In early April, my boyfriend and I went to Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Old Salem is a historic town that was founded by the Moravian Church in 1766. Today it is a living history museum that uses interactive displays and costumed interpreters to show what life would have been like in the town form the mid 1700’s to early 1800’s. In their mission statement they say, “Old Salem Museums & Gardens presents an authentic view of the rich cultural history of early Southern life to diverse audiences—with special emphasis on the Moravians in North Carolina—through the preservation and interpretation of historic objects, buildings, and landscapes.”
When we arrived, there was a farmer’s market was going on. People from the local area came to sell their wares, which really fit the atmosphere of the old town. Like many house museums, creating events like these helps to keep them going. The museum seems to have something happening every weekend to pull people in and keep people coming back for more. From their “quilting frolic” to “blacksmith apprentice day” the museum offers a program that will be of interest to everyone.
Old Salem Museum has really embraced the idea of hands on learning. They have signs that say “please touch” on numerous activities and objects. In the Single Brothers House, we were encouraged to sit on the furniture and could even lay on the beds! It almost felt wrong for me to do so. It was such a strange experience, because I’ve been taught you don’t touch things in a museum, but interacting with the objects really engages the visitor and makes for a more memorable experience. This is also great for kids, the museums target audience, who want to touch everything anyway.
A ticket is only necessary to go into the visitor center and house museums, other than that anyone can just walk though the town. There is still an active Moravian church, a college right off the town square, and people live in private residences throughout the town. The town is a mix of modern and historic. Modern in use. Historic in structure.
The museum uses costumed historical interpreters to convey information about the town. The above left show a cook in the taverns kitchen and the above right shows the doctor in one of the front rooms of his house.
The tavern was one of my favorite buildings to tour because this is where President George Washington stayed when we visited Salem in the June of 1791. I got to walk on the same floor boards as George Washington!
I really enjoyed my time at Old Salem Museums and Gardens and would definitely go back. I loved their use of music in their programs, as music was a very large part of everyday Moravian life. I really enjoyed their hands-on experiences and got to try medicinal dandelion tea at the Doctors house. I truly got a little taste of what life was like for the people who lived in the Moravian settlement village of Old Salem.