As I am often asked about people who lived in Salem before and after the War Between the States, also of the buildings and lots of those who figured in certain transactions of interest, I am going to try in my crude way, to give the information and my recollections from 1856 to present time.
I was born in Salem on July 19, 1856, in a two-room brick cottage on the lot where now stands the residence of Mr. and Mrs. F. C. Wiley on West Main street. In front of the cottage stood a large three-story residence and my first recollection of it was that it was the home of Dr. T. B. Dillard, father of Dr. W. B. Dillard.
We are all interested in Salem, especially the younger generation, who have seen her awake from her Rip Van Winkle sleep, discard as it were, her old rags, but off that clumsy old beard (the old council), dress up in new and more modern clothing and get into society, but for all that the grandest and most precious inheritance of any people is its history. All that forms the national character, their tone of thought, their devotion, their love, their sympathies, their antipathies, their language, all are found in their history as the effect is found in the cause.
Let us go back to East Hill cemetery, where we can look down upon Salem in 1856. We stand among the oak trees in the northeast corner where, at that time, stood a little brick Baptist church, very simple in architecture, with a gable roof and small windows. The inside was very plain, without any paint, no ceiling, rafters of pine poles, crude benches and a small table for a pulpit. Roanoke river and Mason’s creek served these people as a baptismal pool.
This church was, after a while, closed and was used by Mr. Strickler (father of John and Joseph Strickler) as a fanmill shop, and while still occupied by him was wrecked by a wind storm.
A Six Horse Team
Coming through the cemetery might have been seen a six-horse team with a circle of sweet-toned bellson the hames of each, proudly pulling an old coach, as the road from Big Lick to Salem passed through the cemetery and entered the state road at the corner of the McCauley lot on East Main street.
Where the home of Mrs. T. H. Cooper is located Frederisk Johnston lived in a two-story brick house. The grounds in front were terraced, beautiful with flowers and shrubbery.
Craig avenue entered Main street at the corner of the W. E. Brown residence and on the west corner of the Johnston property was a two-story frame building and west of that was a wheelwright and blacksmith shop. On the brow of the hill was a large three-story building generally spoken of as “Burwell’s Folly.” It was never used as a hotel but after the colored people were given their freedom it was occupied by them until torn down.
On the left coming down the road, the first house which was owned by Peter Shirey is now the McCauley property. Next stood the Presbyterian Manse. On the right side was the home and store of “Old Brown, Salem’s Most Honest Merchant”. In that house were born Frank Brown, father of A. Gibson Brown and George Brown, the father of Hom. J. Sinclair Brown and the two boys, Garland and Joshua.
The Robert’s place was the home of James Noffsinger. On the west corner of this lot was a two-story house, with two rooms above and two below. The lower rooms were used as a harness shop. The property was later changed and improved by Mr. Armstrong.
The Chapman Hotel
Now comes the Chapman hotel which occupied both sides of the street and was known far and wide as the best hotel in the state. In imagination, I can see it as it was, two stories high with a wide porch above and below. The house roof covered the entire porch. The building extended from the west sides of the Roberts property to N. C. Dillard’s.
At the west end of the porch was a long washing table covered with tin with a stream of water flowing into it from a pipe. This water was brought by gravity from the spring on the lot where C. J. Smith now lives. By the wash table there hung a roller towel, which could not have been changed very often. It was there that the guests washed their hands and faces. In the backyard there was a hydrant that supplied water for the kitchen.
Near the wash table was the bar room door. In it, Virginia gentlemen drank their mint julips, and to this day the fumes from that room are still in my nostrils and will be there until my dying day. Next door led into the dining room, possibly 36 to 60 feet wide with two long tables filled with choice food in the days when ham, turkey, and roast pig were cooked by the black mammy whose art has gone with her, and no one can imitate her. The soda and buttermilk biscuits are but memorials of her past achievement. There were no waiters, everything being placed within reaching distance.
There were no fly screens to keep out the flies, so hangers were hung over the tables on which paper cut in stripes was fastened. These hangers worked on a pivot and were swung by a boy who held the rod which was attached to them. In this way the flies were kept away. Meals were announced by the loud ringing of a bell.
The Masonic Hall
The hotel annex stood on the opposite side of the street. This was also a two-story building, with a porch below, and the second story extended out over the porch. The Masonic hall was on the second floor. I remember as a boy going into that room and being startled at its
splendor, of a beautiful carpet of fine texture and pattern and damask curtains at the windows. The solemnity of the whole room awed me.
The hotel barns stood where the home of S. V. Hutson and John R. Keister now stands. In the corner of the barn lot was the watering trough for horses. The water for this came from the same spring on the property where Dr. Smith lives.
In those days there was a stage line from Lexington to Salem. The stage was generally crowded inside and on top and occasionally two on the driver’s seat. When the coach reached the top of the hill coming into Salem, the driver blew a loud blast on a long tin horn, and when the stage drove up to the hotel all the guests were assembled on the front porch. The walk in
front of the hotel was of flagstone and a foot bridge was built across the branch. The stage went down and through the branch to the hotel yard.
After leaving the hotel on the south side of Main Street was the home of Zebulon Boon and the building bore the following inscription over the door: “Z Boon, Merchant Tailor.” Mr. Boon was loved and respected by all, always just and truthful in his dealings. He was tailor for the gentry and peasant alike.
On the other corner lived James Diuguid, the undertaker. He did not carry metal caskets but made the ones he sold right there in his shop of poplar boards. He did not have a decorated hearse but a one-horse wagon served for this purpose.
The Village Smith
On the lot between the property of Norman Potts and Claud Parrish was a two story frame house with a porch below and the second story extending over it. The property of F. C. Dame was the home of George Stevens and where F. C. Dame’s tinshop now stands was a log blacksmith shop, where Mr. Stevens made a living by the skillful use of his hands.
The Lewis garage stands on the site of an old foundry and facing the street was a one-story log shop which was, in later years, converted into a blacksmith and wheelwright shop by Ligon Brothers. There was a bar room in the room on the corner.
- R. Surface now lives where John M. Harlow’s home and general store were located. Judge Blair spent the first years of this married life in the building next to Mr. Harlow. Where Al Huff used to live, James Hammond, a tailor, owned a small two-story frame building. This property was bought by Edward Gross and remodeled as it now stands.
The Simmons property is an old landmark but its once beautiful yard has been marred by two frame buildings on the front. The building across College avenue which is occupied by the W. B. Dillard drug company was originally occupied by Shirley and Holland where they conducted a dry goods store. I can remember when hogs roamed over the streets and at the corner of this building was a mud hole where they wallowed. After their mud bath they would rub against the building and leave their imprint.
From Dillard’s drug store to Whiticar’ pool room was a long two-story frame building with an upper porch that extended over the pavement and the posts that supported it were on the
pavement. A small building next to this was the post office. The postmaster was named Joe Campbell, he being succeeded by W. S. Oakey, I think.
Below the old post office was the Schmid property where furniture was made. Next to this was the drug store which has been operated by the following men and under the following names: Samuel Nowlin, Geo. Landon, Smead & Saunders, Smead & Younger and Smead & Webber.
The Old Hotel
A two-story frame hotel which extended from the drug store to the alley was known as William’s hotel. This hotel was at one time under the management of Alexander Whaling, father of Dr. Thornton Whaling. Our late venerable townsman, Mr. Al Huff, was a bartender at one time and John Hurt was proprietor. I think Mr. F. J. Chapman was the proprietor when it was bought by Mr. Duval and torn down and the present brick hotel built.
Just across the alley was another hotel two stories high which was owned and operated by Thomas Huff. Peter Magee, father of R. E. Magee and A. H. Magee, and John Denit, father of C. D. Denit boarded there with numerous other young men as, at that time, it was a gathering place for young men. I am reminded of a little incident which Mr. Denit told me occurred there. They were sitting in the dining room one night when an officer came in and arrested a man for debt. Being unable to raise the money to cancel the debt he was lodged in jail.
This hotel building was later bought by George Fleming, torn down and the building which was last owned by the Critz estate and now occupied by a chain store took its place.
The old Western Hotel stood across the street where the Brown Hardware company does business. The old Lutheran church which stood on the corner of Main Street and College avenue for so many years is still in the memory of some of the Salem people today.
On the opposite corner stood the old county courthouse. I can still see in my mind the two old fireplaces that were expected to warm the building for the loafers; the rusty old stove to warm the bench, the jury and the judge; also the old stone pitchers that were filled with drinking water from the town pump that stood on the street corner and the great intellects that represented and graced the Roanoke county bar, with brows overshadowed with mighty thoughts and a dignified bearing not seen at the bar today. When a small boy I went to the courthouse to hear Judge W. R. Staples plead on behalf of a widowed mother.
Where the W. P. A. Offices are today, there was a tin shop, owned and operated by A. Hupp, the father of the man that made the Hupmobile. Old Joe Fisher, the town wit, a man who loved a joke and didn’t mind when the joke was on him, lived where the Standard Oil filling station is located now. There was a high paling fence around his home and he had pet foxes, coons, groundhogs and a general menagerie of small animals. Oh, how the boys liked to gather there. John Denit had a chair factory on the same lot. He worked his turning lathe by foot power.
As I look at the changes and the new faces, I wonder where the old ones have gone and what has become of the hogs that rooted up the street and the cow that would open your gate at night and destroy your garden. It has all changed with the rapid march of civilization.
Town Hall Razed By Fire
The first house after passing the old Lutheran church, where the Farmer’s National Bank stands now, was a two-story brick storeroom, built the same year the church was built. The first floor was originally about four feet above the ground. Just beyond this storeroom was a brick residence about thirty feet from the street with a front yard in which there were lovely roses. Where the town offices are now was a storeroom and a three-story town hall stood on the site of the present “Town Hall.” Soon after the Civil War a fire which started in the storeroom destroyed the hall, the storeroom and the residence.
There was a two story frame building with a storeroom below, which was never used to my recollection, the former John Strickler property. William Rhodes’ home was next door and where the College Apartments stands was the Rhodes carriage factory. He employed wheelwrights, blacksmiths, painters, carriage trimmers, to help him build carriages, coaches, buggies and wagons.
Across the street from the Rhodes property was the old Methodist church built of brick and perhaps 60 by 30 feet. There was a gallery across the front and around the sides. During the days of slavery, one side was occupied by colored people and a stairway for them was on the outside while the white people used a stairway on the inside.
Hymn Books Were Scarce
Hymn books were scarce in those days so that the preacher read out two lines of the hymn at a time and the congregation would sing them; then two more lines and so on until the hymn was finished. Cuspidors were plentiful, being scattered promiscuously among the benches for those old time Methodists loved their chews of tobacco.
This church was made famous by Dr. Munsey who preached often in it and delivered his great lecture on “Man” here. A two-story frame parsonage has been replaced by the present parsonage. On the corner of College avenue and Clay street was the preacher’s study, a one story frame building with a touch of Grecian architecture.
On the opposite corner of Clay street was the jail, a place of torture, filth and vermin, cold in winter and suffocating in summer. James Huff was jailer, town sergeant and deputy sheriff and he did his duty as well as he was able but he was handicapped by the law. While Mr. Huff was town sergeant, the town passed an ordinance forbidding hogs to rove about the street. In order to enforce this ordinance they had a municipal pen built and the sergeant was required to arrest all hogs found on the streets and place them in durance vile. You could not get them out until you had paid the utmost farthing and it was no unusual sight to see the natives, when their hogs failed to show up in the evening, pay a visit to Mr. Huff.
Mr. Huff was a terror to the little boys of Salem and if they saw him coming they would scamper home. Mothers would intimidate their children with the name of “Old Jim Huff” and they used to sing.
“Old Jim Huff, rough and gruff,
He lives in the town of Salem,
If you don’t pay bail, he’ll put you in jail,
And land you on the other side of Canaan.”
We will now retrace our steps to Roanoke College. Many of the trees that beautified the campus are gone, some blown down by storms. The birds are not as numerous, the lilac bushes on the west side are gone and the old building has had another story added and has been adorned with fluted pillars of Corinthian architecture and capped with a gable. All this has a tendency to take you away from the modest bearing of old Dr. Bittle, its first president, who was a pillar of wisdom and strength at the time I remember him. He was spoken of by the students as one always loved and never feared.
How different are the comforts of the college today from Dr. Bittle’s time. There was no steam heat but every room had an open fireplace and every student had his individual woodpile on the south side of the college. He had his own ax to cut it to proper length and then carried it to his room himself. Sometimes, when his pile grew small, he would, in a secret way, borrow from his neighbor. Some students could swing an ax like a backwoodsman.
A Silversmith Shop
On the lot where the post office stands was the home of Adolphus Huff, which was later sold to R. E. Magee and then to the government. On the west side of this lot was the property of John E. Withers, a silversmith and a doctor for sick and disabled watches. I don’t think he ever died but just wasted away and shrunk up to a little dust and was blown away.
Across the street Barney Pitzer lived and on the corner where the Episcopal church now stands lived a Mr. Campbell and afterwards his son-in-law, Philip Reed. The Episcopal church bought this property, moved the house back, and built the little chapel which was torn down not so long ago to be replaced by the present parish house. Adjoining that property was the home of Jacob Stevens, who was a blacksmith and his little brick shop stood in the yard just west of the house.
The Presbyterian church stood across the street. When it was first built, it had a tall spire, but in late years it has been cut down. In the steeple was a quaint old clock with dials and it struck the hour of the day on the old church bell. One still silent night, it struck the hour and continued to strike until it had tolled about a hundred times but it struck its death knell and its hands afterwards remained motionless. It had run its course. Later the clock was repaired and put in the fire house on Burwell street. The bell has never been removed from the steeple.
Only Market In Town
Market street had only four houses on the west side and one on the east side. The first was a one story house on the site where G. L. Sears now lives; nest was a two story frame house on the corner of Clay street. Then came the home of Ben Estes who killed and furnished meat for the town. With a one-horse wagon loaded with beef, he would drive through the streets bringing the market to the door of the housewives who would go out and select their roast. His was the only market in town, hence the name Market street.
Near the branch on Market street was the “Hatter’s Shop” of James Huff. He did not sell the stylish hats worn today but a durable wool hat of the same style and finish as Chief Justice John Marshall, John Hancock and others of the Virginia aristocracy.
From the Presbyterian church going west on Main street were the storehouse and home of John Kizer; Snyder’s tannery which was occupied by the rest of the block to the branch. The lower floor of a two-story building, about thirty feet wide and extending almost the entire length of the lot, was where the leather was finished and the upper floor was used as a shop for showmakers. At least 25 showmakers were employed here. The backyard was filled with vats. By the branch on Clay street stood a long two-story frame building with the bottom story for vats and the top floor for drying room.
Furnished Army With Meat
When the civil war started Mr. Snyder contracted with the federal government to furnish meat for the army. Broad street stopped at Clay street and all the land west of that was known as the Snyder tract. Cattle were pastured and kept here until butchered. A large frame building on the north side of Clay street was the slaughter house. After the beef was skinned it was conveyed by car to the building where it was cut up and packed in vats. I can not say how it was cured.
The homestead, owned by Lewis Snyder, was the home of his grandfather. Across the street was the Hannah property. Dixie furniture and Chevrolet garage are located there now. The home of Robert Martin was where Mr. George Shanks lived and he and his family were looked upon as “aristocrats” and in terms of that day they truly were. They had a fine carriage and coachman, servants to come to their beck and call and all the comforts that the country could afford. The home of Judge Griffin was where Mr. Shanks assorted and pressed into hogsheads his tobacco crop to be hauled to Lynchburg. All the work was done by slaves.
Salem’s First House
Across the street from Robert Martin’s, we find a one story log house (the first house built in Salem). It was built by Nicholas Shootman, my grandfather, who drove a six-horse team from Lynchburg to Bristol, carrying and delivering freight.
Ira Peter owned the property where Dr. R. M. Wiley now lives but the property was remodeled by Judge Blair. Mr. John Barnett lived in the house next door which is now owned by Mr. J. A. Thomason. On the next corner was the home of the late John B. I. Logan often referred to as John Big Eye. He was a fine Christian gentleman who went about doing good.
Across the street from the Logan home where the late William B. Bowles afterward lived was a building built for a depot to receive and hold freight brought up the Roanoke river when it was made navigable for boats but this project fell through.
The only other home on this street with the exception of the Dillard home which was located on the property now owned by Mrs. A. M. Langhorne, was the home and blacksmith shop of Joe Campbell. This was located on the Karnes property, which is just east of the Main street church of Christ. There was not another house on either side of the street until you reached Lake Spring. At the time the home of Mrs. Margaret Johnston, an ideal country home, stood where Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Starkey residence stands today.
A Big Spring
There was no lake there, but just a big spring about twelve feet square as clear and cold as could be desired for the stream never lost its force. The water was carried to the house by means of a trolley wire and from the windlass on the porch. The bucket went down this wire to the spring, dipped down and traveled back when filled.
The face of Mrs. Johnston is still in my memory. Many were the slices of bread and butter covered with apple butter that she gave me. How these little acts of kindness linger on and on.
I have reached the last mile post in my description of Salem. I have but this to say that one of the strongest passions and the noblest that God has implanted in the heart of man is the love of the land that bore him. The poet has well said:
“Breathes there a man with soul so dead
That never to himself hath said
This is my own, my native land”.
-Prepared by Lisa King
From The Times-Register archives