A Visit to Old Salem, North Carolina

A Visit to Old Salem, North Carolina


Posted 2022-06-01 by Monica Gray Mattiolifollow

Winston and Old Salem: Considering a visit? Let's get going!
It's time to shift gears and perspective. Here's your chance to pay a visit to Old Salem, founded in 1776 and nestled adjacent to the metro. Old Salem blends the past with the present and takes the visitor to a long-ago era. You'll find that many of the founders' priorities and practices carry on in Old Salem to this day.

First Stop: The Visitors Center Near the Entrance
You'll notice the Visitors Center as you approach Old Salem.

At this juncture, you're passing from Winston to Salem. Old Salem is a lively community unto its own and surely more than just a curated collection of structures from times gone by. Yes, it is a historic area and historic structures, gardens, shops, and amenities will be discovered here. The village is officially open Wednesday through Saturday during the day. Keep in mind that Old Salem is residential as well as commercial, therefore residents come and go just the same as they would do in a modern town. You may park in the parking area near the entrance to Old Salem, or you can park on some of the streets in town. Either way, have your walking shoes ready. Old Salem has so much to offer. You're in for a trek.

You've stopped at the visitor's center to garner the best advice for your goals in visiting and to purchase your choice of ticketed experiences. If your goal is to serendipitously wander the town, you might not need tickets at all. You will learn how Old Salem was founded on a set of straightforward principles. Today's Old Salem is dynamic, straightforward, but not simple.

Downtown Old Salem

Old Salem offers a concise downtown area that visitors love to explore. Downtown proper extends up and back for about a mile. That's two miles of walking altogether, and that's just in the downtown area. Through the district, you'll notice invitations to delve into the historic experience via specific paths attributed to historical personages and folkways. Choose your favorite, snap the QR code, and suddenly you're on a trajectory back in time, acting as a resident (child, adult, shopkeeper, worker, etc.). These paths are suitable for adults and for children.

Authentic Historical Interpretation

You will notice that interpretation choices do include enslaved and indigenous people. Indeed, at that time and in that geographic area, this would have been the case. This is a real component of our history and is addressed candidly by the community. History indicates that African people were deeply involved in the building of this bustling and prosperous place. Significant research goes on with the goal of surfacing and communicating the roles of African and native people in the founding, growth, and development of Old Salem. Visitors are welcome to access this research, add to it where possible and even select a pathway focused upon this reality.

[SECTION]Old Salem's Gardens[/SECTION]

As you wander beyond the boundaries of the historic downtown, you will notice gardens all around the community. These gardens comprise a carry-over from Salem's earliest times when residents needed such gardens to feed their families. That tradition continues. Just beyond the "commercial" sector, you'll encounter flower gardens, vegetable gardens and a large communal garden area that is shared among Salem residents. To this day, gardening and individual food production remain completely relevant to daily life. As well, Old Salem places a priority on studying heirloom plants and trees, with research, study and experimentation happening right on site.

[SECTION]Architectural Exploration[/SECTION]

Old Salem architecture ranges from rustic to elegant. Beyond the town shops, visitors will find elaborately constructed homes, stately mansions, small family houses and attached "row" houses. Keep in mind that people live here and be respectful, as you would in any community. Some properties welcome tourists to explore their grounds; others are private and will be marked as such. Especially for those who prefer to tour Old Salem in the guise of an historic character, imagine you're back in time, interacting as a community member from a former day. The ambiance of Old Salem architecture will truly send you there!

[SECTION]Moravian Roots Run Deep[/SECTION]


Moravian Influence was and is alive in Salem. The founders of Old Salem included members of this European sect. They built homes, churches, and other structures as expressions of the faith. The Moravian church is widely evident in its sector and remains active in its meetings and services. Its spirit is inclusive and welcoming. There you will find an administrative building, archives (access with prior permission), an operating church and churchyard, and a magnificent cemetery. If your interest in visiting is serious research specifically about Moravian life, you're advised to contact the headquarters and arrange for an appointment.

Moravian cemetery customs are unique. In Moravian parlance, the "cemetery" is generally referred to as "God's Acre". The layout of God's Acre is well ordered, simple, straightforward and beautiful. It is well to note that, unlike many cemeteries, decedents are interred in the next available plot, rather than collectively among families. Other funeral customs include reading the deceased's life story and there can be music and flowers. Attendees, of course, are required to dress appropriately. Services might be in the church or at the graveside. Visitors should be alert to the activities in this sector on any given day, respectfully realizing that this is sacred ground.

[SECTION]The Museum of Early American Arts[/SECTION]

Old Salem is home to the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. What a treasure trove of art, furniture, crafts and insights into the lifestyle of North Carolinians of the era. It is a center of tourism and, most importantly, of the American South, with wonderful focus in many aspects on North Carolina.

Visitors will find pottery, paintings, furnishings, and all manner of colonial lifestyle accoutrements during their exploration. The visitor might prefer to be led through the collections or may decide instead to self-guide.

The Museum is a popular destination for serious research into the lives of regional inhabitants during its early years. It's value well exceeds the modest ticket price.

[SECTION]Salem College[/SECTION]

Salem College is a women's college, founded in 1772, and still operating within the boundaries of Old Salem. This institution was founded upon the active assertion that women should have access to education, as well as did men of the day. What a concept – how progressive and impactful were these wise and brave founders and students! The college enrolls around 1,000 students in total, participates in NCAA Division 3 athletics, and produces alumnae of remarkable skills and leadership. The college curriculum encompasses the arts and sciences at the bachelor's level, and as well as a thriving master's degree program in education. The campus is small but stunning. What a wonderful environment for learning, right next door to an historic village and within walking distance to the thriving metropolitan Winston-Salem!

[SECTION]Investigate Places to Eat and Lodge [/SECTION]

Where to Eat and Stay around Old Salem:
Winston-Salem is a contemporary, exciting city and home to many familiar hotel options, such as those offered by Marriott, Hilton, Kempton, Best Western, Wyndham, and Holiday Inn, among others. To stay within the historical mood, check out the Brookstone Inn. Additionally, Salem offers bed and breakfast options, Air B&B and VRBO. Be aware that those options are subject to change from time to time. The traditional chains are consistent.

The Old Salem Visitor's Center is the best place to learn about the adjacent metro's food and lodging scene. Muddy Creek Café, open Wednesday to Saturday from 10:00 until 2:00, is located at 626 South Main Street in the lower level of T. Bagge Merchant. Otherwise, Winston-Salem is loaded with familiar restaurants and unique eateries. The tavern in Old Salem has been in transition through COVID, so be sure to research its current status to ascertain its availability.

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