If Walls Could Talk: Staying at Graylyn Estate

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Arriving at Graylyn Estate is like stepping back in time to the days when tobacco reigned in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. A butler greets me on the steps of the stone manor house that was once the home of J.R. Reynolds Tobacco Company Chairman, Bowman Gray, Sr. and his wife, Nathalie Lyons Gray. Stepping inside, I think to myself, “if only these walls could talk.”

Graylyn International Conference Center
The stone manor house of Bowman Gray, Sr. (Photo courtesy Graylyn International Conference Center.)

Staying at Graylyn, (I was hosted by Visit Winston-Salem) feels more like being a houseguest of the Gray’s than a guest in a boutique hotel. Down the hall from my well-furnished room, I help myself to ice cream and homemade butterscotch cookies, just the way the Gray children did growing up in the house. Of course I appreciate the grownup addition of a coffee machine.

Graylyn International Conference Center
A Butler Terry Keefer explains the amazing history of the Graylyn Estate.

But today, Graylyn is more than a manor house; it’s known as Wake Forest University’s Graylyn International Conference Center. Home to meetings and conferences, the estate also makes a fine romantic getaway or headquarters for the history buff in your life. And you’ll be in good company — Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford have stayed here. And Oprah Winfrey made Graylyn her headquarters when visiting Maya Angelou.

Speaking of history, Graylyn’s butler tour offers a perspective on the home that’s worth experiencing. It seems that the well-traveled Mr. and Mrs. Gray enjoyed furnishing their manor house with souvenirs. But these weren’t the trinkets that you and I might bring home. The Gray’s returned to Graylyn with European architectural pieces such as fireplaces, mouldings and paneling, instructing the architect to “make it fit.” One can only image the challenge of bringing the Turkish mosque home that now serves as a small dining room in the manor house.

Graylyn International Conference Center
The manor house is filled with the family’s many international souvenirs. (Photo courtesy Graylyn International Conference Center.)

Active travelers will appreciate the 55 acres of expansive grounds for walking, jogging or biking. On my visit, a steady stream of guests and neighbors make use of the winding driveway that borders the wide, sweeping lawn shaded with hardwood and magnolia trees. It feels more like a country setting than the residential heart of Winston-Salem.

Graylyn International Conference Center
The grounds were just as romantic and elegant as the manor itself. (Photo courtesy Graylyn International Conference Center.)

Those looking to combine a workout with history should walk to the end of Graylyn’s driveway and cross Reynolda Road to Reynolda Village, the former estate of J.R. Reynolds. After touring the Reynolda House Museum of Art, stroll through the gardens before stopping for lunch at The Silo.

Back at Graylyn, stop in the Grill Room for a drink or light supper. While you’re there, take a peek into the room across the hall that served as the exercise gym for the Gray’s. You’ll appreciate the camel tiles with smoke rings that border the ceiling — a nod to J.R. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s iconic Camel cigarettes.

Graylyn also offers 4-course meals in the dining room. And an extensive breakfast buffet is included in the room rate. The grits are especially good and warmed the heart of this southern girl.

I appreciated the relaxed atmosphere and outdoor spaces during my state at Graylyn Estate. The privilege of sleeping with history was an added bonus.

Disclosure: Visit Winston-Salem and Graylyn International Conference Center provided this travel experience but the opinions are strictly my own.



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