Early History of Salem, Nebraska


(From the Falls City Journal, Friday, September 01, 2000)

 (Edited by DelC)

 This page added 08-07-01 Modified 04-20-03  

The foundation for Salem was made in the autumn of 1854 when John Singleton, J. W. Roberts and Thomas Hare, took claims on lands opened that year by the government to actual settlers.  Mr. Hare purchased his claim, 160 acres with mill privileges, for $50, from a man named Short who had come this year, in company with John Crook, Jesse Crook, William Goolsby and Fargus Pollard, from Fillmore, Andrew County, Missouri.  In the early days, Salem was populated by several wealthy families.


Singleton and Roberts staked a claim for a town site, which the next year became Salem.  In 1848 some of these venturesome young me had gone to Camp Israel, later Salt Lake City, and many other points, selecting what would be their future homes.  After seeing all the wonders of the west, most of them returned and decided Richardson County held the most promising future for them.


The History of Nebraska, published in 1882, states the town of Salem was laid out by J. C. Lincoln, Thomas R. Hare and J. W. Roberts, with a plat of the town inserted in the record book of County Commissioners, Jan. 30, 1855.  Immediately upon platting and planning the town, these men began building homes for their families.  J. C. Lincoln was a 2nd cousin to Abraham Lincoln.


Trees were cleared, sawmills and gristmills were set up near the Nemaha River and the underbrush and tall grass was burned.  Homes and buildings were built from the lumber milled nearby.  In July 1855 most of the families of these pioneers were brought over from Andrew and Holt Counties in Missouri and were established in their new homes in the new town, Salem.  Carpenters were many and at times when building boomed anyone who owned a hammer could become a carpenter's helper.


J. C. Lincoln opened the first general merchandise store in May 1855.  The first load of goods brought into Richardson County was hauled from Fillmore, Missouri by Jesse Crook.  In payment for this trip, Mr. Lincoln gave Mr. Crook a pony, which he later sold to the Indians for $60 in gold.  The store building also housed the Post Office for a few years.  The building was located about midway up the hill on the south side of the street, from what is now known as Highway 8. 


Originally, the town square was to be the full block east and south of the standpipe.   This was in anticipation of Salem being the county seat. After the bitter controversy, over the location of the county seat in 1871, Salem was forced to concede her rights to Falls City.  However, there were two schools and a church built in the area adjacent to what was to be the town square.  During the nine years from 1870 to 1879 Salem remained a city.  In 1879 Salem was forced to become a village and use that form of government.  The name Salem means "peace" and the name was chosen, hoping there might be peace with the many Indians and peace among themselves.


Frequently, bands of Indians came into Salem from 1855 until the late 1860s.  One group began planning a war dance in the middle of main street.  The citizens knew how wild and destructive these dances could become, so they persuaded the Indians to go out west of town for their dance.


The Indians were very much attracted to one very, very blond baby belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, and in one of their visits an Indian woman walked, univited, into the home, going directly to the blond baby's crib, indicating that she would like to trade her papoose for the white one.  It required a bit of strategy and bribery to prevent the ex- change.


In 1867, A. F. Wood established a business, which he advertised as "Carriage and Wagon Making - Manufacturing and Repairing All Kinds of Vehicles."  He was a native of New York, learned his trade there, located in Salem and continued there until his death in October 1916.


Music played its part in Salem's history; churches and some homes had reed organs.  Fiddles, harmonicas and a few fifes furnished dance music.  The old square piano came into Salem about 1869.  One was a rosewood Emerson, which was used until 1900.  The first band was organized in Salem in 1870, with 12 members under the leadership of D. T. Smith, who composed many of the numbers used by the band.  G. A. Spelbring organized the "Salem Ringold Band."


The first gristmill burned in 1885 and in 1888 the Shrimpton Mill was built, developed a splendid reputation and did a thriving business for many years.  In the early '90s, during the depression, the waterpower failed and a new steam engine was installed.  In 1906 the mill was sold to A. S. Daggett and about that period the mill furnished power for the first electric lights in Salem.  At one time there were 54 businesses in Salem.  The people in the surrounding area would drive their horse and wagon or buggy in to Salem, to do their trading for supplies.  During the 1900s, almost every village developed a flourmill and some 300-400 mills were operating in Nebraska. 


The fair grounds of the old-time Richardson County Agricultural Society were located near the town of Salem, which was circled by the Nemaha River on three sides.  On the north side was the highway.  The fairs, which were held, at the once beautiful place, annually from the very earliest of times, were the best attended in the state and meetings were looked forward to each year with the greatest of interest.  The first Salem Chautauqua; was held in July 1893 at the fairgrounds.  The date was then changed to early August.  The first year 30 tents (30xl4) were rented, but more interest followed and after the second year there were 225 campers, some camping the entire eight-day session.  The tents were lighted by gasoline torch.  On very hot days, the platform manager told the men, "Don't suffer, take your coats off".


Although the population has declined and most of the older families are gone, when it comes time for the School and Community reunion, they will again come from more than 20 states to see their friends and classmates.  The population will more than double for the three-day Labor Day 2001 weekend. 

(Editor's note: 2000 Census = 138)

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