Villages come and villages go, often leaving the church as the only thing left of what was once a vibrant community. Salem is a perfect example of this…….a noble church in a lovely rural location, surrounded by the graves of her past congregations. Old Salem was organized in 1820, shortly after the town of Salem was incorporated in November of 1818, and settled by mostly Scots Irish who migrated from Virginia and North Carolina. The original church was built on land consisting of nine-tenths of an acre deeded by Samuel and Elizabeth Hester for the sum of $1.00 to the trustees of the church. The present structure was built on the same site in 1896.
Salem’s economy was almost exclusively agriculture, and in the years prior to the Civil War this meant raising cotton under the plantation system requiring large numbers of slaves. One history states that eighty per cent of the increase in Oconee County’s population were slaves. Two events sealed Salem’s fate i.e. the railroad and the boll weevil. Both events were significant throughout rural Georgia. The railroads gave birth to many towns and ultimately cities, but they also sounded the death knell for others. The railroad line was placed fifteen miles to the south of Salem in the 1830’s and the town’s gradual demise began. After reconstruction, the boll weevil was an ecological disaster that by the early 20th Century brought the agricultural economy dependent on King Cotton to its knees. Salem was quite a village in its day, but the church now stands as virtually the only proof that it ever existed.
We are fortunate that the church has been well cared for. No regular services are held, we are told, but the 119 year old sanctuary is maintained and used for special occasions. We all owe a big “thank you” to the trustees of the church for their loving stewardship of this great example of one of Georgia’s historic rural treasures.