Visitors to First Moravian Church in York, Pennsylvania, on a September Sunday afternoon, gathered to learn more about one of their illustrious pastors and to join in the launch of a new book, Re-Inventing the Wheel, The Incredible Story of S. Morgan Smith, Minister, Inventor, Industrialist.
Three members of First Moravian collaborated to produce this remarkable story of The Rev. Stephen Morgan Smith, First Moravian’s pastor during the tumultuous Civil War years. The 165-page full-color book was published this fall and underwritten with gifts from members of First Moravian.
Church members, guests from the Smith family and the York community enjoyed Moravian sugar cake, brief talks from the two church members most responsible for its publication and the opportunity to have their books signed.
A quintessential American story
The life of S. Morgan Smith is the quintessential American story: a man who lost everything not once, but twice in his life. He rose to become a builder of his adopted city and to leave a legacy which still resonates in the York community, in the Moravian Church which he loved and around the world. His story has special meaning for us in the Moravian Church.
Smith was born on a farm in Davie County, N.C. in 1839. While a teenager he came to faith in Christ and joined Macedonia Moravian Church. He was trained for the ministry at Moravian College and Theological Seminary just as the Civil War began. Smith never completed his studies because he was sent by the Northern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference to serve as pastor at the Moravian Church in York. In an amazing twist, the P.E.C. gave him permission to volunteer as a Union Army Chaplain in the Civil War and he served the Pa. 200th Infantry Regiment from 1864 until the end of the war. We believe he is the only Moravian pastor who served as a Civil War chaplain.
After the war, Smith accepted a call to serve the Moravian Church in Dover, Ohio. While serving in Dover, he contracted a painful throat condition that made it impossible for him to preach regularly. Smith reluctantly took “temporary retirement” from the Moravian ministry in 1871 and moved back to York with his family. He made his living as an inventor and industrialist and after years of struggle, founded the S. Morgan Smith Company which produced rugged and efficient hydro-electric turbines just as the electric industry was blossoming.
When he died in 1903, his sons, Charles Elmer and Stephen Fahs, led the family company to a position as the largest builder of hydro turbines in the country. The company’s turbines not only provided power for countries around the world, but also made the children of S. Morgan Smith wealthy.
The Moravian Church and the community of York benefited from their generosity. C. Elmer and S. Fahs Smith served as trustees at Moravian College and Seminary as did their sons, Beauchamp and Burwell. Smith gifts helped to provide the administration building on campus, a large women’s dormitory in memory of Beauchamp’s wife, Josephine, and endowed the S. Morgan and Emma Fahs Smith chair of historical theology at the seminary.
How did he do it? How did Stephen Morgan Smith travel from the backwoods of North Carolina to become a leader in his church and community, and an industrialist whose legacy is found on five continents? This incredible story forms the narrative of an exciting new book.
Most of the writing was done by Stephen Nicholas Jr., a retired Moravian pastor living in York. Terrence Downs helped with research for the book, supplied historical context, and contributed some of the text. He is a heritage environmental artist, a York County historian, writes a regular column on local history for the York Sunday News and was York’s delegate to Eastern District Synod in June. David Bailey, a professional editor and former church Elder, corrected the manuscript and prepared it for printing.
Steve, Terry and David feel that S. Morgan Smith would be proud that three members of the Moravian Church which he pastored during the difficult Civil War years collaborated to tell the story of how God led Smith through many trials to the place where he was able to make a significant contribution to building his church, his city and the wider world.
Re-inventing the Wheel, may be purchased from the York County History Center, the Moravian Interprovincial Board of Communication in Bethlehem, or by sending an email to the publishers: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the November 2016 Moravian Magazine