“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Salem in Harrison County, West Virginia — The American South (Appalachia)

Salem at the Turn of the Century

Salem at the Turn of the Century image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, April 11, 2021
1. Salem at the Turn of the Century
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Inscription.  Salem developed as a result of the oil boom around the turn of the twentieth century. A major fire devastated the downtown in 1902 destroying the majority of the wood-framed buildings along Main Street. Subsequently, much of Main Street was rebuilt, primarily in brick. The two buildings highlighted here were constructed after 1902 to replace the burned out buildings previously on their sites. Both were built of brick as a fire resistant measure. They housed many businesses throughout the years as well as providing upper story residences in the downtown. They were demolished in 2011 as part of a flood mitigation project along Jacob’s Run through downtown Salem. The downtown Historic District, which encompassed these buildings, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places April 12, 1982.

The architectural details on both buildings are typical of small downtown construction in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The cornice on 59 Water Street was made of pressed metal with decorative brackets and panels in the frieze band. The second story window openings had arched upper sashes and brick hoods. The cornice and window openings are character-defining elements of the Italianate style of architecture in a commercial building of this period.

The architectural details on 102 E. Main Street were most obvious in the second story window bays called “oriels.” As with 59 Water Street, the main cornice at the top of the building was quite elaborate. The first floor storefronts were decorative as well with paneled kickpanels, also called bulkheads, below the large display windows and the glass transom windows above.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommercePolitical SubdivisionsSettlements & Settlers. A significant historical date for this entry is April 12, 1982.
Location. 39° 16.959′ N, 80° 33.541′ W. Marker is in Salem, West Virginia, in Harrison County. Marker is at the intersection of East Main Street (Local Road 50/73) and Water Street (Local Road 50/73), on the left when traveling west on East Main Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 119 E Main St, Salem WV 26426, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 9 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Salem Depot (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Salem (approx. ¼ mile away); Melvin Mayfield (approx. ¼ mile away); Salem Fork Pilot Watershed (approx. ¼ mile away); Industrial Home for Girls (approx. 0.9 miles away); Greenbrier Church & Cemetery (approx. 2.8 miles away); Seventh Day Baptist Cemetery (approx. 2.8 miles away); Center Point Covered Bridge (approx. 8.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Salem.
Also see . . .  National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (PDF). Prepared in 1980 by Paul D. Marshall, AIA, and Jill Ziegler. Statement of Significance:
The Salem Historic District is historically and architecturally significant in that most of its Main Street buildings date directly to a specific point in the history of the town’s development. The period is 1901-1902 after a great fire had destroyed the commercial community. The fire was the result of conflict between
Salem at the Turn of the Century Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, April 11, 2021
2. Salem at the Turn of the Century Marker
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the “wet” and “dry” moral factions of the town who were warring over the so called “moral deterioration” of the community during the late nineteenth century oil boom which brought an instant population explosion. The great influx of oil field workers and those “support” businesses which followed disrupted the life-style of a previously agrarian society. Conflict was inevitable.

Immigrants moving into Harrison County consisted of Scotch-Irish settlers and Revolutionary war veterans. Harrison County was formed from Monongalia County in 1784 and named for Benjamin Harrison, a native of Charles City County, Virginia. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Virginia from 1781-1784, and father of General William Henry Harrison, President of the United States.

The first settlers to come to “New Salem” in 1790 were forty families of members of the Church of the Seventh Day Baptist denomination. The families had first migrated to White Day Creek, Monongalia County, Virginia and were persuaded to move to Salem by Samuel Fitz Randolph. Randolph, a native of southwestern Pennsylvania, had purchased four hundred acres of land from the widow of Joseph Swearingen for the purpose of establishing a settlement in New Salem.

The settlement, located on the headwaters of Tenmile Creek, consisted of crude log cabins surrounding a central stockade which was built for protection from Indian attacks. The pioneers had arrived in Salem with only the possessions they could carry and knew farming as the only way of life. Providing food for the large number of people was difficult.

A new group of settlers came to the Salem area in the early 1800’s. They were Irish and were regarded as strangers. They were excluded from the social activities of the original settlers principally because they brought with them a new religion strange to the village. It was said that they did not fit in with such an “aristocratic town”.

The Northwestern Turnpike was built through Salem in 1838 by a Mr. Fenton, who immigrated to Salem for the purpose of establishing a contracting business. He built a log building across from Samuel Fitz Randolph’s tavern and opened the first store to exist in Salem.

Randolph’s tavern became a stop for the stage coaches that traveled the turnpike, and as such had its most prosperous years. The tavern provided a rest stop for passengers and horses alike and it was also used as a delivery point for the Salem nail. The need for the tavern diminished when trains began to run through Salem in 1857.

The construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was completed in 1856 and Isaac F. Randolph was contracted to build a railroad depot. With the establishment of the railroad, commercial buildings sprung up within the area to satisfy the demands of a growing town. Food supplies improved for the community because by 1890, wheat flour could be carried into Salem by the railroad.

The latter part of the l880’s and early 1900 brought a spirit of hope for the small community. Wells were being drilled in search of oil under the land. Oil workers and their families began moving to Salem in hopes of entering the oil profession or establishing supporting businesses. Consequently, the population doubled and the discovery of
Salem, West Virginia image. Click for full size.
circa 1980
3. Salem, West Virginia
One of the photographs included in the NRHP Nomination Form.
oil created a 11 boom” for the town. Strangers poured into Salem and carpenters built cavernous, jerry built houses to rent to the oil workers. Oil supplier’s arrived to serve the needs of the petroleum industry and supported Salem’s first industry. The Salem Bank, the town’s first financial institution was opened in 1898, signifying the growth of Salem.

Along with the newcomers came a new style of living for the community. Gambling dens and saloons were opened to satisfy the whims of the oil workers and to help separate them from their earnings. In 1901 there were fourteen saloons, of which only one was licensed. Led by the clergymen, many of the established citizens of the town, “the drys”, immediately began to wage a two year long war on the town undesirables whom they termed the “wets”. The “wets” bought the town newspaper business expecting to “educate the town in favor of liquor licensing.” Five clergymen organized a company and bought the newspaper business back in an attempt to extinguish the publicity campaign of the “wets”.

Within two hours of the sale, a fire was started in the print house. The fire raged out of control and steadily burned all the buildings on Main Street (formerly called Pike) from Water Street to Erwin Street and then southward. Consequently, the 1901 fire burned out the excesses of the boom days for Salem.

The citizens of the town joined together in an attempt to rebuild their business district. By 1902, Salem had new rows of brick buildings to replace the wood structures which had been put up haphazardly in the 19th century. Evidence of this construction period remains today as the primary historically significant feature of downtown Salem. It is unique to have such a large area of a town erected under one major construction program.

The two mile long Main Street has changed very little in appearance since the business district was rebuilt after the 1901 fire, according to Dorothy Belle Davis, native and historian of Salem. There have been a number of modern intrusions with the District, but its character is still intact and provides an excellent opportunity for mass renovation.

In 1902, a new industry was brought to the town. A glass manufacturing plant was built due to the availability of natural gas as fuel for its furnaces. An influx of workmen and skilled glass blowing craftsmen from Belgium and France filled all available housing. Glass factories sprung up rapidly and Salem again enjoyed a period of prosperity and security.

Social activities again played an important role in the lives of Salem residents. A clubhouse was built where everyone gathered to dance, play cards, picnic etc. Downtown Salem was also a major center of entertainment. Crowds of people gathered at Salem Drug Store to catch up on gossip or just to “ people-watch”. The Salem Drug Store was typical of such establishments of the early 1900’s. The stores served many more needs than the drug store today, such as a gathering place, ticket office, and food supply center. The tradition of the Saturday night gatherings ended with the advent of the television in the l950’s.

During the mid l920’s, glass factories in other communities began developing machine-blown glass products which increased production and were more economical.
Salem, West Virginia image. Click for full size.
circa 1980
4. Salem, West Virginia
One of the photographs included in the NRHP Nomination Form.
Thus, the demand for hand-blown glass workers decreased and many of the workers left Salem for other communities, ending another “boom” era for Salem.

Salem’s primary contribution to the area was education. Innovative ideas in education were begun by Preston Randolph who started the Academy in Salem after the Civil War. Community support is evident in the development of an Industrial School in the late 1800’s. In order to raise the large amount of Money needed to buy land for the school, Salemites sold shares of stock to each other until the land was paid for. The Industrial School and the establishment of Salem College brought much attention to the town.

Before school buildings were built, class were held in private homes and on the second floor of the Independent Order of Oddfellows Building, which is still standing on Water Street. By 1906, there were four high schools in the county. Although there is no record of the person who created the idea of early childhood education, Salem was one of the first towns in West Virginia to have a kindergarten.

Unaware of the long term effects of their plan, the first settlers of Salem developed Main Street and several business areas over the bed of Jacob’s Run just before the stream flows into Tenmile Creek. This location of community elements caused severe flooding and destruction in the business district.

After gaining the federal government’s approval, the Upper Tenmile Watershed Flood Control Project was implemented in 1957 with a Federal Grant of $366,000.00. The plan stabilized and controlled the amount of water running down channels of Salem Fork of Tenmile at a given time, allowing the treated land to soak up the water, slowing down the rate of surface water runoff. Since the project’s completion in 1958, Salem has not suffered a flood. The Upper Tenmile Watershed project won the honor of being the first of several watershed projects authorized by Congress to be finished within the time specified.

Salem has changed from a booming industrial center to a quiet but viable residential town. Even though progress has supplanted tradition, the Salem community forefathers left evidence of what the boom days had produced.

The rebuilding of downtown Salem has left a significant record of particular architectural styles, building methods and individual craftsmanship. It is unique when an entire district can be documented to a particular time in history. This is true with second generation downtown Salem.
(Submitted on May 25, 2021.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on May 25, 2021. It was originally submitted on May 25, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 35 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on May 25, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.

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Jun. 18, 2021