is a town
in New London County
, United States
. The population was 3,858 at the 2000 census
The area was originally inhabited by Mohecians
. The very first settlement of European
origin in present-day Salem (then part of the town of Montville
) was deeded in 1664. In the early 1700s, more settlements appeared in what was then Colchester
. During this time period, the area was called “Paugwonk.” The small neighborhood around the Gardner Lake Firehouse on Route 354
is sometimes still referred to by that name.
Because of the remote location of these settlements and the considerable distance to churches, the people petitioned the Connecticut General Court for a new parish in 1725. It was named New Salem Parish, in honor of Colonel Samuel Browne, the largest landowner at the time, who was from Salem, Massachusetts. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that Colonel Browne owned slaves. The people of New Salem strongly supported the Patriot cause in the Revolution. Salem, CT was the first town in the state of Connecticut to have a plantation, owned by the the Browne family.
1819 to the present
Salem was incorporated as a Town
in 1819 from lands of Colchester, Lyme
, and Montville, with a population
of approximately 1,200. Though remote during this period, populated almost entirely by farmers, the rocky and craggy land that constituted much of the town kept the population low and new settlement at a minimum. Salem has always been a crossroads town; the old Hartford and New London Turnpike (now Route 85
) was a toll road
, traveled frequently by legislators during the winters of the 19th century when the Connecticut River
was impassable. The Turnpike provided stage coach service until the 1890s.
Music Vale Seminary
Salem became a well-known location upon the founding of Oramel Whittlesey
’s Music Vale Seminary
in 1835. Students of the school not only learned music, but also provided self-sustenance through farming, as did most Salem households at the time. Pianos were manufactured up the Hartford and New London Turnpike about two miles (3 km) north from the Seminary, at the present location of the firehouse and general store containing the town post office. The Seminary burned down and was rebuilt. However, when Whittlesey died in 1867, it was the beginning of the end for the school; when it burned down again shortly thereafter, it was never rebuilt. Today, all that remains of the Seminary is a barn and state historical marker.
First rural electrification in the United States
Salem is the site of the very first rural electrification
in the entire country, at the farm of Frederick C. Rawolle, Jr. Rawolle was an engineer from New York
who retired at the age of 32 after he sold to a major manufacturer the patent rights of an explosive device he had invented to fracture oil wells
. His net worth
at this time was approximately $50,000,000 (million), an enormous sum for the time period. He decided to settle in the remote woods of Salem and build a farm. It was called Fairy Lake Farm, located near the lake of the same name. Carr Pond, which today supplies water to the city of New London
, was actually created by Rawolle in 1920 from Fairy Lake as a means of docking his boat near the turnpike.
Rawolle learned that bringing transmission lines to his farm from New London, about away, would be virtually impossible. He decided to generate his own electricity. At a cost of about one million dollars, extremely expensive at the time for a single project, a hydroelectric system was completed in 1922. Airplanes flying from New York to Boston used the glimmering lights of Fairy Lake Farm as guidance. Rawolle also opened a store in New London to sell produce from the farm. This endeavor collapsed, however, when the stock market crashed in 1929 and Rawolle lost all of his money. He died in 1954; the large stone mansion he lived in at the farm is still standing today at the end of Horse Pond Road, though it is abandoned.
Hiram Bingham III and IV
Hiram Bingham III
, from Salem, was an adventurer and explorer who retrieved some of the artifacts at Machu Picchu
which today are on display at Yale University
, and which Peru
seeks to have returned. His son, Hiram Bingham IV
, was the Vice Consul in Marseilles, France
, during World War II
, and rescued thousands of Jews
from death at the Nazi concentration camps
. Much of the Bingham family still lives in Salem and is active in town politics and local issues. Hiram died in 1988, and a U.S. Postal Stamp
was issued in his honor on May 30, 2006.
Over the decades, Salem has slowly progressed from a small and remote farming town to a bedroom community
of about 4,000; in the 1990s, it was one of the fastest growing municipalities
in the state. However, it is still a small town by Connecticut standards. It did not even have its own ZIP code
until the mid-1990s; before then, it was shared with Colchester. The post office today remains in a small general store, somewhat unusual for a town that has grown to this size.
During its early years, Salem had several schoolhouses scattered throughout town like most New England communities of the time; one is still visible on White Birch Road. Salem School was built in 1940 near the town green as little more than a large schoolhouse. Several additions have been built since then, the most recent opening in 1994. Today, Salem School is one of the largest K-8 schools in the state, with about 600 students. Students in grades 9 through 12 attend high school in the neighboring town of East Lyme; this will be the case until at least 2016, when the current co-op agreement between the two towns expires.
Route 85 was commissioned from the old turnpike in 1932. Traffic increased considerably over the next several decades, and the Route 11 expressway was proposed as an alternate through route. Lack of funding and bureaucratic issues caused construction to halt in 1972 in Salem at Route 82, though there are now new plans to complete the expressway. Most Salem residents favor completion because it would remove through traffic from local roads; one has even launched a website that describes itself as a public awareness campaign regarding the merits of the project. The highway project is a frequent topic of discussion among people in town. In August 2004, Route 11 was announced as a federal high priority project under President Bush’s Executive Order 13274, during a surprise visit by U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to Salem. The new highway would be accompanied by a “greenway” of preserved land, a first in the nation.
Salem has very little commercial and industrial development, which has not kept pace with the rapid residential growth; the “four corners” area, at the busy junction of Route 85 and Route 82, is virtually all that exists. As a result, taxes in the town are generally high.
The last operating dairy farm in Salem, near Gardner Lake, which was an official supplier of Cabot cheese, closed in 2004.
In 2006 Salem Boy scout troop 123 was one of the largest in the state of Connecticut. When you take into account the population of Salem you find Salem by far has the most boy scouts per scout age boy. In 2006 boy scout troop 123 sent more scouts to summer camp than any other Connecticut troop. Most years more than 50 percent of second grade boys are enrolled in the Salem cub scouts.
On the National Register of Historic Places
- Abel H. Fish House — Buckley Hill and Rathbun Hill Roads (added April 2, 1982)
- Salem Historic District — state Route 85 (added October 22, 1980)
- Ebenezer Tiffany House — 460 Darling Road (added July 30, 1983)
- Woodbridge Farm — 29, 30, and 90 Woodbridge Road (added 1997)
The Salem town green
Like many New England towns
, Salem’s town green was originally centered around a church
. The current church, Salem Congregational Church, was built in 1840. The Music Vale Seminary was about a half mile south of the green itself. The town hall
, library, recreational fields, and Salem School are all located nearby. A grange and historical society are built around the green.
The green has changed little over the past two hundred years, the most changes being in the last two decades. Salem School has undergone many additions since its original construction in 1940. The townspeople in 2003 voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to build a brand new library, which opened in 2004. The new structure replaced the original library, a tiny structure donated by the Bingham family in 1928, which is now vacant. Also in 2004, construction began on expanded recreational fields.
According to the United States Census Bureau
, the town has a total area of 29.8 square miles (77.2 km²), of which, 29.0 square miles (75.0 km²) of it is land and 0.8 square miles (2.1 km²) of it (2.79%) is water.
As of the census
of 2000, there were 3,858 people, 1,358 households, and 1,075 families residing in the town. The population density
was 133.2 people per square mile (51.5/km²). There were 1,655 housing units at an average density of 57.2/sq mi (22.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 95.49% White
, 0.83% African American
, 0.60% Native American
, 1.48% Asian
, 0.29% from other races
, and 1.32% from two or more races. Hispanic
of any race were 1.22% of the population.
There were 1,358 households out of which 43.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 68.9% were married couples living together, 6.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 20.8% were non-families. 15.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 4.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.84 and the average family size was 3.20.
In the town the population was spread out with 29.4% under the age of 18, 5.3% from 18 to 24, 32.8% from 25 to 44, 25.9% from 45 to 64, and 6.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 99.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.4 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $68,750, and the median income for a family was $75,747. Males had a median income of $48,173 versus $36,364 for females. The per capita income for the town was $27,288. About 0.6% of families and 1.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.3% of those under age 18 and 2.8% of those age 65 or over.
The Salem School District
operates a PreK-8 school that serves Salem.
Residents in grades 9 through 12 are zoned to East Lyme High School in East Lyme, which is a part of East Lyme Public Schools.
Every year at the end of October, the Salem Apple Festival is held on the town green. It features everything from apple pies, to apple fritters, to hot dogs with apple sauerkraut. The event draws visitors from all over the state.
There is a Witch Meadow Lake and Witch Meadow Campground in Salem, perhaps a tongue-in-cheek homage to the infamous witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts.
Captain Kidd was believed to have buried treasure in the woods of Salem.
Notable persons from Salem, Connecticut
- Hiram Bingham III, 1875-1956, adventurer; discovered Machu Picchu. Lengthy resident.
- Hiram Bingham IV, 1903-1988, American Vice Consul in Marseilles, France, during World War II; rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Hometown and lengthy resident.
- Rachel Robinson, b. 1922, widow of baseball great Jackie Robinson and civil rights activist. Lengthy resident.
- Oramel Whittlesey, 1802-1867, founded Music Vale Seminary, the first accredited music school in the United States. Hometown and lengthy resident.