Old Salem Museums and Gardens

Old Salem Museums and Gardens

Old Salem Museums and Gardens

Old Salem is a restored, not rebuilt, town, where buildings bear the ambience and authenticity of honest-to-goodness history. You can feel the difference the second you step on the uneven brick sidewalk and pass by centuries-old structures. In the Town of Salem, the historic area merges seamlessly with modern life. People still live here and anyone can roam the streets for free, but you’ll want to buy a ticket to visit Old Salem’s four distinctly different museums and some of the historic area’s buildings.

The Moravians who settled Salem were persecuted Protestants who left what is now the Czech Republic and first settled in Bethlehem, Pa. In the mid-18th century, they moved south to central North Carolina and settled a 99,000-acre tract of land they called “Wachovia." Moravians still thrive in the area, and Home Moravian Church still holds services and Christmas love feasts for its 21st century congregation in the historic district of Old Salem.

During your visit to Old Salem, you can discover the talents of Southern artisans from the 1670s to the early 19th century at MESDA (The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts). Walk through 12 gallery rooms and see how the elegance of a Lowcountry home from South Carolina contrasts with the rough-hewn, yet highly crafted furnishings of an Appalachian mountain cabin. Displays of folk art and fine art define the lifestyles of the past through ceramic, textiles, paintings, furniture, metal crafts and more.

As you explore the historic district, you can see the restored 1861 St. Philips African Moravian Church, the oldest standing African-American church in North Carolina, the Single Brothers’ Workshop and Single Sisters’ Halls, and the shops of various trades. You may see people working as joiners, potters, tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths/pewterers, gunsmiths, apothecaries/doctors and gardeners.

The Gardens at Old Salem feature open-pollinated heirlooms, with a core mission of seed saving. From the Miksch family backyard garden to the expansive Single Brothers’ Garden, Old Salem’s award-winning restorations will inspire ideas for your own garden.

You can also take in a wide variety of demonstrations, ranging from paper-cutting (called Scherenschnitte) and quill pen writing, to puppet shows and open-fire cooking. The Old Salem Visitor Center is home to the Tannenberg Organ, the largest surviving organ created by the renowned 18th and 19th century organ builder David Tannenberg. Following its 15-year restoration, the organ’s mighty bellows and pipes once again enable the magnificent instrument to fill the air with inspirational music.

Winkler Bakery is an all-time favorite stop for visitors. A beehive oven bakes fresh breads, cakes and distinctive ginger-infused Moravian cookies. The Tavern in Old Salem features costumed servers and delicious locally farmed food.

Linda Bottjer contributed to this story

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