Destination: Old Salem Museums & Gardens
This historic destination in Winston-Salem features plenty of hands-on fun for kids, along with special programs for scouts, homeschoolers and others.Posted — Updated
When I asked them, our time inside Winkler Bakery was the first answer. Considering they are kids with some pretty serious sweet teeth, like their mother, it was no surprise. Here, they bake breads and sugar cake, the gooey, sweet Old Salem specialty, in a wood-fired dome bake oven. We tasted pieces of sugar cake and bread and took home some sweet treats for the ride home.
But then my little one piped up and added another favorite.
"The doctor's house," she said, from the back of the car. And why was this stately brick home, where you can tour an old fashioned apothecary and watch women cook and sew, a favorite?
"Because we watched the lady knit mittens and I got to try one on," she responded.
And that, in a nutshell, is why Old Salem is such a great road trip for families. Here, you walk through a collection of original and rebuilt historic buildings, once home to a Moravian settlement founded in 1766. Costumed interpreters guide you through some of the buildings. And, in every single case, they spoke with my kids, sharing a fun little tidbit or letting them touch or try on something special.
For decades now, Old Salem has attracted visitors from around the world to learn more about the early life of Moravians, who settled in what is now Winston-Salem in 1766. The Moravians are a Protestant group that started in what is now the Czech Republic. They first arrived in Bethlehem, Pa., before opening another settlement in North Carolina. It became a bustling down that served five other congregations, according to Old Salem's website.
Visitors walk through, for instance, the single brothers' house, where single boys and men lived; the doctor's house; a gun shop; churches; other homes; and a tavern where George Washington once spent a night or two.
The tour begins in Old Salem's large visitors center. There's a quick movie and other displays so you can orient yourself to the place and time.
Families can pick up a pamphlet at the center with a scavenger hunt for kids to complete during their visit. Here, kids can get a stamp for each item they find as they walk through the buildings. Once complete, they can turn in their hunt for a small prize. The Salem Sleuth pamphlets are available all summer and on weekends from September to May. They're best for preschoolers to tweens.
The houses that are part of the tour are mixed in with private homes and the private Salem Academy. It's not uncommon to see somebody walk down the street in 18th century garb while cars roll down the street.
Old Salem offers a variety of special events throughout the year, including seasonal events; days for homeschoolers, which are coming up in September; and programs for scouts, including one in November. There also is a slate of summer camps, which Darlee Snyder, director of education and outreach at Old Salem, tells me draw some kids from the Triangle.
In fact, she said, she's known a few families to make it a week-long vacation. They stay in a hotel for the week, sending the kids to a half-day camp at Old Salem in the morning and then touring the rest of the region in the afternoon, for instance.
Still, there's plenty to see here even if you aren't at Old Salem for a special event. Kids won't want to miss trying out the working water pump on the town square. The Heirloom Puppet Theater shows historical based puppet shows on select days in the Frank L. Horton Museum Center. And, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Old Salem offers hands-on activities that are perfect for kids, including writing with a quill pen, playing historic games in the square or taking a 19th century manners class.
And most of the buildings feature costumed crafters doing everything from making a gun by hand to cooking over an open fire or tending a garden.
If you go, also don't miss a visit to the building next to the St. Phillips African Moravian Church where you'll find some interactive displays and games. When we got there, a grandfather was having a great time teaching his grandkids how to play an old-fashioned game.
We spent about four hours at Old Salem. If you're looking to extend your visit to Winston-Salem, there's also the Children's Museum of Winston-Salem; SciWorks; the giant (and wonderful) Tanglewood Park in nearby Clemmons; and other historic sites, including the beautiful Reynolda House.
Tickets to Old Salem vary, but an all-in-one ticket is $23 for adults and $11 for kids ages 6 to 16. Kids 6 and under are free. You can get deals by purchasing your tickets in advance online. On Sunday, ticket prices are reduced to $18 for adults and $9 for kids.