Forsyth County


Forsyth officially became a county in 1849, when it was annexed from Stokes County, yet the land was established nearly a century prior in 1753 as a Moravian settlement when Lord Granville awarded about 100,000 acres of land to Moravian Bishop Spangenberg. This settlement was known as Wachovia (the namesake for Wachovia Bank, founded in Winston-Salem in 1879). Salem set up in 1766, became the most prominent of the Moravian communities.

Once the county was formally established in 1849, the Salem congregation sold land located just to the north to serve as the county seat. This land became Winston, named after Joseph Winston, a Revolutionary War hero. Forsyth also was named after a war hero, Colonel Benjamin Forsyth, who died during battle in the War of 1812. The city of Winston-Salem was not formally hyphenated until 1913 following several failed votes to merge the two cities (much of the dispute centered around whose name would prevail following the merger.) Winston-Salem’s minor league baseball team, the Dash, is named after the city’s hyphen.

Like many of the counties we’ve profiled, the railroad was a game-changer for Forsyth and especially the city of Winston-Salem when the railroad was connected in 1868. While Salem was known for its arts, crafts, and cultural tradition, Winston became an industrial behemoth in tobacco. In 1875, looking to set up shop near a railroad, RJ Reynolds left his home state of Virginia and purchased a factory, known as the “Little Red Factory”, from the Moravian Church. By 1900, Reynolds had bought out most of his competitors, most notably the Hanes brothers, who would go on to establish the famous textile company and clothing brand. By the 1940s, 60 percent of the labor force in the county worked for either Reynolds or Hanes.

While tobacco and textiles dominated much of the county’s economy from 1880-1980, the county also served as the headquarters for major banks (Wachovia-now Wells Fargo, and BB&T-now Trust). In 1937, a Kentucky man named Vernon Rudolph brought a family doughnut recipe (that his uncle purchased from a New Orleans chef) to Winston-Salem. Rudolph smoked Camel cigarettes. One day, he noticed “Winston-Salem” printed on the pack and figured if the city was a good place to make and sell cigarettes, it was probably a good place to sell Krispy Kremes, too. He wasn’t wrong.

Outside of Raleigh and Charlotte, Winston-Salem is home to some of the state’s tallest buildings; one of which, the Reynolds Building, served as a model for the Empire State Building. The county is also home to Wake Forest University, where famed poet and author, Maya Angelou, taught from 1892-2014 as the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies. Former U.S. Senator Richard Burr, actress Pam Greer and basketball player Chris Paul have all called Winston-Salem home.

Politically, the county has favored Democrats since it went for Barack Obama in 2008, though it’s not as overwhelmingly Democratic as the state’s other major urban counties. Republican Jim O’Neill won re-election as the county’s district attorney in 2022.


County Seat: Winston-Salem
Biggest Cities:

Winston-Salem, Kernersville, Clemmons, Lewisville, Oak Ridge, Stokesdale, Walkertown

Media Market: Greensboro

Elected Officials

County Data