Old Salem is the historic district of the charming North Carolina city Winston-Salem. Old Salem was originally settled by the Moravian community in 1766. Moravians are a persecuted sect of the protestant church that immigrated from Moravia, known today as the Czech Republic. It’s a fully interactive and authentic experience about early America, and one of the best things to do in Winston Salem.
This colonial cultural attraction offers captivating examples of architecture, many in classic Greek Revival style, that have been restored to their former glory. It’s a vast living history museum covering 75 acres and encompassing an array of engaging activities to learn more about the heritage here.
Skilled craftsmen and interpreters elucidate what life was really like in the 18th century in the early South. A visit to Old Salem is a transportive step back in time to the bygone era. Here’s all you need to know and do when visiting Old Salem.
Don’t Miss These Sights in Old Salem
This is the on-site visitor center for Old Salem. It’s the only place to purchase tickets, and even though wandering around Old Salem to admire the architecture is free, there is a fee to enjoy some of the more interactive exhibits. A ticket provides access to all open buildings and costs $18 for an adult. It also happens to house the famous David Tannenburg Organ from the year 1800.
Old Salem is amazing to visit any time of year, but keep in mind much of it is outdoors and there are seasonal and holiday events throughout the year. At the Horton Center, there’s all the information needed about the sites to see for planning the best adventure possible. Most visitors will spend a full day taking in all the sights, but there’s enough to do here to stretch it into two as well.
Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts
This one-of-a-kind museum displays an unparalleled collection of decorative arts spanning from the late 17th to the early 19th century in Southern America. It’s the perfect first stop to dive right into learning about Old Salem and it’s right after the entrance on the other side of the covered Heritage Bridge.
The collection includes furniture, ceramics, silver, paintings, maps, and textiles. It also serves as a premier center for research and study in this field. The galleries display rare and intricate works in many mediums and every room here is decorated with traditional period furnishings. For craftsman aficionados and appreciators, the MESDA is a must-visit in Old Salem.
St. Philips Heritage Center
The St. Philips Heritage Center is thought to be the oldest African American church still standing today in North Carolina. It was built in 1861, and the facade remains a symbol of the black experience within the Moravian community.
It was even in continuous use up until the 1950s. On special occasions, the heritage center will still host worship services. The museum inside the restored brick building explores the history of slavery and segregation within the church.
Single Brother’s House
This workshop is one of the coolest stops to make in Old Salem. You can see a variety of live demonstrations here that exhibit the intricate crafts of the time. It was originally constructed as the home for unmarried men in the community, hence the name, where they were to learn a trade.
It was built in 1769 and was actually the first institutional building in Old Salem. Nine craft shops in total can be found here, including pottery, tailoring, woodworking, shoemaking, spinning, joining, gunning, and tinsmithing. The home also contains sleeping quarters, a dining hall, and a prayer room.
The Vierling House was a place of great prominence in the Moravian community, the apothecary shop. They even insisted on bringing a doctor who was both a physician and surgeon with them from Germany and this choice may have been a reason for their early success. Through the church, they had a holistic approach to healing.
A costumed interpreter here goes by the name of Dr. Vierling and demonstrates the inner workings of colonial-era medicine, from making herbal concoctions to using antique equipment. The field was very different back in the 19th century, to say the least, and it’s so fun to see all the vintage Moravian methods firsthand here.
Muddy Creek Cafe
This rustic eatery serves as a venue for delicious bites as well as local live music in Old Salem. It’s known for hosting traditional and folk musicians. Any of the gourmet sandwiches are always a tasty choice at Muddy Creek. If you prefer to keep it authentic, we highly recommend trying one of the Moravian Chicken Pies.
The cafe is adorable, with stone walls adorned in artwork, and the little patio is a lovely place to spend some time soaking up some Carolina sunshine in Old Salem. There are also some craft beers available, sometimes a relaxing libation is an ideal respite from walking around the charming town.
C. Winkler Bakery
C. Winkler is the oldest continually operating bakery in the entire country and a beloved institution of baked goods in Old Salem. Traditional Moravian treats are made over the wood fire, and the sweet smell that greets you at the door is enough to draw anyone in. The Sugar Cake is a special staple here.
Everything here is delicious, from the classic cookies to the fresh bread. The structure was built in 1800, and today everything is made just the same and all from scratch. You can even buy mixes to do some Moravian baking yourself at home. Interpreters in period clothing will be there to explain the methods of the era. Get your snacks here before a night out at one of the best Winston Salem restaurants!
The verdant gardens of Old Salem are as interesting as they are beautiful. Farming the Moravian way, meaning seed to table, is an involved process that’s fun to learn about from a real 19th-century lookalike. Only heirloom seeds are used and all traditional gardening practices are implemented to harvest them. Many in this religious community were also naturalists and botanists. They used sustainable methods like open pollination and careful land management.
They grew, and are still growing, a variety of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. There are cooking demonstrations inside the Miksch House to display the way this produce makes it onto the plate. Many of the houses on the grounds have their own similar style gardens as well. The namesake of the abode used to sell tobacco, candles, and gingerbread as well. It’s actually one of the oldest tobacco shops in the country.
Schultz Shoemaker Shop
Schultz Shoemaker Shop was built in 1827 by Schultz the shoemaker himself. It was restored to its former glory in 1978. He originally made and sold shoes from his home for many years before creating this professional edition. He would generally make about six pairs a week all by hand.
Demonstrations for making all kinds of goods out of leather can be seen here now. There’s a large wooden boot hanging right outside, so you can’t miss it. It was a type of outdoor advertising often used in case visitors only spoke other languages.
The Boys School
The Boys School, also referred to as the Wachovia Museum, was constructed in 1794. Before it was built, education was conducted mainly in private homes. Architecture buffs may notice the ceramic tiled roof. It’s one of only two 18th century roofs remaining in Salem.
Today it displays many educational exhibits about the early life in the Moravian settlement. It’s one of the best ways to learn more about the history and culture of the area, which offers great context for visiting the other homes and demonstrations all around the town.
The Hidden Town Project is an initiative that was created to bring awareness to the history of enslaved and free people from Africa who lived in and were a part of the Salem community. It tracks the effects and legacy of over 100 enslaved individuals from the founding of the town until the 21st century. Visit exhibits such as the Room of Meditation and Reflection on the Enslaved in the Town of Salem, NC.
First person audios, films, and other engaging tools explore the narrative around the first African American neighborhood located here called Happy Hill. The museum’s work is built on decades of genealogical and archaeological data, much of it from the extensive Moravian archives. A perspective that’s often overlooked, a unique duty lies with Old Salem to uncover it as such historical documents are generally not available.
Moravian Book and Gift Shop
Moravian Book and Gift Shop is the ideal one-stop souvenir shop. They offer beeswax candles, books from a variety of genres, home and garden decor, crafts, pottery, North Carolina food items, and authentic Moravian wares like china and star lights.
There are always seasonal products to peruse, such as ornaments and dried flowers. Artisan cans of craft products, like locally made apple butter, make for a really special way to remember your day at Old Salem. Be sure to take the time to see the Moravian history film that shows here every 15 minutes.
John Vogler grew up as an orphan in the Moravian community and began working with his uncle who was a gunsmith at a young age. He moved on to cutlery and clock repair and then eventually he became the most talented silversmith in Salem. The home was built in 1814 for him and was the first privately owned two-story brick building in town since the Vierling House.
It was designed as a departure for the traditional Moravian architecture of the era, which was decidedly German, in favor of a more Federal style as was found around Pennsylvania at the time. It still contains most of the furnishings from the Vogler’s. It’s one of the most popular places to see in Old Salem.
The Market Fire House has more than one claim to fame. It was built in 1803 and later reconstructed in 1955. It exhibits antique fire fighting equipment, which gives quite an insight into the technological advancements, or lack thereof, at the time. A fire had previously destroyed the original Salem Tavern in 1785, and safety became a serious concern ever since.
It’s often touted that it’s the first fire prevention site of its kind in the state. The Moravians also held weekly fresh meat markets here. This was a measure deemed necessary by the local doctor who became concerned that the residents were eating too much salted meat.
African Moravian Log Church
This famous facade was made in 1823. It was such a significant structure for the early African American community in Old Salem. It’s made entirely of White Oak logs sourced by the members themselves, and some weighed up to two tons.
With such a strong construction, it was later used for other purposes in the community, including a residence and a hospital. It was refurbished in 1999 and displays mixed media exhibits in a more modern space.
The Herbst House
This abode was first built by a saddlemaker named Heinrich Herbst. It’s the first time that a porch was made above the sidewalk in Old Salem. As such, it was originally right along the street side walkway but was moved back and altered in 1890.
In 2003 it was returned to its original position and restored to its former 19th-century glory. The first ever mayor of Salem lived here right after Herbst as well. It currently serves as a horticulture center and garden and seed lab.
Single Sisters’ House
Set right on Church Street, the Single Sisters’ House has been around since 1786. It’s by far the earliest building in the history of the Salem Academy and College, the country’s oldest private educational institution for girls. You can see this impressive site but it’s not currently open to the public to tour.
It was initially created as a choir space and later became the Salem Female Academy. Subjects such as history, reading, writing, geography, music, drawing, and needlework were taught there. It was very rare at the time that there would be a school for women at all, especially in the South, so it’s quite special to experience such a unique piece of history.
Old Salem Hours
While you can wander around Old Salem during the day to access most of the select venues like the Visitors Center, Horton Center (MESDA), Winkler Bakery, Seed Saving Lab, Boys’ School, Miksch House & Garden, Muddy Creek Café, Salem Stitches, Potter’s Workshop at T. Bagge, Moravian Book & Gift, E.A. Vogler Coffee & Confections, Carpentry in the Miksch Yard you’ll want to visit Wednesday- Saturday between 10 am-2 pm.
Old Salem is Closed on holidays like Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and from December 29, 2021 through February 2, 2022.
Where is Old Salem?
Visitor Center Location
900 Old Salem Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
600 South Main Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
924 South Main Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Do I Need a Ticket to Visit Old Salem?
You do need a ticket to enter the open buildings at Old Salem, including the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Tickets can be purchased on-site only at the Visitors Center, the Horton Center, and Moravian Book & Gift. Tickets are $18.