N.Y.) Salem Historical Committee (Salem.

The Salem book : records of the past and glimpses of the present (Volume 2) online

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The fires in our village have destroyed several precious collections
of books, and, on one occasion, the intellectual work of fifteen years
was consumed in an hour. There are two private libraries of which
Salem is justly proud, and the public library claims the warmest re-
gard of all. Here we may live in the past with the oldest of writers
and friends, or call with our card for the latest new book from the
press. This should be the center for the extension of our learning,
as it is the latest development from the seed sown in 1786, when "a
committee of thirteen was appointed to promote literature through-
out the state," and one of our townsmen was of that number.

In our beautiful valley, where nature itself is an inspiration, the
eagerly sought literature has been cherished through all the years.
From our noted school many have passed out upon the higher walks
of life, while from the church, where jewels of truth have sparkled for
ages, others have gone to heaven. And now, with surroundings
even more helpful shall not we pass

" Forward to the starry track
Glimmering up the heights beyond us,
On, and always on."



The poetry of Salem, though limited as to volumes, holds an im-
portant place in the town's history. Therefore, to write a history of
the town without mentioning its poetry, would be like making a
rose and leaving out its fragrance. As Coleridge has said, " Poetry
is the blossom and fragrance of all human thought."

The early settlers had little time to court this Muse ; the daily strug-
gle for bread prevented literary activity. But we are not to suppose
from this that the aesthetic taste of our Salem forefathers was en-
tirely dormant. We cannot think that the woodman starting out
with his well-sharpened axe glistening in the morning sunshine had
not in his nature, though unconscious of it, the rude elements of
poetry. He could not behold the grandeur of the forest, the scene
of his day's labor, without in some measure feeling the poetry in

One of the first poets of the town was St. John Honeywood, born
in Leicester, in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. At the age of
twelve he went to a Latin school in Lebanon, Conn., where he pre-
pared for Yale College. At Yale he became the - distinguished fa-
vorite of the president. Dr. Stiles; completing his college course, and
graduating with great honor, he left New England and went to re-
side in Schenectady, where for two years he was preceptor of an
academy. He then removed to Albany, where he studied law under
Peter W. Yates; was admitted to the bar. He then went to Salem,
where he practiced his profession for ten years with unblemished rep-
utation. He was made a master in chancery, which office he re-
signed on being appointed by the governor and council, clerk of the
county. He was chosen one of the electors of the president of the
United States, when Mr. Adams became the successor of Washing-
ton, and at that time he composed verses on the retirement of Wash-
ington. In 1801 the first and only volume of Mr. Honeywood's
poems were published. A number of them were of local interest,
some historical, others, poems of fancy. He had a keen sense of


humor. We find a good specimen of it in a short poem which bears
the title, " Impromptu," written at a small country inn, which had
once been the residence of a lady of his acquaintance.

"In this low mansion where the unpainted sign

Invites the weary traveler to rest;
Where village hinds in noisy chorus join,

Drone the long tale, and break the threadbare jest;

Some years ago a pair, whom heaven designed

For brighter prospects and a milder fate,
Dead to the world, in mute despondence pined

In the rough arms of an unfeeling mate.

She was the floweret drooping o'er the rill,
Whose trembling lips imbibe the morning dew;

He was the hemlock bristling on the hill

Rough at the first, and roughening as he grew.

As well she knew 'twas fruitless to bewail

Her vanished joys and destiny severe;
She told to none her sympathetic tale,

And checked with proud reserve the rising tear.

If led by instinct to her husband's ear,

In some soft horn she ventured to complain,

He whistled, yawn'd, and raised the unmeaning stare
Then turned and dozed the livelong night again.

Yet this dull mansion's cloistered gloom to cheer,
Her happier friends oft held the social round,

The sprightly Beatrice shed a radiance here,

And Fredwell chang'd the spot to classic ground.

Here oft the village Bard, and one full droll,
We had, a mixture strange of law and rhyme,

With his fair shepherdess was wont to stroll,
And kill in harmless chat the tedious time."


I quote a few lines from another poem, addressed to a friend, and
written from Schenectady, showing the author's best powers in de-
scribing pastoral scenes:

"Come see what beauties o'er our fields are spread,
What sturdy herds our verdant pastures tread;
O'er our wide plains what stately cedars rise
Whose cloud-topp'd heads support the bending skies ;
Here every grove with vocal music rings,
Here every breeze wafts health upon its wings."

Though written from Schenectady, to one who has beheld the
beautiful scenery of our own town, it seems clear that the poet must
have drawn his inspiration from the " wide plains " of Salem, and her
groves ringing with vocal music.

The Rev. John B. Steele, known as the sacred poet of the "Re-
formed Church," was born in Salem in 1796, his ancestors for two
generations having had their homes in the town. He made his prepa-
rations for college in the Salem Academy, under the instruction of
"Master Stevenson". In 1810 he graduated from Middlebury Col-
lege, then pursued his theological studies in New York, under the
celebrated Dr. John, Mason. Mr. Steele was not only a sound theo-
logian and gifted preacher, but was rarely gifted as a poet. This
talent he exhibited at a very early age. On the day of his gradua-
tion at Middlebury he delivered a poem which was received with
marked favor. Several of his poetical productions he contributed to
the secular and religious press. He published at different times in
" The New York Observer " and " Christian Intelligencer " metrical
versions of many of the Psalms, all of which are marked by
the happy talent of versification, while they retain the spirit of
the original. He paraphrased large portions of the sacred Scrip-
tures; the entire books of Ruth, Esther, Jonah. He also ren-
dered into verse the history of Jacob, of Elijah, of Hannah, of Isaac
and Rebecca, of David and Goliath. He was frequently called upon
to read in public his poems, and he delivered to large audiences, in
city and country, his "Ruth" and "Esther" more than a hundred

These paraphrases were very happily expressed, and delivered in
a very pleasing manner, and were both instructing and entertaining.


On anniversary occasions of churches and schools he often contrib-
uted, on solicitation, hymns to be used as a part of the exercise. In
this department he seemed to excel. On the occasion of the one
hundredth anniversary of the White Church, in Salem, Air. Steele
read a poem, historical and descriptive, of the former pastors and the
olden times. He was solicited to collect and publish a selection from
his poems; and, according to the desire of his friends, a volume was
issued from the press under the title of "Sacred and Poetical Para-
phrases", of about four hundred pages, containing in addition to the
poems already named, thirty of the Psalms; fifty of a miscellaneous
character, with several, which he has entitled songs, of a lighter char-

He wrote for his own recreation many poems which have never
been printed. These remain in manuscript, a large number of which
are regarded as equal in merit to any found in the volume given to
the press.



" Wild warbling nature all, above the reach of art ! "

This was Salem's earliest music, and as we listen to catch the
strains of that past harmony, they sweep down the ages, through the
alternating seasons of joy and sadness, like the chords of an aeolian

" Music, where soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory."

" There's music in the sighing of a reed,
There's music in the gushing of a rill,
There's music in all things, if men had ears,
Their earth is but an echo of the spheres."

" Thou, God, art the Father of all music,

Sweet sounds are a message from Thee,
Thou hast made Thy creation all anthems

And it singeth them silently."

Silent, too, has been much of our human melody; no past achieve-
ment has left high record here; yet the waves of time have washed
some relics upon the shore, and these would tell of bygone sym-

Here is a spinet! long has it outlived the fair owner,
whose companion it was when her days were a dream
of love; life's sweetest music it might disclose were our
ears attuned to its old-time notes. Now it stands, like
the Clementi piano — a time-mark in musical history. Cle-
menti first gave the piano forte its own character, and raised it
from a mere variety of the harpischord; his manufactory was estab-
lished in London, 1799; only a few years later, a piano of his ap-
peared in Salem. This indicates musical enterprise, if nothing more.
Other silent instruments are hiding here and there, as though un-
willing to reveal the past; from these we turn to look for the ancient
bass-viol, or violoncello, which for many years added its notes to


the voice of praise in one of our churches. In those days, to a
childish mind, there was a grave mystery hanging over that music,
something "bass", but very sweet; something to be heard, but never
seen, else why was that red curtain so hurriedly drawn ere any tones
were sounded? It was with some disappointment that, in later years,
this solemn thing was found to have been "only a fiddle". Is the
story true, that a small violin introduced into another of the choirs,
caused such excitement, that one from the congregation greeted
the pastor on Monday morning with angry words, assuring him that
"The like would not be seen in heaven.*' "My dear man," was the
Scotch dominie's reply, "if ye continue in such a frame of mind, ye'll
ne'er be there to know."

The "old-fashioned singing schule!" who has not seen the knitting
dropped and the glasses rubbed at the very mention of those times?
In what was the charm? The music? Those quaint old singing
books seem dull enough now, but then, between the lines, there was
romance and love galore.

This little corner of the earth has not been too remote to echo
the harmonies of the world's great masters; its marriage peals and
funeral dirges have long been set to their high-toned music, and in
the library there are well-worn pages from the composition of Han-
del, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Gounod, which are
now the memorial of one who loved them.

There is an unuttered melody which thrills the hearts of those
whose early days were spent in this beautiful valley; each summer
brings back some world-wanderer whose spirit responds to the
"Home, Sweet Home", and a deeper sweetness steals through the
soul, if touched with the blessing of " peace " from above.

" Thither we hasten through these regions dim,
But, lo! the wide wings of the seraphim
Shine in the sunset! On that joyous shore
Our lightened heart shall know
The life of long ago :
The sorrow-burdened past shall fade for evermore."



The industries of the town of Salem since the date of its settlement,
although not in any case of great magnitude, have been many and
varied, and prove beyond reasonable doubt that the inhabitants have
ever been even above the average, energetic and enterprising. It
would take too long a chapter to speak of all the industries which
have been inaugurated here, and but a few of the more important
and interesting will be mentioned.

It will possibly be matter of news to many of the present genera-
tion, in this day of pronounced temperance proclivities, to be in-
formed that many years ago, and not far from the beginning of this
century, there were two distilleries in active and prosperous opera-
tion in this town, one near the late residence of Captain Joseph H.
Hays, deceased, and the other in what was in those days known as
"Clapp's Mill" and now as Rexleigh. It is said that a tin dipper
hung near the tub which received the liquor, and any one who so
desired could drink his fill without as much as saying, " thank you,"
to the proprietor. It is good proof of the advance and improve-
ment in temperance sentiment to learn that the manufacturing of
ardent spirits was discontinued in this town many years ago, and
would probably not be tolerated at the present day.

The old gristmill, which still stands on South Main street in this
village, is a monument to the enterprise and philanthropy of one of
the early settlers of this town. It appears humble and unimportant
enough at the present time, but, in reference to the date of its erection,
the difficulties attending its construction and the benefits derived
from it by the inhabitants of this region, was undoubtedly
the most important industry ever established in this town.
It was built by General John Williams several years
before the end of the last century, to supply an urgent
and ever-growing necessity, as it was the only mill for
many miles around. The building of the dam on " White
Creek", a quarter of a mile above the mill, which distance was nee-


essary in order to obtain the requisite "head" or fall of water, and
the construction of the ditch or canal to carry the water to the wheel,
was so difficult and the work of such magnitude that only a man of
undaunted resolution and of almost unlimited command of funds
could have been successful in the undertaking. The old General did
succeed, however, as he did in everything he undertook. To illus-
trate the difficulties he was obliged to encounter in the construction
of the canal, one only may be mentioned: It was found after the
work was commenced that for a considerable distance the canal must
be dug through a bed of sand, which would not hold water; to over-
come this obstacle, which was generally considered insurmountable,
so much so that the name of "Williams' folly" was given to the work.
General Williams conceived the plan of "puddling" or covering the
bottom and sides of the ditch with clay, which made them perfectly
impervious to water. " Williams' folly " has done good service for
over one hundred years, and is still serviceable ; and the plan adopted
by General Williams to make his canal water-tight was afterward
used in the construction of the great Erie canal. The old gristmill
still stands as it has stood for over a century, and is still a benefit to
the community around it. The old overshot wheel, twenty-four
feet in diameter, which it was the delight of the writer to watch in his
boyhood days, as it made its slow and dignified revolutions, has been
taken out, however, and the more modern and serviceable " turbine ''
substituted. The granite or marble shaft, reaching many feet to-
ward the heavens, is often erected in memory of the man who has
benefited his fellows or has done some deed for which his memory is
held in esteem, but no man could desire a better monument than is
the old gristmill to the pluck, enterprise and philanthropy of General
John Williams.

During the early part of this century, a large and very prosperous
business was carried on in the old brick shop, which is still stand-
ing in the rear of the fire engine house in this village, in the manu-
facture of hand fire engines. Many engines of the most approved
style of those days were built and shipped to different parts of this
country, and even across the ocean; and many hardy firemen in
America, as well as in European cities and villages, have success-
fully combatted the destructive element with apparatus manufactured,
as a brass plate on the front of each engine stated, in Salem, N. Y.
General Williams was one of the proprietors of this enterprise.


An iron foundry was operated in the boyhood days of the writer
by a Mr. Russell, on Nicholas street, near the residence of Mr.
Hugh Smart, and he now remembers, as one of the most fascinating
sights of his childhood days, how he used to watch the molten iron
pouring like a river of fire into the forms prepared to receive it.
Another foundry was also operated, many years prior to the one
first mentioned, on Main street, near the residence of Justice James
H. Houghton. Barnard and Proudfit were the proprietors.

A knitting factory was in successful operation for several years,
along in the fifties, in the building on West Broadway, now owned
and in part occupied by Mr. Frank Shields. Marvin Freeman, Ira
Broughton and David Bowen were some of the owners. Steam was
used as a motive power, and Albert K. Broughton, the veteran
locomotive engineer, performed his initial service in that line by
running the engine which furnished the power.

Another factory, operated by water, was situated, in the young
days of the century, on the " White Creek," near the late residence
of Samuel S. Billings, deceased. Zacheus Atwood was the owner.
A long and expensive litigation was provoked by the overflowing
of land, caused by the raising of the dam at this factory, and it was
during the trial of this action that the principle of the " piling " or
backing up of water on itself was first sworn to and proved in a
court of law. This litigation and the gradual lowering of the water
in " White Creek," by reason of the demolition of the forests, made
the running of the factory difficult, uncertain and unremunerative,
and it was abandoned to fall into ruin, and, finally, long before the
present generation materialized, to disappear from the face of the

It is known to but few of the present day, that long ago, while
the century was still young, the manufacture of brass eight-day
clocks was extensively carried on in this village. There is no record
extant, so far as the writer knows, of who the proprietor was or
where the works were located, but undoubtedly some of the clocks
are still in existence and are unweariedly marking the course of time
long years after their makers, and even the records of who they
were, have been buried from the sight of man by the dust of ages.

One of the most important, and to the people of this village, the
most beneficial, industries of later years, was the shops erected by
the Rutland and Washington railroad about the year 1852, when
the road was built through this town; and afterward continued in


operation for several years by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Co.
after that corporation had purchased the road. They consisted of
machine, blacksmith, carpenter and paint shops, and in all
departments over one hundred men were given employment. In a
few years after the last named company came into possession, a
large car-building plant was added to the other departments. The
building in which the latter industry was carried on was, unfortu-
nately, destroyed by fire during the year 1878, and the work of car
building was discontinued by the company on the ground that it
was cheaper to buy their cars than to build them. The convenience
and necessities of the company required the work in the other
departments to be done at other places and the workmen were
gradually withdrawn from the shops at this village, until the busy
sounds of honest toil have almost entirely ceased to be heard. The
great round house and machine shops remain, however, and it is
hoped may again, in the near future, become vocal with the
throbbing of their mighty machinery and the blows of the implements
wielded by scores of brawny workmen.

The making of roofing slate is an industry which has made the
name of Salem as familiar as a household word in many of the
cities and villages of this and foreign lands. The old " Excelsior "
quarries, situated about three miles east of this village, were exten-
sively operated for many years by a company of New York and
Brooklyn capitalists, under the superintendency of Mr. John
Edwards, who still resides here. A vast amount of roofing slate
has been shipped to all points of the compass from these quarries,
and no better slate was ever manufactured. The quarries were
abandoned a few years ago on account of financial stringency, and
because the expense of working, on account of their great depth,
and of marketing the slate, on account of their distance from
the railroad, was very great. A number of smaller quarries have
also been operated in this section. It is possible that in the near
future the slate industry may again be successfully prosecuted in
Salem; the hills of the town are filled with the finest quality of this
valuable stone, and there it lies, only waiting for the man to arrive
with enterprise enough to take it out and convey it to the markets
of the world. A sure fortune awaits such a man.

In the year 1875, a number of enterprising farmers organized a
stock company for the purpose of manufacturing cheese, and a
large factory was erected during the same year, near the bridge


over " White creek," a few rods south of East Broadway. The
factory has proven generally to be successful and remunerative,
and has been operated every season since it was built. This indus-
try, though humble, is a source of profit to our farmers and is
especially a blessing to their hard-working wives, as it saves them
the arduous labor of caring for the milk and making into butter.
On this account, if for no other reason, it is hoped the industry
may be permanent, and the present indications are that it will be.
Captain James M. Thompson is president, Horace Townsend is
secretary and salesman, and Mr. Morhouse is cheesemaker at the
present time.

During the year 1886 the enterprise of a few citizens resulted
in the establishment of a factory for making shirts in this village.
It was first conducted by Mr. B. H. Griffin and later by Mr. Henry
Spallholz, on the corner of Williams and Railroad streets, but in
the fall of 1892 was moved to the steam mill on Park place, and
during the succeeding year the plant was purchased by a stock
company. It was known as "The Salem Shirt and Sewing Com-
pany," and was run by them until the month of July, 1895, when
the stock of the company was purchased by the firm of Levi
Wechsler & Company, of Paterson, N. J., who are still the owners.
The industry is remunerative and growing under the superintend-
ency of Mr. Henry Spallholtz and is carried on in a large building
especially constructed for it on Park place. It has become one
of the permanent institutions of our village.

The stock company organized a year or more ago, under the
name of "The Salem Manufacturing and Power Company,"
engaged extensively in the manufacturing of novelties of wood;
many beautiful and useful articles are made at their factory, which
is in the steam mill, on Park place. Quite a large number of hands
are employed and the business is increasing daily. John J.
Beattie, Mark L. Sheldon and Jesse S. Sherman are members of
this company and Cole Stickles is superintendent.

Another industry of the same nature as the one last mentioned
was started in January last by ex-Sheriff George N. Finch and the
Le May brothers, in the Gibson building, on Williams street. The
enterprise bid fair to be in the highest degree successful, but,
unfortunately, in August last, the building occupied by them burned
to the ground and work was necessarily discontinued until another
building could be erected. The contract for the new building has


been let and as soon as it is completed the business will be resumed
by the Messrs. Le May.

Mention should also be made of the extensive knitting factory
now in process of construction at Rexleigh. by Mr. George E.
Brockway, of Cohoes. N. Y. The factory will be built entirely of
marble and will furnish employment to many artisans, male and
female. The benefit to the town and village of Salem derived from
this last-mentioned industry will be incalculable. A brighter day
is dawning upon Salem. We shall soon have electric lights, and
as the darkness and gloom of physical night is driven away, so
the electric light of material prosperity will shine abroad until
even - home within the borders of the town shall be cheered and

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Online LibraryN.Y.) Salem Historical Committee (SalemThe Salem book : records of the past and glimpses of the present (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 21)