801 East Main Street
Salem, Virginia 24153
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History of Salem, Virginia

A Timeline History of Salem, Virginia

9000 - 1200 B.C.
Native American hunting parties criss-crossed Salem in search of deer, elk, bear, and buffalo. After discovering they could cultivate some agricultural products, they began establishing semi-permanent hamlets.
September 1671
Two explorers, Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam, recorded a three-day visit to Totero Town -- a Native American village believed to have been along the Roanoke River near what is today the Moyer Sports Complex.
Fort Lewis was constructed to the west of what became Salem in order to protect settlers from Indian attacks.
October 10, 1774
Native American attacks against the settlers of Virginia effectively ended when Andrew Lewis commanded a force that routed the Indians at Point Pleasant and drove them into the west.
October 15, 1800
James Simpson purchased a thirty-one acre tract from William Lewis for one hundred dollars, and began laying out the town of Salem.
June 4, 1802
James Simpson sold Susanna Cole a lot on Main Street at Cherry Alley for twenty dollars, dating the first real estate transaction of the town. Cole was admired by the people of the area because she had been taken captive by Native Americans and, seven years later, made her way back to Salem after escaping.
A Methodist Society, meeting in private homes, organized the first religious congregation to be specifically identified with Salem. Within a decade, they built a log church adjacent to the town.
January 6, 1806
"Town by the name of Salem" was established on "land of James Simpson near the upper end of the county of Botetourt" by Virginia's General Assembly. It is thought that Salem (meaning "peace") was named to honor William Bryan, a prominent Citizen of the area, who had moved to Virginia from the county of Salem, New Jersey.
July 2, 1807
The first known mention of The Mermaid, Salem's earliest tavern, is recorded.
Oct. 8, 1808
Postmaster Lewis Cooper filed the first financial report of a Salem post office.
January 8, 1815
One of Salem's most unusual businesses, the Upper Roanoke Navigation Company was chartered with the intention of making the Roanoke River navigable for cargo-bearing boats from Salem through North Carolina and on toward the Albemarle Sound. Because roads were poor and travel was rough for horse-drawn wagons, the prospect of a canal system was a very exciting (although ultimately not very practical) innovation.
According to tradition, a flat-bottomed bateau was poled, pulled, and shoved from Weldon, North Carolina to Salem as a demonstration of the navigability of the upper Roanoke River.
Federal census recorded "40 families and 209 souls" in Salem.
The Salem Register--Salem's first newspaper--is first documented in an article printed by a neighboring paper. No known copies of the Salem Register from this time exist.
Oct. 11, 1828
Under the direction of the Roanoke Navigation Company, three boats were docked at Johnston Mill dam after traversing 124 miles of "tolerable good and safe navigation" of the Roanoke River between Brookneal and Salem.
June 1831
Although Presbyterians had been active in Salem for almost a century, the Salem Presbyterian Church was formally established with the construction of the church at the corner of Main Street and Market, used as both a sanctuary and an academy upon its completion in 1832.
March 21, 1836
Salem became a formally incorporated town by an act of the General Assembly.
Salem Academy, a private school, was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly.
March 30, 1838
The County of Roanoke, with Salem as the county seat, was established by the General Assembly.
April 19, 1841
A brick courthouse at Main and Walnut Streets (now College Avenue) was formally occupied by the Roanoke County Court.
May 24, 1847
Classes began at Virginia Collegiate Institute (now Roanoke College); a wagon bearing all of the school's physical assets had arrived from Augusta County one month earlier.
March 20, 1850
The General Assembly enlarged Salem's corporate limits to include two strips of land about 120 yards wide on either side of Main Street.
December 15, 1852
Salem's fiftieth year celebration (featuring the town's first ever fireworks display) began with the arrival of three trains from Lynchburg. This arrival marked the inclusion of Salem in a newly-completed section of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad (now Norfolk Southern).
August 3, 1854
The Town Hall, located on College Avenue across from the Court House, was first mentioned in the official deeds of the county. Originally used as a social center and meeting place for local organizations, it was destroyed by fire over a decade later.
Railroad lines connecting Salem to Lynchburg and Tennessee were completed. These lines made Salem a target for Union raids during the Civil War.
Town population was officially 612.
January 30, 1860
Captain Abraham Hupp enrolled the first members of the Salem Flying Artillery on the lawn of the Roanoke County Courthouse. Hupp's Battery later fought in the War Between the States.
April 1861
As the Civil War began, the Roanoke Grays, under Captain Madison P. Deyerle, departed from Salem's courthouse green to join Confederate forces at Lynchburg.
August 14, 1863
James E. Stover was hanged across from what is now Oakey's field on Main Street east of the Brown House; his offense was the slaying of a patrolman while attempting to desert the Confederate Army. Stover was transported to the Main Street gallows riding on top of his coffin.
December 15-16, 1863
Federal forces under Brigadier General William W. Averell moved into Salem from the north, destroyed quantities of flour, wheat, saltpork and other supplies housed in the town, burned the depot building and a nearby mill, and destroyed several bridges. Thomas H. Chapman, 26, son of a prominent Salem family, was killed by the Federals as they advanced on Salem.
June 21, 1864
Federal forces under Major General David Hunter, retreating from Lynchburg, burned railside buildings at Salem; Confederate cavalry attacked the Federals in the Battle of Hanging Rock, and both sides suffered casualties.
November 9, 1866
First Baptist Church, Salem's earliest African American congregation, was formed with Rev. J.R. Cooper as pastor.
September 30, 1872
Public school classes for white children began in the former private school building on Academy Street, enrolling only 115 of the 736 eligible children; many others remained enrolled in existing private schools.
October 1, 1872
A public school for African American children opened on the northwest corner of Chapman Street and School Alley, enrolling 135 of 546 eligible children.
July 1, 1873
A seven-member Town Council superseded the Board of Trustees that had governed since 1802.
July 1876
The Lake Spring Hotel, located on the west end of Salem, received its first guest.
Two years after Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone, private lines were installed in Salem. It was almost two decades later, however, before commercial companies established wire service in town.
Town population was officially 1,759.
Robert H. Carper, the first paid superintendent of the volunteer Salem Fire Department, received 25 dollars and lodging for his first year of work.
January - June, 1883
A smallpox epidemic plagued both Salem and Roanoke. Church services and public meetings were discontinued. Roanokers who came into Salem's quarantine zone without a written statement from the president of the board of health were subject to arrest and a fine of $25.
October 2, 1889
The Salem Improvement Co. was organized as a pace-setting developer in the "land boom" that opened up the areas between today's downtown business section and the Roanoke River. During its development surge, Salem promoted itself as the "Queen City of the Southwest," "Switzerland of the South," "Garden Spot of the Old Dominion," and "City of Peace"--painting a picture of a veritable utopia, rich in natural resources, beauty, and opportunities.
Town population was officially 3,279.
The first building of Academy Street School, originally called "Public School No. 1," was erected to serve an increased number of white students.
November 30, 1890
Public passenger service was inaugurated between Salem and Roanoke on "the Dummy," a steam-driven predecessor of the town trolley.
December 16, 1890
Deep snow and resulting damage deflated the land speculation bubble that had enveloped the valley. Recession followed.
A six-room frame school, called "Graded School A," was completed on the southwest corner of Water Street (now South Broad) and School Alley to serve African American students.
September 1891
The town's electric lighting system became operative.
An anti-liquor vote established Salem as a "dry town."
May 11, 1898
Jeff Davis Rifles, a Salem militia company, began service in the Spanish-American War under Company H, Virginia Regiment.
Town population was officially 3,412.
June 4, 1902
Salem celebrated its centennial in style: 10,000 people gathered in the streets -- drinking lemonade, eating sandwiches, and listening to rhapsodic speeches.
February 5, 1903
The Town Council of Salem enacted an ordinance to prohibit "expectorating in public places." Offenders were subject to a $5 fine or imprisonment for up to five days. Merchants were required to provided spittoons for their patrons.
February, 1909
A group of local doctors operated the town's first "modern sanitarium"in a leased residence on the northwest corner of College at Burwell Street.
April 1, 1910
A new Roanoke County Courthouse was erected on the same site as the original.
Salem's first boy-scout troop and unit of Campfire Girls were organized.
October 2, 1912
Roanoke Woman's College, which in 1915 became Elizabeth College, held its first class. It was closed nine years later due to fire.
February 1, 1913
An ordinance decreeing that no cattle, horses, or mules would be allowed on the streets of Salem "without an attendant or herdsman" went into effect. Before this time, farm animals roamed at large.
May, 1914
Mount Regis Sanatorium received its first patients.
April 8, 1916
"King-Cola Day" celebrated the opening of a beverage plant; people danced in the streets, enjoyed free food and (of course) free King Cola.
October 31, 1916
Prohibition in Virginia became effective. Merchants in Salem reported that their business increased dramatically thereafter, because more men spent their wages in Salem (which was already a "dry town") instead of traveling to Roanoke to buy whisky.
April 4, 1917
As it became clear that America would soon be involved in the first World War, 4000 people gathered at the Salem Courthouse square for a patriotic rally. Within months, Salem sent its first contingent into active military duty.
1917 - 1919
Salem was involved in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through Liberty Loan drives and stamp campaigns. Other local monies (raised by sponsoring a "county fair," comedic performances, a "womanless wedding," and a store-front tea room) were used to support home services and volunteer knitting units.
July 4, 1919
A Forth of July celebration officially welcomed WWI veterans home witha parade, band concert, and luncheon. 15 Salem men were killed in the first World War.
July 10, 1920
Lakeside opened its "concrete swimming lake" -- adding rides and a roller coaster thereafter.
February 7, 1922
Salem adopted a council-manager form of government--leading to an increased emphasis on the improvement of public works.
The same year that the KKK burned a cross on Mount Regis Hill, African American patrons of the Roanoke County Training School raised nearly $1000 for new library books, a science curriculum, and running water for the home economics rooms.
May 1, 1929
Students at Broad Street High School staged a strike when Principal A. M. Bruce was forced to resign in the wake of a controversial student counseling case. Hundreds marched and carried placards which read "We Want A.M. Bruce..." and "Citizens, Wake Up!"
Economic set-backs due to the stock market crash were felt when Salem workers lost paychecks during a two-week shutdown of the Norfolk and Western shops before Christmas. Roanoke College, also suffering losses from the Depression, admitted female students as a matter of "temporary expediency" in order to raise money.
January 19, 1931
A fire at Broad Street School (today's City Hall) led to the construction of Andrew Lewis High School, which opened two years later.
June - November, 1932
Welfare recipients in Roanoke County increased from 263 families to 1,407 families.
October 3, 1932
Julian S. Wise began conducting first aid and rescue training classes at the Salem fire station -- his initial step in organizing the Salem Life Saving and First Aid Crew.
September 8, 1933
Andrew Lewis High School was dedicated, replacing two earlier Salem high schools -- the first on Academy Street, the other on Broad.
July, 1934
The Kiwanis Club installed pressure cookers in Broad Street School for preserving garden crops. The cannery was later moved to the vacant Roanoke County Training School, where it operated through WWII.
October 19, 1934
President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the new Veterans Administration Medical Center at Salem's doorstep -- marking a notable improvement in the local economy.
February 15, 1937
The Salem Public Library opened on its present site. The smaller original building was located where the library's flag pole stands today.
March 30, 1938
Roanoke County's centennial celebration began at noon with the ringing of bells in schools, churches, factories and public buildings all over the county.
January 23, 1939
John Crumb, the last survivor of Salem's Hupp-Deyerle Camp of Confederate Veterans, died. He was buried in Church Hill Cemetery.
May 20, 1939
Professional baseball made its debut on Municipal Field with the Salem Wolves in Class D Virginia League play.
March 17, 1940
After a prolonged effort to resolve the issue of inadequate facilities for African American students at the Roanoke County Training School on Water Street, George Washington Carver School was built. A 92-year-old former slave laid the cornerstone.
October 16, 1940
An "American Citizenship" parade drove down the streets of Salem as young men turned out for the Selective Service draft. Within months, the first draftees were inducted into the army.
January 9, 1941
The first Salem draftee of World War II, William Henry Slough, was inducted into the army.
March 21, 1941
Company 84 of the Virginia Protective Force converted a former ClayStreet morgue into an armory.
December 11, 1941
The same day that the United States declared war on Germany and Italy, the Roanoke County Defense Council met in the municipal courtroom.
July 1942
An aviation training program was initiated at Roanoke College.
January 10, 1942
The Town of Salem bought Longwood, an 18-room mansion which was used as a community center until it burned in 1968.
November 16, 1943
The Comas Cigarette Machine Company was awarded an "E" pennant from the Secretary of the Navy. Other local companies contributing to the war effort were the Salem Foundry, which cast and machined casings for atomic bomb work, and Maid Bess, which produced "White Swan" nurse uniforms.
June, 1944
An Indiana Street garage became a compound for German prisoners of war. About 180 prisoners cut pulpwood, harvested fruit, and worked on area farms.
August 14, 1945
Upon the announcement of Japan's surrender to the Allied forces, residents gathered on Main Street, "shouting and laughing and giving vent to their pentup feelings." Celebrations continued with bonfires, church services, parades, orations, and a community songfest. Of the hundreds sent into battle, 43 Salem men died in the war.
Alfreda Marion Peel's "Witch in the Mill," a book of country tales, was published. The local author had traveled throughout the mountains of Virginia, collecting ballads, songs, and bits of folklore, which she incorporated into her writing.
August 20, 1950
Two local lieutenants in the Marine reserves boarded a train in Roanoke and began their long journey to Korea, where war was breaking out. Although others were wounded, the only killed-in-action casualty from Salem was Private Carl R. Rogers.
The first home-area television station, Roanoke's WSLS, went on the air. Its earliest commercial advertised Salem product Valleydale meats.
June 20, 1952
12-year-old Rusty Gwaltney won the national marbles championship at Asbury Park, N.J. After a long drive home, Rusty's car was greeted near Hollins with a delegation of civic leaders and town officials. Riding the rest of the way on a fire engine, sirens blaring, Rusty was hailed in the paper as "a local boy (who) made good."
August 10-16, 1952
A cast of 500 took part in a nightly outdoor spectacular, "The Salem Story," which was held at Municipal Field. On the final evening, a pall of tragedy fell upon the celebrations when Lincoln J. Missimer, Jr., father of two, was killed by a truck-float near the end of the parade.
January 1, 1953
South Salem was incorporated into the Town of Salem.
February 26, 1954
General Electric announced plans for a multi-million-dollar plant at Salem's eastern limits. The arrival was assessed as being "the greatest single industrial development in the Roanoke Valley" since 1914.
May 24, 1954
Theron N. Williams Community Center, a recreational and library facility for African Americans, was dedicated on the corner of South Broad and Burwell Streets.
January 1, 1956
The Great Sewage Question, as it was dubbed by the newspapers, was solved with an agreement in which Salem would use the Roanoke treatment plant.
January 1, 1960
Annexation of an eastern tract made Salem the state's largest "town," population 16,058.
September 1963
Roanoke County schools in Salem took the first steps toward racial integration. Nine black students enrolled at Andrew Lewis High, and three at Broad Street Elementary. A number of public restaurants, as well as Younger Park Library, had already been peacefully integrated by the end of 1959.
December 21, 1964
Interstate Highway 81 was opened to traffic over a 30-mile stretchfrom U.S. 460 west of Salem to a section of the interstate system already in use south of Buchanan.
October 8, 1967
Salem Civic Center was dedicated. Throughout the years, politicians and performers such as Richard Nixon, Victor Borge, the Beach Boys, and Tiny Tim have entered its doors.
December 31, 1967
Salem officially became a city, with a population of 22,500.
October 15, 1969
Roanoke College students gathered in the school chapel to observe the national "Vietnam War Moratorium" with folk singing and a panel discussion about the war. Lasting from 1964 to 1975, Vietnam took the lives of four Salem men--Roger Dale Atkinson, Robert M. Journell, III, Ward W. Mills, Jr., and Francis S. Oberson, who were killed in action.
December 18, 1972
Lewis-Gale Hospital received its first patients.
June 1973
Businesses first opened their doors in the new West Salem Square, later renamed Spartan Square.
August 29, 1977
A new Salem High School opened on Spartan Drive. Several years later the Salem school system separated from Roanoke County.
March 1979
Salem occupied its own local courthouse on Calhoun Street.
March 1983
Salem City Hall opened in the rehabilitated former Salem High School/Broad Street School Building.
July 1, 1983
Salem School Division was created, severing 113-year-old ties with the Roanoke County system.
March 1985
The new 5.5 million dollar Roanoke County Courthouse was dedicated adjacent to its 1910 predecessor. The 1910 structure--which currently houses Roanoke College's departments of History, Political Science, and Business--is listed on National Register of Historic Places.
August 1985
A round-the-clock softball game -- lasting 96 hours, 10 minutes, and 43 seconds -- took place between the valley's Navy and Marine units on Oakey Field. The game, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, was won by the Marines in a score of 417- 253.
August 30, 1985
Salem Stadium, seating 8,000, hosted its first event -- a football game won by the home-team Spartans.
November 4, 1985
Devastating floods displaced hundreds of families, damaged many homes, and crippled businesses and industries. Ten people lost their lives in the Roanoke Valley, none in Salem
May 1, 1987
Roanoke College purchased the 1910 Roanoke County Courthouse, converting it for classroom and office use.
Spring, 1987
In order to preserve the structure, the Salem Historical Society moved the Williams-Brown House from its original location on the corner of Craig Avenue and East Main Street to a new site, 801 East Main Street, in Longwood Park.
Summer 1990
An archeological survey in Salem revealed a number of Native American artifacts -- leading experts to suggest that the site may indeed have been the Totero Town explored by Batts and Fallam three centuries before.
April, 1992
Moyer Sports Complex was opened.
June 27, 1992
After considerable fund raising and restoration, the Williams-Brown House was opened to the public as the Salem Museum.
March 12-13, 1993
A blizzard struck Salem, causing the biggest snowfall since December, 1890.
August 7, 1995:
The Salem Avalanche christened the city's $10 million stadium with a 3-2 win over the Frederick Keys. The baseball game, which lasted 15 dramatic innings, was won on a walk.
Salem: A Virginia Chronicle by Norwood C. Middleton is available at the Salem Museum and may be ordered through our giftshop. A great deal of the information on this page has been taken from Mr. Middleton's book and personal research files.