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After Salem’s incorporation in January 1857, the Salem Board of Commissioners initially met in John Belo’s House and Store on North Main Street. Two months later the commissioners rented a vacant building a few doors down to serve as both a town hall and jail. The rent was $30 a year.
The building, originally put up in 1826 for making and selling hats, was furnished with desks, chairs, benches and an elevated platform for the mayor’s seat. The commissioners appointed Francis Fries to build a lockup on the lower level, using two-inch oak planks and a substantial iron door. When Fries returned two weeks later with a cost estimate that was too expensive, the commissioners instructed him to build it any way he thought best. The first meeting in the new town hall was held on June 23, 1857. It would serve many purposes for the town over the years, including use as a military hospital during the Civil War.
Two other town halls for Salem were built before the merger with Winston in 1913, but the sturdy first building stood into the 20th Century before it was demolished. In the early 1950s Old Salem acquired the site and reconstructed the original building as Butner’s Hat Shop. The building’s stint as the seat of government is almost forgotten, but next time you are in Old Salem, YOU can impress your friends with what you know!
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