Winston-Salem is full of history, but we’re hitting only the highlights in our extremely brief, 2-minute overview of Camel City (find out how the city got this nickname below!).
Salem (which means “peace” in Hebrew) was founded by the Moravians in 1766. When you want to dig deeper and have more time, definitely look into the Moravians (and visit Old Salem if you can). They’re fascinating people. The Moravians believed in education for both boys and girls (groundbreaking at the time), establishing a girls’ school – Salem Academy & College now – that’s the oldest school for girls in continuous operation in the country.
The town of Winston was established in the mid-1800s and was a quiet place until work began to connect it to the North Carolina Railroad. By 1875, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company had begun to grow and define Winston as a leader in the tobacco industry (hence the nickname that would come a bit later, The Camel City, after the popular cigarette brand).
Winston grew to be three times the size of Salem by 1910, so the two towns decided to merge and officially came together as Winston-Salem in 1913. (Fun fact: The hyphen was added to connect the two names, which is where the name for our minor league baseball team, The Dash, comes from.)
Tobacco continued to be king in Winston-Salem for several decades, and the Reynolds family put their mark on the city in a big way. They donated land to the small college of Wake Forest to entice them to move to Winston (now Wake Forest University), and the Reynolds heirs eventually turned their family home, Reynolda House, into the now-renowned American Art museum. (Another fun fact: The Reynolds Building downtown served as the blueprint for the Empire State Building in New York City and is a smaller version of that iconic structure!)
These days (no surprise), tobacco is much less a part of Winston. Instead, many of the old RJR buildings have been converted into modern businesses, including large parts of the Innovation Quarter in downtown Winston-Salem. The city has leaned into arts and innovation, working to redefine itself as it continues to evolve, while still retaining so much of the history and charm that makes it special.