Salem lies in the southeast corner of Knox
County and is bounded on the east by Peoria County and on the south by Fulton
County. There are only a few townships that have as fine physical features or
as marked beauty of outline as this. Commencing at a point known as Kent’s
Mound, on Section 12, which rises forty or fifty feet above the common level,
a somewhat irregular ridge, sometimes called “divide,” runs through the
entire township, from east to west, taking the name of Pease Hill in its
center and terminating at Uniontown, on Section 13, at its extreme western
Salem was organized under the general law relating to townships on April 5,
1853, by an election held in a log school house near Michael Egan’s home, on
Section 20. S.S. Buffum, was chosen Supervisor; William Gray, Clerk; J. E.
Knable, Assessor; D. Waldo, Collector; T. A. Croy, G. W. Euke and J. Jordan,
Justices; M. B. Mason, A. Kent and J. E. Duel, Highway Commissioners;
J. Taylor and D. Waldo, Constables, and G. Christman, Overseer of the Poor.
John Sloan has been the supervisor most frequently reelected, having served
eight terms of one year each, at different periods, and others of from one
year to three years.
The first settlement was made by Alexander Taylor, on the northeast quarter
of Section 6, in October, 1834. He was soon followed by Felix and John
Thurman, Henry and Avery Dalton, Solomon Sherwood, Benoni Hawkins, William
Kent, John Darnell, John Haskins and Sala Blakesbee, most of whom brought
their families with them.
The first birth recorded was that of little Laura, daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
John Haskins, in 1835, and the first to be joined in wedlock was Avery and
Deliah Dalton, cousins, who were married in 1855, by Squire Mark Thurman. The
same year occurred the first death, that of Andrew Corbin.
The early settlers brought their religious faith and practice with them and
held prayer meetings from time to time at convenient places. Their pious
devotion attracted the attention of Rev. Henry Somers, who visited the
settlement in November, 1835 or ‘36; and preached the first sermon at the
home of William Kent, on Section 13.
The first sawmill was built by James Mason on Kickapoo Creek, in Section 13,
in 1835 or ’36; another, a little later, by Anderson Corbin, on the same
stream, on Section 14.
The people of Salem have shown an enlightened public spirit in the matter of
good highways, and have provided a system of good, substantial, iron bridges,
set upon firm stone abutments, over all the principal streams with stone
culverts over most of the smaller ones. The question of constructing, grading
and repairing the highways, was many years ago, by vote, left solely to the
discretion of the highway commissioners. The result has been a uniform system
of grading which with thoroughly under draining affords the best roads
obtainable on prairie soil without resort to the Macadam process.
Salem has an abundant supply of bituminous coal, which has been mined for
local use from an early date along the banks of the streams skirting the
north and south sides of the township. The most productive mines, are found
along the Kickapoo and Littler’s Creeks. The first mining of which any record
had been preserved was successfully undertaken by Pittman and Barlow,
blacksmiths, of Farmington, Fulton County, who in 1832, took coal from the
soil of Section 25, for use in their own forges. Avery Dalton was the first
mine to any appreciable extent for commercial purposes He began operations on
the same section three years later. Several drillings at Yates City have
developed extensive and valuable veins, at depths varying from one hundred
and twenty-five feet upward.
Not the least important among the industries, which have helped to elevate
Salem Township to its present position among the foremost in the county, is
that of stock-growing. Many of the most progressive farmers make the breeding
of improved varieties a special feature of their farm work. Among the
prominent stock raisers may be named: N.B. Daughmer and Son, D. Corey and
Son, J.M. Corey, H.A. and James Sloan, E.H. Ware, Frank Runyon, A.D. Moore
and R.J. McKeighan. The efforts of these men and others who might be
mentioned have resulted in elevating the standard established for fine stock
to as high a point in Salem as will be found in the best farming sections of
There are ten school districts in Salem, numbered in order to the ninth, the
tenth being called Center. The last named is located on School Section 16. Of
the ten school buildings, two, in Districts 3 and 4 are of brick, the others
are frame. The first school house was located on Section 13, in 1838, in what
is now District No. 1, and the first school was taught by Abiel Drew. The
second school was erected in either the same or the succeeding year, on the
southwest quarter of Section 6. It was of logs, and had been originally put
up by James Hogue for a dwelling. Section 6 now forms a part of District No.
2. Of the ten schools, only the one in Yates City is graded.
Every school in Salem has the benefit of a library of greater or lesser size
and value, which owe their origin to W.L. Steele and the history of their
establishment may be told in a few words. In September, 1878, Mr. Steele,
then Principal of a graded school in Yates City, proposed to the School
Board, composed of Dr. J.D. Holt, J.M. Taylor and L.A. Lawrence, the
organization of a school and public library, to be under the control of the
board, and open at all times to pupils of the schools, and to the pupils upon
payment of a membership fee. The scheme also contemplated the solicitation of
donations of books and money. The plan was adopted. The movement commanded
public support from the first, and the library has now grown to large
dimensions and is one of the best in the State for a community of that size.
In the Civil War, 182 served from this township. One hundred and fifty-one
served in various regiments of infantry, numbered from the Seventh to the One
Hundred and Thirty-second. Forty-five were attached to the Eighty-third, and
twenty-eight in the Seventy-seventh. Twenty-nine are credited as having
served in the Seventh, Eleventh, Twelfth and Fourteenth Cavalry, and two in
the Second Illinois Artillery. In addition, several are known to have
enlisted in regiments from other states, notably in the Eighth Missouri
Infantry, viz.: William S. Kleckner, Frank Murphy, Frank and Fred Hamilton,
Henry Ledgerman, James Dundas, Chester Vickery, George Frost, William Hull,
William Taylor and William Reed, besides, probably others, many of whom have
never been credited, either to Knox County or to Salem Township. James H.
Walton was probably the first enlisted man from Salem, having joined the
Seventh Infantry from Yates City, which was the first regiment organized in
1861. A draft was ordered to complete Salem’s quota under the last call for
men in 1864, and four names were drawn.
Salem’s record in the war with Spain, 1898, is an extraordinary one, the
township having furnished fourteen men out of a possible one hundred and
fifty for the whole county, the most of whom served in Company C, of the
Sixth Infantry. The Mexican War of 1846 had one representative here, in the
person of R.B. Corbin, who served in the Third United States Dragoons.
In 1837 a post office was established, called Middle Grove, near what was
later Uniontown, Henry Merrell being placed in charge. It is said that Thomas
Morse offered a whole day’s labor to secure a letter on which the postage had
not been paid, money being then very scarce, but his offer was refused.
Sala Blakesbee is credited with erecting the first frame building for a barn,
in 1837, on Section19, but it was destroyed by fire the same year.
The scales of justice were first held by William Davis in 1835.
The Underground Railroad had a well-defined “route” through Salem in
ante-bellum days, and many a poor slave, fleeing for life and liberty had
occasion to thank the “officers” thereof for their active vigilance in his
The moral and religious advancement of the people has kept even pace with
their material development, as it shown by their work in the early churches
and in kindred societies. In early days, preaching services were held in
schoolhouses, and all convenient places.
In Salem Township are Uniontown, Douglas and Yates City, and it is in the
last named that the famous Harvest Home festival, first held in 1886, is
The township also made a notable record in the late World war.