Tar Heel Trek: Forsyth County

We’re starting a new series today – Tar Heel Trek will feature a different North Carolina county each week. Drawing on information from UNC Press’ great books about North Carolina, we’ll highlight the history, culture, and people that help give each place its character. We hope these posts will inspire you to look deeper and learn more about the Tar Heel state.

Located in the state’s Piedmont region, the area that makes up Forsyth County has existed as a cultural and economic force since before it was created in 1849. From Salem’s Moravian community to the rise of the tobacco industry (there’s even a town called Tobaccoville) and the area’s present-day participation in the New South, Forsyth County has always been an integral part of North Carolina’s history.

The county’s skyline is dominated by two Winston-Salem buildings that represent the histories of the area. The R.J. Reynolds Building, opened in 1929, looks familiar to many for a reason – architectural firm Shreve & Lamb used the tower as a prototype for their more famous Art Deco structure, the Empire State Building, erected in 1931. With the Reynolds Buildings representing the city of Winston’s history, Salem’s past is present in the Wachovia Center, which borrows Moravian architectural themes like the Moravian arch and star in its design.

While Winston-Salem’s skyscrapers are worthwhile, they may be overshadowed by a much more diminutive structure in neighboring Kernersville. Constructed over many years in the late 19th century, Körner’s Folly is billed as “The Strangest House in the World.” The house’s 22 room have ceiling heights that range between 6 and 25 feet. Each of the 15 fireplaces is different from the next, and the same goes with every door in the place. Those are just the “normal” parts of the house – the trap doors, pivoting windows, and muralled ceilings take the oddness (and fun) to another level altogether.

Maybe more than any other place in North Carolina, Forsyth County is known for dessert. The first Krispy Kreme store opened there in 1937. Moravian cookies and sugar cake are distributed out of the county by Dewey’s. Following in the tradition of sweet baking is Tom Brown, a Forsyth County resident who uses heirloom apples  (he’s found more than 500 varieties in his lifetime) to make what he calls “Big Mama’s Apple Cake.”

  • 3 cups tart apples
  • 1 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Peel and core the apples and chop into small pieces; set aside. Combine the oil, sugar, and eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat well. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mix; add the vanilla extract. Fold in the apples and nuts and pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
    serves 10-12

For the information included here, and more on Forsyth County and North Carolina, check out the following titles:
A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina, by Catherine W. Bishir & Michael T. Southern
Sweet Carolina, by Foy Allen Edelman
The North Carolina Birding Trail – Piedmont Trail Guide
Holy Smoke, by John Shelton Reed & Dale Volberg Reed
Encyclopedia of North Carolina, edited by William S. Powell

– Matt