Friday, December 18, 2015

Old Salem

Old Salem is a picturesque historical district with original structures and landscape from the 18th and 19th centuries. Visitors can walk through the Moravian town to see live demonstrations by interpreters in period costumes, purchase handcrafted products, and eat food grown locally from heirloom seeds. It's a very popular site for school field trips. In fact, the last time I went to Old Salem was in 4th grade. 

I've been wanting to take the kids to Old Salem ever since my brother-in-law took his sons there a few months ago. Located just over an hour away, it seemed like it would be the ideal educational day trip.

There were a quite a few challenges to Old Salem that made it far from ideal for our family. The town is spread out over several blocks, so there was no way the kids could have walked the entire three hours we were there. The first challenge we immediately encountered was the uneven cobblestone roads, which made it very difficult to pull the wagon along the streets.

In addition to the bumps, some of the hills were so steep I had to use both hands and walk backwards to pull the wagon. Apparently there was a historical reason for this as well.

The wagon didn't do us much good anyway, since each house required walking up stairs to get inside. With every house we entered, I had to leave the wagon on the side of the street. Several of the houses had guided tours that exited through a different level or the opposite side of the house, so we all had to walk around to retrieve the wagon.

"Hmm, how do we get back to the street?"
I desperately wanted to fall in love with our time at Old Salem.  I have a great appreciation for museums and being able to offer the kids historical and cultural insights. Unfortunately, triplet toddlers are not a great age for this particular place. Nearly every space we entered was surrounded by tempting things to touch--things that would break, fall, cut them, etc. All four kids behaved well as usual, but it was incredibly stressful keeping their hands off certain things. I didn't even let the kids enter the pottery room; we just watched and asked questions from the doorway.

The last major challenge I can think of is being located beside a college. This would not have added any difficulty if the kids actually stayed in the wagon, but by this point Amelia and Maddie preferred to walk. At times the historic cobblestone path would cross a modern, paved road with cars, traffic, college students running, etc. Historic sites were adjacent to private residences. College buildings were across the street from renovated bakeries. Everything blended together. The girls were unable to make distinctions between real roads, sidewalks, and cobblestone roads. There was a moment when the wagon was stuck on a loose brick. I nearly knocked the wagon full of boys over while both girls merrily walked right into the middle of the road. Thankfully there wasn't a car at the time, but I felt completely out of control and unable to manage my own kids in that moment.

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Now that I've clarified why Old Salem was such a difficult place to take four kids ages 4 and under, it's time to share the highlights of our day.

According to Jackson, his favorite part was the shoemaker.

As soon as we walked through the door, I was overwhelmed by the scent of leather. The shoemaker explained how she makes custom shoes. She was working with small squares of leather and molding them along the length of a model foot. Fun facts: A new pair of shoes cost one week's worth of wages, which was around $1.45. The shoes would last around ten years.

We participated in an exceptional woodworking presentation. The man was so good with the kids. Jackson and Amelia were captive audience members. He kneeled on the floor and showed us the tongue and groove technique. The furniture at the time didn't have nails or screws; it was just tightly fitted together and glued with animal fat. 


I clearly have no idea what the technical names for anything are, but he also let the kids take turns rotating something that would hold the wood in place. I had to hold Maddie the entire time, but the others were very interested. We only left when James tried to take tools off the wall.

I suspect Maddie's favorite part of the trip was going to the bakery. I didn't want to buy a whole tin of cookies, so I selected two slices of pound cake that we could share. This caused a brief argument among the kids on who was allowed to carry the bag of cake. The baker walked away, then reappeared with Moravian cookies for everyone. She gave each of us multiple cookies. 

We then sat on a bench outside the bakery and split our pound cake. It was the most relaxing part of the day.

I loved learning about the Moravian history, particularly about the "choirs" (groups of people based on age, sex, and relationship status). Single Moravian men lived in the Brother's House. Single women lived in the Sister's House a block away. Single men and women did not mingle and their marriages were arranged in the 18th century. Females wore color coded ribbons in their bonnets that indicated their age and if they were single or married. It was highly interesting for me to compare colonial settlements at the Schiele Museum, plantation life at Latta, and early Moravian communities at Old Salem--all from overlapping time periods and geographic locations. I tried to help Jackson compare and contrast the beds, kitchens, clothing, etc. 


The current gardens are grown from heirloom seeds. The food is then cooked in live demonstrations or at the restaurant in Old Salem. One of the gardeners explained that the garden provided the nutrients for the early settlers. They hunted recreationally, but were able to purchase most of their meat and grains from markets. The fruits and vegetables they grew gave them the necessary vitamins.

We discussed how wood was fuel that provided heat and helped the settlers cook. Jackson simply said, "Take my picture in front of the wood!"

One of the "single men" characters played the organ for us. Once again, I expected Maddie to enjoy the music, but she buried her head in my chest and said, "song loud". Jackson and Amelia sat and listened. The organist explained how they played before electricity, but I was distracted by James inspecting a nativity scene. 

The website advertised "Holidays at Old Salem". The only indications of holidays were wreaths on the doors and paper stars hanging over the bridge. I'm a bit envious of the minimal decor and simple celebrations.

We arrived later than planned, so we stayed until they closed. Jesse was staying late at work for a chorus concert, which meant I was in no rush to get home. I don't regret going to Old Salem, but I see no reason to return for another few years. 

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