Salem was founded in 1766 by the Moravians–a Protestant church that began in what is now known as the Czech Republic. The Moravians were missionaries who established an earlier settlement in Bethlehem, PA before beginning “Wachovia” in the North Carolina backcountry in 1753. In the Wachovia Tract of nearly 100,000 acres, Salem was the central administrative, spiritual, craft, and professional town surrounded by five outlying congregations.
The Moravian Church and Salem residents kept meticulous records and accounts of their lives, their interactions, their buildings and landscapes, and their evolution into the town of Winston-Salem. These records, diaries, documents, and accounts provide accurate details to tell the stories of those living and working in Salem during its long history. (In addition to Old Salem’s own collections and research library, two additional sources of materials are the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem and Bethlehem.)
Salem residents were also well respected for their architecture and attention to detail. The architecture and landscape of Salem are still quite accurate, as about three-quarters of the Historic Town buildings are original structures.
Salem was also known as a trades town because of the town’s production of essential goods like tools, ceramics, furniture, metals, and food. Today, costumed trades staff demonstrate life in the 1700s and 1800s by producing the same items using traditional eighteenth and nineteenth century practices.
From the tavern keeper to the doctor, the gunsmith to the boys’ schoolteacher, every person in Salem played a vital role. Today, visitors can interact with costumed staff members through engaging conversation and by participating in hands-on activities. Activities throughout the year include intricate paper cutting (called scherenschnitte), pottery, sewing, writing with quill pens, fireplace cooking, painting, and much more.