An Abbreviated History of Old Salem Church

All references within this summary are drawn from the excellent book, History of Salem Presbyterian Church by Littleton Groom

There were three notable churches in Logan County in the last decade of the 1700”s: the Muddy River, Gasper River and Red River Churches. These congregations, inspired by the passionate ministry of the Reverend James McGready were hosts of the famous revival of 1800 at Red River Church and Meetinghouse.

Besides marking the beginning of a period of rejuvenation for the Christian faith, famous for its intensity and widespread influence, the revival at Red River is also known for certain extraordinary physical manifestations which Groom notes; “the faintings, the jerkings and other unusual bodily movements and contortions”.

These, viewed with incredulity by the conservative members of the church, and compounded by objections over the acceptance into the ministry of men allegedly lacking in necessary educational qualifications (in order to meet the new high-demand for preachers), gave rise to some discord within the Muddy River congregation.

In 1802, a division in the congregation is evidenced by Transylvania Presbytery meeting minutes of April 17, 1802 at Beaver Creek:

Presbytery agreed to grant Salem congregation their petition- Messrs. Amos Balch and John Boyd as the representatives of Salem congregation do engage on behalf of their constituents that Muddy River people who are the Rev. James McGready”s support shall not be prevented or disturbed in erecting or occupying a meeting house on any ground by their church.

Reverend James Balch became Minister to the conservative element within the congregation (the majority group), and they presumably shared the church with McGready and his followers. In 1803, the deed for the meetinghouse and grounds was executed and delivered to John Boyd and Amos Balch who figure prominently in the conservative congregation.

Although records are scarce, Groom speculates that some time between 1811 and 1814 the location of the church was changed to the site where the cemetery stands today. He believes that the Salem Congregation merged with and absorbed the congregations of Mt. Tabor Church and the remnants of Gasper River, and the new meetinghouse was erected at this site, convenient to all three. The earliest stone in the cemetery was erected in 1816.

The Salem Church and congregation continued from 1816 until the Civil War brought another period of division for the Church. Records of the Muhlenberg Presbytery of April 8, 1868 read:

Presbytery having been informed on undoubted authority that Messrs. Samuel Stokes, John N. Nourse, A.J.Finley and J.D.Sawyer, a part of the ruling Elders of the Salem Church with a portion of the members have been acting with the Declaration and Testimony party since the occurrence of the late schism… that Presbytery would at this meeting proceed to purge the roll according to the directions of the General Assembly, having failed to appear or give notice of a wish to return to the church… And John B. Cochran, John Maben, William Sawyer and L.A.Parks, Elders and those members that recognize them, and adhere to the Assembly, are the only true and lawful church of Salem in this Presbytery, and entitled to all the rights and immunities of said Salem Congregation.

In years prior, with the advent of the Civil War, there were parliamentary rulings within the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church that caused a rift between the Northern and Southern sympathizers, giving rise to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (North) and Presbyterian Church U.S. (South). In Old Salem, the two groups continued to use the same Church and Cemetery but worshipped separately.

The Northern branch survived only until about 1874, after which the pulpit was empty and was serviced only occasionally by a missionary or an evangelist. The southern contingent was more active, having a regular minister until 1893. Thereafter, the church”s pulpit was occupied only irregularly by an evangelist or home missionary until about 1900, when all references to Old Salem in the Southern Presbyterian records come to an end.