Renewal in Winston-Salem, NC
(As shown in the photo above, Winston-Salem, NC, has evolved from a tobacco and textile center to a place of arts and innovation.*)
Evolving From Tobacco & Textiles
To Arts, Heritage & Innovation
By Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher
Today's Winston-Salem is all about the arts, Colonial history, and a robust culinary scene. But really this North Carolina city — the state’s fifth largest — is about metamorphosis.
Gone from the downtown warehouses are the textile looms and cigarette manufacturing machines. Inside instead are galleries, boutiques, restaurants, lofts and condos. Formerly sketchy streets now thrive on creativity and vibrant nightlife
(The art scene is flourishing within Winston-Salem, as shown by this creative streetscape mural.*)
Today Winston-Salem's self-proclaimed moniker is “City of Arts and Innovation.”
Start with the Art
Located within NC's Piedmont region, Winston-Salem is home to one of the best American art collections in the Southeast thanks to the estate of tobacco baron R. J. Reynolds and his wife Katharine.
Reynolda House Museum of American Art (www.reynoldahouse.org), 2250 Reynolda Rd. is their former home. Built between 1912-1917 on the Reynolds' 1,067-acre farm -- at that time on the "outskirts" of the city -- this long, low home with white stucco walls and light green tile roof was Katharine Reynolds’ pride and joy.
The original home features a grand, two-story reception hall, the highlight of which is an Aeolian organ, its 2,566 pipes concealed in the attic and chambers off the hall’s surrounding gallery space.
One of the last of its kind, its excellent condition is appreciated daily as guests touring the home come to a stop where they are when the music begins.
A 3,000-square-foot gallery was added in 2005 for changing exhibitions and studio space.
Today Reynolda House (as shown in the photo at right*) is associated with Wake Forest University.
Visitors might view masterpieces by Mary Cassatt, Federic Edwin Church, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and Gilbert Stuart among others.
While we toured recently, our guide offered a decidedly different perspective of Church’s “The Andes of Ecuador,” (www.reynoldahouse.org/collections/object/the-andes-of-ecuador), a 48-by-76-inch, darkly hued canvas.
He handed us spyglass-like paper tubes from a basket so we could take in all the intricate detail of this massive work of art.
We were able to locate llamas grazing in the foreground, snowy peaks in the distance, a cross on a church, a waterfall and lake and even brightly colored birds in palm trees. Without the added “tunnel vision,” these features might have gone unnoticed.
Adjacent to the home are Reynolda Gardens (www.reynoldagardens.org). Here visitors may stroll through 100-year-old formal gardens and visit a greenhouse, conservatory and Reynolda Village (www.reynoldavillage.com) with dining, shopping and walking trails.
Within the village, you’ll find shops within historic structures.
For example, the eclectic Nekkid Dave’s Home Furnishings (www.nekkiddave.blogspot.com) was once a barn designed by Katherine Reynolds herself. (See photo above.*)
We loved the shop's antique cameras re-purposed as desk lamps as well as architect/owner David Hatcher’s old blueprints and sketches as ceiling art.
Hatcher, with a bright smile, encourages living “an unapologetic lifestyle with a southern edge.”
Up the road from Reynolda are more art gems with contrasting collections. Travelers might head for the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, or SECCA (www.secca.org) 750 Marguerite Dr., an affiliate of the N.C. Museum of Art.
Old Salem’s Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (www.mesda.org) 924 S. Main St., features reconstructions of colonial interiors from the 18th or early 19th century.
One artsy activity hasn't changed in the region, though. Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery has hosted the annual Piedmont Craftsmen Fair (www.piedmontcraftsmen.org) 601 N. Trade St., for 50 years in the heart of the downtown arts district.
(The Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery displays and sells high-quality artwork and artistic crafts.*)
This guild represents approximately 400 of the country’s finest artisans. Its annual fair showcases the works of about 120 qualified artists from across the southeastern U.S. Items range from hand-crafted jewelry to beautifully molded vases and sculptures.
History as the Drawing Card
(Fall is a colorful time in Old Salem, as shown in the photo above.*)
For many, history is a big draw for exploring Winston-Salem. One of the area's most beloved attractions is Old Salem Museum & Gardens, (www.oldsalem.org) 600 S. Main St.
It lies in the shadow of the city's modern downtown high-rise structures (as shown in the photo at left*)
Salem was founded in 1766 by the Moravians, a group of Protestant missionaries with roots in what's now known as The Czech Republic.
They had established a settlement in Bethlehem, PA, before starting "Wachovia" in North Carolina's back country. Salem was the administrative, spiritual, craft and professional town.
Dating to 1753, Old Salem Historic District with its Moravian architecture and heritage covers about 80 acres. It's certainly worthy of a full day's visit, but you can see and do a lot in a half-day as well.
What's neat? At some other historic sites, travelers often tour only reconstructed buildings rebuilt from foundations and plans, but not so with Old Salem.
Most structures here are original, many continually in use over the decades.
Old Salem’s museum buildings are interpreted by costumed staff (as shown in the photo at right*) eager to share the story and traditions of the hard-working and devout Moravians.
Built in 1800, the Home Moravian Church sanctuary still conducts worship services today, while the 150-year-old St. Philips, the first African-American Moravian church in America, is the state's oldest remaining African-American church building.
The Miksch Garden and House, built in 1771, is the first family-owned home in Old Salem and was one of America’s first tobacco shops.
At the Winkler Bakery (shown in the photo above*), which dates to 1800, bread is baked daily in the 19th-century ovens. Ultra-thin Moravian cookies—still a popular Christmas gift—come in an assortment of flavors.
One of the most popular stops on an Old Salem tour is the Single Brothers’ House (as shown in the photo at right.*)
Here visitors get a sense of the variety of trades the men practiced, plus what’s called the “choir system”— how the Moravians divided groups by age, gender and marital status.
Old Salem’s cemetery, God’s Acre, dates to 1770.
Burial here was not by family groups but instead by the same choir system. The cemetery's 4,000 graves have identical tombstones that lie flat on the ground, not upright, to depict equality.
While visiting the historic district, just keep in mind that some homes are privately owned and not open for touring, although a large number are.
Accommodations & Dining
(The living room of Graylyn Conference Center -- which also has a surprisingly upscale hotel -- is shown in the photo above.*)
If you’ve ever yearned to overnight like the elite, you’ll be surprised at what’s behind the doors of innocuous sounding Graylyn International Conference Center (www.graylyn.com) 1900 Reynolda Rd.
This address is far less “conference center” and far more elegant accommodation. Butlers (as shown at right*) greet guests in front of the stone manor house.
In all, 86 one-of-a-kind rooms await with very personalized service. If you can’t opt for a stay, you might take the "Tour Du Jour" (or tour of the day) with wine.
Graylyn is where Oprah Winfrey stays when in town to visit Dr. Maya Angelou.
The most requested room in the house, which can be for a meeting, socializing or dining, is a private mosque from Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) reconstructed on site.
Historic Brookstown Inn (www.brookstowninn.com) 200 Brookstown Ave., is literally next door to the Winston-Salem Visitor’s Center and it's within walking distance to Old Salem.
This restored cotton mill dates to 1837, but the exposed brick walls, high ceilings and wooden beams envelope you in modern-day comfort.
Accommodations feature fireplaces, rainforest showerheads and four-poster beds sporting Euro-plush, pillow-top mattresses.
You might even splurge for a two-level suite. (The living room area of one suite is shown in the photo at left.*)
We stayed at Historic Brookstown Inn on our visit to the city and encountered friendly travelers at both the complimentary continental breakfast and evening wine-and-cheese reception.
Editor's Tip: Definitely explore the inn's upper floor. You'll see a glass panel covers a brick-and-stone wall full of "historical graffiti" by the former mill workers.
Winston-Salem has a range of other accommodations options -- from quaint bed-and-breakfast inns to boutique hotels, from family-owned hotels to branded chains.
If you're staying at accommodations with cooking facilities between May and November, you might head to the Cobblestone Farmers Market (www.oldsalem.org/farmersmarket.html) for seasonal fresh produce.
(As shown above, a vendor sells fresh vegetables at Cobblestone Farmer's Market.*)
Run by mother-daughter duo Margaret and Salem Norfleet Neff, Cobblestone has been named by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best farmers markets in America. Several dozen vendors participate in the market, which opened in 2012.
It’s the place to see and be seen around town on a Saturday. There were as many dogs and strollers as adults the day we visited. You’ll also possibly run into the area’s top local chefs scouting out the greatest in farm-to-table, too -- folks like Chef Tim Grandinetti of Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen and Bar and Jared Keiper of the Tavern at Old Salem.
Between Thanksgiving and spring, also look for pop-up produce markets around town.
When it's time for a good meal, travelers have plenty of local choices at 250 area restaurants, 100 of those in the downtown district alone.
Sunday brunch is popular at the Tavern, (www.thetaverninoldsalem.ws), 736 S. Main St. Opened circa 1784, it's definitely historic. Yes, George Washington once slept here. Wait staff in colonial-era garb direct you to wooden tables set with pewter.
It’s the food, though, that keeps locals and visitors coming back. Try the Moravian Chicken Pie and Gravy and ask about the Syllabub, an 1800s dessert.
Opened in 2012, Spring House (www.springhousenc.com) , as the locals call it, operates within a century-old, restored mansion on Millionnaire's Row. It's a great example of the city's burgeoning culinary scene.
This restaurant serves progressive, southern-inspired cuisine with the emphasis on farm-to-table freshness. “We pride ourselves on gracious service and really soulful flavors,” says Chef Grandinetti, who appeared on “Chopped” on TV’s Food Network.
“We love Winston," he says. "We love where it is right now. We’re so hopeful for its future. I think it’s just the right place at the right time.”
Our rave-worthy Spring House dining experience included Gen. Tso’s Crispy Veal Sweetbreads, Chicken-Fried Foie Gras plus Crispy Fried Pork Belly.
Editor's Tip: Why not arrive in style? Camel City Carriage Company (www.camelcitycarriage.com) 871 W. 4th St., specializes in horse-drawn carriage tours of downtown and historic West End. Make a reservation in advance and the carriage will drop you at Spring House for dinner.
On another evening, we sampled the cuisine at Meridian, (http://meridianws.com) 411 Marshall St. South. It also offers delicious creations highlighting farm-to-fork.
If you want to hang with the locals and love huge portions, check out breakfast at Mary's Gourmet Diner downtown (www.breakfastofcourse.com) 723 Trade St. NW. Expect a line on weekends.
(The Tanglewood Festival of Lights, a favorite holiday tradition in Winston-Salem, is shown in the photo above.*)
If you’ll be in the Winston-Salem area around the holiday season, don’t miss the Tanglewood Festival of Lights (www.forsyth.cc/parks/tanglewood), 4061 Clemmons Rd, the largest holiday light show in the southeastern U.S, with more than one million LED lights.
Each year the festival draws an average of 250,000 visitors as the park’s rolling hills transform into a bright winter wonderland. (In the photo at right, a lighting display is shown behind a visitor enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.)
Another local holiday tradition is the UNC School for the Arts annual “Nutcracker” performances at the downtown Stevens Center (www.uncsa.edu/stevenscenter), 405 4th St. NW. It's a beautifully restored silent movie theater.
Old Salem is especially popular during the holidays for its candlelight tours, Moravian cookies from its historic bakery (great as gifts) and simple greenery-and-ribbon decor along the cobblestone streets lit by gas lanterns.
For More Information
Want more details about Winston-Salem area lodging, dining and attractions? Contact Visit Winston-Salem, the local convention and visitors bureau for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, at www.visitwinstonsalem.com.
Kathy M. Newbern and J.S. Fletcher, award-winning members of the Society of American Travel Writers, are a husband-wife writing team living in Raleigh, NC. They specialize in cruising, spas, romantic and luxury destinations plus travel in the southeastern U.S. Their worldwide travels inspire their other business, YourNovel.com, which offers personalized romance novels for couples.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Visit Winston-Salem, Old Salem and Kathy M. Newbern/J.S. Fletcher. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.