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.
What to See at Old Salem
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 like at Colonial Williamsburg. In these, you’ll see people dressed up in period clothing and performing tasks that would have been appropriate for the day.
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 is 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 as well as the cemetery at God’s Acre.
They play a few films about Moravian culture and regularly host educational events like panels, farmer’s markets, live music, and summer camps.
Tips for Visiting Old Salem
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. Double-check the hours during the pandemic.
Admission costs $27 for adults and $13 for students and includes entry into all of the museum’s buildings. Parking is included with the ticket price and there are three lots.
Where to Eat Near Old Salem
There are places to eat inside Old Salem but the hours vary. The Tavern is currently closed, but there are others to choose from. Winkler Bakery is a favorite Moravian bakery for sandwiches and cookies. E. A. Vogler Coffee & Confections has Winkler’s baked goods, along with coffee and chocolate.
Located behind the tea shop, Muddy Creek Cafe and Music Hall hosts traditional music. Visitors can enjoy pressed sandwiches and Moravian chicken pie.
Outside of Old Salem, Camino Bakery is the best place for a quick bite, including freshly made croissants and coffee. Meridian Restaurant has a diverse menu of international dishes like shrimp and grits and seared tuna.
Where to Stay Near Old Salem
Many of the homes within Old Salem are now private homes but some are open to guests. Built in 1844, The Zevely Inn is named for Salem’s mayor and has free WiFi and rooms furnished in period antiques.
The Historic Brookstown Inn (review here) was built in 1837 and operated as a mill before being converted into a hotel in the 1980s. It’s a short walk from Old Salem and has large rooms and daily breakfast.