Before there was the city of Winston-Salem, there was just Salem. Settled by members of the Moravian faith from modern Czechia, an offshoot of the Protestant denomination, Salem was originally called Wachovia. It was founded in the 1700s and included both municipal and residential buildings for members of the church. The church owned the land and could ask members to leave if they weren’t following the rules of the faith. George Washington even spent a few nights at the local tavern in 1791.
The town expanded twice and eventually the Moravians were allowed to buy their property from the church. The nearby settlement of Winston became the county seat and the two towns merged into one in 1913. People continued to live in Old Salem, and still do, but some of the buildings began to be preserved from encroaching development in the 1950s. The Old Salem Museum and Gardens became a living history center soon after.
Today some of the buildings are owned by the museum while others are private residences. In these, you’ll see people dressed up in period clothing and performing tasks that would have been appropriate for then. This includes blacksmiths, tinsmiths, cobblers, gunsmiths, bakers, and carpenters. You might even see women working in the kitchen to create dishes that they would have had back then using produce grown in their onsite garden.
Among the buildings guests will see are the tavern, a fire engine house, a carpenter’s shop, the single brother’s house, a gunsmith’s shop, and the shoemaker’s shop. Each one has hours depending on the day, but generally has the same person there all the time. Also onsite are the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, the Old Salem Visitor’s Center, and a number of shops that sell Moravian gifts. Be sure to stop by the historic church and admire the campus of Salem College.
They play a few films about Moravian culture and regularly host educational events like panels, farmer’s markets, live music, and summer camps. For a longer stay, there’s an inn inside Old Salem as well as a few eateries.
If You Go
Old Salem Museums & Gardens is located at 900 Old Salem Road, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27101. They are open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm and Sunday from 1 to 4:30 pm. Admission costs $27 for adults and $13 for students and includes entry into all of the museum’s buildings. Parking is included with ticket price and there are three lots.