Winston-Salem is the county seat of Forsyth County, and is in the fifth largest city in the state of North Carolina. With over two hundred and thirty thousand people calling it home, it is no wonder that Winston-Salem is a bustling metropolis. Winston-Salem has five different sister cities from around the world: Ungheni in Moldova, Kumasi in Ghana, Nassau in the Bahamas, Shanghai in China, and Buchanan in Liberia. Winston-Salem enjoys a very hot and humid subtropical climate, with short mild winters, and very hot summers. The amount of snowfall during the year is absolutely minimal, if at all. This makes it a popular place for people to live.
Winston-Salem has many popular nicknames, and all of them reveal its rich and exciting history. Known to many as ‘Twin City’, because of its double heritage and history, Winston-Salem is fast becoming better known as ‘City of the Arts and Innovation’ because of the commitment of its citizens to fine arts and theatre. The involvement of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the area has led the city to be known as ‘Camel City’, after the famous cigarettes that they produced. Since 1772, a celebration of Easter occurs within Salem Square. It is a sunrise service, and draws thousands of people from all around the local area to the city to celebrate this Christian festival. This festival has given another nickname – that of the Easter City. However, locals to the area just make things simple, and call it Winston.
Obviously, Winston-Salem did not start out as one single town, which means that residents of the city have two distinct and interesting histories to learn about. Salem was originally founded at the beginning of 1753. The area over time became increasingly popular, and by 1759 it was clear that another site needed to be developed to house the expanding population. No one could decide exactly where the new town should be, so instead of having to make this decision, the residents drew lots to see which site would be developed. A name was chosen to reflect the calm nature of the area: Salem is a derivative of a Hebrew word, shalom, meaning peace. It wasn’t until 1766 that the first tree was felled to begin building Salem, and the layout was a basic square. For many years, only members of the Moravian Church within the town were permitted to live there, as the Church itself owned all of the property, but this way of doing it ended with the American Civil War. It is still possible to see some of the original buildings of the town of Salem if you want to – they are in Old Salem Museums and Gardens.
It was not until 1849 that the congregation of Salem decided to part with some of their land. They sold a portion of it to the new Forsyth County, so that the County seat could be built there. Until 1852, the new settlement was simply called the county town, but it was eventually renamed Winston in honor of Joseph Winston. A local man, Joseph Winston gained much fame through his heroic actions during the Revolutionary War. For many years, Winston was a small and quiet town, but in 1868, work began to connect it to the North Carolina Railroad. This completely altered the way that the town worked, with the railway bringing with it a large number of new people and businesses within the small town.
The expansion that Winston underwent meant that it was brought closer and closer to its neighbor, Salem. By the 1880s, the post office realized that to make addressing post to that area easier, they would term it Winston-Salem. This became highly controversial, and eventually in 1913 a referendum was carried out to discover the public’s views on the new name. It was decided that the two towns would officially merge to become a city, and would be known as Winston-Salem.
In a strange turn of events, Winston became very popular for tobacco factories; by the 1880s there were close to forty different tobacco factories up and running. The 1940s brought with it the information that close to 60% of people living and working in Winston-Salem were working for either Reynold’s tobacco factory, or the Hanes textile factories. In fact, Winston-Salem was importing such large quantities of French cigarette paper and Turkish tobacco to make the cigarettes that it was recognized by the United States of America government as an official port – forgetting perhaps that the city is more than two hundred miles from the coast! The high level of smoking that went on in the city, thankfully, has diminished over time, but that has not stopped many residents investing in health insurance to make sure that they are covered. This attitude is supported by the large Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in the city, which is the highest employer of residents in the area.
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There are many companies today that survive and thrive in Winston-Salem. Wachovia Bank and Trust, established in 1911, is still running and successful, as is the Hanes family business. Texas Pete, the sauce that is so popular throughout America, is still produced in a Winston-Salem factory, and Krispy Kreme opened their first stall in this wonderful city. Other brands that you may recognize, but didn’t realize originated in Winston-Salem, include Shell Oil Company, Miller’s Clothing, and Piedmont Airlines. Many of these companies have recognized their Winston-Salem roots by keeping their headquarters in the city, keeping the city solvent and successful through many different economic dips.
One particularly wonderful piece of information about Winston-Salem that very few people actually know is based on the Reynolds Building. Yet again another influence of the Reynolds cigarette family, it was built in 1929 and designed by William F. Lamb. It has been heralded as one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of the country, and was a huge influence in the creation of the Empire State Building that was built in New York in 1931. The influence is so strong, moreover, that every year the members of staff that work at the Empire State Building send a Father’s Day card to all of those people that work at the Reynolds Building!
There are many amazing attractions within the city of Winston-Salem which, if you are visiting, you simply cannot miss. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts features highly detailed reconstructions of early colonial interiors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Old Salem is an area which has re-created the original Moravian settlement of Salem for visitors to wander through and explore, featuring village hosts that are trained as tinsmiths, cobblers, bakers, and carpenters, that sell their wares whilst talking to visitors, making it seem incredibly real! However, if something a little more recent is what you fancy, then you will love SciWorks. This ‘museum’ is actually an interactive play area for children to learn more about the world that they live in, and even try out some experiments! This contains a planetarium and environmental park, as well as permanent exhibits such as PhysicsWorks, BioWorks, and KidsWorks. A must see for children and adults alike, all can enjoy the fun and games of this attraction – and you may even find that your children learn something accidentally!
Winston-Salem has been called the ‘City of the Arts’, and there are many reasons why. It was the location of the first arts council in the United States of America, beginning all the way back in 1949. There are many art galleries and theatres throughout the city, as well as many workshops that are open to members of the public to try their hand at something new. Art festivals that happen in Winston-Salem include the National Black Theatre Festival, the RiverRun International Film Festival, and the Reynolda Film Festival. If music is more your style, then you will be able to luxuriate in the presence of Carolina Music Ways, which is a developing arts organization that is keen to bring together talented and (so far) unrecognized musicians that bridge differing music traditions, from bluegrass to gospel to traditional Moravian music. Whatever it is that you love, you will certainly find something to love and enjoy in Winston-Salem.
Many famous people have lived in and loved Winston-Salem: from Ed Berrier the NASCAR driver, to Ramin Bahrani the director and screenwriter; from Jennifer Ehle the actress to Ben Folds the singer songwriter; and from Jill Wagner to Richard Burr. All of these people claimed Winston-Salem as their own, and were proud to be connected to this city. Why not come and see what all of the fuss is about, and visit Winston-Salem for yourself? We can guarantee that you will not be disappointed in the beauty and majesty of this city – the city that refuses to be defined by just one nickname, and the city that has the best of calm city living, and a wild exciting side.
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