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View of Salem from the West

Denke, Maria (Steiner) __Attributed to
Place Made:
Salem North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
c. 1852
watercolor on paper
Framed; HOA 18 1/4; WOA 26″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Ink and watercolor on wove paper view of North Salem from the west; the view is framed by large leafy trees on either side and rolling clouds in the sky; in the foreground, the large factory building in the forefront is the Salem Cotton Factory (built after 1836 when the Salem Cotton Manufacturing Company was incorporated). To the right of that building is an addition that houses the steam generators and to the left is a small warehouse for storing raw cotton. The five nearly identical houses to the southeast of the mill building were built for mill workers and their families. The Fries Wool Spinning Mill (built in 1840) is the building to the northeast of the cotton mill. The road running in front of the large mill and to the right of the smaller mill was New Shallowford Street (now Brookstown Avenue). The second building from the corner of New Shallowford and Main Street is Heinrich Meinung’s wheelwright’s shop, built in 1837. Wagon parts can be seen on the lean-to roof. Between Meinung’s shop and the Fries Wool mill is the house Francis Fries built for his family. The house on the far right of this view just above the outbuilding and gardens of the lot was the house occupied by the artist who is thought to have painted this image, Mary (Polly) Steiner Denke (1792-1868), widow of Reverend Christian Friedrich Denke 1775-1838).

SUBJECT: By 1852 Salem was thriving as a center for new industries. Two of the most prominent–the Salem Cotton Factory (1836) and the Fries Woolen Mill (1840)–dominate this scene of the western portion of town formerly used as farm land. Unlike Ludwig Von Redeken’s watercolor of Salem in 1787, which emphasizes a congregation town surrounded by wilderness, this view portrays Salem as the cradle of industry in a growing Piedmont North Carolina.

ARTIST: Maria (also known as Polly sometimes referred to as Mary) Steiner (1792-1868) was the oldest daughter of Catherine Sehner Steiner and the Reverend Abraham Steiner (served as inspector of the Girls Boarding School between 1806 and 1816). Maria arrived in Salem in 1798 to attend school (her parents lived in Bethabara) and boarded with her uncle Jacob Steiner and his wife Catherine. She was one of the first town girls to join the boarding school when it began in 1804 (in the Single Sisters House before the school building was built). She became a teacher in the school in 1811 and taught there until 1820 when she accepted the position of pflegerin (leader) of the Single Sisters’ Choir. In 1823 a dispute with town leaders over her independent nature caused her to give up the position of pfegerin and she returned to teaching (see Griffin, LESS TIME FOR MEDDLING p. 146 for description of episode). In 1828 she married the Reverend Christian Friedrich Denke and moved with him to Friedberg where he was the pastor and the couple began a weekday school for the children of the community. They returned to Salem five years later to live in a house they had begun to build in 1831 (Lot 90). After her husband’s death in 1838, Polly continued to live in the house, taught singing, and gave religious instruction to African American Children through the “Negro Congregation” in Salem (which became St. Philips). In 1845 she became the governess of two girls from Georgia and travelled with the family to France for two years. Not long after she returned to Salem from Europe, Polly again began to teach and serve in an administrative capacity at the Girls Boarding School. She continued this work until her death in 1868. This artist also made a Dresden work sampler (Acc. 2732) and painted a watercolor (acc. 5896).

Credit Line:
Wachovia Historical Society Collection