Flower garden at Old Salem Museum and Gardens / photo: Old Salem Museums & Gardens

Flower garden at Old Salem Museum and Gardens / photo: Old Salem Museums & Gardens

By Marcia Levin

Did you ever Bank at Wachovia, wear Hanes textile products or enjoy a Krispy Kreme donut? Or smoke a major brand of cigarettes? Ever heard of Wake Forest University?

If you did, credit Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

July 4 celebration / photo: Old Salem Museums & Gardens

July 4 celebration / photo: Old Salem Museums & Gardens

Those major household names have their roots in that charming old Southern town that is, in fact, two cities: Winston and Salem, where history and arts, cuisine and wineries meld into an interesting destination.

Moravian Settlers

Salem’s origins can be traced to early Moravian settlers who more than 250 years ago left their Eastern European homes to farm the fertile land of central North Carolina.

The religious immigrants brought with them many skills including furniture making and tanning and made their home—the city they dubbed Salem—on an area of 100,000 acres called the Wachovia Tract.

Today in the in Old Salem Museums and Gardens you’ll learn plenty about these settlers. Walk-through museums feature furniture making, a bakery and more. Well-informed interpreters in traditional garb provide historical information in all the trade shops. In the Moravian Single Brothers House, be sure to see a working organ built in 1758. And, by the way, Moravian sugar cookies and ginger crisps are great take-home souvenirs from an old culture in the new South.

Joining the Cities

Reynolds / photo: Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Reynolds / photo: Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Just north of Salem, Winston was established in 1851 and named after a Revolutionary War hero and legislator, Major Joseph Winston. The cities joined forces – and became hyphenated – in 1913.

It was late in the 19th century that the R.J. Reynolds and Hanes families brought Winston into national prominence as an industrial center.

Today though, while the tobacco industry has greatly diminished in size and prestige and Wachovia has become part of Wells-Fargo, Krispy Kreme continues to survive (after all, who’d want to do away with donuts?) as does Wake Forest among ACC basketball fans.

Winston-Salem Today

At one time if you drove through Winston-Salem you inhaled tobacco smoke whether you wanted to or not. That’s now all a thing of the past.

These days Winston-Salem is a vibrant community with a rich multi-cultural heritage, outstanding Southern-accented restaurants, and fine hotels, a convention center, traditional homes and gardens and a thriving arts scene. A downtown center of high-rise buildings and busy roadways is impressive.

people in an art gallery

Reynolda gallery / photo: Reynolda House Museum of American Art

R.J. Reynolds – the folks who brought us Winston, Salem, and Camel cigarettes – has left the community a fantastic legacy of art at the magnificent Reynolda House Museum of American Art. It’s a must-see museum, home to an outstanding collection that includes works by Mary Cassatt, John Singleton Copley, Grant Wood, Jakob Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Reynolda was the Reynolds family home, and it is lovely. Built in 1917, It tells the love story of R.J. Reynolds and Katherine, his wife. The couple’s heirs have maintained the sprawling house and its amazing collection of art dating back to 1755. Be sure to see the fantastic family rec room in the basement.

Art abounds in Winston-Salem. The cities are also home to the University of North Carolina School of art, and MESDA, the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, as well as storefront galleries and workshops run by local artists.

Foodies Of The World, You’ll Love It

Southern cooking is a lot more than collard greens and bacon and in Winston-Salem it has been elevated to a kind of art form.

A local favorite / photo: Visit Winston-Salem

A local favorite / photo: Visit Winston-Salem

Consider breakfast at Sweet Potatoes, where locals and tourists alike line up to get a table for servings of eggs and grits, sweet potato biscuits, and pancakes, oh my!

Another super breakfast place is Mary’s Gourmet Diner in the downtown historic arts district where the stone-ground grits are unbelievably good and the hot-sauced biscuits remarkable.

Lunch in town is a big deal at the Tavern in Old Salem where the Moravian chicken pie is traditionally the most popular item on the menu.

Dinners throughout town offer everything from late-day Southern fare (fried tomatoes, for example,) at Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro (www.mozelles.com) or on an elegant level, at Graylyn Manor, a super hostelry.

Old Salem Tavern / photo: Old Salem

Old Salem Tavern / photo: Old Salem

Winston-Salem offers all the name brand hotels, with a Kimpton about to make its debut. Graylyn Manor (www.graylyn.com) has hosted Oprah Winfree, late Dr. Maya Angelou, and past Presidents Jimmy Carter and the late Gerald Ford. Owned and operated by Wake Forest University, the beautiful estate and gardens were the historic home of Bowman Gray, son of the Wachovia co-founder. Gray was a former president of R. J Reynolds Tobacco Co. Graylyn is a wonderful example of gracious southern living.

Wine and…

The Yadkin Valley, outside Winston-Salem, is home to several new wineries featuring some pretty good wines. These include Childress Vineyards, Sanders Ridge Winery, and Divine Llama Vineyards.

man working in a vineyard

Harvest at a local vineyard / photo: VisitNC.com

Divine Llama Vineyards also feature 60 llamas available for trekking. (Treks are not offered during the summer months.) The gentle animals are friendly, and the wines include a variety of reds and whites. At Divine, several offerings are named for llamas: Mustang Sally, In a Heartbeat and Red Rita Rose.


A retired tax attorney, Brent Peters, opened a chocolate factory, Black Mountain Chocolate and starts with the bean, finishing with the bar.

Visitors tour the facility, enjoy the chocolate-making process and maybe coming away with a bar or two.

Winston-Salem can be very sweet!

If you go:

Winston-Salem Visitor Center
200 Brookstown Avenue
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Tel: (336) 728-4200

Old Salem Visitor Center
900 Old Salem Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Tel: (336) 721-7300

Reynolda House Museum of American Art
2250 Reynolda Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27106
Tel: (336) 758.5150