NAEC's Community Connections: “This is no hick town”
The following article was written by Vester Williams and published in the Salem Headlight’s Sept. 24, 1964 issue.
The current owners of the Castleberry Building on the square in Salem recently received notification from the state committee that the property will become a historical structure. They are currently awaiting approval from the National Historic Registry in Washington D.C. and should know something by the end of January.
“This is no hick town”
The principal building in the picture is the William Castleberry Store, The date this building was erected seems to be obscured by the lapse of time, But Mr. Castleberry and his brother, Benjamin, came to Fulton County from Georgia in l876, and went into the mercantile business at Salem soon thereafter, Whether they erected the building this writer has not been able to learn. But it was burned during Christmas week of l902. The present day Wallace store building occupies the same site as that of the burned Castleberry store,
The men on the porch at the Castleberry store have not been positively identified to this writer, But there is much evidence that this was the age of chivalry; the clerks are all wearing coats. In those days, it was considered to be in very poor taste for coatless gentlemen to wait upon lady customers. An old and refined pioneer grandmother in giving advice to this writer when he was a small boy said, “A coatless man in a public place is an abomination to me.” Thus a coatless clerk is an up-to-date store would have few lady customers. Mr. Castleberry was a man of culture and refinement. He kept his store up to date both in stock and in methods of serving his customers. Nothing in poor taste nor anything with indications of poor breeding were tolerated.
In the 1890s, Salem was noted for miles around for the culture and refinement of its citizens. It was considered so uncouth to be coatless in public places. It was not until World War I days that the high school boys were permitted to leave off their coats in the schoolroom at the Salem High School.
The barrels on the porch of the Castleberry store tells us some more history. In those days much of the products sold at the stores were shipped in barrels. Coffee, sugar, flour and salt came in barrels. Then too, barrels were a staple product to be sold. It was before the day of well drills, and many of the shallow wells and cisterns went dry during the dry part of the summer and fall. Barrels became a necessity in order that the family could have using water hauled from some stream or ever lasting well or spring. Then in those days almost every family consumed a large amount of sorghum molasses, and used barrels to store them in. So it is obvious that any store without barrels for sale would be without a very much needed article.
In the 1890s, the north side of the square was just about as popular as was the east side. From the old hotel building that was razed two months ago to the flower shop there were about three buildings, and some of them were small.
Some more history taught by the picture, is that the houses at the rear of the Castleberry store had barns and henhouses adjoining them. This was true for almost every home in town. Every family kept horses, cows and chickens. In addition to the keeping of livestock and poultry, there was a large garden intensively cultivated by almost every family in town.
The picture of the Castleberry building was occupied at the time by the Wallace Store and where H.H. Hunt Jr. maintained his insurance office on the second floor. Wm Castleberry was an uncle of the late Rex Castleberry who built the Bank of Salem from a small country bank into a modern financial institution during a span of nearly half a century, heading the bank until his death.
The Castleberry building was erected in the early 1900s, probably around 1903 or 1904 to replace a frame structure that was destroyed in the disastrous Christmas Day fire of 1903. The fire originated in the Lowthen Drug Store, according to Grover Tunstall, which was in the middle of the block on the norse side of the square. Starting on Christmas afternoon, and with no fire department in those days, the north side of the square was destroyed and the old frame building where the Castleberry building is now. Only a vacant lot south of that building saved the east side of the square from total destruction.
So, from the ashes of this fire, the brick and stone buildings of today sprung, and the determination of Salem to live and grown was made evident.