Wachovia: so much more than a bank

On Veterans Day, while much of the country was buried by an early winter storm, I took advantage of the sun and temperatures hovering delightfully in the 70s to learn more about North Carolina history.

Welcome to Old Salem.

Welcome to Old Salem.

I became obsessed with Colonial Williamsburg when I was 12, after being swept away while reading A Haunting in Williamsburg. (Amazon says of the book: “The narrative is marred by mannered dialogue and brief time-travel transitions that come out of nowhere. Moreover, some plot elements are convoluted and far-fetched, even for a ghost story. The novel overall is short on thrills and unlikely to hold readers’ interest.”. Huh.  Apparently I, as a 12-year-old, could be seduced by anything with a binding, a front and back cover, and words in between.)

So when I heard about Old Salem I knew I had to go.

Old Salem is a restored, historic town–with historical reenactors!–settled by the Moravians, a group of Protestants who moved into central North Carolina in the 1750s. The Moravians, who were originally from what is now the Czech Republic, named the region around Salem Wachovia. (So, no, Wachovia isn’t just a bank. And isn’t a bank anymore anyway.) The Moravians placed a strong emphasis on work and communal living . . . which is not to say they knew better than to own slaves.

On this particular sunny morning, I dropped Sasso off at daycare, drove an hour and 20 minutes to Winston-Salem, bought an all-in-one ticket, providing access to all of the historic buildings in Old Salem and MESDA (the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts), picked up a map, and crossed the bestarred covered bridge into Old Salem. First I checked in at MESDA to schedule a tour (the exhibits at MESDA are open only with a tour guide), then I began a leisurely stroll up the main street to see what there was to see.

Like atmospheric old signs:

Cool ceramic stoves:

And rifles:

My first stop was the Salem Tavern Museum, the hotel where non-Moravian visitors, including George Washington, stayed when they visited Salem:

In the kitchens of the Salem Tavern Museum, a reenactor discussed what it took to make a cup of coffee in the 1750s.  The beans would have been shipped from Africa, roasted for 45 minutes over an open fire, ground by hand, and finally brewed, also over an open fire, usually with cream.  Rather than being a delicious daily pick-me-up, coffee for the Moravians was a luxury experienced once a year at the Christmas love feast. (“Love” is an appropriate name for the one feast during a year where you can get coffee!)

After exploring the Salem Tavern Museum, I tried to give my stomach a history lesson at the Tavern in Old Salem–an actual functioning restaurant serving the type of food the residents of Old Salem would have eaten–but every other visitor to Old Salem was already in line.  So I poked my way up the street to the Winkler Bakery.

After a quick lunch in the square at the center of Old Salem, I wandered through the Miksch House gardens . . .

. . . and the Single Brothers’ house.  The Moravians lived in “choirs” based on age and marital status.  This was the house for young, unmarried men.

Next it was time for my tour of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.


Sadly (for me, but not the old furniture and textiles), photography is not permitted inside the museum.  The museum was constructed in the 1960s from a repurposed old grocery store, into a series of galleries incorporating not just historic furniture and textiles but also architectural elements from old buildings, like fireplace mantels and miniature doorways. I very much enjoyed the tour and gaping at the old stuff and recommend it highly to anyone who, like me, has a bit of an obsession with crafts or history.

I ended my trip through early Southern history at the Camino Bakery in downtown Winston-Salem, sipping a delicious, delicious Mason jar full of sweet tea.


On a sugar high and ready to start the drive home.

Before I go, a final reminder:  There is a cost to historical preservation.  Historical preservation prioritizes one point in history over all others, picking winners and losers and imposing a particular viewpoint on history.

In reconstructing 1750s Salem, this historic site was leveled.

In reconstructing 1750s Salem, this historic site was tragically leveled.


6 thoughts on “Wachovia: so much more than a bank

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