New Winston Museum thrives on little bits of history
Tucked away on South Marshall Street in Winston-Salem is a secret treasure filled with surprising finds, both well-known and not, that offer residents a glimpse into the past.
The humble red-brick building that was formerly used as a chapel for the Salvation Army is home to the privately-funded New Winston Museum.
In the early 2000’s, a group of residents led by the late Frank Borden Hanes Sr. joined together to plan the birth of a community museum. In 2008, the group adopted the name “New Winston Museum” and opened its doors in May 2012. The museum’s mission is to preserve, promote and present the dynamic and diverse stories of the Winston-Salem and Forsyth County community through education and collaboration.
“These folks saw the need for a 21st century historical institution in town that told stories about the community as it relates to the post-Old Salem story under the recognition that Old Salem does a very good job telling the settlement of the community but there was nothing really around that picked up where they left off and brought us into the present,” said Chris Jordan, the museum’s Curator of Education.
The museum’s focus is on the history of the city and county after the days of Old Salem, choosing instead to hone in on early Winston and Winston-Salem in the late 19 th and 20 th centuries and how it played a part in the creation of the south with a twist. It often presents or interprets historical events through community and cultural conversations. Oral history, programs and interactive installations are used to focus on the time period between 1849 and the present.
“The programming speaks to our interest in connecting with our visitors well beyond a traditional museum setting,” he said.
You won’t find a lot of artifacts and glass cases in the facility, as they choose to show history through photographs, letters, documents or oral interviews from key players in the community. A small seven panel exhibit, “City At a Glance,” chronicles the city’s journey from tobacco and industry to becoming a leader in innovation and the arts. It’s one of the longest running exhibits that the museum has. It includes an interactive mapping feature that allows you to see photographs and locations around town.
“In seven paragraphs or so we try to tell the history of this community from the purchase of 100,000 acres and the creation of the Wachovia tract all the way to what’s going on today,” Jordan said. “It’s for people who live here but it is most often heavily viewed by out-of-towners.”
The current exhibit is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Winston-Salem’s Wheels of Change.” While photos and documents are on display the exhibit also offers a digital component about transportation and the impact it had on the city. This exhibit will run until September 2016.
“Our current exhibit is a view of the history of this community through the lens of transportation. It’s a look at the many indirect and direct ways that different modes of transportation have affected, encouraged and kind of guided the development of the community through demographics, population and residential shifts, and economic changes,” Jordan said. “Transportation has played a major role in that.”
In September 2016, the museum will welcome a “Crime and Punishment” exhibit. Although Jordan is not quite sure how it will play out he’s excited about what will come out of learning about the history of murder and crime in the city.
“We haven’t done anything this potentially salacious before so it’s kind of juicy,” he said.
The museum often teams up with community agencies, nonprofits and businesses to bring an exhibit to life.
“Collaboration is not just one of those buzz words for us. With such a small staff and very limited space and financial resources, it’s really important that we utilize other agencies in town,” he said.
One way this is done is through the museum’s free monthly Salon Series, featuring everything from artists to corporate employees, to speak about their work and how it impacts the broader community. These programs often relate to the current museum exhibit or a trending topic in the community. A recent series on the Safe Bus Company was held on Feb. 11 in conjunction with the current Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Winston-Salem’s Wheels of Change exhibit. The Safe Bus Company was an African-American owned and operated transportation service that existed during Jim Crow. The business, at one point, became the largest African-American owned transportation company in the world. The program will include presentations from a representative from the city’s Transit Authority and several former Safe Bus employees.
Jordan said that he feels that the program is fitting for Black History Month.
“Some people know about it in town but it’s not known well-enough and there’s not much literature about that program so sometimes this is the best way for those stories to be done as well,” he said.
New Winston Museum also partnered with the Camel City Jazz Orchestra last summer to presents a “Neighborhood Suites” program. The partnerships gave residents a chance to enjoy big band jazz music with narrative accounts based on the historic neighborhoods in the city. Jordan also reaches out to the schools in the area to offer them localized history lesson plans.
“Through our programming and our partnerships we are able to focus on history in a different way and reach an audience that may never come into the museum. We have to be a museum without walls,” he said. “I think history and social studies would make a lot more sense, especially to children, if it’s localized. If all we can talk about when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement is Selma and Dr. King’s speech in DC it’s always going to be abstract. Instead we can talk about the WSSU march to the federal building downtown and Carl Matthews starting the Winston-Salem Sit-In.”
Currently the museum is working on a project that would keep residents and their memories alive once they’ve moved on. In February 2015, New Winston began a multi-year project dedicated to collecting and preserving residents’ memories of their communities through Memory Mapping, a technique where people are asked to write their memories on a large scale street map in the location it occurred.
“We are asking people to think of their most day to day experiences and write those memories down on a map. It’s moments in time that could be interesting or not so interesting,” he explained.
To start, Jordan took a 1938 map of the city and divided the historic residential area into 10 regions, with each region representing distinct neighborhoods such as Ardmore, Easton, Reynoldstown and East Winston. Programs will be set up in those specific communities where project volunteers will ask participants of all ages to add a significant memory for them to the map. The overall goal is that larger narratives about those neighborhoods come to life through the small memories of those residents.
“It’s allowing people to tell us what their community means to them and what the history of that community is,” Jordan said.
When complete, the museum is hoping to have 10 maps filled with memories and individual histories from throughout the city.
As for the future of New Winston, Jordan said that million dollar question is still unanswered.
“We are in a transition period that we have to figure out but there are a lot of options that have been presented to us and that we’ve sought out,” he said. “In the next year or so there will be something decided on what our next step is.”!
CHANEL DAVIS, a journalism graduate from N.C.A&T SU, is a freelance journalist based in High Point whose worked in the industry for the past five years.
For more information about the museum including hours of operation, how to donate or volunteer or program dates and times, visit www. newwinston.org.