Old Salem (Winston-Salem)

  • Local Projects
  • 1950

In 1766, missionaries of the Moravians, a Protestant group mostly living in what is now the Czech Republic, arrived to establish a settlement in the North Carolina wilderness. The Moravians were a serious, religious, industrious, musical people, and they built a thriving community which became a center of trade and culture. It eventually spawned the current North Carolina city of Winston-Salem, which grew up around its original core.

Most of the city’s old Moravian center never got knocked down, and in 1950 a group of local volunteers and donors came together and decided to preserve the interesting wooden and brick architecture, the original church, the burial ground (where remains were interred separately by sex rather than in family units), the wooden bridge, and the many unusual gardens. The historic adjoining Salem Academy was included, a new museum of Southern decorative arts was created, and “living history” interpretation was launched to run period businesses like the tavern, bakery, and candy shop, and to demonstrate traditional crafts. Today the museum has more than 200 employees, thriving retail elements, a book publishing house, a research center, numerous gardens, and a bustling business renting its historic spaces for business and social events. The nonprofit is almost entirely privately funded—a combination of $8 million of its own annual revenue and about $2 million per year of individual contributions and foundation grants.