Historical Markers
Emmaus Historical Marker
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Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Main Street at library, Emmaus

Dedication Date:
July 26, 1966

Behind the Marker

Landscape painting
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A winter view near Emmaus, PA, by Rufus Grider, 1847.
In 1742, a small group of Moravians moved ten miles southwest of Bethlehem to a place that the Lenape people called Macungie, or "feeding place of bears." There they built cabins and a log church in a settlement they named Emmaus, after the place where Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on the day of his resurrection. The settlers lived in an Ortsgemeine, or community of nuclear families, rather than the communal living arrangements of Bethlehem and Nazareth. By 1747, Emmaus had grown to forty-three men and women. They rebuilt their church in 1749, and seventeen years later again enlarged it to meet the needs of the growing population. There, they spread their Gospel message of peace and goodwill to their neighbors.
Girls and women gathered on one side of the vast room, and men and boys on the other.
Etching of a Moravian "Lovefeast," circa 1750.

In the 1770s, the residents of Emmaus became embroiled in a heated debate when their religious beliefs were challenged by those recruiting for the Continental army in the surrounding towns. All able-bodied men were called to take up their rifles and join the rebellion against British tyranny. "To fight or not to fight?" was the question haunting the Moravian men, for as devout pacifists they believed it wrong to sign an oath renouncing their loyalty to the king or to fight for either side. Their Lehigh Valley neighbors responded to the Moravians' pacifism with threats of imprisonment, confiscation of their property, and other pressures.

In North Carolina, Moravians reached an accommodation with the authorities by paying for the right to avoid fighting. In Emmaus, twelve men, including Jacob Ehrenhardt Jr., the son of one of the community's founders, joined in the 4th Battalion Company. Their service, however, remained the exception, for most Moravians sought to satisfy their consciences and the demands of their neighbors by providing financial support or medical aid to the wounded on both sides of the conflict.

After the American Revolution the town of Emmaus continued to grow. Rebuilding their church twice more to accommodate their growing numbers, residents celebrated the traditional Moravian feasts and holidays. One of those celebrations, based upon a New Testament practice, brought church members together in the celebration of what was termed the Lovefeast. In the Pennsylvania tradition, the feast encouraged the sharing of spiritual experiences and hymns over streisslers (sweetened buns) and coffee. This Lovefeast remains today a popular event in Emmaus.

Exterior of home
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1803 House, Ehrenhardt House , Emmaus, Pennsylvania
The naming of many of the Moravian settlements after places associated with the travels of Jesus Christ suggests the importance the church placed upon individuals' having a personal relationship with Christ's life. While Moravians have inhabited the town of Emmaus for more than two hundred years, many wonder why, in light of their energetic proselytizing, they do not have a larger membership. The answer may lie in the fact that while Moravians encourage conversion to Christianity, they did not necessarily encourage membership in Moravian church.

In spite of their modest numbers, Moravians support missions in many nations around the world. Back home in Emmaus, visitors can explore the "1803 House," built by Jacob Ehrenhardt Jr. on his father's farm. Purchased in 1975 by longtime resident and head of Rodale Press, Robert Rodale, and then donated to the community as a museum, this Georgian style farm house interprets life in Emmaus two hundred years ago. Moravian celebrations, craftwork-the famous twenty-six-point Moravian star being a pre-eminent example-and traditions all keep history alive in this small city.

To learn more about the art at Ephrata markerclick here.
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