African American Salemites Have Distinguished History
By Melissa Prunty Kemp
A Guide to Historical Salem Vol. 1 No. 3
Any historical survey of Roanoke County from 1834-1884 would clearly show that the vast majority of all races resided not in what is now Roanoke, but in Salem, the county seat in 1838. The town of Salem was not only larger but was serviced by two stage coach lines which bypassed stops in Roanoke altogether. Roanoke was attractive to the numerous migrants who camped along Big Lick Springs before traveling west on the Trader's Path (the convergence of Routes 460 and 115 at the east end of Rutherford Avenue, NE) or on the Wilderness Road, or along the Carolina Trail (present day Route 220). Some of these travelers were free blacks who eventually settled all over Roanoke County. Some would become the ancestors of Salem's oldest African American families.
A large number of African Americans who relocated in Salem after slavery had left rural areas of plantations in Franklin and Henry Counties or the furnaces of Bedford and Clifton Forge. Many more came from smaller towns like Lexington. Some came to work for the railroad in the 1850s or to establish businesses in what they considered a more metropolitan area. Several immigrants, along with descendants of slaves from Salem's plantations, secured property on which to make their homes in Salem.
These early residents perpetuated and expanded their educational and religious development. Two of the five churches founded during this period and the one school to serve African American citizens still operate in 1995, providing services to the wider community.
African American Salemites have produced many outstanding educators, two professional and several successful college athletes, school administrators, union stewards, a school board member, a museum director and others in government and civic organizations.
Many readers may be aware of the massive (for such a small city) influx of African American businesses into the Henry Street/Gainsboro Avenue area of Roanoke by 1913. Yet many do not know that a similar phenomenon, a business district especially for and run by African Americans, occurred in Salem, although on a smaller scale. African American Salemites operated restaurants, a drug store, barber shops, a grocery and a taxi company. Several of these businesses are still being maintained in downtown Salem, though new start-ups have lagged behind since the early to mid 1970s. Although African American Salemites realized little political success, that arena has not remained without participation from long-time Salem residents. Several civic and cultural groups were formed to advance causes important to African Americans and the community at large.
The lives of African American Salemites portrayed in this historical perspective were interpreted using significant amounts of material and artifacts supplied by the Harrison Museum of African American Culture Historical Archives. Actual accounts of life in the city were provided through excerpts from the Museum's oral history project entitled A Hidden History: The Black Experience in the Roanoke Valley, edited by Melissa Prunty Kemp. In addition, Dee Die Kagey's work on the history of Roanoke County found in When Past Is Prologue: A History of Roanoke County, was invaluable in compiling this synopsis. Finally, several of Salem's oldest living African American citizens contributed their memories and artifacts: some of these are Lucy Harmon and daughter Marylen Harmon, Edna Prunty, Gertrude Logan and Melody Stovall.
While Salem at one time was larger in area than Roanoke City, African American residents were not spread throughout that larger landscape. The vast majority of these people lived to the south of Main Street (Route 460) on South Broad, Chatman, South Market, Calhoun, Burwell, Colorado, Craig, Monroe and what is now Thompson Memorial Drive. These locations were also referred to as Government Hill, Catt Hill and Pine Oak, but all were in the city proper. Dee Die Kagey's A History of Roanoke County reports that many African American Salemites were descendants of slaves, and that much of their land was given to them by their masters. Other parcels were purchased.
While moderate-sized plantations existed in Salem, slavery on a large scale was not a factor in some parts of Roanoke County. Much of the county was the territory of the Roanoke Indian tribe in earlier years. In addition, the hilly terrain and rocky soil of far southwest county and the Mason's Cove and Catawba area would not have supported widespread farming. Museum archival records show that some of the first known blacks to settle in Roanoke County were free-black metal workers who moved to Catawba.
Early Salem governed the education of its white and black citizens through separate school boards. The black board operated one school. To differentiate it from white, numbered schools, the black school was not named, but designated by a letter. Salem Graded School "A" (also referred to in Kagey's book as Roanoke County graded School "A") was the name of the facility on the corner of Water Street and School Alley in 1899. It grew to become the Roanoke County Training School because it offered vocational education in 1918. It was several years before this school would provide a 12th grade education.
As it grew in size and scope of education provided, it was renovated and became George Washington Carver School. Built in 1939 on the corner of South Broad and 4th Streets, it has survived several renovations and name changes, and is now G. W. Carver Elementary.
Its first principal was Theron N. Williams, a Salem resident who received a BA and an MA at Hampton University. G.W. Carver, a modern facility equipped with gymnasium and auditorium, library, cafeteria and home economics and industrial arts departments, provided for the education, recreational, social and cultural needs of African American boys and girls from all over Roanoke County, including Hollins, Vinton, Boones Mill, Goodview (in Bedford County) and other rural areas.
Several prominent Salem citizens were instrumental in the continued success of GW Carver. Among them were Chauncey Harmon Sr., principal from 1953-1966; Joseph H. Kyle III, assistant principal 1962-66; Mrs. Lucy Harmon and Mrs. Jessie Penick Jones, outstanding teachers for well over thirty years. Mrs. Jones, in an interview published as A Hidden History, recalled how she actually attended Salem Graded School A. Upon earning her Bachelors degree from Virginia State University, Mrs. Penick returned to Salem and taught in GW Carver for thirty-eight years. Teachers such as these spawned the growth of numerous successful African Americans, some of whom became teachers and administrators. One of the most famous is Roanoke City School Board Superintendent E. Wayne Harris.
As educators, the entire Harmon family, with the exception of Chauncey Harmon Jr., have been educators in Salem City and Roanoke County schools. Along with them is also Barbara Kyle, music teacher and guidance counselor; Nancy Wilson, mathematics teacher; Juanita Smith, English; Anna W. Johnson, guidance counselor; Daisy J. Armstrong and Daisy C. Jackson, first black supervisors in the Roanoke County Schools. Edna Prunty (reading), Florence Prunty (social studies) and William C. Prunty (government and football coach) were all outstanding educators in the Roanoke County School Systems. For many years after 60's integration, these teachers and counselors were the only black faculty in their respective schools.
Originally, Salem supported five African American churches: First Baptist, Shiloh Baptist, Calvary Baptist; John Wesley Methodist Episcopal, and Bethel AME Church, all built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of the five, two were direct outgrowths of First Baptist Church, the oldest black church in Roanoke County. Founded in 1867, the church experienced two "splits" of its congregation. According to church historian Carolyn Glover, the first division took 125 members who organized the Shiloh Baptist Church in 1889. The second took 66 members who formed the Calvary Baptist Church in 1899. This church's members moved on to other houses of worship and the building was eventually demolished.
African American worshipers in Salem originally met in the homes of parishioners or in other small buildings before actual religious edifices were constructed. The first church services for members of First Baptist took place in the home of member Elizabeth Campbell. Shiloh Baptist Church's first services were in a small structure on Alabama Street. Both eventually purchased the sites for their first buildings in the late 1800s. The membership rolls of both burgeoned with large numbers of African American Salemites. As in many other communities, the church provided moral stability as well as cultural and social outlet.
Salem attracted and maintained a solid black neighborhood; its strong public school system used the talents of soundly educated African American Salemites as role models and teachers, and the presence of organized black churches, pillars of morality and Christian values, influenced newcomers and residents that Salem was an excellent, safe place to raise their children. As the numbers of African American Salemites increased, so did the numbers of businesses that opened to serve a segregated population who, nevertheless, had some disposable income.
The breadth of business ventures undertaken by African American Salemites is illustrated in the accompanying chart, which also illustrates their wealth of ingenuity. Much like the celebrated Henry Street and Gainsboro Avenue Negro Business Districts, self-contained and self-sufficient African American Salemites ran enough businesses to make themselves reasonably comfortable. It should be noted that the amount and success of businesses, schools and churches helped in maintaining civil race relations. This same factor may have been one which contributed to the lack of racial uprisings in the Roanoke Valley as a whole.
Advocates for fair representation on the Salem City School Board and City Council have been Nancy Wilson, a former teacher, and Emerson Gilmer, a former employee of the VA Medical Center. Mrs. Wilson, a two-time candidate for the school board, fought consistently for increased equity within the school system. She lobbied city government for representation by blacks in administrative positions, for increased numbers of black teachers in the classroom and for increased quality of school curriculum.
Gilmer, a one-time candidate for Salem City Council, has fought continuously from 1984 - 1991 for black representation on the Salem City School Board and City Council. As yet, City Council has no black member. However, the School Board got its first African American member in 1993, William Sinkler. The Rev. James Allison Braxton, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Salem, also ran for City Council. African American Salemites have made a concerted effort to break through all-white control of their city government; progress has been slow, changes are gradually being realized.
Businesses Run by African American Salemites
Ballard Preston (Ran first cab-stand in Salem)
Howard Lawson and Alex Campbell (One-car taxi service)
Jim Fleming (Two-car taxi service)
Vernon Patterson (Three-car taxi service)
Alvin Everett (Owner, Salem Taxi Service)
Physicians and Druggists
Dr. W. R.Brown (Eye, ear, nose & throat specialist and ran a drug store)
Christien Anderson, George Anna Saunders (Midwives)
Dr. Terry (Drug store proprietor)
Restaurateurs & Grocers
A. B. Campbell (Restaurant & store owner)
Moses Spurlock (Restaurant owner)
Simon Anderson (Barber shop & ice cream parlor owner)
Jim Fleming (Fleming's Restaurant)
Lou Sellers (Restaurant owner)
Emma Patterson (Restaurant owner)
Mae Whitefield (Restaurant owner)
Arilia Crump (Store owner)
Blacksmiths, liveries & tanneries
John Duckwilder, I (Blacksmith)
Jimmy Coleman (Blacksmith shop on South Broad St.)
Jim Campbell (Owned livery stable)
Edgar Morris (Mechanical engineer for Leas & McVitty Tannery)
Contractors, laborers & artisans
Cabell Rayford (Carpenter/house builder)
Andrew Lewis Rayford (Landscape gardener)
Maxie Rayford (Licensed plumber)
Richard Burks (Electrician, strung first electric lights for Salem)
Edward Russ (Bricklayer)
Bill Taliaferro, Charles Williams Bob Hale, Clarence Anderson and Melvin & Sons (Only plasterers in Salem for many years)
Other business owner/operators
Daniel Bradpher (Science teacher who started an ice business)
John Patterson (Moving and hauling business)
Theodore Hardy (Dry cleaners)
Lou Baxton (Tailor shop)
Richard Hoffler (Funeral Home proprietor)
Edward Morris & Alex Braxton (Owners of coal yard in 1930's)
Arilia Crump (Campground owner)
Hayward S. Statum (Car dealership owner)
Robert and Ellen Hale (Owners of Pine Oak Motel, first motel for backs between Nashville and Washington, DC. Also owned "Dreamland," a swimming pool at what is now Washington Park in Roanoke.)
John Branscon & John Hancock (Barber shop owners)
Salem African Americans Interviewed in Oral History
Oral history represents the voice and memory of cultural groups whose experiences have sometimes been hidden from public view. Yet it is through actual accounts from history-makers themselves that we find some of the most accurate, yet flavorful, renditions of what life was really like. Through a collaborative effort with the Harrison Museum of African American Culture initiated by Professor Michael Cooke, formerly of Virginia Tech, the first phase of an oral history of life for blacks in the Roanoke County area was completed.
Some of those interviewed in the oral history project were born and raised in Salem. Summaries of three of the interviews follow.
Jon Harvey (Billy) Branscon, Jr.
Mr. Branscon was born in Salem in 1918 and birthed by Mrs. George Anna Saunders, who assisted in the births of over 2,000 babies. He attended the Roanoke County Training School, which at this time did not provide a 12th grade education. If Branscon wanted to finish his high school education, he would have had to go to Roanoke, and pay tuition to attend Lucy Addison High School. He elected not to do so and says that many blacks in Salem elected not to go to Roanoke, or even Christiansburg, to get a high school diploma.
Branscon provided a different perspective on residential living in Salem. Blacks always lived to the south of Main Street, while whites always lived on the north side. South Broad is the new name for the old Water Street, an unpaved dirt road which flooded every time it rained. A body could be knee deep in water as a result. Because black residents protested against the stigma which became attached to the name, Water Street was changed to South Broad Street. African American Salemites could now identify themselves with the citizens of white North Broad just across Main Street. Subsequently, they became eligible for the same kind of city maintenance and upkeep as enjoyed in other sections of the city. Other facts about the neighborhood that Branscon provided are that there used to be a railroad station on Tennessee Avenue where a day care center is now located. An orphanage stood on the present day site of Andrew Lewis School.
Branscon's father came to Salem from West Virginia to work for the railroad dining cars. During the summers, his father worked for either the Hotel Roanoke or Patrick Henry Hotel. The family lived on Burwell, Tennessee and Chatman Streets. Mr. Branscon reflected that during his childhood, blacks and whites lived together on Tennessee Street and on that side of Salem in general. Branscon played tennis with white children and even ate at their houses. He says he never had any trouble with white children from the neighborhood, though South Salem whites were not particularly welcome there.
At one time, Water Street had many black businesses on it. Branscon recalls Campbell's Livery Stable, Moses Stubb's grocery store, Theodore Hardy's Dry Cleaners, Mrs. Holmes restaurant, Vernon Patterson's restaurant, and three taxis. Howard Lawson had one taxi next to Mr. Patterson's, and further down the street, Jim Fleming ran a two-car taxi service. At this time there were no white taxi drivers in Salem, only blacks who drove for black and white people. Mrs. Lou Sellers had a restaurant on Water Street. There were several barber shops, one run by the Davenports. Dr. Robert's Drug Store was located in the second block of South Broad. He rented space to Dr. Brown, who had his offices upstairs.
Jessie Penick Jones
Mrs. Jones was born to Alexander and Lula Penick in Salem September 11, 1899. She might have been the last living person to have attended Salem Graded School A. She was taught by John H. Duckwilder, the first teacher of the Graded School A. She recalls that he was a difficult instructor, but entertaining in his oratory and teaching style.
Mrs. Jones also had the distinction of being the first African American to both graduate from Salem Graded School A and then return to teach there after receiving a bachelor's degree. She recalls that there were racial differences in the school system from time to time but she preferred not to dwell on them. In her recollection, the NAACP was very active under the direction of Nancy Wilson. It sponsored many activities including voter registration, during the 1930's through the early 1960's.
There were a few black businesses that Mrs. Jones could remember. The prominent black beautician in Salem was Gertrude Logan, whose beauty shop was in the basement of her home on 320 South Broad Street. Mrs. Patterson ran a grocery store on Water Street called Patterson's Market. Richard Hoffler was Salem's black undertaker. Dr. Rufus Brown was the doctor for most Salemites, and he was of West Indian descent. When asked about black businesses after the segregation period, Jones laughs and says that there were no black businesses after integration. Mrs. Jones never recalls a time when blacks had difficulty voting in Salem. She voted from the age of 18 to the time of the interview without incident.
Mrs. Jones was truly an outstanding teacher. The residents of Salem stood behind their teachers, and respected and recognized them for their excellence. Mrs. Jones recalls a time when she "was at some meeting"[on Palm Sunday at the Shiloh Baptist Church]. "I was to be the speaker." The Master of Ceremonies asked the audience, "all of you in here that have ever been to Mrs. Jessie Jones class, stand up. And the whole congregation did."
Gilmer came to the Roanoke Valley to have a better chance at entering the public sector. He was born and raised in Greensboro, NC, and came to Salem in 12949 to begin working at the Veterans Administration Hospital, now named the VA Medical Center. He worked there for thirty years. Though many natives of Salem believed there to have been few racial problems in residential areas, Gilmer tells a much different story of race relations at the workplace. During segregation as the VA Medical Center, all employees had to eat their meals on the grounds. The dining area was divided by a wall and marked "white" and "colored." There were no major roles for blacks to play in the hospital's union, the AFGE, when it first began. Gilmer was one of the first black shop stewards in the AFGE Union and one of its first black officers. He worked consistently to see that African Americans gained representation and fair treatment in all facets of the Veterans Hospital operations. He was also responsible for having the wall which separated black and white employees in the Canteen removed.
Margaret Northcross Ellis and Her School in Salem
By Lon Savage
People throughout the Roanoke Valley, where the influence of North Cross School is so significant, were saddened when Margaret Northcross Ellis died on October 9. Her death was particularly felt in Elliston, where she was born in 1910 and lived her entire life. But it is in Salem where Mrs. Ellis should be remembered, and her loss mourned, above all.
"Billy," as her friends called her, was the first teacher and one of the founders of North Cross School in a Salem basement back in 1944. She supervised its growth for a decade or more, stayed with it as head of the lower division after the school added the high school grades, and helped it reach its current status as one of Virginia's pre-eminent private schools, located on a spacious campus in Roanoke County.
Mrs. Ellis told how it started, in a brief history of the school which she wrote not long before her death: "Mrs. Howard Butts [of Salem] organized a group of parents who were interested in a private school. Due to age requirements of the public school, no kindergartens and a polio epidemic, eighteen students were enrolled." She was the only teacher that year, holding class in Mrs. Butts' basement on Lewis Avenue. Tuition was $90 a year. (Mrs. Butts, incidentally, still lives in that home.)
The following year, the school was named North Cross, splitting Billy's name, and it moved to "New Castle" at 12 Union Street, one of Salem's most historic buildings. In the fifties, it was incorporated; private donations started coming in, and the program expanded steadily. Miss Northcross married Lion Ellis of Shawsville/Elliston, a grandson of President John Tyler, and a member of the family for which Elliston was named. Her reputation grew as an effective, no-nonsense disciplinarian in teaching, as well as for her sense of humor and pageantry, manifested in elaborate May Day dances, Halloween parades, Christmas pageants and other costumed holiday programs.
In 1960-61, the board of trustees merged North Cross with Eaton School of Roanoke County to become a full-fledged college preparatory school with all grade levels, pre-kindergarten through high school. They bought a tract of land on Colonial Avenue. Mrs. Ellis told of visiting the site, where she found the chairman of the board sitting on a bale of hay, looking at a farm house, scrub pines and a hayfield, and planning the consolidated school that would rise there.
The first headmaster came in, and Mrs. Ellis headed the Lower School. Every year brought new programs and facilities: a revised Book Fair, a Field Day, a Fathers' Association, a new gym, tennis courts, football, basketball, volleyball, tennis, lacrosse and soccer; accreditation, an endowment, summer school, a summer camp, a football field with bleachers, an athletic center, and numerous new academic buildings, facilities and programs. The students went on to many of the nation's foremost colleges and universities.
For years after her "final" retirement in 1979, Mrs. Ellis appeared at the school's founders days, commencements and other special programs. She continued to read to children from her favorite stories at North Cross and other schools. The school's leadership named the Lower School building Ellis Hall in her honor, and she lived with the knowledge that the school, the elementary school building and her home town all carried her names.
North Cross continued to prosper. Today, it enrolls more than 500, with a teaching faculty of fifty, plus administrators and staff. As the school's size and contribution grew, Mrs. Ellis' supporters and admirers -- many of the parents of her students and a growing body of alumni -- included many of the Roanoke Valley's most influential citizens, including one who wrote that "she could scare the wool out of you and let you know that she loved you at the same time."
Mrs. Ellis was known for her New Years Eve parties. She also was known for the gatherings around her swimming pool at her home in Elliston, where her friends and family gathered in the summer to swim and talk and wave to the railroad crews on the trains that passed just a hundred feet away.
Margaret Northcross Ellis always identified with Salem, where she attended church, where she had scores of good friends, and where she started one of the state's great private schools. Salem should always remember her, too.
Broad Street Tour Features Boom-Era Homes
by Mary Hill
A century ago, there were big plans brewing in little old Salem.
Touting itself the Switzerland of the South, the City of Peace and the Queen City of the Southwest, Salem was on the road to becoming -- in the words of one itinerant reporter -- "an active modern city" which offered a vast range of opportunities for "those seeking homes or a fortune."
Several land companies staged an all-out developmental campaign, resulting in an unprecedented surge of growth. Historian Norwood C. Middleton writes in Salem: A Virginia Chronicle that in the first nine months of 1890, over three-hundred new buildings were in various stages of construction -- including "211 residences, 68 for stores, offices and other business purposes, and 39 for manufacturing enterprises."
Such rapid activity -- a developmental pamphlet of the time assures us -- was the natural maturation of an middle-aged town coming into its own, "not a mushroom growth of shabby dwellings and a floating population. [Salem's] history dates back to 1802.... It has always been known for the social refinement, cordial hospitality, general intelligence, high moral tone, and religious character of its people...."
Newspapers from New York to Memphis (with a little romancing from the local land companies) predicted Salem's imminent rise to greatness as well: "Salem is destined to increase in population and wealth, as much so as any city in the South. Her people are hustlers; her lands, especially those which are in the boom districts, are high and dry..." (from the "City Item," Lynn, Massachusetts, 1890); "If the future of Salem as a great industrial center is not assured, then hundreds of men of sagacity and capital are blind.... Money, brains, enterprise, and public spirit are here.... There is a prodigality of raw material at the doors of the town awaiting the ingenuity of man to turn it into manufactured products...." (from the "Dispatch," Richmond, 1891).
And at the very heart of all this ingenuity and enterprise was Broad Street.
Broad Street was the home to a number of the boom-town movers and shakers. Demetrius B. Strouse, lawyer, entrepreneur, and president of the Salem Improvement Company, lived in a fine brick home erected on Broad Street right after the Civil War. Businessmen John M. Evans and Orran D. Oakey -- both of whom played an important role in Salem's boom -- built on adjacent lots. Just down the street, an elite girls school was constructed with the hope that the railroad would lay down tracks right past its front door.
Although the railroad never arrived -- in fact, Salem's budding growth was buried within months under the weight of a devastating blizzard -- Broad Street still captures the optimistic spirit of Salem's short-lived boom era. The great expectations of the late 1880's are expressed in the street's many ornamented homes. Their gables, turrets, peaks and adornments serve as a reminder of the wayward dream to make Salem a thriving center of industry.
These Broad Street homes -- the best and brightest of a by-gone era -- will be featured Sunday, December 10, in the Salem Museum's Holiday Homes tour.
From the gothic silhouette of a "gingerbread house" to the quaint simplicity of a shingled retreat, the holiday tour will explore, inside and out, a range of architectural styles popular during Salem's boom period and beyond.
First on the tour is the Evans-Webber House (213 North Broad Street), one of the few Salem residences listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1882 by John Evans, a prominent merchant and farmer, the house is a testament to a time when prosperity and opportunity were synonymous with Salem.
From its finely-cut white walnut doors to its decorative central tower, the Evans House is reminiscent of a fanciful story-book home; in fact, it is sometimes informally referred to as "the gingerbread house" by area school children. Certainly one of Virginia's finest examples of the Second French Empire style of architecture, the Evans House employs such basic motifs as a Mansard roof, ornamented dormers and a bracketed cornice. Although the home has relatively few bedrooms, its bold outline imparts an impression of space, elegance, and grandeur.
The house's new owners, James and Stella Reinhard, are currently in the midst of extensive renovations -- including complete rewiring, replastering, and some creative restructuring. Although the entire project may take up to three years before completion, the home will be partially renovated at the time of the tour.
Right next door, the Rice-Proctor House (223 North Broad Street) will also be featured in the Salem Museum's Holiday Homes Tour. This stately edifice, the current home of Richard and Jenny Proctor, was constructed with handmade bricks laid 18 inches thick. Each room in the Rice House still has its original fireplace, including all six of its bedrooms. During the tour, the entire house will be open, and each room will be decorated and hosted by members of Friendship Garden Club.
D.B. Strouse, an attorney and one of the prime actors in Salem's boomlet, built the home in 1867. It was passed on to his daughter, Lily Strouse Rice. The Rice family lived in the house until 1974.
The home's most striking feature -- its two-story porch with its double set of Corinthian columns -- is not original. Both D.B. Strouse and his son Clarence were well-known evangelists who traveled to revivals throughout the east. On a visit to Chicago, Mr. Strouse's son was impressed with a porch he saw there and was able to convince the home's owner to lend him the architectural plans; returning to Salem, he replaced the initial one-story porch with this arresting structure.
Across the street, the O.D. Oakey House (212 North Broad Street), owned by Tom and Carolyn King, is next on the tour. According to architectural historian Dr. W. L. Whitwell, the Oakey home is "a typical variation on the Valley of Virginia two-story I-house grown to become an L-shape in the late 19th century."
O. D. Oakey, a prominent citizen and businessman, built the house in 1889. One of Salem's most successful businessmen, Mr. Oakey owned a hardware supply, co-owned the town's main hotel, was a member of Town Council, managed a newly developed telephone company, helped establish a predecessor to the chamber of commerce, and ran Camden Iron Works (whose handiwork is not only found in many wrought fences on Broad Street, but also in jail buildings throughout the southeast).
The O.D. Oakey House's handsome semi-octagonal tower is especially enchanting during the holiday season, as the Kings adorn each of its three levels with a trimmed tree. The picture of grace and welcome, this Victorian home is ornamented with gables, textured shingles, brackets, cutouts, spindles and turrets.
Next on the tour, the home of George and Barbara Bell (352 North Broad Street) was constructed during the height of Salem's boom in order to serve as the Salem Female Seminary. The Valley Railroad had plans at that time to connect Salem and Lexington, and had even gone so far as to purchase a right-of-way through Salem -- including the lot directly to the right of the Seminary.
Although the railroad never laid down tracks, the Seminary went into operation under the supervision of Emmet and Mattie Guy in 1891. Newspaper advertisements from the 1890's boasted the advantages of a new private girls school on Broad Street, featuring the study of English, Ancient and Modern Languages, Art, Elocution, Music, Bookkeeping, and Physical Culture -- all for "moderate terms." The terms ($160 per session for boarding students and around $30 basic tuition for day students) were not enough, however, to keep the school in operation for long. The rising popularity of the public school system soon made many private schools obsolete. By 1899, the Guys sold the Salem Female Seminary and left town.
Constructed in the Italian Renaissance revival style, the Salem Female Seminary is characterized by many decorative dormers, peaks, and bays throughout. Although the home was converted into several smaller apartments in the 1940's, it was restored in 1970 to a single-family dwelling.
Finally, at the corner of Broad Street and Morton Avenue, the 1995 Holiday Homes Tour concludes with the home of Jerry and Sue Sink (365 North Broad Street).
Built in the early decades of the 20th century, this charming Colonial Revival retreat is constructed of wood frame with an unusual wood shingle cladding. The house receives its common name from longtime owner J. Frank Morton, who served as Salem's mayor during WWII. A number of original built-in fixtures -- such as inset bookcases, the dining room hutch, and a small "deacon's bench" -- attest to the home's exceptional workmanship.
The Morton House's gabled roof currently shelters many of the Sink's family antiques and heirlooms, including a surprising bit of Salem history -- a handpieced quilt signed by the South Salem Social Club and presented to Mr. Sink's grandfather, Cliff Poff, in 1936.Live holiday music will be provided through out the tour by local groups -- including a 7-piece flute choir and a minstrel quintet from Saint Paul's Episcopal. Although most homes will be decorated in the unique style of the homeowner, the Rice-Proctor House will be decorated and hosted by members of Friendship Garden Club.
During the tour, guests are invited to visit the Salem Museum to enjoy distinctive herbal refreshments. The Herb Society of Southwestern Virginia will host an old-fashioned holiday tea, provide unique herbal teas, coffee, and homemade herbal refreshments. Lake Spring Garden Club will decorate the Salem Museum for the season.
The tour is self-guided and each home is within walking distance of the others. Parking is available on Broad Street at the Farmer's Market, Salem Baptist Church, or the lot behind City Hall. Visitors are encouraged to use care while touring and to wear comfortable, soft-soled shoes. No spike-heel shoes, smoking, or cameras will be permitted inside the homes. In case of bad weather, the tour will be rescheduled for Sunday, December 17.
Tickets for Salem Museum's Holiday Homes Tour will be on sale in Salem at the museum, Grandma's Attic, and Brooks-Byrd Pharmacy; and in Roanoke at For the Birds, Bowles Nelson Powers Inc., and Designers II.
Tickets can be purchased the day of the tour at the Salem Museum or at any of the featured homes. The cost per ticket is $8 in advance and $10 at the door. You may order tickets by sending a check to the Salem Museum, 801 East Main St., Salem, VA 24153. Call 389-6760 for details.