Moravian Church Settlements
Moravian Church Settlements is part of the Tentative list of United States of America in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The proposed extension consists of the Moravian district in the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a planned community in the 18th century that became the religious and administrative center of Moravian activities in North America. The Moravian community introduced ideas of equality and social community not reflected at the time in surrounding communities, and the Moravian district in Bethlehem includes a harmonious ensemble of residential, industrial, and religious buildings demonstrating their church’s communal values.
Map of Moravian Church SettlementsLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Almost 300 years ago a group of German Protestant missionaries in North America were granted land in the wooded Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, west of New York City and north of Philadelphia; on Christmas Eve of 1741, these missionaries founded the Moravian community of Bethlehem. For approximately the next century, Bethlehem was a town run by the Moravian church, operating on principles espousing communal living, hard work, and missionary outreach to local Lenape native American groups (a relationship referenced in the novels of 19th century author James Fenimore Cooper).
There is currently an effort to create a transnational World Heritage Site highlighting Moravian church settlements, with Moravian Bethlehem being added as an extension to the already inscribed Moravian settlement of Christiansfeld, in Denmark. Since I didn't know much about the Moravian church in North America, I took a road trip to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at the beginning of May this year in order to learn more about the Tentative World Heritage Site. There is a visitor center in downtown Bethlehem that regularly runs historical tours on weekends. Because the tour on the weekend I visited was only covering Moravian Bethlehem's colonial industrial quarter, the visitor center helped me arrange for a personal tour with a guide to learn more about the history of the Moravians in Bethlehem.
The tour started off in the Goundie House adjacent to the visitor center, which offered an eye- opening introduction to the role the Moravian church played in 18th and 19th century Bethlehem. John Goundie was a German brewer, businessman, and civic leader instrumental to changes both in Bethlehem and the Moravian church. Under Moravian church practice at the time, any young men who wanted to marry would see church leaders, who would then draw lots to determine whether a marriage would be permitted by God. Goundie was only allowed to marry after six attempts through the lot system, and, as a member of a delegation to the Moravian church synod, he helped campaign to make the lot system optional in the Americas. He also helped invest in private business outside the town boundaries of Bethlehem, and by the mid-19th century, Bethlehem was opened up to non-church members.
The tour continued past the colonial industrial quarter, built on the floodplain of the Monocacy Creek. The quarter includes a smithy, a mill, a tannery, a springhouse, and the ruins of a pottery and dye house, and is considered one of the earliest industrial parks in America. The quarter provided a source of income for the residents of Moravian Bethlehem, and was looked upon favorably by early American leaders such as future President John Adams, who found refuge in the town when the British advanced on Philadelphia in 1777. Of particular interest in the quarter is the waterworks, constructed in the mid 18th century, which was the first municipal pumped water system in North America, and brought spring water to the community living at the top of the hill where the Central Moravian Church now stands.
The heart of historic Moravian Bethlehem would have to be the church and surrounding residential buildings, highlighting the communal aspect of the town. The Gemeinhaus, or community house, is the oldest surviving structure in Bethlehem, and today serves as a museum. This building included a chapel and residential areas for the different "choirs" of community members, including single women and married couples. The Single Brethrens' House was later built across the street from the Gemeinhaus, while the Single Sisters' House was an addition to the community house. Of note, the choir of single women was viewed as equal to men, and worked in jobs that gave back to the community. The Moravian church was forward-leaning in the education of women, and the Moravian Seminary (now Academy) in Bethlehem, founded in 1742, was the first school for girls in the American colonies. Additional houses in this residential area were built for the choir of widows, and later for individual families. At the end of the tour, my guide brought me to the town cemetery, known as God's Acre, where Moravian church members were traditionally buried according to the choir system, separated by age, sex, and marital status.
Bethlehem has a unique heritage as a parochially-run town in early American history, and, as the early center of Moravian activity in North America, I can see where it would make a good addition to a transnational site recognizing how Moravian church settlements adapted to their regions. Beyond its Moravian heritage, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, also provides a fascinating overview of the industrialization of North America, from the early colonial industrial quarter of Moravian Bethlehem to the nearby, and now defunct, Bethlehem Steel mill, which was founded in the mid 19th century and at one time was the second largest steel producer in the United States, providing steel for shipbuilding and structures like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Logistics: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is about ninety minutes west of New York City and a little over an hour north of Philadelphia by car; there is also limited bus transit from the cities.
When I went to Bethlehem, USA (Pennsylvania) this summer I wasn't sure what to expect. A colonial quarter from the 18th century. There is a parking lot right next to the "entrance" below the bridge. Everything is free. The houses are in decent condition but can only be seen from the outside as far as I know. Maybe there are special days to visit them. It is nice to see how the buildings form a village: a dye house, butchery and so on. Those, however, are very often found in Europe and in fact this site is aiming as a transnational extension to Christiansfeld in Denmark. Having the same over in the States is unfortunately nowhere near special in my opinion, and I don't find that unique enough. I wasn't a fan of the Danish town but it was at least a living town, not these abandoned buildings. A national treasure maybe but even then I'm not very sure. The place had zero visitors when I was there and doesn't seem very keen on attracting any. FYI this is 2h from NYC by car.
2017 Added to Tentative List
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