Salem, Virginia is a city located in Southwestern Virginia. According to the 2020 census, it has a population of 25,346 and it is the county seat of Roanoke County. Due to statistical purposes, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines Salem with Roanoke County and while Salem maintains its own courthouse and sheriff’s office it shares a jail with Roanoke County. Salem was founded in 1802 and received its charter in 1806. It was officially named a city in 1967 rather than potentially be annexed to the city of Roanoke. While still classified as a town, Salem was at one time the largest town in the state of Virginia.
While many towns that were established in Western Virginia eventually disappeared, Salem attributes its own success to five different factors. The first is the existence of the Great Road which acted as a main thoroughfare that brought steady business to the businesses established there. Then in 1816 the Roanoke Navigation Company was established in order to coordinate and promote riverboat traffic along the Roanoke River, bringing more visitors and new residents to the town. Salem was eventually named the county seat for the newly established Roanoke County. Because this required citizens of the county to travel to Salem periodically, it brought new opportunities for business. In 1852 the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad arrived in Salem, cementing the town’s status as a center for commerce.
The fifth factor attributed to Salem’s success first as a town and later as a city is Roanoke College. Roanoke College, originally called the Virginia Institute, was moved to Salem in 1847 from the town of Staunton and is currently located in central Salem. The city has four elementary schools, one of which is named for African American scientist G.W. Carver. Salem is located in the Shenandoah Valley between the Alghenny and Blue Ridge Mountains along the Roanoke River. The city maintains nine distinct parks including Lake Spring Park, Moyer Park, Riverside Park, and Spartan Park. Salem also hosts an annual half marathon. The Downtown Salem Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as is the North Broad Street Historic District, the Old Roanoke County Courthouse, and the Salem Post Office, among others.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Salem has a total area of 14.5 square miles. Of that, 14.4 square miles are made up of land and 0.1 square miles is water. According to the 2020 census, of Salem’s population 81.56% were White, 7.55% were Black or African American, 4.29% were Hispanic or Latino, 4.04% identified as Other, 2.11% were Asian, 0.26% identified as Other, 0.17% were Native American or Alaska Native, and 0.02% were Pacific Islander.
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