how so much of the town’s character remains intact. Simple yet elegantly understated, the homes represent the regional architecture of the colonial era in which they were built.

The homes have names, attesting to former owners. On the corner of Loesch Lane and Main Street is a tall, stately house that bears the name Johann Christian Loesch. Loesch’s son, Israel, was a U.S. representative during Reconstruction and president of the Cape Fear Bank and the First National Bank in Salem, which became Wachovia Bank. Across the street on the opposite corner is the Cornwallis house, given the name of a Revolutionary War general who spent the night in the home during a raid and subsequent encampment in the town.

Beyond the distinction of its Main Street homes standing as monuments to an earlier century, Bethania was once a thriving industrial and trade town. The Great Wagon Road of the colonial era brought soldiers, settlers and slaves through the town daily. The longest and costliest plank road of the pre–Civil War South ran 129 miles from Fayetteville on the Carolina coast and ended at the corner of Main Street and Loesch Lane.

What is unique about Bethania today is its history as a community that began as an experiment in melding cultures. Its first settlers were chosen from Moravian and non-Moravian families who created the town in a hostile frontier. In 1766, Bethanians helped found the town of Salem in the newly formed colony of North Carolina, thus contributing to the birth of our nation. 

My book, Bethania: The Village by the Black Walnut Bottom, published in 2009 by The History Press is not just a history of the founding of Bethania, but of people who carved a life from an untamed frontier. Many families grew, multiplied, and spread into other regions of this country. Eventually many would fight their own relatives in a civil war for different causes and even become permanently separated from their ancestry.

Please join the town of Bethania on Saturday June 11th. And if you are interested in reading more history of Bethania, excerpts from the book can be found at http://antiquesinbethania.com/bethaniabook%20excerpts.html.

Slave Cabin
The images in the book are from original glass negatives taken by J. L. Kapp around the turn of the century and modern day photography by Bowman Gray IV, whose recently published book, As A Man Thinketh and Bo's original photography, can be found here, http://www.blairpub.com/alltitles/asmanthinketh.htm or VISIT WFDD for an audio interview with Bo and I and David Ford.


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