Friday, October 24, 2014

Old Salem

When I first moved to Winston-Salem years ago my impression of the city centered on it’s rich tobacco heritage being the home of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.  I knew nothing of Old Salem or the Moravian people that lived and worked there nearly two centuries ago.  It wasn’t long after I moved here and several people had asked me if I had been to Old Salem that my curiosity got the best of me.  What I found I fell in love with and have made it a point to return often.  Some 400,000 people visit Old Salem each year so it stands to reason that I am not alone in my feelings.
There is something special about the South when it comes to preserving history.  As a people we tend to cling to tradition and memories of the past.  It’s one of our finest virtues.  The Moravian Church, which founded Salem in 1766, can trace its roots beginning in Bohemia and Moravia, the two states of the present day Czech Republic.  Their doctrine was based upon a simple life based on the teachings of Christ.  However dissidence with the Roman Catholic Church led to persecution so that by the early 1700’s the church was greatly weakened.  Many immigrated to Germany where under the leadership of the Count of Zinzendorf the town of Herrnhut was built and the church renewed. 
Moravian missionaries were sent out from Herrnhut and upon reaching America a settlement was attempted in Savannah, Georgia but failed.  The people moved on and successfully established what would become the nucleus of the church’s work in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  In 1753 land was purchased in North Carolina and the building of Bethabara began.  Nearby, the town of Salem began in 1766 and it soon became the central town for the Moravian’s commercial and religious efforts in the South.
There are some 90 carefully restored and reconstructed buildings in Old Salem ranking it among the most authentic restorations in the United States.  Many of the houses are private residences but 12 are open to the public.  In addition to the buildings there are more than 17 gardens that have been reconstructed. 
While there is a modest admission fee to tour the buildings there is no cost to simply park and walk around the town, which is an adventure in itself.  Favorite stops involving no cost include the Winkler Bakery where you will watch them bake bread as they did two hundred years ago.  There are items for purchase such as flour, corn meal, cookies, cheese petites and sugar cake.  Wander further down Main Street and you will come upon T. Bagge Merchant a gift shop offering items too numerous to mention here.  To visit the store and leave empty handed is no easy task. 
There is a peacefulness and serenity exhibited throughout the town.  No trip is not complete without a walk through God’s Acre.  This Moravian graveyard is most noted for the Easter Sunrise Services that are held there each year.  The members are separated by choirs, a term referring to age, sex, and marital status.  There are separate plots for boys, single men and married men, and for girls, single women and married women.  The simple stones, which are almost identical, are symbolic of the Moravian belief that all are equal in death.  After spending some time in this serene community I believe people were equal in life as well.
Until next time...


Post a Comment

<< Home