History of Salem Township, Westmoreland County, Pa.
From: History of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
By: John N. Boucher
Published By: The Lewis Publishing Company
New York, Chicago, 1906

Salem Township.

The date of the organization of Salem township is unknown, for there is a blank in our court records, which were probably lost in their removal from Hannastown to Greensburg. It does not appear among the list of townships in 1785, but does appear in the list in 1788. The township has been changed materially since its original formation. It is bounded at present on the north by Washington, Bell and Loyalhanna townships; on the east by Loyalhanna creek and Derry township; on the south by the townships of Unity and Hempfield, and on the west by Penn and Franklin townships Almost the entire township is underlaid with continuous veins of coal of the Pittsburgh seam, which are rarely ever less than seven feet in thickness. The supply is almost inexhaustible, and it affords an industry to perhaps a majority of its present inhabitants. The principal streams in Salem township are the Beaver run and the White Thorn run.

Among the first settlers were many of Massachusetts ancestry, and the whole township, so far as its pioneer families are concerned, bears the impress of New England industry, prudence and thrift. Many of these settlers were of British and Scotch-Irish descent. Among them were James McOuilken, William Wilson, William Hall, Christian Ringer, David Shryock, Michael McCloskey, Philip Steinmates, Jam Cochran, William Wilson; George Hall, the Laughlins, George Wilson, and others. In 1803 John Beatty, of Fayette county, moved into a log cabin about two miles north of the present town of New Salem. About that time two well known stonemasons, Ned. O'Hara and Michael Rogers, were citizens in Salem township, and in 1802 William Wiley came from Ireland. His wife was a sister of Jacob Diebel, an old citizen of Murrysville, and they bought one hundred acres of land which had formerly been owned by the Brownlees and Crookshanks. In 1800 a log school house was erected a mile north of New Salem, close to the Freeport road. The teacher for several years was Alexander McMurry. In 1808 John Kline, who was married to Susan Hill, of Franklin township, settled in Salem township. He was an old man and worked at the cooper trade. He had been given permission to spend the remainder of his days on land that was supposed to belong to Fred Ament, but it turned out shortly afterwards that he was living on Matthew Jack's land. On learning this the old cooper was so wrought up that he hanged himself on an apple tree with a silk handkerchief. In 1805 Fred Anent had come from York county and purchased land of William Dixon, about a mile from Salem. There he lived until July 14, 1847. In 1818 John Hutton came from Franklin county, and spent the remainder of his days in the township, working mostly as a stonemason. George Nunamaker in an early day settled near Congruity. Other early settlers were the Laughlins, Moores, Walthours, Waltons, Saxons, Knappenbergers, Kissems, Shields, Shaws, Cooks, Steels, Potts, Lairs, Sloans, Frays, Dushanes, Christens, McConnells, Jones. Pauls. Stewarts. Wagoners, Givens. McGearys, Snyders, Keeks, Ralstons, Caldwells, Gordon, McQuaides, Stouts, Adairs, Hornings, Gibsons, Craigs, Keples, Shusters, Kemerers, and Zimmermans.

We have some important recollections of this township from the late Hon. Thomas Bigham, of Pittsburgh, who had made extensive researches in antiquarian history. He was a native of Westmoreland county. and his observations applied not only to Salem township but to other early settlements in Westmoreland county. His father was an original settler. and had located on lands on Beaver run, in Salem township, adjoining Delmont, shortly after Pontiac's war, perhaps about 1766. His parents died when he was an infant, and he was brought up by his grandfather. In speaking of the early settlers and their simple habits, he says that even women were reconciled to the plainest of living and attire. There were no stores in that day in which fashionable goods were kept to tempt the vanity of the young. They had no fashionable places wherein to display anything beautiful if they had possessed it. Their food was of the most healthful character, and invariably prepared by their own hands. Most of their clothing was the product of their own looms, and was homespun and grown upon sheep of their own land. There was scarcely a farm in the community which did not raise flax, and this the women spun and wove into fabric. Tea and coffee could be procured only by pack horse trains by which these luxuries were transported from one to two hundred miles. Their log cabins, he says, if not elegant, were at least healthy. People all met and lived largely as a common class. None were masters and none were servants. Their log cabins were very simple. When a young couple married they frequently went into the woods to open up a new home for themselves, and a cabin of two rooms satisfied their ambitions. As children multiplied they enlarged their home but in his boyhood days, hem says, nearly all the well to do farmers had erected substantial frame houses, with parlors. dining rooms, kitchens and the general conveniences of modern civilization. For many years nearly all the goods not raised on the farm were carried from the east by pack horses on roads which were little less than bridle paths through the woods. The road used mainly was Forbes road, and afterwards the old state road, and, though both were originally opened as wagon routes. yet in a few years the landslides, falling rocks and heavy fallen trees, rendered them almost impassable for anything save a train of packhorses. One of the chief provisions which people must have and which could not he produced, was salt. A single horse, he says, would carry three cc four hundred pounds on a pack saddle from the east to the west. Money was almost unknown among the early settlers. Everything was bartered for some other product. Even pack horse trains carried products from the east and traded it for material which they carried back on their return trip. Neighbors frequently went together and collected a large number of horses, which they loaded with goods and journeyed east. Sometimes this caravan would number as many as one hundred horses, which would pass east in a single file, one man having charge of six or eight horses.

Politics was a subject never discussed then by the people. early all the county officers were appointed by the governor, and no conventions were held then to nominate tickets to the few elective offices. Those who aspired to public office announced their candidacy in the newspapers. The public then met, and, with five or six candidates to choose from, each man voted for whom he pleased. The October election in the early days was held in Hannastown and later at Greensburg. Scarcely ever one third of the electors voted at a county election. The election for governer would, however, bring out a larger vote. When he was a boy, Mr. Bigham says, he attended an October election in Greensburg at which Gregg and Schultz were candidates, and was amazed to find the streets of the town crowded with people. About that time the custom of appointing presidential electors came in vogue, and his grandfather was greatly annoyed with the complicated machinery of an electoral ticket. Everyone knew General Jackson, "Old Hickory," as they loved to call him, and of the battle of New Orleans, but they had not heard of the thirty two persons who were to be voted for as electors. They had elected Washington, Jefferson, etc., in the old way, why was this not sufficient?

In 1840 a man named Anderson, originally from Greensburg, was taken to the Western Penitentiary, having been convicted of robbery. He had formerly been a schoolmaster, but took to the woods and soon became one of the most noted and daring highwaymen we have ever had in Westmoreland county. It is said that he was extremely supple, and could leap to the boot of a stagecoach and steal articles from it so quickly that it could not be noticed by the driver or those in the coach. Stealing was a mania with him. He stole articles that were of no value to him at all. When taken to prison he became stubborn and unmanageable, refused to eat, and when placed in his cell stepped up all the holes in it, turned on the hydrant, and when rescued was almost drowned. After lingering in this manner for some days, without taking any nourishment, he died. He had a cave in Salem township where he secreted all of his plunder, and kept hidden from the officers of the law. He was at the zenith of his career of robbery, and intimidation from 1835 to 1840. He was probably no more, after all, than a kleptomaniac, but terrorized the country for many years until finally captured.

Congruity Presbyterian Church first asked for a supply on July 31, 1789. two months after the organization of the General Assembly. On September 20th, 1790, Rev. Samuel Porter and Rev. John McPherrin were ordained ministers in a tent on James McKee's farm, and Porter was installed as pastor of Congruity and Poke Run churches. Congruity Church has raised perhaps a larger number of young men for the ministry than any other in the county. Among others were Rev. Samuel Porter, Jr., W. K. Marshall, Edward R. Geary, Craig McClelland, William Edgar, John Steel, William F. Kean, Lazarus B. Shryock, Samuel P. Bollman, John M. Jones, David L. Dickey and others.

The first pastor, Rev. Samuel Porter, was born in Ireland, June 11, 1760, and was of Covenanter parentage. He came to America in 1783, and spent some time in Mercersburg. In 1784 he went to Washington county, where he taught school. There he came under the notice of some of the renowned men of the Presbyterian Church, and he was induced to enter upon a course of study preparatory to entering the ministry. He studied under James Hughes, John Brice and Joseph Patterson and others. After three years he was licensed by the Red Stone Presbytery on November 12, 1789, and in April of the following year began his work at Congruity and Poke Run. The region embraced by his congregation was little less than a backwoods or frontier settlement at that time. Many of the people were as wild and uncultivated as the country in which they lived, and they were greatly in need of the refining influences of the gospel. It is said that on one occasion when Rev. Porter was preaching in the woods, two, young men withdrew from the congregation and ran a foot race in full view of the preacher and his hearers. Under his faithful work the congregation increased very rapidly, and in eight years they felt themselves able to support a pastor alone, so Poke Run was taken from Congruity in 1798. This was due in part to the fact that Mr. Porter did not regard himself as physically able to attend to the wants of both people. Congruity congregation promised him a salary of "one hundred and twenty pounds per year, to be paid one half in merchantable wheat at five shillings per bushel, and the remainder in cash." To this Mr. Porter agreed, and continued his pastoral relations in that church until his death, September 10, 1825, in all a period of thirty five years.

While Mr. Porter was pastor there, a new stone tavern was built on the pike, scarcely a mile from the church, and was opened by the owner, a very clever and ingenious landlord, who invited the young folks to have a housewarming and dance in his new tavern. Tickets were distributed and guests invited, many of whom were members of Congruity Church. On the Sunday previous to the intended ball, Mr. Porter, after preaching one of his customary eloquent sermons, before dismissing the congregation, said that the Presbytery would meet the following Tuesday in Greensburg, and also said that on Thursday evening at early candle light a ball would be held about three fourths of a mile from that place. He said it was to be hoped that all polite young ladies and gentlemen would attend, for it was a place where politeness and manners could be learned and cultivated, and that many other things could be said in favor of such places which it was not necessary for him to mention at the time. For his own part, if he did not attend, the young folks, he hoped, would excuse him, as it was likely he might be detained by the Presbytery, but if he shield return in time and nothing else prevented him. he would be present and would open the exercises of the night by reading a text of scripture, singing a psalm, etc. Then, with full and solemn voice and in his most impressive manner, he read the 9th verse of the 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes: next he announced and read the 73rd Psalm, and then offered prayer. He prayed for the thoughtless and gay, and asked the Great Spirit to guard them from the vices which might lead the youthful minds astray, after which, with a most solemn benediction, he dismissed his congregation. The evening set for the ball arrived and passed away, but no ball was held, the whole community having been awakened by the venerable pastor's words. During his last years he was enfeebled and unable to stand, and therefore preached while sitting in a split bottom chair which stood in the pulpit. He was succeeded by Rev. Samuel McFarren, who preached there forty two years with great success. He resigned January 11th, 1870, because of his old age, although the members generally favored his continuance. He died August 4th of the same year. He was succeeded by Rev. W. J. Bollman. who resigned in 1872, and Rev. William B. Craig, of Carlyle Presbytery, followed him.

The Fennell congregation, a. Reformed and Lutheran church, is an offspring of the Trinity Reformed congregation of New Salem. In 1858 Rev. R. P. Thomas was engaged to preach to them at Concord schoolhouse every two weeks. In 1859 a lot of ground was purchased upon which a church edifice was built, and a graveyard was laid out. The edifice is of frame, and is forty five by thirty two feet. It was dedicated February 27. 1860, by Rev. N. P. Hacke. The Lutheran congregation, occupying the same house, was organized in 1859. The first pastor was Rev. A. Vetter, who was succeeded by Rev. V. B. Christy, and they have now a large membership.

The Presbyterian Church in New Salem was organized chiefly from members of the Congruity Church, on Christmas Day, 1849. Rev. James C. Carson, the first pastor, was installed on February 11, 1851. A substantial church edifice was erected about that time. Rev. Carson was succeeded by Rev. David Harbison, who in turn gave way to Rev. J. L. Thompson in 1876. He was born in Washington county, was graduated in the class of '69 of the Washington and Jefferson College, and soon after that entered the ministry. Rev. J. C. Carson, the first pastor, died July 5, 1870. The church building was built by contract by D. W. Shryock, late of Greensburg. It was forty eight by fifty six feet, and cost $1,520, and was built in 1850.

The Trinity Reformed Church was organized by members of this denomination, a great many of whom lived around New Salem. They, in connection with the Lutheran Church, organized a congregation and built a church edifice in 1849. The first pastor that served them was Rev. S. H. Giesey. He continued pastor until August 1, 1835, when lie was succeeded by Rev. Thomas G. Apple. He was succeeded by Rev. R. P. Thomas in 188, who in turn gave way to Rev. T. J. Barklay in 1864.

The Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1850, with about thirty three communicants. A temporary church had been built in 1849 and dedicated 1850. In 1868 they built a brick church, which is still standing. The pastors have been Rev. Michael Erster, C. H. Hurst, A. Yetter, J. D. English, V. B. Christy, J. A. Bauman, J. D. Roth.

The Methodist Episcopal Church of New Salem was organized in 1833. Their first edifice erected that year was a brick structure which fell down in 1844 and was replaced by a frame building in 1846. This stood until 1874. when a new one was erected, which has been since torn down and a fourth erected. The pastors have been W. W. Roup, S. B. Please, M. B. Pugh, A. H. Miller, George Orbit, W. Johnson, J. B. Gray, W. S. Cummins.

For many years the Convenanters had a regular place of worship in this town, with Rev. Mr. Cannon as pastor, preaching the last Sunday of each month. They frequently preached in David Christy's woods, a short distance out of town. This congregation has been abandoned, and its members have largely united themselves with other churches. Salem township has eighteen schools, with 66 pupils enrolled.


The town of New Salem was incorporated as a borough in 1833. Delmont has been the name of the postoffice in this place for the last twenty five years, and its real name has been almost entirely lost, the town being generally known by the name of its postoffice. Previous to the founding of the town, Hugh Bigham had started a store where the town now stands. Prior to 1833 there were no churches in New Salem, though there were preachers who frequently preached in schoolhouses or at an adjoining grove. The Methodists in reality effected the first organization in the village. It is situated on a tract of land warranted to William Wilson on November 8, 1874. By his will he divided the land between his sons George and Thomas Wilson, from whom it was obtained on December 7, 1812. The town was laid out in 1814. Before the Pennsylvania railroad was built New Salem was a very important center, for it was one of the main stopping places of the Northern Pike. Lately the borough has been somewhat awakened by the coal industry, which has opened the thriving town of Export, within two miles of that place, and which has built a railroad from the Pennsylvania railroad to Export, affording an outlet for the people of New Salem and Salem township. When the borough was incorporated in 1833 by the General Assembly the citizens were to meet on the first Tuesday of May of each year at the house of Henry Hugus to hold their annual election. Thomas Wilson was the first judge of the election. The borough has three schools, with 118 pupils enrolled.

Return to [ PA History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ]

All pages copyright 2003-2012. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy