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Since our new neighbor, The Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar in the beautifully renovated historic Bahnson House at 450 North Spring Street will be opening to the public for the first time this coming Thursday, I thought it would be a good time to look at how the building came to be in the first place. It’s history goes far deeper than its 1920 origin.

George Frederic Bahnson (1805-1869) was born in the Moravian congregation town of Christiansfeld, Denmark, and educated at Herrnhut, Germany. He came to Nazareth, PA as a teacher in 1828. In 1834 he was ordained a deacon and moved to Bethania to take the position of pastor there. He married Amelia Hortensia Frueauf in the same year, but she died of consumption only three years later, on her 23rd birthday. His second wife, Anna Gertrude Paulina Conrad had eleven children before dying in childbirth in 1858. Bahnson’s third wife was Louisa Amelia Belo. He eventually became a bishop in the Moravian church.

George and Paulina’s son Henry Theodore Bahnson, born in 1845, began attending the Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem, PA as a teenager. In 1862 he returned to NC and joined the 2nd NC Infantry. He was captured at Gettysburg and thrown into solitary confinement in the Baltimore City Jail, but was soon removed to another Federal prison because his cell was needed for the infamous Confederate spy Belle Boyd.

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When he was exchanged, Bahnson joined the 1st NC Battalion Sharpshooters, who had originally been created as the bodyguard unit for Stonewall Jackson. After being paroled at Appomattox, he walked home, subsisting on roots and berries. Upon arrival in Salem, he was so emaciated that his mother did not recognize him. This led to a lifelong obsession with never leaving a scrap of food uneaten on his plate.

Once recovered, he earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he formed a lifelong friendship with the renowned scholar Dr. D. Hayes Agnew. Remember that name. He then went to Europe, where he continued his study of medicine at universities in Berlin, Prague and Utrecht.

Upon returning to Salem, he began his medical practice, in which he would become nationally known as a diagnostician with an extraordinary bedside manner. He married Adelaide Hedwig de Schweinitz, a descendant of one of America’s earliest botanists. She died only a few months later. Bahnson then married Emma Christina Fries, the daughter of Francis Levin Fries, the founder of one of the first textile mills in the Piedmont region.

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Left to right: Mary, Caroline & Emma Fries, ca 1860

Dr. Bahnson’s interests extended far beyond his profession. He was deeply involved in his community, his church and a wide variety of other matters. He bought one of the oldest houses in Salem and he and Emma developed the extensive back yard into a botanical wonderland where they cultivated many exotic plants. One of those was the Victoria Regia water lily, a native of Brazil, which they managed to grow for the first time in the US outside a greenhouse.
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Dr. Bahnson, right, with his Victoria Regia lilies, ca 1890. His wife, Emma, is in the immediate background at left.

Dr. Bahnson was also a dairyman. His farm, just across the Yadkin River past Tanglewood on US 158 West, was the incubator of Guernsey cattle in the US. There, on May 6, 1884, was born the first calf registered by the American Guernsey Cattle Club. One of his bulls, “Squire of Salem 1451”, became the sire of most of the Guernsey cattle born in the southeastern US.

With all that, perhaps the most important contribution made by Dr. Bahnson was the family that he surrounded himself with.

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Fries family, 1889: Front row: Henry Fries, Lisetta Maria Vogler Fries, and Carrie Fries Shaffner. Second row: John William Fries, Lula Fries Moore, Mary Patterson, Emma Fries Bahnson, Dr. Henry Bahnson, and Rufus Patterson. Third row: Agnes de Schweinitz Fries, Walter Moore, Anna de Schweinitz Fries, Francis Fries, Rosa Fries, and Henry Fries.

Henry Fries, in the front row, was the brother of Francis Levin Fries. He and his brother founded the first serious textile mill in this part of the state. And after the Civil War, he and Edward Belo and a few others built a railroad line from Greensboro to Winston and Salem, the single most important local event of the 19th century.

His nephew John William Fries, left on the second row, would join his brothers Francis, middle of the third row, and Henry, right on the third row, to develop gas and electric power, more railroads, the electric streetcar system and modern banking and trust businesses in the community.

Rufus Patterson, right on the second row, played an important role in the development of the local textile industry and also represented the community in the state legislature. His wife, Mary, third from the left on the second row, would join forces with Kate Bitting Reynolds, wife of William Neal Reynolds, and Katharine Smith Reynolds, wife of R.J. Reynolds, to promote important social issues…healthy eating, day care, hospitals…which were make or break matters for the working class.

The Fries name has mostly been lost to our local history because the three Fries brothers had nothing but daughters. But even so, John Willam Fries left us a powerful legacy. His daughter Adelaide became a local history prodigy when she published, in 1898, as a 20 year old recent Salem College graduate, the first academic history of Forsyth County. The NC Room has copies. She would go on to edit the early volumes of the important historical series The Records of the Moravians.

And John William’s daughter Margaret married William Blair, the superintendent of the local schools. They had a son, John Fries Blair, a graduate of Haverford College and a lawyer who went on to found John Fries Blair Publishers, still an important force in Winston-Salem.

Dr. Henry, who his friends called “Hank”, became a sort of symbol of local hospitality as well. In 1914, Salem College conferred an honorary degree upon one of its alums, Mary Anna Morrison. It seems that after leaving Salem, she married some guy named Thomas Jackson, who later acquired the nickname “Stonewall”.

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Mary Anna Morrison Jackson receives an honorary degree from Salem College, 1914. Her arm is linked with that of Dr. Henry T. Bahnson. At the left is Dr. Howard Rondthaler, president of Salem College.

Meanwhile, Henry and Emma Bahnson were busy having children. In 1886, Frederick Fries Bahnson was born. Ten years later, Agnew Hunter Bahnson was born. Remember that I told you to keep the Agnew name in mind.

By 1910 or so, Pleasant Henderson Hanes, a formerly successful tobacco manufacturer, was well embarked on his second career as textile magnate. But there were serious problems afoot in all cotton mills. The mills produced an enormous amount of cotton dust, which, being constantly breathed by the workers, contributed to all manner of health issues. Textile workers got sick from the dust and thus were less efficient at work and also had a very high degree of absenteeism.

So Pleas, looking around for a solution and realizing that it would only be solved by technology, found the Bahnson brothers. In 1915, Fred and Agnew Bahnson and James A. Gray formed a new company, Normalair, which was meant to produce humidifying machines that would reduce the cotton dust in textile factories. It was an immediate success. By 1918 it had become the Bahnson Humidifier Company. The rest, as they say, is history.

It turns out that Agnew Bahnson had a knack for figuring out humidity, and eventually, temperature. By the time he died in 1966, he owned dozens, if not hundreds, of patents in the field of humidity and air conditioning.

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In 1965, the Bahnson Company built a new facility in Winston-Salem. It was named for Agnew Bahnson, Jr., who had died in a plane crash the year before. Here we see, at right, Agnew, Sr. and his wife, Elizabeth Moir Hill Bahnson, Agnew Junior’s widow Katherine (in the checked suit) and her children. Hunter (Agnew III) is the one in glasses.

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After more than half a century of being sold and sold again to a variety of entities, many of which were European, the Bahnson Company still has its international headquarters in Winston-Salem, at 3901-3909 Westpoint Boulevard near Clemmons. Other offices are located in McCleansville, Charlotte and Raleigh, NC, and in Georgia, South Carolina, Idaho and Washington state.

When you partake of your first meal at Spring House, you need not take any notice of any of this. But do keep one thing in mind…Dr. Henry Bahnson’s obsession with cleaning your plate. Let no bite go left behind.

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The Agnew Bahnson House at 450 North Spring Street was built in 1920. It was designed by the architectural firm of Northup & O’Brien, the dominant architectural firm in this area for over half a century. The stylized “S” on the north chimney is a chimney brace, common for the era, so has no symbolic meaning.

The North Carolina Room of the Forsyh County Public Library has digitized blueprints of the building.

The original library site across the street was designed by Luther Lashmit as a partner in Northup & O’Brien and completed in 1953. Later that year, Lashmit made a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Library Association in Chicago on his ground breaking design.

The “big box” 1979 addition to the library was designed by one of Lashmit’s proteges, J. Aubrey Kirby.

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Sources:

Faye Moran’s incredible website, which contains genealogies for over 300 local families

Southern Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

NC Room Collection, Forsyth County Public Library

Photos:

The initial photograph showing the new signage at Spring Garden Restaurant was taken by Fam Brownlee last Thursday afternoon just after the sign makers finished their work.

All other photos are taken from digitalforsyth.org, so belong to either the Forsyth County Public Library Photo Collection or Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

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