Take a Journey Back in Time
Restored - not rebuilt - Old Salem Museum and Gardens shows modern day visitors how everyday life has evolved and perfectly bonds with the 21st century.
First, a common misunderstanding needs to be corrected. Old Salem Museum and Gardens is not a miniaturized version of Colonial Williamsburg.
The latter is a venerated Virginia museum offering insight into America’s colonial past. Mention Old Salem and one phrase is repeated proudly by the residents of this hilly Moravian town, begun in 1766.
“Williamsburg had to rebuild, all we had to do was restore.”
The difference is felt immediately when your feet hit the uneven brick sidewalk. Here the historic area merges seamlessly with modern life. While anyone can roam the streets for free, a ticket is required for entrance into any of the four distinctly different museums and some of the historic area’s buildings. All can be found in less than a two-mile radius.
Among Old Salem’s highly respected facilities is MESDA (The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts). Walk through 24 decorated rooms and a series of galleries and discover the talents of seven southern states’ artisans of the late 17th to early 19th century. See how the elegance of a Low Country home from South Carolina contrasts with the rough hewn yet still highly crafted furnishings of an Appalachian mountain cabin. Folk art and fine art define the lifestyles of the past through ceramic, textiles, paintings, furniture and more.
Back on the streets of the historic area it is an easy and enjoyable sojourn to the past.
Among treasured stopping points are St. Phillips, the state’s oldest African-American church building, the Single Brothers and Single Sisters Halls and the various trade shops. At the shoemaker’s you will learn, from a period costumed demonstrator, the cost of a single pair of shoes could be up to a week’s salary in the 1800s.
John Volger’s home demonstrates how a skilled 19th century silversmith began to appreciate the speed of services offered by the Industrial Revolution. Over the years, Brother Volger began selling less of his own creations and more of manufactured works from Philadelphia. One of his handmade items, however, still inspires romantics. A ring, crafted for his wife, features two clasped hands with the inscription “with God and thee, my joy shall be.”
Throughout the day, a number of demonstrations are offered in the historic area. Ranging from paper-cutting (called Scherenschnitte), quill pen writing, puppet shows to open fire cooking – questions, from all ages, are encouraged.
The Tannenberg Organ dates back to 1800 and remains the largest surviving organ created by the renowned 18th and 19th century organ builder David Tannenberg. To organ aficionados, Tannenberg’s name ranks high with Steinway and Stradivarius. Following its 15-year restoration, after being forgotten in various local attics, the organ’s mighty bellows and pipes once again enable the magnificent instrument to fill the air with inspirational music.
An all time favorite stop while in Old Salem is Winkler Bakery. A beehive oven continually offers fresh breads, cakes or of course the famed ginger infused Moravian cookies. Treat yourself, and others, to the delicious taste of Old Salem.
For more Moravian fare, stop by The Tavern in Old Salem. Here time slows to a leisurely pace, and the costumed wait staff serve locally farmed food. Don't be shy, visit with your fellow diners and you might just discover locals with some interesting insights on Old Salem.
By Linda J. Bottjer
added: December 12, 2008
updated: January 18, 2013
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