By Charles Stacy and Edited by Sharon Tubbs
Salem As A Village
Just after the State of Missouri's Legislature passed the laws relating to Village government in 1860, the first mayor of Salem was appointed or elected. He was W. P. Williams, often referred to as "Rip" from the positive and often times violent expression of his feelings and opinions. He lived here a long time and was a prominent citizen throughout his long life. He became mayor in 1860, but how long he served is not known.
The civil war came in 1861, and city governments were suspended. After Williams, records show that O.A. Kenemore, a prominent farmer with a home in Salem became mayor. Next was E. T. Wingo, a lawyer and representative, then C. L. Allen who was also a lawyer but never practiced law. He did serve as Deputy Circuit Clerk and Probate Judge. Allen was followed by Samuel Sachs. No dates are available listing terms of office for these mayors, but it is likely they served from 1870 to 1881.
The Civil War brought Salem a brief moment of fame. A small detachment of Union soldiers from Rolla was housed in Salem. At dawn on Dec. 3, 1861, they were surprised by Confederates. A lively skirmish ensued and the Rebels were fought off. This "victory" loomed large since the Confederates had dominated early in the war. Leslie's Weekly, the Life magazine of its day, printed a double page wood block artist's rendering of "The Battle of Salem." Six Yankee and 16 Confederate soldiers were killed. The Confederates later retaliated by entering the city and burning the county courthouse in Salem.
Night Attack on the Federal forces under Major Bowen,
occupying Salem, Missouri by the Confederate Forces under Colonel Freeman
An earlier log courthouse, built about 1851 or '52, was Dent County's first and was located on the Wingfield farm northeast of Salem. In 1852-53, a courthouse was built south of the present courthouse in Salem. The building measured about 20x40 ft and was built by J. T. Garvin for $800. It was burned during the civil war. The next courthouse built in 1864, also fell victim to fire in May 1866. The county seat of Dent County is Salem. The current courthouse was constructed in 1870.
Salem was incorporated in 1881. “In the matter of the incorporation of the City of Salem, whereas a petition signed by one hundred and thirty-five taxpaying citizens of the town of Salem has been presented to the Court asking that the following described territory may be incorporated as city of the fourth class. The court being satisfied .…., and there are more than five hundred and less that five thousand inhabitants residing within the said limits, it is therefore ordered by the court that .…... are hereby declared a body of politic and incorporate by the name and style of the City of Salem. The court further ordered M. Hagle be appointed mayor, B. Shankey, E. L. Dye, O.S. Rouse aldermen and Jas A. Jadwin, marshal of said city……” M. Hagle served as mayor from 1881 – 1888. Followed by: Charles Middaugh, Adolphus Durham, John S Ault, A. E. MacGlashan, W. R Peck. M.W. Dent and S. H. Ware.
In 1872, the voters of Dent County voted and passed a $100,000 bond issue to bring the Railroad to Salem. By July 1873, the Railroad was extended to the Simmons Hill Mine just south of Salem now south of Wal-mart. The other lead mine in Salem was located on Hwy 19, the “Old Cut,” across the highway from the Visitors Center.
Mrs. Thomas A. Bruce organized the first telephone system. Charlie Jeffries joined the Bruces to install the system about 1900. Homes paid $1 and stores $1.25 per month. Mrs. Bruce suffered agony from her eyes and was blind for 30 years until her death May 8, 1942. The telephone system was sold to United Telephone, now Embarq.
In 1909, a band of 23 pioneers realized the dream of bringing electric lights to Salem with the formation of the Salem Light & Power Co. The city eventually took over the electric system and produced electricity with two big diesel generators. When the generators could no longer meet the demand and were costly to operate the city contracted with Show-Me-Power cooperative.
Historic Photo of Main Street and Court House (now 4th St.)
looking west, Salem, Mo
For a time Salem led the world in the production and shipping of railroad ties. While the early lumber companies cut the vast Ozark pine forests, timber has remained a major asset, with white oak staves for barrels, oak flooring, pallets, charcoal briquettes, and lumber.
Salem and Dent County has had its ups and downs economically, but is proud of its record of having five banks during the Great Depression without a failure. The Depression years brought many changes. The Civilian Conservation Corps brought young men to the area, many of whom stayed. There were CCC camps at Boss and Indian Trail. In the 13,503 acres of the Indian Trail Conservation Area, crews built most of the area's 55 miles of access roads. The Conservation Department purchased much of the cut-over land for $2.50/acre.
Minerals have influenced Salem and the Dent County economy. Greatest was the iron furnace built at Sligo starting in 1880 and active until 1923, 43 years. In recent times, the largest mining and milling operations were in the "New Lead Belt" some 30 miles east of Salem. St. Joe Lead started the mining boom at Viburnum and soon other major mining companies bought land and mineral rights. The mines brought new families and well-paying jobs, with many choosing to live in Salem. Doe Run continues mining and battery reclamation in the area today.
Dent County's skilled labor force made needlework industries a natural. Ely & Walker's four-story factory (now the Fourth St. Mall) was the first. After WWII the Industrial Building Corporation raised funds for the International Shoe factory. Other factories followed Salem Sportswear, Barad Lingerie, Paramount Cap, and Hagale. Today, foreign competition has all but wiped out needlework factories. The Masters Industrial Park now serves as the location of industries in the City of Salem.
Institutional Food Service
Today's largest employer in Salem, US Foods (formerly US Foodservice), is an institutional food business, and began in Salem as Craig Distributing. Farris Craig started after World War II with a panel truck and peanut vending machines. In 1986, the Craig’s sold their business to Kraft Foods which later sold to Alliant and now owned by US Foods. The Craig’s have left their imprint on Salem with Craig Plaza, the Alice Lou Craig Municipal Swimming Pool, the Salem Visitor Center, and Ozark Natural and Cultural Resource Center.
After World War II and through the 50's, 60’s and 70's Dent County underwent changes. There were 60 one-room schools in 1950 and consolidation reduced this number to five districts/plus high schools in Salem and Bunker. Roads were built and improved. Salem Memorial District Hospital was built and became a major industry and health provider.
With guidance from Missouri University Extension, the county became the Feeder Pig & Calf Capitol of Missouri, with huge sales in Spring and Fall auctioning large numbers of livestock graded into pens for size and quality. Loss of farm population often due to the aging of farm owners ended these sales.
The Salem TCRC is fulfilling a role in education and communications. In 2000 Southwest Baptist University's Salem Campus (SBU) opened with over 200 students. SBU Salem Campus was made possible by Wayne Gott and other generous donors in the Salem area. The Commons serves as a home for the Fall Festival, entertainment and an RV Park. The Salem Visitor Center and the Natural and Cultural Resource Center on Highway 19 welcome visitors to the area.
And like the pioneer families of the 1820's, new families are being attracted by the clean air and water, educational system, health care services and low tax rates.