Christian Gottlieb Reuter


Born: September 5, 1717
Died: December 30, 1777

Christian Reuter was born on September 5 1717 in Steinback, Erpach County, in modern day Germany. He was well trained in arithmetic as a child, and was reportedly born with a strong work ethic that drove him throughout his life to achieve in his passions. In 1732 he found he was naturally gifted at map-making and surveying. By 1735 he became a royal surveyor for the Counts of Erpach.

In 1744 he surveyed the area around Herrnhaag, the city of the Moravians in Germany. There he was delighted by the camaraderie of the brothers as well as their hospitality. He visited a handful more times before leaving the Lutheran church for the Moravians. Reuter then employed his skill for the Moravians. The church leaders planned for him to travel to Wachovia far before he knew this was so. But with a happy heart he arrived in the New World in 1757.

Reuter arrived in Wachovia on July 22nd 1758. In his memoirs he recorded his initial feelings upon arriving in Wachovia “This is the Savior’s land, now I am going to be His surveyor.” He began surveying the Wachovia tract in 1759. Just as he was beginning his work, Bethabara was touched by the French and Indian War, causing delay and peril in his work. Oftentimes alone in the secluded woods, Reuter expressed apprehension towards the deeds of men, but expressed his faith in the Lord is what kept him going.

On June 12th 1759, he and a small committee selected location for Bethania, on his recommendation. It was in the Black Walnut Bottom, three miles from Bethabara. Its location allowed for access to roads and water. However his concept map was not selected for the final plans of the town.

He continued his surveying work throughout 1760, 1761, and 1762 even though the war was raging around him. By 1762 he had finished surveying the entire Wachovia tract and had finished four large maps. This included his masterpiece the Grosse Riese (Great Map), a map that measured seven feet by nine feet. His naturalist training also allowed for him to make special notes on the map as to the quality of surrounding land as well.

In April of 1765 he was chosen to survey the new town site then known as the Gemein Ort (Congregation town). According to Bill Hinman “Reuter was to 1) Survey and record the natural resources of the new property, with reports made as to the potential for economic gain from such resources as might be identified; 2) Divide the 98,985 acres among shareholders in the land company which had underwritten the purchase, retaining appropriate parcels of land for church settlements, and 3) act as site and building inspector for each village to be established by the church in the new land” (William Hinman, “Philip Christian Gottlieb Reuter: First Surveyor of Wachovia” [MA Thesis, Wake Forest University, 1985]).

On the 20th of February 1766, Reuter aided in the beginnings of Salem by measuring out a line on the ridge in which they planned to build. He then staked out the location of Salem Square, along with Brothers Ettwein, Graff, and Loesch. The next day he laid out the streets and the Square. However in April they shifted the location of the square down the ridge and began again.

In April of 1766 the following was recorded in the Helper’s Conference records, “he has been proposed by the Unity’s Conference for building inspector. We would like to give him the oversight of laying out the town; building of houses on the spot and supervising the builders, paying then, etc.” He also served as architect in the absence of William Frederic Marshall, designing and overseeing the construction of the First House.

In 1772, he completed his own home, now known as the Anna Catharina House. This building is a 1½ story dwelling with weatherboard siding. This is one of the earliest examples of use of weatherboard in Salem. It is unique in its gable end facing the street, which was uncommon for Salem residential buildings.

Later that year, he was tasked to find the meridian of the sun in the sky in order to build a Sun Dial for the town. He was also given permission from the Collegium to provide his services to non-members of the community in order to increase his income. The Collegium later that year also requested his services to serve as forest-keeper in order to ensure the proper use of the local resources and to prevent waste.

In 1773 at his behest, he was appointed to a committee to construct the first Water Works in Salem. This was a large undertaking he has stressed for many years. The committee chose a location on modern day Poplar Street where several springs flowed and a high point was found to deliver the water into the town. The Salem water works was the second municipal water works in the United States, second only to the Moravian built system in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (started in 1754).

In 1774 he was appointed Roadmaster. And later that year he is noted repairing the new road in Wachovia with the Brothers Knuettel. Reuter took this role just as seriously as his forestry job. His peers noting that he was the most active in maintaining these positions and was always hard at work policing and maintaining the area.

Reuter was plagued in the last three years of his life with a debilitating disease that kept him from surveying much more. He trained Brother Meinung in the art to succeed him. Reuter passed away on December 30th, 1777 in Salem. His lasting impacts can still be seen today in the houses he helped build, and in the maps he drew of the Piedmont of North Carolina. In 1985, of ninety-four known maps of the region, Reuter drew 73 of them. He was also attributed to nearly eighty percent of the cartographical materials of the Piedmont of North Carolina. These masterpieces laid the setting for the Moravian towns of Bethabara, Bethania, and Salem to be built in North Carolina.