When Winston met Salem

by Alex Ashe

Winston-Salem’s consolidation in 1913 may have induced vital economic stability, but its minor consequences are more indicative of the time period.

“The people in Salem had to quit letting their hogs run loose,” said Fam Brownlee, a North Carolina historian at the Forsyth County Public Library’s central branch.

To contextualize, residents of Salem had previously been allowed to let their pigs, primary sources of food at the time, roam freely throughout the town. Winston prohibited this in an ordinance that was eventually adopted and enforced once the two towns merged.

“They had a hog policeman and a hog jail,” Brownlee said. “The policeman would arrest the hog, throw it in the jail, and the owner could then come down, pay the fine and get his hog out.”

The two communities differed far beyond their stances on stray pigs, though.

Origins of Salem (named from the Hebrew shalom or “peace”) trace back to the mid-18 th century, when Moravians first settled in the area.

“When they came here in 1753, they brought European culture and planted it right in the middle of the wilderness,” said Brownlee.

When Forsyth County was formed in 1849, Salem appeared destined to serve as the county seat, but the pacifist Moravian community didn’t want to incorporate a courthouse, whipping posts and gallows. Later that year, the Moravians sold almost the entirety of their land north of Main Street to Forsyth County, forming a separate congregation eventually named after local Revolutionary War hero Joseph Winston.

Members of the religious Moravian community generally condemned the drunk and boisterous ways of their neighbors in Winston, who deemed their counterparts overly crude and conservative.

Although culturally rich, Salem wasn’t nearly as financially sound as Winston, whose economy was largely fueled by the very courthouse that Salem had once declined.

In January of 1913, a state statute proposed the consolidation of Winston and Salem in the interest of economic efficiency within Forsyth County.

“You had two communities that were touching each other and running two separate school systems, two separate governments,” Brownlee said. “It saved an enormous amount of money in administrative costs.”

In 1918, the University of North Carolina conducted a study on the Winston-Salem public school system that recognized it among the best in the country, a distinction it retained for the early half of the 20 th century.

In truth, the towns’ differences are largely responsible for their successful merger, a perfect marriage of commerce and culture.

“There was a lot of cross-fertilization between the two communities, and without that, neither community would have flourished like it did,” Brownlee said.