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Vine Street, east of the railroad tracks in Winston-Salem, begins at East Fourth Street and ends at East Seventh Street, so is only three blocks long. The average citizen of the Twin City facing an appointment on Vine would have to resort to Siri for directions. Yet no other street in the city has experienced such a dramatic history, beginning in the 1880s and extending well into the future.

In recent years, hundreds of millions of development dollars have been and are being spent on Vine Street and the immediate area…Piedmont Leaf Lofts…Wake Biotech…Inmar…525 Vine…Bailey Park…Plant 64…and opening next year, the new Wake Forest medical school, the most advanced such facility in the world…

All of those projects took advantage of historic tax credits, so the buildings themselves have been scrupulously researched for their historic values…but even the professional researchers do not know the real history of the neighborhood once known as Long Branch…starting this week, YOU will get the whole picture, in a new series on your favorite blog…

The History of Long Branch, in three parts…

In part one, “Cocaine Alley”, you will meet the denizens of 408 Vine, the “Long House”, which extended nearly the full width of Bailey Park between Vine and Depot Streets…and the extraordinary managers of that criminal enterprise, Cora Smart and her sweetheart/co-defendant Wattie Greer, the queen and king of “Cocaine Alley”, who between them logged over 100 appearances in the local courts between the 1880s and the 1920s. As a bonus, you will get a free tour of the district on a busy Saturday night, conducted by a Winston-Salem Journal reporter in 1921.

In part two, “Camel City”, you will watch the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, having recently discovered cigarettes, build or acquire about 100 buildings in the area between 1912 and the late 1920s. The growth was so fast that things got a little out of control…factory workers trying to get to lunch were being hit by trains and cars at such a rate that in 1921 part of Chestnut Street was closed to auto traffic for an hour a day…and a nice bit about why so many RJR factories got built with glass bricks…

In part three, “Black (female factory worker) Power…”, you will meet the women who worked as stemmers in the future medical school building who finally got fed up with unequal pay and other sexist matters and did something about it. Their 1947 strike, which was met with a very nasty response by RJR, the Winston-Salem Journal and local leaders, succeeded…but that was only the beginning of the changes that they brought about in the Twin City.

Stay tuned…


People have been asking about the map. A full explanation will be included in the actual post, but here is a quick rundown.

The early history of the city of Winston-Salem can be broken down into three phases:

1. Salem (green), 1766-1872, when it was the dominant force in the county. Liberty (red), 1828-until absorbed into Winston in the late 1800s, was an outlier. The Moravians were extremely tolerant of other religious sects, but had a hard and fast rule that only Moravians could live in Moravian towns. In 1828, word got around that Thomas Christman had taken an interest in the Baptist way. After some discussion, he was told that he must leave Salem. He apparently was the first person to settle in the Liberty area, which began to attract others. By the latter part of the 19th century, it was something of a wild west settlement, with far more saloons than any other businesses, and certainly no government to speak of.

2. Winston (brown), 1849-1872. For over two decades, the town of Winston was centered on the courthouse, both geographically and economically…a cluster of small businesses that fed off the monthly court sessions. The only real industries in the county were in Salem, but their growth was inhibited by the need to haul their products to market by wagon, over poorly maintained, unpaved, thus often muddy roads.

3. Winston (tan), 1873-1940s. In the 1870 US Census, Winston had a population just shy of 500, while Salem was in the 600s*. But in February, 1873, the first train from Salem Junction in Greensboro passed over the Salem Creek trestle and stopped between First and Second Streets in Winston and things changed forever. Within a few years, there were over forty tobacco factories and sales warehouses clustered near the railway terminus.

By 1880, the population had hit 4,000, by 1890, 11,000, almost all of the increase in Winston. The residents of Winston and Salem had not been much on slaveowning, so the black population of the two towns had been low. But R.J. Reynolds, particularly, preferred hiring black workers, who poured into the city from as far away as the cotton fields of South Carolina.

They needed somewhere to live. Before the railroad, the land east of the new tracks had been an area of woods and small farms. The first black neighborhood in Winston became known as Brown’s Row, clustered east of the terminal and thus, near the factories. It quickly spread northward along the tracks into what would become known as Long Branch, an energetic community searching for its future, which is the heart of this story.

* Keep in mind that families were much larger in the 19th century, so most of those folks were children.