Check out these 16 ‘hidden treasures’ in Winston-Salem
Editor’s note: This article was written by Michael Breedlove and originally published by the Winston-Salem Journal. Visit the Journal for photos of these spots.
Many of Winston-Salem’s great secrets hide in plain sight, above our heads and below our feet, in places we visit daily. Other secrets lurk in the shadows, residing in the far-off corners of the city—the middle of a forest, the bottom of a creek bed—as time marches on around them.
As a follow up to last year’s Hidden Winston-Salem story, we once again set out to explore the secretive side of the Twin City. The following article uncovers 16 more hidden treasures in Winston-Salem—some easy to find, others impossible to access—but all existing just beyond our normal sightlines.
The Reynolda Pool
Many of the sites along the 1,067-acre Reynolda Estate have been carefully restored over the years, reflecting the lavish lifestyle of the Reynolds family. Other sites, however, continue to hide in the shadows, seemingly cloaked in mystery. Such is the case with the estate’s former outdoor swimming pool, which sits along a wooded walking path overlooking Lake Katherine. The pool is perhaps best known as the place where Smith Reynolds spent his final hours before his mysterious death in 1932.
The Hidden Lake
Hiding in obscurity off Reynolds Park Road is the old Piedmont Quarry, a heavily wooded area filled with stunning natural beauty. In the center of the property sits a crystal-clear lake rimmed by 100-foot cliffs. With its hypnotic blue water and rocky shorelines, the lake seems like something pulled straight out of Hawaii—not the middle of Winston-Salem.
Vulcan Materials donated the quarry and its surroundings to the city in 1998. It stayed out of the public’s eye until a few years ago, when the city council began exploring ways to develop the property into a park. Early design ideas included a disc-golf course, hiking trails, zip-line tours, glass-bottomed boats, and a train encircling the top of the quarry. At last check, a landscape architect was surveying the land and creating a master plan for the park. Once that’s in place, the city has quite an undertaking ahead—clearing kudzu, moving compost piles, raising funds, and applying for grants. But considering the park’s rare beauty, such an undertaking seems well worth the effort.
The Terminal at Smith Reynolds
In the early 1960s, Smith Reynolds Airport was the busiest airport in the state, boasting nearly 130,000 takeoffs and landings. Those days are long gone, of course, but the airport’s terminal retains much of its original beauty. Built during the Great Depression in the Art Moderne architecture style, the structure was once called “the finest terminal in the United States” by a representative with Eastern Airlines. It’s trademarked by marble walls, stained-glass windows, multiple sculptures, two-story high windows, and a dramatic mural that depicts Winston-Salem’s history. There’s also a leatherbound visitor’s register containing signatures from some of the airport’s most famous passengers—among them Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin, Dwight Eisenhower, Ava Gardner, supposedly even Frank Sinatra.
By the 1990s, Smith Reynolds had long been surpassed by PTI as the Triad’s destination airport. Passenger service was halted in early 2000. Private planes and corporate jets still fly out of the airport, and it remains a hub for maintenance and repair. But for most folks, the airport exists primarily in memory—a reminder of a time when Winston-Salem ruled the sky.
The Rock House
Tucked behind the busy neighborhoods in northern Davidson County sits Adam Spach’s famed Rock House—or what’s left of it, at least. Spach came to North Carolina by way of Pennsylvania in 1754 and founded Friedberg Moravian Church. He built his one-story Rock House about a mile away in 1774, purportedly as a fortress to protect his family from local Indian tribes. It was constructed over a spring so that, in case of an attack, the family could still get fresh water. Sometime in the mid-twentieth century, the Rock House fell into ruin and only a partial foundation remains. There were plans to restore the site in the mid-1990s, but the proposal was stymied because the county couldn’t get right-of-way access to the land. As a result, the Rock House continues to sit idly in the woods, accessible only by an arbitrary path near the Friedberg Village community.
Stationed in the center of the UNC School of the Arts campus is an elaborate sculpture named “Conversations.” It’s comprised of two pieces and made from Corten steel, its jagged edges seemingly reaching toward the heavens. As impressive as the work is on the surface, it’s what’s found inside that makes it so unique. The sculpture houses the cremated remains of Philip Hanes Jr., one of the most ardent art supporters in Winston-Salem history. A few years before he died in 2011, Hanes commissioned Chicago artist Richard Hunt to build the piece as a final resting place for him and his wife, Charlotte. The location of the sculpture is a fitting one, as Hanes led the charge to bring the School of the Arts here in the 1960s. UNCSA is now believed to be the only campus in the country that contains an art piece used for interment.
Odd Fellows Cemetery
The next time you’re at the Dixie Classic Fair, perhaps soaring high on one of the rides, take a second to look across the street. Sitting quietly along Shorefair Drive is one of the city’s most storied burial grounds: Odd Fellows Cemetery. Founded in 1911, the cemetery is viewed as one of the most significant black history sites in the city. Historians have estimated that there are about 10,000 people buried in Odd Fellows, many of them former slaves. While the cemetery fell into neglect in the latter half of the 20th century, a restoration group—The Odd Fellows Reclamation Project—has worked tirelessly to clean it up in recent years. Their hard work paid off in 2010, when a historic marker was unveiled at the cemetery.
Bath Branch Falls
Much like the lake that hides to the east, Bath Branch Falls is a hidden gem residing in the very heart of the city. It flows in the bottom of a deep gorge near the City Yard, screened from civilization by a curtain of kudzu and briars. Until recently, very few people knew the falls existed—and even fewer had actually seen it. One person who has is City Councilman Dan Beese, who worked to protect the falls when the city deeded the land to Wake Forest as part of the Innovation Quarter. “It’s actually a double-drip falls with a section of narrow rock channel in between,” Beese notes, adding that it’s around 8 or 9 feet in total height. Tentative plans call for the falls—named after the Bath Branch stream that feeds it—to be incorporated into the WFIQ landscape, likely by adding a pedestrian bridge that spans the gorge. Until then, Bath Branch Falls will continue to flow silently in the shadows.
The Remembrance Wall
On the front façade of historic St. Philips Church in Old Salem, you’ll find 131 names engraved on a 12-foot granite slab. The names represent the 131 people who were buried in the African-American Graveyard in front of St. Philips from 1816 to 1859. Each name comes with a date and simple description: 1819 FRAN “WORKED AT THE PAPER MILL.” … 1818 HARRY “MAN IN HIRE” … 1831 LUCY “TRUSTED IN THE SAVIOR’S MERCY.” The engravings were part of a $3 million effort to restore St. Philips—the state’s oldest African-American church—in the 1990s. Crews also worked to uncover the graves of all 131 people believed to be buried at the church. Little by little, each grave was found, restored, and etched into memory.
The Fountain at Salem College
Just behind Main Hall on the postcard-worthy campus of Salem College sits a 9-foot fountain with quite a history. It’s made of cast-iron and features an ornate, tiered design. School officials believe it arrived on campus sometime in the early 1860s, shortly after Main Hall was built. While the design is certainly praiseworthy, it’s the designer that makes it special. The fountain was built by Wood & Perot, a world-famous company renowned for its decorative designs. Sometime in the past century, the fountain’s trickling waters were turned off, and the structure became a big plant container. Things stayed that way until 2010, when a historian researching Wood & Perot inspired school officials to restore the fountain to its original glory.
The Simon G. Atkins House
Tucked amid a sea of red-brick buildings on the campus of Winston-Salem State sits one of the most historically significant homes in the city. Made of clapboard and washed in white, the two-story home originally belonged to Simon Green Atkins, a black reformer who founded Slater Industrial Academy in 1892 (the school that would eventually become Winston-Salem State). While the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, it fell into ruin by the 1990s and was facing demolition. This drew the ire of preservationists, who said the house represented a significant part of the city’s history. After some lobbying, the federal government awarded a $500,000 grant to refurbish the Atkins House and move it to campus. It now stands as the oldest building at Winston-Salem State, serving as the school’s Passport Acceptance Agency.
The Harris Carillon
If you’ve been on the campus of Wake Forest in the late afternoon, you’ve probably heard the Harris Carillon. The bells ring out every weekday at 5 p.m., audible for nearly five square miles. But while many have heard the carillon, very few have actually seen it. The 12-ton instrument is stationed in the tower of Wait Chapel, where it’s been ringing out since the 1970s. Similar to an organ, it features 48 bronze cup-shaped bells that are controlled by a keyboard. While there’s believed to be around 100 grand carillons in North America, the Harris Carillon is one of the few that’s still operated manually (meaning a carillonneur is actually up in the tower playing the notes). The result is a simple, beautiful resonance that adds a little color to the surrounding campus.
The MLK Marker
Of all the historic markers in Winston-Salem, it’s the sturdy stone emblem outside of Goler Metropolitan AME Zion Church that might be the most impactful. The marker commemorates a visit by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 13, 1964—four years before his assassination. King, who came to town in support of voter rights, delivered a fiery 40-minute speech to a crowd of over 1,000. The memories of that day live on thanks to the historic marker, found at the corner of East Fourth Street and Dunlieth Drive. Fittingly, it’s just one block east of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
The Tobacco Columns
Sometimes, it’s the little things that grab you. Take, for instance, the wooden columns that frame the old Sheppard House on Summit Street. Rising nearly 10 feet, the columns feature custom-made capitals that are carved in the shape of tobacco leaves. They’re a tangible reminder of the home’s original owner, Benjamin Joseph Sheppard, one of Winston’s prime tobacco merchants in the late 1800s. Sheppard spared no expense when constructing his imposing brick home in West End, outfitting it with a parapeted gable roof, a dramatic wrap-around porch, and, of course, the aforementioned columns—effectively carving his place in Twin City history.
The Barbara Smitherman Sculpture
Standing only a few feet tall, this charming sculpture of Barbara Smitherman doesn’t shout its existence. It sits unassumingly in Grace Court Park, hiding behind a row of hedges. Most people who see it do so only by accident, as if interrupting Smitherman while she’s tending the garden. Created by Earline Heath King in 1996, the sculpture serves as a tribute to Smitherman, a local parks lover who, according to the inscription, “brought beauty and vision to the West End.”
Sitting just across from Krankies Coffee, Fogle Street isn’t so much hidden as it is undervalued. The street—a veritable road to the past—offers a glimpse at how most downtown roads appeared 100 years ago, clad with small granite pavers laid in a curvilinear pattern. At approximately 200 feet, the street boasts one of the longest stretches of cobblestone remaining in the city. The cobblestone (more specifically, Belgian blocks) hearken back to a time when Fogle Street was a noisy, boisterous place—providing passageway for the tobacco factories that crowded along Chestnut Street. It’s mostly quiet these days, crumbling slowly with age.
The Thruway Time Capsule
A few steps away from Bonefish Grill at Thruway Center, buried beneath a sidewalk and capped with a marker, there’s a small box containing an interesting chunk of Winston-Salem history. The box—a time capsule—was buried in 1969, commemorating the opening of the Thruway Theatre. The theatre closed in 1994, but the capsule still remains. Among the items inside were forecasts about what life would be like in 2019, the year it’s due to be opened. Among the predictions were “land vehicles propelled by solid-core nuclear reactors and ionic engines.” Someone’s working on that, right?