A Short Trip to Dash City

about Winston-salem

A little over two hours from Asheville and straight down Interstate 40, Winston-Salem, or "Dash" city, is the 89th largest city in the US with a population of about 250,000.

    It was founded in 1766 as 'Salem' by the Moravian Church, and you can still visit the ‘Old Salem’ village (which I did not, but many people recommended it, so I'll have to make another trip!). In the 1850s the church sold some land to Forsyth county to establish the county seat, which was named in 1851 after a local Revolutionary War Hero, Joseph Winston. These two towns, Winston and Salem, weren’t much to talk about until the late 1860s (after the Civil War) when local leaders worked to join the towns together and bring the railroad through to make it easier for people to sell their tobacco. In 1870, the last census before the railroad was built, 443 people lived in Winston; ten years later the number had grown to 4,000, and by then, the 1880s, there were 40 tobacco warehouses built in the town. RJ Reynolds led the pack of tobacco manufacturers, eventually buying out his main competitor, Pleasant Henderson Hanes, who, at the age of 55, turned his focus to textiles and opened the P.H. Hanes knitting company which manufactured knit underwear for men and boys (yeah, that Hanes).

In 1913 the towns of Winston and Salem were officially incorporated to form Winston-Salem, and the 1920 consolidated census counted over 40,000 people, making it, at the time, the largest city in North Carolina. By the 1940s over 60% of the population worked for either the Hanes or RJ Reynolds corporations. 

    Other large businesses that were established in Winston-Salem, with help of the tobacco and underwear money, were: Wachovia Bank (1911), Texas Pete Hot Sauce (1929), Krispy Kreme (1937) and Piedmont Airlines (1948). The Krispy Kreme headquarters is still in Winston-Salem, although the flagship store was demolished and replaced in 1993 - the replacement "Donut Factory" is on Stratford Road. 

    Today Winston-Salem is know as the "City of Arts and Innovation," adopting that moniker officially in 2014. It was the first city in the country to establish an Arts Council, in 1949, and it is also home to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. The Downtown Arts District, know as DADA  is centered around Sixth and Trade streets downtown, and hosts shops, studios and residences. On the ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ Boulevard there’s a new half-acre 2m ‘ARTivity on the Green’ park with large bright sculpture including red ‘smokestacks’ that speak to Winston-Salem’s industrial history. 

Winston-Salem is also the home of the Art-O-Mat - old cigarette machines that now vend art, the original on display at Mary’s Gourmet Diner, a ‘hip and homey’ breakfast and lunch place on North Trade street. An Art-O-Mat caught my eye at the  Reynolda House Museum of American Art, which I visited on my little half-day/night trip to Winston-Salem. 

    I wanted to visit and stay in Winston-Salem primarily because of the Cardinal Hotel, a Kimpton Hotel that opened in the old RJ Reynolds office building downtown. I had seen a write up about it when it opened and have had it on my bucket list since. It seemed fitting to also visit Reynolda, RJ Reynold's country estate, which is now a museum of American Art. 

Reynolda house museum of american art


 I stopped first in Reynolda Village, where buildings that were once a dairy farm, blacksmith shop, carriage house, and other services vital to the estate, along with lodging for the workers are now high-end specialty shops, restaurants and offices. The shopping area was quiet, but the Village Tavern, where I stopped for lunch, was incredibly busy. I sat at the bar and the bartender was very welcoming, the place seemed to be filled with local regulars, and the food was good, basic American fare.  



I had no idea where to park to get to the actual house - so I just left my car in the village and walked up through the gardens. It was beautiful out and a short little walk. The house, like the village, was quiet, and as I was already feeling a little lost I wondered if it was open - but as I came through the entrance I was greeted by two people behind a large visitors center abutting a brightly lit gift shop. Tours (self-guided) are $18, although the staff did run through a list of credentials that would get me in free: military? student? member? under 18? Wake Forest University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Employees? (The Museum is affiliated with Wake Forest University - the land the University is on was donated by the Reynolds family). I was given a brochure of the house, told about the current exhibit on Frederick Church housed in the lower part of the museum, and told not to take pictures. Although the tour is self-guided, there are people stalking about in every room to ensure you aren't too close to any of the art, and are not taking pictures. Also, I was told at the front desk that the attic exhibit on costumes was not open, but luckily it was. These are the pictures I did not take while I was in the museum:

There is an orientation video and information series on the wall just past the gift shop. The museum is an interesting mixture of house and art. Some of the rooms are filled with furniture from the family - such as the offices and the main living room, giving a glimpse into the family's sumptuous country life. Other rooms, like many of the bedrooms, are completely void of furniture, and the smooth walls simply showcase the art. Downstairs there is still a vintage bowling alley, bar, and gorgeous shell of a swimming pool. And the attic was filled with glass cases displaying clothing of the family, primarily Katherine, and the children's toys.     



RJ Reynolds had known Katherine her whole life as she was a distant cousin. She was also a talented writer, and won $1000 in a Reynold’s company contest. She was hired as Reynold’s personal secretary in 1903, and they were married 2 years later when she was 25, and Reynolds was 54. They began to build the estate and village in 1912 and it was complete in 1917. Reynolds died in 1918. After his death his wife Katherine married the school superintendent, but sadly died after complications of childbirth in 1924 at the age of forty-four.


    There is a lot of history and lore around the Reynold’s family, including rumors of a magic coin that protects the family (I’ll write more about that on my history blog after I read The Gilded Leaf which I just ordered from biblio.com)

The kimpton Cardinal hotel

    Housed in the former Rj Reynolds headquarters building, the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel opened in 2016. The 22 story art deco sky scraper was completed in 1929 as the tallest building south of Baltimore. It won the American Association of Architects award for best building in 1929, and its design was the basis of the Empire State building, which is 86 stores and was completed in 1931 - every year the staff of the Empire State Building send a father’s day card to the RJ Reynolds Building. The building is constructed of multiple shades of marble festooning the walls and floor, and gold leaves decorating the ceiling, along with bright gleaming brass grillwork, elevator doors and door frames. Like other buildings of its time, there is no thirteenth floor. The building was commissioned to be built by RJ Reynolds' President Bowman Gray after company employees ran out room in the RJ Reynolds plants where their offices had historically been held. The Reynolds employees used 7 stories of the buildings, and other Winston-Salem businesses of the time used the prestigious address as well: including doctors, investors, insurance agents, attorneys, realtors, contractors, and architects. 

    The building was put up for sale in 2009 when the RJ Reynolds company moved their offices next door. The price tag was a reported 12.5 million. In 2013 after hoping to sell the building for 15 million it sold for 7.8 to Kimpton. A restaurant named after RJ Reynolds’ wife, the Katharine Brasserie & Bar, opened shortly after the hotel. The bar is the perfect place to grab a glass of bubbly or a cocktail along with some oysters. I had the lobster gnocchi and it was delicious. 

    Throughout Winston-Salem there are references to ‘Camel City’ - although it’s clear as you drive through the old warehouses taken over by Wake Forest University that the cigarette industry no longer dominates the city. 

    When RJ Reynolds died in 1918 (from pancreatic cancer, which is caused by smoking) the company owned 121 buildings in downtown Winston Salem. The tobacco brand diversified into food and eventually merged with Nabisco in the 80s, In 1985 the company, now RJR Nabisco, moved its world headquarters to Atlanta and donated the World Headquarters Building to Wake Forest University, just as the Reynolds family had donated the original land to build to Winston-Salem campus of Wake Forest in 1956.