Museum Restoration Wins Major Award

Frank L. Blum Construction Co. has earned the 2007 Pinnacle Award for best building project from the Carolinas Association of General Contractors for its three-year restoration of the Single Sisters House at Salem Academy and College. 

The project, completed in spring 2007, was praised for its restoration of the historic building and attention to detail while adding modern amenities such as high-speed Internet wiring and air conditioning.

The Single Sisters House was originally built to provide single women and girls in the Moravian community of Salem with a place to live, serve God, teach and perform community service. The building's cornerstone was laid in 1785 and the Sisters moved in a year later. The Salem Community gave the Sisters House to Salem Academy and College in 1919, and from then until 1994 it was used as a dormitory for College students. Restoration on the House began in October 2003 with the help of funds from the U.S. Congress as well as from community businesses and individuals.

Today the Single Sisters House provides space for offices, classrooms and meeting rooms as well as for a museum guiding visitors through the restoration process.

For more information about the Single Sisters House, contact Communications & Public Relations at 917-5313. For more information about Frank L. Blum Construction Co., visit  

Single Sisters Restoration Leads to New Passion for Salem Faculty Member

(From the summer 2008 issue, Salem College Magazine)

Today the Single Sisters House stands as an outstanding example of historic restoration in Old Salem as well as a 21st-century appropriate hub for the College's student life, public relations and admissions functions.

Little did Carol Dykers, associate professor of communication, know that the years-long careful restoration would also lead her to a new passion as a documentarian extraordinaire.

Back in 2004, after the Single Sisters House had been condemned by the fire marshall, then-Alumnae Association president Gwynne Stephens Taylor organized a charette on campus to discuss the fate of the building. Taylor and others had been urging for 20 years that the building be restored because of its significance as the oldest building dedicated to women's education and in continuous operation in the United States.

Dykers, former journalist that she was, agreed to go into the building during the charette  to take photographs for the student newspaper and to see if a class project could be done around the Sisters House restoration discussion.

“I didn't expect to get hooked,” she recalls. “I was still using film cameras and I was not a multimedia person. But I did work for a time in my 20s as a historic preservation planner in the South Carolina Low Country, back in the 1970s. Sisters transported me back to that wonderful time.”

Once inside Sisters, Dykers “found the building grabbing me … I decided I would have to come and regularly take photographs if the building were restored because amidst all the leaks and mold, I saw magnificent timbers and tiles that should not be allowed to crumble.”

Inspired by what she had seen, Dykers decided to find out how “real” documentarians would approach documenting a restoration. She went to the website of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and signed up for a January 2005 Beginning Seminar in documentary studies. Then she took her first audio documentary course later that spring, “just because it sounded fun.”

Dykers went even further: She bought professional-quality digital audio recording equipment AND her first digital camera, a Canon Digital Rebel. Thus equipped, in late March 2005 she was able to document the ceremony that was held in front of Main Hall to mark the board of trustees' decision to restore the house and to commemorate the March 1785 laying of the cornerstone for Single Sisters House.

Since that day in March 2005, Dykers has been inside the Single Sisters House at least three days every week to take photographs and gather some sound. She invited the Salem community to a lunchtime lecture in April 2007 as the project was being finished, showing one of her initial versions of the documentary (there is a much-different current version of that documentary).

Dykers says, “I've been trying on a new persona – transitioning from writer/photographer to documentarian who uses digital equipment and can create a film or video. So Sisters House and Salem have pushed me in directions I never imagined I would go. It has been scary– and a lot of fun.”

In fact, in summer 2005, Dykers realized that she was so emotionally attached to the project that she wanted to continue. Every spring and summer since then, she has taken at least one and sometimes two courses at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies in Durham to gain skill in gathering and editing audio, and in analyzing color photography. Once the restoration was finished and Single Sisters opened to the public, Dykers realized she needed help to complete her project. She signed up for the final seminar at the documentary center this past spring so that her expansive work on Single Sisters could be certified - a somewhat daunting undertaking.

As she says, “When you have 6,000 photos and hours of digital audio, it's hard to figure out what to do with it all. I've learned that approaching my topic from different directions and using short-form documentary approaches allows one to be a chameleon and create all kinds of different approaches to the same topic.”

In late May Dykers presented her final documentary at Duke and duly earned her certificate, something of which she is justifiably proud. Several of her framed photos taken during the restoration are hanging Sisters House now, and she will be giving Gramley Library some photographs and audio and oral histories later this summer so that Salem's archives have proper materials for future researchers to use in understanding how the Sisters restoration was done.

Dykers says that not only has she personally enjoyed her newfound interest in documentation, but the communication students she teaches will also benefit from the process. “All of them are going to be working in a profession that requires multimedia savvy and where specializing, as I did, in a single medium – print journalism - just isn't going to be possible,” she explained.

She adds, smiling, “And since I'm demonstrably old, I can convince students that they, too, can do this. If I can do it, they can.”