Tuesday, September 8, 2015

BETHABARA PARK in Winston-Salem, NC



On November 17, 1753, fifteen brethren of the Unitas Fratrum Church in Pennsylvania arrived in land newly purchased by their denomination.  They spent that first winter in an abandoned cabin.  Their simple homestead soon became the first settlement of  Moravians in North Carolina.  They named this settlement Bethabara which means "House of Passage".  

On this Labor Day, the Fat Bald White Guy and his Faithful Hiking Companion decided to stay home and hike a trail we had seen from the road.  What we found was a lesson in both history and horticulture.  We combined a 2.5 mile hike to a wonderfully restored marshland with a visit to the historical gardens of Bethabara.  The late blossoms of summer were spectacular.


We decided to take the hike before we wrapped ourselves in history.  The trail is off the Greenway which runs parallel to the back of the palisades in the historic park.  To take the hike first you will need to drive through the park passing the garden on the left. Soon thereafter is a sharp turn and on the right is a small parking lot.  

From this parking lot you can access the Bethabara Greenway and connect with Mill Creek Trail.  One thing to remember, the trail is marked but you can easily become confused.  Just follow the creek downstream to the marsh and back upstream to the park.  A map can be found at this link:  http://www.cityofws.org/portals/0/pdf/bethabara/Mill%20Creek%20Loop%202010.pdf

Not far from the bridge, there is an intersection.  The Greenway goes to the right, the Mill Creek trail to the left.   Both trails take you to the marshland but the Mill Creek trail takes you to remnants of the Moravian Grist Mill.  

The trail is narrow but is adorned with flowers.  As the trail passes over a utility right of way, wildflowers are arrayed on both sides of the trail.  And I caught a Tiger Butterfly feasting on some of the last blossoms of the summer.

There are actually three creeks.  We followed initially Monocras Creek. This creek soon merges with Mill Creek.  As we crossed this bridge, we became confused again as we intersected with the Greenway. We were now on the Mill Race Creek trail.  Mill Race Creek eventually joins Mill Creek at the Mill site.  At the bottom of the sign was an arrow and the initials "VC" which we took to be the trail back to the Visitors Center...so we went the other way.  We soon came upon the remnants of the grist mill.  It is a shame that this rock wall is not better preserved.  

Not far from the grist mill wall, we came upon another intersection with trails leading to the marsh.  One trail had a boardwalk covering some soggy ground.  But knowing that there were bridges into the marsh I was eager to take this trail ...but one problem...not even the FBWG will venture into a trail that looks like this!  The City of Winston-Salem really needs to tend to this trail. I am not sure what is on the other side but I know it may be wet.  So we ventured back and found another marsh trail which led us to an interesting bridge.

The bridge was in such bad shape I was surprised it was not closed.  But it took us into the middle of the marsh and we discovered an unexpected flower garden!  There were blooming flowers of many variety everywhere.

I wish I knew the names of these flowers.  They were unique and were unexpectedly beautiful.  I really did not expect a marshland to produce such blossoms.

The one plant we were able to identify were the "Cat Tails" which seemed to emerge from the marsh between the other blossoms.  

But I have never seen these flower blossoms before.   

On the way out of the marsh, we encountered this plant on the banks of Mill Creek.  It looks like a corn stalk with purple blossoms!

We hiked out the way we hiked in.  I am glad we got to go out in the marsh this year and wished we could have accessed the other bridge.  I am not sure this bridge will survive the winter.  Let's hope the city makes some repairs. 

The hike is an easy 2.5 miles.  On a cool and overcast day the trail was humid but not uncomfortably so.   I would not want to take this hike on a hot day but I would not want to miss the flowers either.  Rating the hike is difficult.  Access to the marsh is a must.  Trail access is a 8;  would be higher but no signage telling you where you are is a problem;  the trails are also rated low 7;  they are well maintained but for the marsh access; scenery is a 9 only because we got to see the marsh blossoms.   Effort to view ratio leans toward easy....overall an 8 rated hike. 

 But you got to add in a visit to Bethabara...

Bethabara was the first congregational town for the Moravians in North Carolina.  Their industrious nature soon turned this highspot between two marshes into a thriving farming community.  Bethabara was an oasis of culture in the backwoods of North Carolina. 

It was a key trading post and an important place for artisans to ply their trade.  In the French and Indian War it was a sanctuary for settlers and boasted a wooden palisade fort.  Moravians were people of an abiding faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  They initially lived in a communal society, with each member of the community assigned important tasks.  They worshiped daily and played horns, violins and organs, often to melodies of Bach and Beethoven.  To the surrounding settlers they were an odd bunch....but they also made the best pottery, boasted one of the best blacksmiths and the only doctor in the area.

The original homestead has been reconstructed.  This cabin housed 15 early settlers for over a year.  Their simple farm bears witness to the hard life they lived.  

Adjacent to the farm is the Bethabara Garden, a period correct collection of plants, herbs and flowers.  The late summer blooms were fantastic.

We stopped to rest our dogs at a small gazebo next to the garden and found a bird perched on the peak of the roof....got to be a good sign!

The reconstructed palisade fort is a short walk from the garden.  The fort was built as refuge and protection during the French and Indian War.  While Cherokee uprisings often affected settlers to the west, the village was never attacked.  Still there are many stories of settlers fleeing the violence seeking refuge in the fort.

Throughout the Bethabara historical site are the excavated stone foundations of the many buildings that comprised the village.  Within in the palisade are two of the most important buildings.  The first is the Single Brothers' House where the men of the settlement resided.  Based on the depth of the foundation, it must have been a large building.
 The second building is the Gemeinhaus-the congregational house where church services were held.  This was the center of the village. Just outside the palisade is the 1788 Gemeinhaus preserved and restored to its original state.

This old building is the photographic centerpiece of the park and I could not resist spending time photographing various angles of the building.

Just down the street is the Log House which is just as photogenic as the Gemeinhaus.
The Bethabara Historical Village is a real hidden gem for the City of Winston-Salem.  It is located in the northwestern part of the city near Wake Forest University.  If you have not visited this place, take time to hike the Mill Trail and visit the marsh but also spend time thinking about the history of this area.  Walking among the excavated foundations and reconstructed farm, you can get a sense of what it was like to build this community in which we live and enjoy.