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Salem Historic District

Salem Village, Washington County, NY

The Salem Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Text below was selected and adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]

The Village of Salem is located near the Vermont border in the town of the same name in the central portion of Washington County.

The Salem Historic District forms the shape of a cross in the heart of the village. At the center of the village a south-north highway, New York State Route 22, is intersected by an east-west highway, county route 30. Route 22 is known as Main Street while Route 30 is Broadway.

The historic district consists of properties lining both sides of Main Street from the Delaware and Hudson railroad tracks at the north as far as, and including, the Baltz and Son Shirt shop at the corner of Park Place. It also includes properties lining both sides of Broadway from the Delaware and Hudson railroad tracks on the west to, and including, the Washington County Courthouse on the east. The district boundary runs behind all structures at a distance of two hundred feet from the center of the road.

The district contains seventy-nine residences, commercial buildings and churches. Approximately ten of these are twentieth century structures. The majority of the remaining sixty-nine structures were built in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Main Street is the commercial artery of the village. Some of the earliest buildings here were destroyed by fire in 1840 and were replaced by frame structures. The buildings range from one to three stories in height and accommodate business on the first floor with apartments above. Architecturally and visually, the scale of the Main Street buildings is harmonious despite the variety of motifs and periods represented.

The Georgian period is best reflected in a wood frame structure built in 1790. The Judge Blanchard home set upon a high foundation, shows Georgian influence in its high foundation, massing, fenestration and plan, which features four rooms flanking a central hall. The focal point of the facade is the entrance with sidelights and a fanlight. Directly above is a Palladian window. The cornice is finely executed with reed moldings and mutules.

From the Federal period, a number of excellent examples remain. The brick home of Judge John McLean on East Broadway has a typical Federal entrance with elliptical fanlight and sidelights. The Academy, once a fine example of Federal period architecture, was altered in appearance by late nineteenth century changes.

A number of Greek Revival period and later nineteenth century structures are included in the district. The First Presbyterian Church on East Broadway and the Proudfit-Sherman House on South Main each have a portico with full height columns, the church being Doric and the Sherman House Ionic in inspiration.

One of the most dominant structures of the district stands on the corner of West Broadway and South Main Street. This is the Proudfit Building, which is owned by the Village of Salem. Built in 1890, the exterior is brick and stucco with a row of arched windows on the first story, an oriole, two tiers of dormers and a large clock tower with pyramidal roof. The whole concoction is medieval and very continental in feeling. The second floor houses an opera house with ornate proscenium arch, stenciled ceiling, balcony and dressing rooms. This floor also contains the Bancroft library, beautifully intact and replete with stained woodwork.

The Washington County Courthouse is another key structure in the district. Built in 1869, it has remained unaltered except for the removal of the bell tower. It is an impressive brick structure with tall arched windows, pilasters, quoins, a bracketed cornice and elaborate brickwork. It is still in use as a courthouse.

Other notable structures are: the Perry residence (frame, rural Gothic cottage with "icicles"); the First United Presbyterian Church (frame, 1797 church with some later additions and alterations); the American Hardware Store (cast iron facade intact); Bancroft house (Victorianized earlier building); Delaware and Hudson railroad depot (frame with overhanging roof, curved brackets, built in 1850); O'Neill building (fine two story spindled "Eastlake," porch built 1900), Abrams building (brick, Federal period, once the On-da-Wa Hotel); Rich home (brick, 1870 duplex).

In all probability, Salem is the oldest settlement which has been in continuous existence in Washington County. The historical and former economic importance of the village are attested to by the many fine residences and commercial structures dating from the Federal period onward and by the presence of such key structures as the academy, Proudfit Hall and the Washington County Courthouse.

Immigrants escaping religious persecution in their homelands and New Englanders who wished to settle new lands to the west were the first to settle in the Salem area.

Joshua Conkey, James Turner and Hamilton McCollister of Pelham, Massachusetts, chose the area of Salem as their new home in 1761. A cabin was soon erected on the spot where the On-Da-Wa House stands (now Abrams' building). In 1764 Conkey, Turner and McCollister brought their families and others to Salem. In the same year they obtained a patent from the governor for 25,000 acres. However before the colonists could obtain the land, they were obliged to bribe the colonial officials, Delancey and DuBois, with a promise of half the land.

After the drawing of lots, DeLancey and DuBois sold their half of the patent to Rev. Thomas Clark, M.D. and his followers, of Ireland. Clark and his congregation came to Salem in order to worship as they please without persecution. At once a log church and schoolhouse were erected. The church was the first built in the county and the one of only two north of Albany.

The Massachusetts settlers and the Irish immigrants were intermingled throughout the town, due to the division of the land and the drawing of lots. There were some rivalries, but for the most part the two groups lived harmoniously.

In 1777 an order was received from General Schuyler for all the inhabitants of the Town of Salem to abandon their farms and take flight before Burgoyne's advance. Some of the men chose to remain and construct a barricade around the newly constructed New England church. The logs for the fort were taken from the original schoolhouse and set around the church forming Port Salem (the site of the First Presbyterian Church on East Broadway). This fort was burned by the Tories in September of 1777.

When the threat of a revolution became apparent, a few of the citizens sympathized with the crown, but their number diminished greatly as the war progressed. John Williams, M.D. was one of the local gentry who stood out at the onslaught of the revolution. Williams was commissioned a colonel in 1776 and formed a regiment, raised mainly by his own efforts, in Charlotte (Washington) County. At the close of the war, Williams was named brigadier-general. His home located on a large tract of land on East Broadway was one of the most magnificent in the village. When the present school was constructed in 1939, the house was demolished.

The act incorporating the Village of Salem was passed by the legislature on April 4, 1803, making it one of the earliest incorporated villages in the state.

Education has always been important in Salem. The first school was built on the south side of East Broadway soon after the founding of the town. This and subsequent structures built on the same site were destroyed by fire. In 1811, the first academy on West Broadway was opened for classes, The present academy on West Broadway (now an apartment house) was the fourth school building erected on that site, the ones built prior to it having been burned. Washington Academy, incorporated on September 29, 1791, was among the first schools to be founded in the state and was the sixth to be incorporated.

Many historical documents and official records were totally destroyed in the great fire of 1840. Several early structures in the village were also razed. The first cabin constructed by James Turner was destroyed in the fire, but soon after, the On-Da-Wa House was built on the same site. The Salem House, occupying the corner of West Broadway and Main Street, was also consumed by flames. The Fairchild Building was then erected on the same site, but this too fell victim to fire. The Village of Salem next purchased the land and the present Proudfit Building was constructed in 1890.

During the Civil War, the citizens of Salem voted great amounts of money for war purposes. In 1862 it was resolved that a regiment be raised in the county with A. L. McDougall, Esq. of Salem as its colonel. Salem raised more than its quota of volunteers for this regiment. Colonel McDougall was fatally wounded in the war and his remains were returned to Salem and buried in the Evergreen Cemetery.

The community of Salem united to undertake the fund raising for and construction of the Proudfit Building. Benjamin Bancroft, president of the local bank, left a legacy of nearly $10,000 to the village. However, in order for the village to obtain the funds bequeathed by Bancroft, an equal amount had to he raised by the village. At nearly the same time the Proudfit family donated a sum of $5,000 to be used to build a theater in the village. The monies were combined and construction of the building was begun in 1890. The building was to include a public library, village offices, the fire department, a theater for use during community productions and events, and space for additional offices and stores. Today this building remains much the same as when constructed.

The twentieth century has been a time of quiet and moderate change in the village. In 1939 the school district was centralized and the new academy was erected on the grounds of Colonel Parker's estate (General William's home) on East Broadway. Additions have been added twice to the building with emphasis placed on keeping with the original architectural style.

Recently there has been increased interest in the village of Salem concerning its early history. The Historical Society has been re-formed and the Proudfit Building Restoration Committee has begun work, both of which manifest the community's concern with and interest in historic preservation.

  1. Conner, William and Manley, Doris, NY State Office of Parks and Recreation, Salem Historic District, Washington County NY, nomination document, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Main Street • Route 153 • Route 22 • West Broadway