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The unincorporated community of Salem is approximately two and a half miles north of Benton (Saline County) within Salem Township. The community owes its existence to its association with the Salem United Methodist Church and the family of William Milton Scott.
While there were early settlers in the vicinity of Salem, the community developed after 1833 with the migration of the Scott family from Alabama. In that year, William M. Scott and his family settled on the Military Road about three miles northeast of Benton. Being active in the Methodist denomination, he erected a brush arbor for a camp meeting as early as 1834. It was known locally as Scott’s Campground. Scott’s son, Patrick M. Scott, professed his faith at one of these camp meetings in 1838 and became instrumental in the founding of the Salem Church and Campground. Patrick M. Scott was licensed to preach in 1854 and, by 1855, had relocated the campground to its present location approximately two miles north, on the road cut from Collegeville (Saline County) to the Kentucky (Saline County) settlement in 1823. In 1859, a crude log church was built, with the church and campground adopting the name Salem. The earliest known reference to the community was in 1863 when Confederate soldier John Lassiter gave his place of residence as “Salem, Post Office Benton” when captured by Union forces. The Salem Camp Meeting is one of the oldest Methodist camp meetings in the state, having had continuous camp meetings since 1867.
Excellent farmland and easy access by local roads brought numerous settlers by the time of the Civil War. Some families living in the community by that time were those of Thomas Rowland, John Nelson, Leonard Vandegrift, John Cameron, James Davidson, William Russell, and George Churchwell. Many of these families supported the Confederacy during the war, sending numerous family members to serve. No known skirmishes or battles took place in the area, as most of the community lies north of the Military Road, but area farmsteads were plundered by both armies, causing severe economic losses to most inhabitants.
After the war, growth resumed, and by the mid-1880s Salem School was established near the church, along with a post office a mile to the east known as LaBelle. In January 1889, a cotton gin, mill, blacksmith shop, and mercantile business were established at LaBelle on Hurricane Creek by William A. Davidson and H. B. Russell. As partners, they also obtained manufacturing rights within the county for the Coleman’s patent combination plow. By 1900, a new political township was created from the northern portion of Saline Township and named Salem.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the population continued a steady growth, with most residents engaged in some form of agriculture. Most farmers grew cotton as a cash crop, along with food for their families and their livestock. One of the largest agriculture efforts became dairy farming, with at least six farms operating in the community. Established by the Scott, Kane, Kirkpatrick, Gregory, Helmich, and Davis families, these farms provided dairy products to local residents as well as the commercial dairy industry in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The largest industry aside from farming was that provided by Bragg’s Cotton Gin before it relocated to Benton sometime before the 1930s.
Many Salem men and women served during World War I and World War II. The largest impact on the community, however, was made by the aluminum industry during World War II, which brought the mining and production plants of Alcoa and Reynolds. The population of Salem rose rapidly as both plants began employing thousands of workers.
Salem Grocery was built at the intersection of Congo and Salem roads by Elsworth Ward in the 1950s and remains in operation in the twenty-first century as Salem Citgo. The most popular business of the community and the surrounding area is the Salem Dairy Bar. Built in the early 1960s by Fulton Baxley, it is famous for its food and ice cream.
Located close to Little Rock, Salem is a census-designated place (CDP) with a large and expanding population. The population of the Salem CDP according to the 2010 U.S. Census was 2,607, but the entire Salem Township was listed at 7,259. Salem faces the task of incorporation, or annexation by either Benton or Bryant (Saline County), which will mean an end to its independent status within Saline County.
For additional information:“Goodspeed’s Biographies of Saline County.” Saline County, Arkansas Genealogy. http://argenweb.net/saline/Goodspeed.html (accessed January 5, 2017).
“Milton Scott Clan Is Outstanding in Early Days of Saline County.” Benton Courier Centennial Edition, March 25, 1937, p. 54.
Rushing, Anthony. A Cloud of Witnesses: A History of Salem Camp Meeting and Salem United Methodist Church. N.p.: 1992.
Last Updated 1/18/2017
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