Old Salem, N.C., a Moravian miracle

Friendly gunsmith demonstrates how he makes muzzleloaders

What does Wachovia Bank have to do with the Moravians? Funny you should ask…

While touring Old Salem, a history museum/attraction and a neighborhood in Winston-Salem, NC, last week, we learned the answer. Salem (which later joined with Winston) was settled by Moravians, a German-speaking religious sect, in 1766. They came from Pennsylvania to build on a 100,000-acre tract called Wachau, meaning stream and meadow.

When William Lemly decided to move his tiny bank from Salem to next-door Winston in 1879, he needed a new name. Voila: Wachovia, the English form of Wachau. Of course Wachovia will soon be but a banking memory when Wells Fargo finishes its takeover, but that’s another story.

Here’s what I most enjoyed about Old Salem, which re-creates life in the 18th and 19th centuries:

Home Moravian Church constructed in 1800

The whole area has a nice feel because the town, and Salem Academy and College, have grown around Old Salem, which makes it seem more authentic.

Several acres of gardens focus on heirloom plants, impressive when you have a tight budget and staff. Originally, each lot in the community of 300 Moravians included a garden. In the spring and fall, they grew cabbage, lettuce, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower; in summer, squash, okra, peppers, cucumbers, beans and peas. I can’t say it looked great in the dead of winter, but spring is around the corner!

The St. Philips complex includes the restores 19th-century church for black worshippers. Apparently the country’s largest community of black Moravians lives in Winston-Salem. The congregation now has a bigger, newer church, but still worships here on fifth Sundays and during special events. The brick church, from 1861, is the oldest standing African American church in NC. These days, a large number of Moravians internationally are black, with many congregations in Africa due to a long history of mission work.

God's Acre, burial ground of the Moravian Church since 1770

God’s Acre, a 1770 burial ground, is still in use. The evangelical Moravians organize their cemeteries in large squares reserved for “choir” groups within the congregation, and even today are separated by gender instead of family unit. No comment on that.

For folks who need more modern-day action, yes there are gift shops, dining options, and costumed interpreters playing such roles as gunsmith, pharmacist, potter, tailor, tinsmith, and baker.

The 1858 Coffee Pot marks the northern end of the historic district

The 1858 Coffee Pot was once used to advertise a tinsmith business and now graces the northern end of the historic district. That’s a lot of coffee.

The newish Visitor Center is quite impressive. Open since 2003, it contains a couple shops, very nicely done illustrated timelines, an auditorium, and a ticket area. We remarked that the woman handing us tickets and maps explained the layout and attractions to us as if we were the first people she’d ever shared this information with instead of the 2 millionth. Quite remarkable! She helped set the tone for a lovely day of yore.

2 Responses to “Old Salem, N.C., a Moravian miracle”

  1. karel Says:

    In the part ‘God’s Acres’ you mentioned a system of each member being buried in his own place. This made me think of the situation at ours during warship in former years.Namely that several (front-) seats in the church were reserved to (wealthy) people who had rented those.
    I can imagine that in a community were a bank could be raised, such a thing could happen. How about that?

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