Who would have guessed that Winston-Salem is a great vacation
destination for grandparents and their grandchildren?
With a population in excess of 235,000, several college
campuses, an active arts scene, an array of great restaurants
and a collection of fun attractions, Winston-Salem, located in
the center of North Carolina (the Piedmont Triad), has vitality,
charm and ample diversions for older and younger generations to
Few of us know much about Moravian history and culture. Are
Moravians as aloof and stone-faced as the Pennsylvania Amish
seem to be? No. At kid-friendly Old Salem Museums & Gardens (a
Winston-Salem historic district), you'll discover that Moravians
are warm, outgoing and welcoming, and their customs are
Old Salem Museums and Gardens
In the 1700s,
Protestants living in what is now the Czech Republic founded the
Moravian denomination. Many of them made their way to
Pennsylvania and eventually to Winston-Salem, where they settled
on a tract called Wachovia. Theirs was a hard-working,
industrious and close-knit community. It still is.
Moravians have always believed that men and women are equal.
They refer to each other as Sister or Brother. Indicative of
their sense of order, their hillside burial ground, God’s Acre,
is composed of sections called “squares,” with married men and
widowers buried in one square; married women and widows buried
in another square; and single men, single women, boys and girls
buried in their designated squares.
An 18th-century home in Old Salem
Old Salem, a National Historic Landmark District, is a living
history museum. Artists come here to paint outdoor scenes like
the gardens and the vintage wood and brick buildings, but even
an old water pump or a doll that a Moravian craftswoman
fashioned from pine reeds, may get captured on canvas. That’s
part of Old Salem’s appeal.
An artist captures Old Salem on canvas
Moravian dolls made from pine reeds
Many of the homes are open for tours. Inside, costumed men and
women work at various trades – tailoring, baking, blacksmithing,
shoemaking, etc. A young man, dressed as a Moravian, sits
pow-wow style and guides a sewing needle into white cotton
material. He is sewing a sleeve onto the shirt he is making.
A cooking demonstration at Old Salem
At the Single Brothers’ house (ca. 1769) visitors can view
pottery and woodworking demonstrations, and at another house, a
woman wearing Moravian attire gives a cooking demonstration. She
explains that the whisk she is using is one that she made from
short reeds she tied with copper wire. That’s how Moravian women
made whisks long ago.
Your grandkids will want to linger at Winkler Bakery, a wildly
popular business since 1800. Here, Sister Nancy, a cheerful,
chatty, middle-aged woman wearing a cap on her head and an apron
over her long dress, sells goodies freshly baked in an oven that
is heated with wood, just as it was 200 years ago.
The aroma of those newly-baked desserts is tantalizing, and
while Grandma may have her eye on that beautiful loaf of bread,
her grandchildren will be hungering for the Moravian cookies and
sugar cakes which, frankly, taste heavenly. How can any child
resist when Sister Nancy holds out a tray filled with goodies
and asks, “Would you like a cookie? Go ahead. Have two.” (I
doubt that grandparents could resist, either.)
Sister Nancy at the entrance to
Winkler's Bakery in
Sugar cake for sale at Winkler's bakery in Old Salem.
When kids wander through the public gardens of Old Salem, they
grasp that the herbs and crops that Moravians grew here long
ago, were meant for sustenance. At The Tavern in Old Salem,
built in 1816 as an annex to a 1784 tavern (George Washington
slept there), the wait-staff wears Moravian attire while serving
locally-farmed food inspired by 19th-century Moravian
families’ recipes. The Moravian chicken pie is a popular entrée.
When kids tour the two dozen galleries in Old Salem’s Museum of
Early Southern Decorative Arts, they see furniture, textiles and
ceramics that Southern artists and craftsmen made long before
the Civil War took place.
These exhibits help children to understand that in an era before
the Industrial Revolution, before supermarkets and department
stores, people had to be self-sufficient in order to survive,
not only by growing their own food, but by making their own
clothing and household goods. In that sense, Old Salem is a
wonderful educational experience.
Just for fun, bring the grandkids to Mast General Store, an
old-time mercantile shop founded in 1883. Watch them bypass the
gear, clothing and footwear and beeline for the children’s
games, toys, books, dolls and stuffed animals, and the barrels
overflowing with more than 500 current and old-fashioned
At SciWorks, there are planetarium shows plus exhibits that
expose young visitors to the principles of motion and force. One
exhibit introduces kids to architectural design.
Remember Tom Hanks dancing on huge piano keys set into the floor
in the movie “Big”? Your grandkids have the same opportunity at
the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem. They can also climb a
“beanstalk,” peer at glass-enclosed fish and wildlife and pack
and move Krispy Kreme doughnuts along a conveyor belt in the
child-size doughnut factory. (Winston-Salem is headquarters for
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc.)
Speaking of something sweet, at Black Mountain Chocolate in the
city’s Downtown Arts District, you and your grandchildren can
observe the entire chocolate-making process from cacao bean to
chocolate bar, and then reward yourselves with a yummy
A bar of Black Mountain Chocolate
Winston-Salem is the gateway to the Yadkin Valley, North
Carolina’s wine-growing region, so head to Divine Llama
Vineyards in nearby East Bend. Your grandkids won’t be sampling
wines in the tasting room, but they’ll be excited, and so will
you, by going on a llama trek with a llama -- a leisurely
two-mile hike along pasture and vineyard.
(for more on
llama trekking at Divine Llama Vineyards
The llamas are not skittish. Some of them literally get in your
face, an innocent, funny gesture of curiosity and friendliness.
They look like camels except that they’re cute and furry, and
they like being patted. This is one adventure that grandparents
and grandkids will long remember.
up close and personal with a llama
Where to stay in Winston-Salem? Try something wonderfully
different. Book a room at the Graylin Estate, formerly the
residence of Bowman Gray, who was the son of a co-founder of
Wachovia. Gray was
president of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
Gray’s Norman Revival-style limestone home was designed to
resemble a British manor house. Built circa 1932, and surrounded
by sprawling grounds, it is now an 86-guestroom conference
center-hotel with Medieval Period, Georgian Revival-style and
Italian Renaissance décor and Louis XIV paneling. No wonder
Oprah Winfrey stayed at Graylin.
Graylin has perks for its pint-size guests. They can frolic at
the pool or rent bikes to pedal around the pathways. Best of
all, they’ll enjoy those pre-bedtime trips to the 24-hour snack
kitchen for the complimentary stash of puddings, ice creams and
Biking around Graylin with the grandkids
Graylin is reminiscent of a castle, right down to the knight in
the front hall – okay, it’s just a suit of armor – but I suspect
that Graylin is where Auntie Mame would choose to stay with her
young nephew Patrick if she were visiting Winston-Salem with
him. Think of Graylin as exposing your grandchildren to the good
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