Spring 2024 Issue:

Moravian Moment

A High

Faculty and students pose atop Bauer’s Rock circa 1900. Below: A 1925 Founder’s Day picnic lunch at the rock prepared by faculty members and their families.

By Nancy Rutman ’84, Photo Courtesy of Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, Spring 2024

Before the merger of the men’s and women’s colleges, a popular tradition of the all-male Moravian College and Theological Seminary was the annual Founder’s Day outing of the entire student body and faculty to Bauer’s Rock in Upper Saucon Township, about 7 miles from campus. At that time, Founder’s Day was celebrated on October 2, the anniversary of the founding of the Moravian Theological Seminary in 1807. The hike to Bauer’s Rock was eagerly anticipated by students—particularly upper classmen, who initiated a unique freshman hazing ritual: On the eve of the hike, freshmen would be given large, heavy “Chestnut Clubs”—sticks with which they were to knock down ripe chestnuts from trees en route to the rock. The freshmen had to carry the clubs through town on their shoulders.

The first Bauer’s Rock outing is said to have taken place in April 1871 (the annual event would be moved to October two years later). It was led by three faculty members who traveled by train to Allentown and walked from there to the rock, while the students, carrying their lunches, walked the whole distance from Bethlehem to the rock. In later years, provisions were brought by carriage to the site, where faculty members and their families would prepare and serve the lunch.

Student hikers would depart campus before 9 a.m., stopping at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies and the Bishopthorpe School for Girls to serenade the students. From there, the group would split up and take different routes to the rock, competing to arrive first. By 11 a.m., all were usually present, and freshmen would be assigned the unenviable task of hauling water from a nearby spring uphill to the picnic site, while sophomores and juniors carried the provisions and gathered wood for the bonfire. The seniors’ task was to make sure there were no slackers. While their lunch was being prepared, the students would photograph the scenery and pose for pictures. After lunch, they would hear faculty speeches on the history of the college and seminary. They would then join in singing songs, ending with the Alma Mater, and depart for Bethlehem in late afternoon.

As the student body grew, interest in the outing waned and the logistics became harder to manage. The event was cancelled in 1929 due to rain; luncheon was served in the refectory instead. Addresses by faculty that year agreed that “the time to relegate [the hike] to the past as an inadequate method of observing Founder’s Day was near.” In 1930, the Allentown Morning Call reported that the tradition of hike had been dispensed with “because of the advancement in education, and now a competitive class program is the feature.” Thus ended a tradition of almost six decades.

A High Point

About Bauer’s Rock

At 1,038 feet above sea level (and 800 feet above Bethlehem), Bauer’s or Bowers Rock—known today as Big Rock—is one of the highest peaks in the Lehigh Valley. Before the trees grew up to obscure it in the 20th century, the peak offered a 360-degree view, from the Blue Mountain in the north to Limeport and Hellertown in the south. “Rock” is a bit of a misnomer; the formation is actually a 40-foot-tall pile of gigantic blocks of stone. According to Richmond E. Myers (1904–1994), chair of the earth sciences department at Moravian College, who frequently led field trips to Bauer’s Rock, the dark-colored blocks stand out from the surrounding limestone because they are made of gneiss, which is stronger than limestone and better withstands erosion. The rocks in the Bauer’s Rock formation are of Precambrian origin. Precambrian rocks, formed before life existed, are found in only three places in Pennsylvania. One of them is the Durham-Reading Hills, known locally as the Lehigh Mountains. The Bauer’s Rock site, which is accessible from East Rock Road, is now owned by Lehigh County and is part of Big Rock Park.

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