Old Salem Historic District

Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Webpage: National Historic Landmark

General Description: Old Salem is an historic district in Winston-Salem that is a living museum of the restored Moravian community during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Salem was originally settled by the followers of John Huss, known as Moravian from the kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia which is now part of the Czech Republic.  They first settled in Savannah, Georgia in 1735 moving to Pennsylvania in 1740.  Due to development pressures they sought more space and purchased nearly 100,000 acres from the British Proprietor, John Carteret.  Known as Wachovia, this tract was completely owned and controlled by the church with Salem as the central community in 1766.  Land was only leased for construction and all people in the communities had to be members of the church. In 1849 Forsyth County was formed but Salem refused to be the county seat.  Land was sold to the state to the north of Salem, which became the city of Winston which quickly expanded becoming the major metropolitan area.  The two cities merged in 1913 becoming Winson-Salem.  During the time of church control, Salem minimized exposure to outside influences by restricting trade and land ownership.  Blacks, both free and slave, were used as a labor pool but until just before the Civil War, they were allowed to join the Moravian faith and become full members of the community.  However, social pressures eventually forced the church to discontinue this practice and a separate church was built for the black community.  Being a living museum, Old Salem has become an historical landmark even though many of the residencies are occupied.  The town has restored and reconstructed many of the buildings, which is still an ongoing process today.  Tours are conducted of the Salem Tavern, the St. Phillips Moravian Church complex, Home Moravian Church, J. Blum House, Miksch Garden and House, Schultz Shoemaker Shop, Single Brothers’ House and Garden, T. Vogler Gun Shop, Vierling House and Garden, and African Moravian Log Church.  There are other restored buildings and gardens that do not offer a tour, for instance the Winkler Bakery that sells fresh made breads and rolls.  Finally, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts conducts tours of its galleries of furniture, paintings, ceramics, textiles, and metalwork.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) There was no way we could travel from Asheville to Winston-Salem and hope to see all of Old Salem in one day.  The community covers 4-5 city blocks in length of restored homes and shops.  While many of the homes are still occupied, they have been restored on the outside at least to fit the period of the town.  We were able to visit the African Moravian Log Church, the Salem Tavern, and the Winkler Bakery.   You will need to check ahead of time to make sure some of the tours are open as we found the Gun Shop and Shoemaker Shop to be closed for the day.  Old Salem is certainly worth another trip.

2) The highlight of our time in Old Salem was MESDA.  Although I was reluctant to take the tour since we had to schedule a time during the early afternoon and cut short our exploration of the town to make the appointment, it was well worth it.  The fact that it was a guided tour made all the difference.  The information provided by the tour guide brought each of the periods to life.  For example, I did not know that Chippendale furniture was a style of furniture.  In fact, its popularity was due to the publication of a catalog that was used by furniture makers.  Patrons would choose a style from the catalog and the furniture maker would make it.  They have one of these catalogs in the museum along with examples of a few of the pieces made from the catalog.  This museum is a MUST SEE.

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