Old Salem was originally know as Salem, and was founded in 1766 by the Moravians, German speaking Protestants (ethnographically they’re Slavs, but at this late date no one cares) who were refugees from the religious issues of Europe.
The Salem Tavern was built in 1784 on the foundations of the original tavern, built in 1771. An additional related building was built in 1815-6 and a building to connect the two in 1838 (since removed). In recent times it has been a restaurant, which closed in December, 2019. Renovations an a new restaurant are planned, but Wuflu has complicated those plans.
Old Salem is the beloved destination of generations of North Carolina school children. I remember visiting as a young child, and I’ve had the privilege to visit as a chaperone with Mrs. Freeholder’s classes over the years. One of my fondest memories are some of the kids sticking their heads into the hole of an old outdoor toilet, astounded that there was money down there.
Locals use it as a sort of wish well. It’s a moving tradition.
Ronald Williams is a native of Wilmington, NC who studied art in New York City. He specializes in historic buildings and sea side art.