Articles & Stories

The First Century Of Livingston

County's Little Town of Salem

Porter, Watts, Berry, Haynes, Hedge, Rutter, And Rodgers

Families Were Among The First To Settle Here In 1798

By Hazel Robertson - 2008

In 1795 western Kentucky was opened for settlement by the Kentucky Legislature, and by 1798 pioneers were coming from the Carolinas, east Tennessee and Virginia. Some, bringing their slaves, were drifting into the fertile Salem Valley to settle. Some of the early names were Porter, Watts, Berry, Haynes, Hedge, Rutter, and Rodgers. Supposedly, Berry Porter called their little settlement Salem long before it became a town. It has been said that small towns are made of little bits and pieces, and our Salem is certainly no exception.
Livingston County, formed in 1798, was much larger than now. The first county seat in Eddyville moved to Centerville, and finally moved to Salem in 1809. William C. Rodgers from Tennessee owned land and offered two acres for a town square, at what is now the intersection of Highways 60 and 723. Rodgers was to erect a hewn log courthouse, measuring 24 feet square, with three jury rooms and a log jail, measuring 12 feet square.
The courthouse was erected, but it seems it was a few years before the jail was completed. The town was officially established in February 26, 1810. The name it already had was accepted, and the first trustees, Samuel Hawkins, Jacob Hoots, Henry F. Delany, William Woods, Thomas Champion, and Henry F. Delaney, were appointed.

Main Street, Salem, Livingston County, Kentucky, ca. 1925. The first building on the left is McDaniel Dry Goods; next is a small building that had been a store and a doctor's office; on down the street is the Masonic Lodge with a post office and jewelry store on the first floor, and at the far right is a millinery and hardware store. All the stores except McDaniel Dry Goods burned in 1926. It has been suggested that the third, fourth, and fifth men from the left could possibly be Elton Nelson, Merritt McDaniel, and Hendricks Mitchell. All of these buildings were built in the 1800s. (Photo courtesy of Hazel Robertson.)

By now a blacksmith shop, tavern, livery stable, and a general store were in operation. A Presbyterian Church had been established in 1804 by Rev. Terah Templin in a log building on the corner of the present Boyd Funeral Home block. A Methodist minister, Peter Cartwright, was preaching in the area, and by 1810 Cumberland Presbyterian ministers, William Henry and Thomas Kirkham had been ordained.
In 1817 a new courthouse was ordered. It was to be a two-story brick, 36 feet square. It was finished in 1820 by John Pucket for the amount of $500 and stood on the NW corner of the square where the Salem Baptist Church is now located. It had a hip roof above the second floor on which a small bell was mounted. That bell is presently in a rock frame in Salem at the intersection of Highways 60 and 133. The old jail was replaced in 1824 by Amos Bolton and was located where the city hall is now. Diagonally across the street from the courthouse, on the southeast corner of the square, was a two-room brick building housing, offices of both clerks of circuit and county courts.
By 1825 Salem was a growing, lively town. Dickson Given had built and was operating a two-story brick hotel just up the street from the clerk's offices, about where Glenn's Prescription Center is today. There were other brick buildings and a number of hewn log buildings, most of which were one story. The population by that time was 250. The stagecoach stopped in the afternoon at the hotel, and many townspeople hung around the hotel door to see the passengers. There were dances played for by fiddlers Silas Hovious and Billy Williams. Horse racing at nearby race tracks was a great source of entertainment, and with and horse racing, high stakes betting, dances, etc. there seemed to be a great deal of drinking and gambling. It was the trade center of this part of Kentucky, and there is much mention of wealth, culture, and education in older recordings.


The Salem Hotel ca. early 1900s. A pharmacy and a bank are located here today.
(Photo courtesy of Hazel Robertson.)

A new section known as the Bigham addition had been annexed in 1825, and in 1826 the Masonic Lodge #81 was organized with James White as Master for the first three years. Several people were appointed surveyors, including James Rutter and son, and roads 30 feet wide extending one-half mile in different directions were being surveyed. During the 1820s and early 1830s, some of the merchants were the Watts brothers and Rutledge T. Berry. Charles Webb (later Dr. Charles Webb of Caldwell County) had a saddle shop. Ben Bolton had a blacksmith shop, and there was a shoemaker and a hatter in business.
While Salem was the county seat and Joseph Watts was deputy sheriff, local crime did not seem to be much of a problem, but the court did have to deal with some of the Cave-in-Rock crimes and the Lewis brothers, nephews of Thomas Jefferson, when they brutally murdered a slave. In the winter of 1838, Salem witnessed the heartbreaking Trail of Tears when the Cherokees passed through on their march to Oklahoma.
There are two old cemeteries. The Pippin (now known as Butler) Cemetery is just back of the Butler House, which was built in ca. 1811. The oldest monuments found in that cemetery were for Darn Frazer, who died in 1819, and for Betty Bigham, dated 1820. The cemetery has not been cared for and many of the monuments are destroyed. Apparently, the last burials there were those of my great- grandfather, Augustus (Gus) Alley, in 1860; and Martha Patterson, wife of Jesse, in 1864. Tradition has it that some of the soldiers killed in the Salem Battle of the Civil War were buried there. That may be possible. A report of the battle says that eight men were killed, but only two names were found, Wiley P. Fowler and David S. Green, both of whom are buried in Crittenden County.



The Salem Union Church was built in 1889 on land given by Mr. and Mrs. William A. Hayden for a church to be "used by the Cumberland Presbyterian, United Baptist, Methodist Church, and Christians with privilege to other white denominations of the county."


It is said that the Mills Pioneer Cemetery, just south of Salem, was established in 1824. The earliest monument found there is for Mary Phillips dated 1827. The last burial there was Isaac Linley in 1933. Many of Salem's early settlers are buried there, like the Watts, Rutters, Phillips, Haynes, Shelbys, and McCollums, Parkers, and Greers.
Salem Cemetery, the one used altogether now, was established in 1859 on the property of Asa Alvis as a private family burial plot when his son, Robert, died. The Alvis family also gave some additional land for the cemetery.
Things went fairly well for the town until 1833 when there was a cholera outbreak and 17 people died, including several children. This was followed in 1837 by a long dry year that caused a panic. The businesses that did not fail suffered severe loss, and some of the larger farmers were forced to sell slaves in order to feed the family and remaining slaves. Before a complete recovery was made, Crittenden County was formed from Livingston. The county seat of Livingston was moved to Smithland in 1842. The courthouse was sold for the sum of $10 to the town's church trustees: Thomas Smith, Methodist Church; W. B. Greer, Old Presbyterian Church; William Pippin, Baptist Church; and Presley Gray, Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The building was used for church and community services.
By 1850 the original names in Salem: Haynes, Watts, Givens, and Campbell, were being replaced by Evans, Babb, Knower, Barnett, and Drs. Linley, LaRue, Jordon and Bass.
By 1862 the Union Army occupied much of Kentucky and, with the Confederates coming in behind the lines, livestock and other provisions were taken. A skirmish took place, and the town was ordered to remove the old courthouse to avoid it being burned. The townspeople tore it away in order to avoid a fire that might destroy the whole town.
When the county seat was moved to Smithland, a great number of families moved with it. All of the officers, some of the businesses, and others were forced to follow. The town managed to survive, but after the Civil War things changed. Only one battle was fought in Salem, but the town was affected in many ways. The population was reduced to 50, slaves were freed, and lifestyles changed, but gradually new people came to town. It began to recover, but there was still more grief ahead.
In 1869 the town was incorporated, and by this time several businesses had moved in. In the following decades, Drs. J. D. Threlkeld, J. V. Hayden, and R. Stewart moved in as had other businessmen: J. O. Gray, S. J. Mitchell, J. A. Farris, and Robert Boyd. Philip Grassham was operating the brick hotel and also had a growing mercantile business.
In 1878 there was an outbreak of yellow fever and in 1895 a wave of diphtheria. Each caused a number of deaths. In 1881 the area suffered another drought. The rivers were so low the boats could not bring supplies. In 1884 Philip Grassham and Drs. J. L. Hayden and Threlkeld formed a partnership and built a four-story tobacco factory, about 150x80 feet, and continued in the tobacco business for several years.
In 1887 the south side of town burned, including the brick hotel, but within a year or so the buildings had been rebuilt, and again Salem had recovered. One of the replacement buildings had a large room on the second floor where graduation exercises and other meetings were held, until 1928 when the school gym became available. Later, our dentist, Dr. Herbert Wolfe, had an office on the second floor of a building that stood where the post office is now.
In 1889 the Union Church was built and shared by all other white congregations, until much later when other churches were built. Apparently, the churches and school used the same building until the Union Church was built. In 1890 the little brick schoolhouse, which was built in 1820, was removed and replaced by a two-story frame building, which burned in 1910. Another frame building was constructed, which stood until 1928 when it was removed to make space for a new building.
By 1890 fluorspar mines were being developed, mostly by prospecting, which gradually increased. By WWI many small mines were operating in the area. Many men were employed by the mines, and this work developed into fullscale operations after the war. Mining was the life blood of Livingston and Crittenden counties for some 50 years.

Hazel Robertson, 420 Alley Lane, Salem, KY 42078, shares this article with our readers.

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