The Old Salem Meeting House, Oldest Building in Marshall


Local Historian John K. Gott and the Historic Old Salem House (as told to J.D. Phillips, October 2, 2002)

Fauquier Heritage & Preservation Foundation, Inc. was organized July 27, 1993 and for five years was granted the use of the Maddox building. In the spring of 1996, the Salem House was purchased by the Old Salem Preservation Foundation. In 2000, the Old Salem Preservation Foundation and the Fauquier Heritage Society became known as Fauquier Heritage and Preservation Foundation. It is located at 4110 Winchester Rd, Marshall, Virginia. They can be reached at (540) 364-3440. The library is open to the public for research purposes Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other hours may be scheduled by appointment if requested at least one week in advance. John K. Gott is available for personal interviews at the library every Wednesday.

The Fauquier Heritage & Preservation Foundation Mission Statement

To discover, procure, and preserve whatever may be related to the history of Fauquier County, Virginia, and to the genealogy of Fauquier County families, and to educate and disseminate this knowledge to local residents, students, and to the general public.

A Brief History of the Historic Old Salem House

The Old Salem House is Marshall's oldest building. Fauquier County's sole remaining colonial church building and the oldest structure erected exclusively as a Baptist meetinghouse in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Constructed in 1771 as the meetinghouse of the Upper Carter's Run Baptist Church, it soon became the center of activity in the region. The first minister to preach was Elder John Monroe, M.D. Elder Monroe was also a skilled surgeon and the owner of the 30 acres, about which he would eventually petition the Assembly with a proposal "for erecting a town". In 1772, the church is mentioned in Morgan Edwards' Material toward the History of the Baptists in Virginia. Edwards was the first Baptist historian in America. He had been appointed by the Philadelphia Baptist Association to tour the south in the 1770s. In 1772, he wrote that "at the head of Carter's Run where there is a house 40 feet by 24, built in 1771". This, then was the Upper Carters Run Church at present day Marshall. The main reason for the church's decline was undoubtedly Elder Monroe's move to Hampshire County, in what is now West Virginia. About 1809, the church faded away and ceased to exist.

The building became the school for the new town of Salem (currently Marshall), which was established in December 1796 by the General Assembly. Salem was not platted and put on record until spring of 1797. The school continued as a semi-private institution until 1871, when free public schools were established in Virginia. The trustees deeded the property to the school district board, when it became know as the Old Stone Academy. In 1887, a frame addition was added to the old stone portion to serve as enrollment increased. It continued to serve as a public elementary school until 1909. Every church was organized in this building until 1997. Other notable organizations having had their beginnings in the stone meetinghouse, including the Salem Lodge 81 A.F. & A.M., whose first master was Dr. Isaac Henry, the husband of the first female fatality of the Civil War, Mrs. Judith (Carter) Henry.

The organizational meetings of the Manassas Gap Railroad were held in the building. In 1851, the first meeting of the directors was held. During the Civil War, it was used as a hospital for the wounded after the First and Second Battles of Manassas. Political activities of local and national interest were held on the lawn of the Salem House. In the 1830s and 1840s, both Democrats and Whigs held political rallies here. In 1860, the only vote for Abraham Lincoln in Fauquier County was cast by Henry Dixon in Salem Precinct, located in the Salem Meetinghouse. After voting, Mr. Dixon went to Alexandria and joined the Union Army, at the age of 61. While serving in the Union Army, he never fought in a battle, as he was the paymaster. In 1866 or 1867, Henry Dixon fought in the final duel held in Alexandria.

When the Post Office Department decreed that the town should change the post office name of Salem, the community met in the Old Stone Academy (as it was affectionately called) in March of 1882 and selected the new name for the town, which was Marshall.

In the spring of 1905, the Marshall National Bank was organized in the dingy, gloomy, musty old school house with its knife-marked and ink-stained desks and its two smoky oil lamps. Where children of the neighborhood assembled during the day to sit at the feet of two teachers that Marshall had boasted, the fathers of the community met in the evenings to organize the bank.

The building was vacated in 1909. When the new school was built, its new cupola received the old bell from the 1887 addition of the Old Stone Academy. Today the bell awaits replacement on the restored Salem Meetinghouse.

In 1921, W.H. Watts, the local railroad station agent, converted the building into an attractive bungalow. There have been three owners of the home since the 1940s, when Mrs. Effie B. Watts sold the property. With contributions raised locally and a loan from Marshall National Bank and Trust Company, the building and property were purchased from a private owner with the purpose of preserving this historic 1771 building.