By Michelle Leonard, Former PLC Board Member & Mayor Pro Tem of Bethania
“Where are you from?” It’s a commonly asked question here in the South and it’s one that sparks many fruitful conversations among friends and strangers alike. I’ve lived in Bethania for 14 years now, but it was at my very first community gathering in 2001 that I learned what it really means to be FROM Bethania!
It was the “Bethania Day” celebration and the Bethania Historical Society had planned an educational program and community gathering to honor the founding of the town in 1759.
Being new to town, I was eager to get to know my neighbors better and to learn more about my new home. I talked to everyone I could that day and heard all kinds of stories! It seemed everyone had a special place in their heart for different aspects of the town.
After a rather lengthy and lively conversation with one lady, I thanked her for sharing her time with me and commented that it was nice to learn some of the history of the town from someone who was from Bethania.
“Oh, Honey!” she replied. “I’m not FROM here. I’ve only lived out here for 40 years or so. I’m from Winston.” What?! Was she kidding me? Winston-Salem is literally right down the road! Isn’t that basically the same as being from here?! She wasn’t joking. She wasn’t trying to be funny or provoke any response. She knew what I would soon come to know; that the roots in this little Moravian village run deep.
I knew that Bethania has a rich history, but on that day I learned that many people in the town have long-standing family ties to this patch of Earth and its dwellings, some that tie back directly to the original settlers. I have neighbors who live in houses their ancestors built generations ago and who tend fields their great, great, great grandfather farmed.
This revelation excited me! It’s not often that you move to a town and have the opportunity to learn about your surroundings from people who have been there since 1759! I’ve been treated to family stories about what happened when General Cornwallis came through during the Revolution and later when Stoneman’s calvary rolled through town during the Civil War. I’ve eaten warm, Moravian sugarcake on Christmas Eve, homemade chicken pie at Easter and piping hot chicken stew in the fall, all made by different families from their original, handed-down recipes. I’ve been shown special places in the woods like the site of the old “root doctor’s” house and where the dwarf iris are and
where all the local kids used to swim before the creek was straightened out for the sewer line.
These are all places within our town that have now been preserved thanks to the help of the Piedmont Land Conservancy. PLC is our local land trust based in Greensboro. The Conservancy worked with individual landowners in Bethania to help them protect over 120 acres of land in our town. Now, we have over 6 miles of trails to explore and enjoy (without trespassing!).
Bethania is unique for many reasons, but its culture of long-term stewardship of the landscape and the connectedness and sense of place that it fosters is something truly special.
In 2003, I had my daughter, Iris. She knows where the best place is to take a quick dip in the creek, where the dwarf iris are and how to savor warm, fresh from the oven sugarcake, even if you have a full tummy from Christmas dinner!
When people ask us where we’re from, I say, “I’m from Morganton, N.C., but I live in Bethania.”
Iris says, “I’m from Bethania!”
And I am so happy she is…