As always, most images can be seen at full size by clicking on them.
So someone sends me this picture and wants to know what Cedar Avenue is or was…
I mention this to several people and am surprised to find that none of them have ever heard of Cedar Avenue either…I decide to do a little amateur poll…so far I’ve asked about 60 people…not one knew anything about Cedar Avenue…so here is the story.
The Moravians began construction of Salem in 1766. On June 7, 1771, John Birkhead became the first Salemite to die and was interred in God’s Acre, about a block north of the church. Eva Anna Berothin (Beroth), who died on September 3, 1773, became the first woman interred there. A path led from the church to the graveyard. Around the time of the first burials, someone began planting cedar trees along both sides of the path. By 1813, the church diary reported that there were plans to fill in all the empty spaces to make two complete rows from the church to the graveyard entrance.
Cedar Avenue became an integral part of all Salem Congregation funerals and the annual Easter Sunrise service. And it became a favorite strolling spot every day of the week. Of course, as with any public space, there were a few problems. In 1828 it became necessary for the church to issue a stern warning to those who persisted in cutting branches from the trees. A few years later, handbills had to be posted forbidding bird hunting on the avenue.
But the avenue was, for the most part, the pride of Salem, a slogan that would later be applied to the many postcards depicting Cedar Avenue. It was mentioned frequently in the local newspapers and in poems. An example:
From the start, Cedar Avenue became a haven for sledders. After a January 1893 snow, three of the Twin City’s most distinguished citizens, John Cameron Buxton (noted lawyer and chairman of the school board), Robert B. Glenn (future governor of NC), and James A. Gray (president of Wachovia National Bank) were persuaded to have a go. They all piled on one sled and made a run. They liked it so much that they made another, and another, and another, until finally the driver lost control and they wrecked. Gray was at the bottom of the pile and a local newspaper reported that bystanders feared the worst, but when the other two had risen, Gray was found to be “not quite dead.” Below, l-r, Gray, Buxton, Glenn.
In 1874, one of the oldest trees died. A new tree was planted to replace it, but failed to grow. As other trees died, their replacements would not grow either. Since the avenue was near the railroad, which had opened in 1873, some blamed soot from the railway engines. But that was ridiculous, because other nearby cedars remained unaffected. As each tree died, its wood was harvested and often turned into souvenirs, which explains the 1895 chest that inspired this post. Expert arborists were brought in, but none could explain why cedar trees would no longer grow on Cedar Avenue.
By 1918, the situation was so bad that the church decided to cut down all of the remaining cedars and start over. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, the cedars were to be replaced by a hardier species, willow oaks. There has been some confusion about that, because in later years other sources reported that it was red oaks or some other species. In any case, since oaks are slow growing, it was decided to intersperse fast growing Lomabardy poplars in the gaps. As the oaks matured, the poplars were removed. By the mid-20th century, Cedar Avenue had become an avenue of grand oak trees.
But then, disaster struck. In early May, 1989, a huge storm spawned an outbreak of tornadoes in the mid-Atlantic region. Winston-Salem was struck by an F2 tornado. Then an F3 touched down near Clemmons and wreaked havoc all the way to Walkertown. Much damage was done, none worse than in Salem, where a number of the mighty trees on Salem Square succumbed, along with about 80 trees on Cedar Avenue. So once again, the Salem Congregation decided to start over. After the debris was removed, they made a daring decision to replant with cedars. Just to be safe, they interspersed those with Holly trees. It worked.
Images of Cedar Avenue over the years: