A History of Winston-Salem, North Carolina


Wake Forest University - Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Wake Forest University first opened February 3, 1834 by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina as the Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute; it was located in its namesake town of Wake Forest. In 1838, it was renamed to Wake Forest College. In 1894, the School of Law was established, followed by the School of Medicine in 1902. The university held its first summer session in 1921.

The School of Medicine moved to Winston-Salem in 1941 and became the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. The following year, 1942, Wake Forest admitted its first women undergraduate students. In 1956, as a result of large endowments from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the rest of the college also moved to Winston-Salem.

A graduate studies program was inaugurated in 1961, and in 1967 the school became the fully accredited Wake Forest University. The Babcock Graduate School of Management was established in 1969. In 1986, the university became independent of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. In 1995, the business school was renamed to the Wayne Calloway School of Business and Accountancy, while in 1997 the medical school was renamed to the Wake Forest School of Medicine. The Wake Forest Divinity School opened its doors in 1999.


The Moravians settled Salem in 1766. They believed in hard work and also fostered appreciation for the arts, music, and quality craftsmanship. These traits continued for years to be handed down with each generation. The nearby town of Winston was founded in 1849 as an industrial tobacco and textile community. Winston reaped the benefits of the Moravian values and their sharing attitudes. The two communities voted to merge in 1913 and their combined talents and accomplishments made Winston-Salem a strong and thriving city. Winston-Salem became the county seat of Forsyth County that same year.
The roots of the city can be traced to 1766 when Moravian settlers carved the town of Salem from the Carolina wilderness. The Moravians, a devout Protestant sect who immigrated to the New World from central Europe, established Salem as a trade and crafts center. They were industrious artisans who made their wares – pottery, cloth, guns – with great pride. Music was part of their religious services and their everyday lives. Their love of the arts created a legacy of appreciation for art, crafts, and music evident in Winston-Salem today.

The Moravians’ religious traditions–such as the Easter sunrise service–have become community institutions and attract thousands of visitors each year to the restored village of Old Salem.

In the late 1800s the city of Winston was established as the county seat one mile north of Salem Square. By 1913, growth of the two towns had closed the gap between them, and the "Twin City" was created. Today both the arts and industry flourish in a community eager to preserve its heritage.


1st Forsyth County Court House in Winston, NC - circa 1855

Winston-Salem is a pleasant city of 229,617 (2010) people–large enough to afford the pleasures of city life without the discomforts. Trees shade the sloping streets, and rose-covered fences border major highways. Many older neighborhoods have been renovated, providing comfortable housing in areas close to the Medical Center and downtown.

The city’s downtown area is also undergoing revitalization. The Stevens Center for the performing Arts and the Sawtooth Center for Visual Arts form the core of a downtown Art District that is bringing people back to the center city. And plans are underway for a restaurant/music district reminiscent of Beale Street in Memphis.

The city is located in the piedmont section of North Carolina. The word "piedmont" means "foot of the mountain" and is an apt geographic term. The Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest federal park, is only an hour’s drive to the west; skiing on the longest run south of the Catskills is only an hour farther; and, for the fisherman, trout abound in the streams of Western North Carolina. Sand, sun and surf on the Carolina coast, one of the nation’s best, is an afternoon’s drive away. But there are opportunities near at hand to enjoy nature. Winston-Salem has many small and large parks.


When Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenberg arrived at Muddy Creek in January of 1753, he deserved a rest. Sent by the Moravian Church to find land for a settlement, he headed west from Edenton, North Carolina, and spent a tortuous 3-1/2 months locating a site, nearly dying of malaria in Granville County, nearly freezing to death near Boone. Today, most people would judge his efforts worth the hardship. He christened the tract on Muddy Creek Der Wachau - Wachovia. It was the future site of Winston-Salem.

The people who followed came by an easier route. The Moravians who built Salem came from the north on the Great Wagon Road. R. J. Reynolds, the man who built Winston-Salem, came from the north, too, 120 years after the Moravians.

A local writer once said the moving forces behind the hyphenated city were "the Salem conscience and the Winston purse." The Moravians established a tradition of diligence, resourcefulness, piety, and charity. The city's capitalists - chief among them the Reynolds, Hanes, and Gray families - built the greatest industrial center south of Richmond and east of Mississippi. Wachovia Bank and Trust Company grew into one of the best-run banks in the country. P. H. Hanes Knitting Company became the nation's greatest producer of knitwear. R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company imported so much cigarette paper and tobacco that Winston-Salem - 200 miles inland - was declared a port of entry. During its heyday, the company paid its local taxes by delivering a truckload of money to the court house steps - daily.


2nd Forsyth County Court House - Winston-Salem, NC - circa 1902

"Winston-Salem: A History," by Frank Tursi, tells about the city's personalities: Marshall Kurfees, the persistent politician; Simon Green Atkins, who educated the African-Americans who made the city run; Z. Smith Reynolds, whose mysterious death defies explanation; F. Ross Johnson, the most hated man in town; Joe Camel, the reluctant advertising icon.

It also tells about the city's coming of age. Since the traumatic buyout of RJR Nabisco in 1989 - one of the largest business deals in history - Winston-Salem has started redefining itself. In its efforts to attract new companies, cultivate new leadership, and address problems like race relations, it is confronting its future head-on and pointing confidently toward a new millennium.


Salem was granted a U.S. Post Office in Stokes County on October 1, 1792, and its first Postmaster was Gottlieb Shober. In 1849, Salem was in Forsyth County. Winston was granted a U.S. Post Office in Forsyth County on February 28, 1851, and its first Postmaster was John P. Vest. The combined town of Winston-Salem was granted a U.S. Post Office on June 15, 1899, and its first Postmaster was Philip H. Lybrook. It as been in continuous operation ever since inception.


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved