Kernersville History

Kernersville’s rich history is front and center for all to appreciate. The newly created Kernersville Museum, a half-block from the intersection of Main and Mountain streets, provides educational displays of local lore and culture. The 1873 railroad depot on North Main Street showcases the appearance of a passenger rail station, complete with a ticket office and waiting areas. Both historical sites are managed by a full-time director at the Kernersville Museum. In addition, the one-room school house at 4th of July Park is an authentic classroom from the 1800s. Both the school house and railroad depot were moved from other parts of town to their current sites.

Local history can also be unveiled by visiting historic cemeteries at Kernersville Moravian Church and St. Paul’s Cemetery. St. Paul’s Cemetery was the pre-Civil War burial place of non-whites from the community, and is located behind Cagney’s Restaurant, on South Main Street. You can also experience a glimpse of history in the Heritage Row section of our Spring Folly festival. Heritage Row takes you back to life in the 1880s with basket weaving, yarn looms and blacksmith exhibitions all on display on West Mountain Street.

So, how did Kernersville come to be what it is today? The earliest recorded property deed shows that David Morrow acquired 200 acres through a North Carolina land grant. Local oral history, however, reports that Irishman Caleb Story received a land grant from the English Royal Colony of Carolina and it is rumored he sold his land for four gallons of rum.

Most land in the area eventually belonged to another Irishman, William Dobson, who purchased 400 of his total 1,000 acres from Morrow. Dobson built both an inn and a store at the intersection of what is now Main and Mountain streets. General George Washington had breakfast at Dobson’s Inn on June 2, 1791, as he was visiting southern Revolutionary War battlefields. Washington is the first of two U.S. presidents to have visited the community. George W. Bush made a nationally televised speech from Deere Hitachi in 2005.

We are not makers of history. We are made by history. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Eventually the land passed from Dobson to the Shober family, and then to Joseph Kerner in 1817. The town was later named for Kerner, a clockmaker from the Black Forest region of Germany. Descendants of Kerner still reside in the town and have been instrumental in preserving the rich history of Kernersville. John Wolfe III donated the Bellamy House, which is now used as the Kernersville Museum.

Kernersville was incorporated in 1871, less than a decade after the conclusion of the Civil War. At the time of incorporation, the town had only 147 residents but quickly grew to over 1,000 just two years later. A catalyst in the town’s growth was when town residents rolled up their sleeves and built a section of the railroad line through Kernersville, opening up opportunities for commerce and trade. Kernersville has become a logistics center ever since, combining rail, excellent road network and air freight at nearby PTI airport and a FedEx Ground hub.

Körner’s Folly is the centerpiece of a historic district that contains multiple private homes on the National Register of Historic Places. Körner’s Folly is the architectural wonder and home of artist and designer Jules Gilmer Körner. Built in 1880 in Kernersville, the house originally served to display his interior design portfolio. Visitors can now explore the 22-room house-turned-museum and its unique original furnishings and artwork, cast-plaster details, carved woodwork and elaborate hand-laid tile. Körner and his family are all buried across the street at the God’s Acre cemetery, on the grounds of Kernersville Moravian Church.