The Salem schoolhouse©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
The McLaughlin and Rusk families were bound together by marriage and kinship. Both families, who originated from Cavan County, Ireland, arrived in Canada during the mid 1850s. There were four McLaughlin brothers, George, James, William and Robert and two cousins, Sarah Jane and a second William. The Rusk family included William and a sister.
After journeying across the Atlantic and down the St. Lawrence River, the group ended up in Darlington Township, while they awaited completion of the Elderslie Township survey. During their wait, William Rusk and Sarah Jane McLaughlin and William McLaughlin and Rusk's sister were married in a joint ceremony that took place in Bowmanville. Shortly thereafter the group headed up to their new home in Elderslie Township.
Rusk and McLaughlin both settled on the 10th concession, Rusk on Lot 7 and McLaughlin on Lot 15. In 1856 McLaughlin was joined by his youngest brother Robert, who settled on Lot 14. Robert travelled up through Simcoe County, stopping at Eugenia Falls, and marvelled at their beauty and splendour. He then travelled on foot from Collingwood to Elderslie. After clearing the land, and building a barn and log home, he returned to Bowmanville in 1858 to pick up his bride, Jane Jardine. The couple then headed back northward to their new home.
The church was an important part of their lives. Before the church was built, services were held in Robert and Jane's home or barn. They had no minister, apart from the occasional visit from a travelling minister or student. The following year, both Robert and William each donated a half acre of land for construction of a church and cemetery. A small frame church, named Salem Presbyterian Church followed in 1859.
The original frame church was lovingly built. The building stood 9 X 9 metres with most of the materials, including the shingles hand made. The building had a set of double doors facing north that opened into a lobby with a second set of double doors leading to the sanctuary. The interior was adorned with wainscoting. The walls above the wainscoting were plastered and then papered. There were four windows on each side with a chandelier in the centre of the ceiling. Additional lighting was provided by lamps along the walls. The church was heated by two stoves.
As the population grew, the church was enlarged lengthwise by an additional 6 metres. George Bremner served as the first minister from 1860 to 1870. Sunday school classes were organized as soon as the church first opened.
Unfortunately school quickly degenerated into a simmering bone of contention. There was no school on the 10th concession and children had to walk, either to the school in Gillies Hill or the Snell's school, SS No. 9, on the 12th concession. The roads were poor, the winters harsh and parents were understandably concerned about their children having to walk long distances.
In 1873 they got wind of a similar situation in the settlement of Cantire located on the 4th concession. The Salem residents joined forces with the residents of Cantire who were circulating a petition to present to the Township Council requesting schools on the 4th and 10th concessions. After their request was refused both groups hired a lawyer, Alexander Shaw of Walkerton, and proceeded to sue the township. The lawsuit was referred to an arbitration panel comprised of a number of Elderslie officials, who eventually decided in favour of both groups. William Hall donated a piece of land on Lot 11 for the new Salem school, SS No. 11, which finally opened in 1876.
Salem was primarily a farming hamlet and had little in the way of commercial enterprise. A.S. Elliot owned saw and grist mills, located on his farm on the 11th concession. In 1886 he sold the farm to George McKay, who relocated both of the mills to Chesley. Thomas Follis operated a blacksmith shop for many years. In 1888 he opened a post office under the name of Ravelston, likely because the name Salem had already been taken. The post office was located across from the church and received twice-weekly mail deliveries. In 1891 the post office name was changed to Salisbury, although locally the community was always known as "Salem." Other postmasters included George McKay, Albert McLaughlan and Hugh Davis. Davis operated the post office out of his home from 1900-10 until rural mail delivery arrived.
Residents during the 1890s included Donald McCalder, a bee keeper, who later bought the blacksmith shop and Gibson McLaughlin, a carpenter and son of William McLaughlin, who later moved to Manitoba. Salem's population during this time was about 100.
In 1902 a new white brick school was built at a cost of $1147. A white brick manse had been built opposite the church in the previous year. Religious activities were always the primary focus in Salem, and social events were generally held to raise money for the church. In 1893 the congregation began hosting the first of many garden parties. The first party raised enough money to purchase an organ for the church. A Ladies Aid was organized in 1914. The group planned work bees and organized fund raising projects that included box socials, bazaars, bake-sales, garden parties and fowl suppers. The money raised from these events was used for church maintenance with the remainder going to missions and various charities.
In 1923 the old frame church was replaced with beautiful red brick building. The church was built by members of the congregation in lightning speed time. Services were held in the manse while the church was under construction. The new building stood about 12 X 12 metres feet and had a concrete foundation and basement floor. Heating was provided by a furnace installed in the basement. The interior was adorned with wainscoting that reached up to the gothic windows. The walls above were plastered and the ceiling topped with a dome. The old organ was retired and replaced with a new one. The old church was moved to a nearby farm where it was converted to a drive shed.
Church alignments changed following church union in 1925. The Salem congregation voted to remain Presbyterian and became part of a three-point charge along with Gillies Hill and Paisley. The Gillies Hill church was closed in 1936 and many in that congregation moved over to the Salem church. The church continued to see many improvements over the years. A new drive shed was added in 1927. In 1944 the organ was replaced with a piano. Twenty years later the piano was replaced with an electric organ. The Ladies Aid remained active and continued their fundraising efforts throughout the church's history.
Like the church, the school saw many upgrades over the years. In 1951 the porch was re-bricked. The following year the yard was cleared and levelled. Two years later the school acquired a new maple floor and a false ceiling. A potential disaster was averted two years later when the ceiling collapsed. Fortunately the building was empty at the time. The school lasted until 1964 when it was closed due to centralization of the school system. The property reverted back to the owner.
In 1959 a special service was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Salem Presbyterian Church. Memorial gifts included a communion table, communion case and library books. However the church's days were clearly numbered. As farms grew larger and the population began to disperse, it was no longer feasible to keep the church open. The last service was held on October 26, 1969. The church stood until 1996, when it was demolished.
Today a small handful of people continue to call Salem home. The area is now primarily farmland. A cairn with engravings of both the old and new churches sits on the former church site. The cemetery, located behind where the church once stood, remains in use. The schoolhouse, surrounded by playground equipment, continues to be used as a private school.