Salem: 1856 to 1913

Salem Watch HouseBoard of Commissioners

Salem was incorporated on December 13, 1856. The Board of Commissioners, elected by the voters, took over where the Aufserher Collegium left off in dealing with the night watchmen who were now employees of the town as opposed to working for the church that controlled the town.

Hall & Watch House

The first law enforcement-related action of the Board of Commissioners was almost three months after incorporation when they approved the two-year rental of a house on Main Street in the block just north of the square to be used as a hall and watch house. The price was thirty dollars per year. The two-story house had been a hat shop earlier. It has been reconstructed as a hat shop as part of Old Salem. Soft drinks and snacks are now sold out of what was once the lockup.

Commissioners minutes report that Frank Fries was commissioned to build a lockup in the lower part of the house of 12 feet square or thereabout and of 2 inch oak plants with a good and substantial iron grated door. At the next meeting they rescinded these plans and told Fries to build a lockup in any manner of any material he may think best.

Proposals for Night Watchman and Police Officer PosterTown Constable

The appointment of W H. Hauser as Salem town constable on March 11 1858. constitutes the beginning of structured law enforcement. the Commissioners approved a salary and listed specific duties…do the nightwatching as heretofore, to collect taxes, attend to the street lamps and the execution of the newly adopted town ordinances…Attend to making a fire and lighting Commissioners Hall at the time specified for meetings, attend to the lockup and whatever else my be require to promote good government of the town of Salem.

The board guaranteed Hauser $300 per year plus a percentage of fees and fines he collected. The cost on warrants and the feeding of prisoners was not to be included in the $300.

Use of the Lock up

April 7, 1858 - Since the lockup below Commissioners Hall was probably the most secure building in Salem, it would have been useful for holding slaves as well as criminals. At this meeting the Mayor proposed rules for use of the lockup by slave owners include the amount they were to be charged for feeding an the responsibility for cleaning the lockup when they left.

Assigned Beats

The next year John Weissel was appointed as assistant town constable. The town was divided at West Street, just south of the Square. Weissel was assigned the lower or south beat and the board admonished both men to stay in their assigned areas. The Commission minutes state that Weissel was told to walk through every inhabited street on his beat at least once an hour.

Commissioners' minutes of August 16, 1859, show that the constable should work the streets in the daytime to keep them in good repair and to work five or six hour per night and to be paid $25 a month

The Mayor of Salem was authorized to appoint additional personnel for special occasion or to deal with specific problems. Regularly there were appointments to help with crowd control at Easter Sunrise services. Three extra men were hired for the week of final exams at Salem Female Academy in 1858, evidently to keep the peace for studying.

April 22, 1860-Moved- that the town officer keep persons from gathering on the streets corners or sidewalks.

Other Tasks for the Constable

Street work, bridge repair and tax collection were all part of the constable's job during the Civil War years as well as keeping up with the stream of veterans and wounded returning from the battlefields. Salary or guarantee for the job was cut to $225 per year in 1862 for the first constable and $149 a year for his assistant.

Bids & Elections

Beginning in 1863, bids were accepted twice a year for the position of constable/lamplighter. The names and their bids for the job were then presented to the Commissions who then "elected" the constable for a six-month term. The low bidder usually, but not always, got the job. This "election," similar to the way Boards and Commissions are appointed by the City Council today, continued until 1913.

In 1873, a police precinct was established at Centerville, presently the area of Waughtown Street near the North Carolina School of the Arts. One man was elected to serve the Centerville District at slightly less pay than the Salem Police, probably since Centerville was mostly a residential area. A calaboose was also established for the Centerville Policeman since it was a far walk to the jail on the north side of Salem Square.

1874 Bids for Police & Nightwatch Job

June 5, 1874-Board received these bids from applicants:

Reuben Powers$90 (per year)
John Waggoman$150
Joseph Garboden$150
Henry Hughes$200
T. Chitty$150
H. N Null$190

The Board elected H. N Null as policeman at his bid of $190. Obviously there were factors other than "low bid" that entered into the decision.

Pound Built

June 19, 1874- Mayor Vogler suggested to the Board the necessity of building a pound for hogs and cattle. The Board resolved to build a pound ten feet square and six feet high.


It appears that this Pound was used mainly for impounding hogs running at large within the town limits. The charge against the impounded hog was 40 cents for picking up by the Town Constable, and 10 cents per day for feeding each hog weighing over 100 pounds and 5 cents for pigs less than 100 pounds. The owner could redeem his property by paying the costs. If not redeemed, these animals were sold at public auction, after notices posted at designated places for ten days.

The minutes for July 3, 1874, stated that the pound would not be built for lack of funds.

At the next meeting the Mayor stated he had contracted for building the pound at a cost of $1,800.


On August 6, 1875, an ordinance was adopted placing a $1 tax on dogs. A dog running outside its owner's premises was required to wear a collar bearing its owner's name; otherwise, the Constable would impound the animal. To redeem the dog, the owner had to pay a fine of $1 plus cost. If no owner was found, the Town Constable was required to destroy the dog.

A.C. Sheppard

A.C. Sheppard was elected town constable in 1880. His working hours were from dark until 3 a.m. He was then expected to be on duty in the daytime after a sufficient amount of rest. Sheppard kept the job for five years. The job of lamplighter was given to a second assistant hired in 1884 and Sheppard became Salem's first full time police officer. A Salem newspaper article called him …a good and efficient officer and the authorities of the town did well in reappointing him.

George S. Ebert was named Chief of Police in 1888. His salary was $40 a month plus fees and fines he collected. Ebert was the first to have the title of Chief of Police.

Policeman Duties Defined

May 25, 1888- Duties of Policeman:

  1. It is expected of the Policeman to be on duty from 10 a.m. until 3 a.m. during spring and summer seasons and to 4 a.m. during fall and winter months.
  2. No Policeman shall leave the corporate precincts of Salem, without permission of the Mayor except in the discharge of his official duties and should he desire to be absent for pleasure or any other consideration he shall obtain the consent of the Mayor to fill his position in his absent and he shall be require to pay such officer during the time he is absent.
  3. It is expected of the Policeman to patrol the town daily both to maintain peace and quite and demand the observance of the laws and reported promptly all violations of law and order.
  4. Any violations of the above or any violations of the rules governing the Policeman found in the ordinances of the town of Salem or any neglect of duty shall be considered due cause for removal)

The duties of lamplighter, which had separated from the Police job for some time, were also defined. These included that he would qualify as Policeman of the town and be subject to all ordinances and rules governing the Policeman but shall not receive additional compensation. (4-196) The lamplighter was paid less than the policeman.

The pay was obviously not a hindrance for there were 10 applicants of the job at this meeting.

Revised Ordinances - Eminent Domain, Prisoners to Work & Morals

The State General Assembly was also asked to approve some other changes in the Town Charter including the right of eminent domain and Whenever by the provisions of any ordinance or fine is imposed for violation thereof, the Mayor shall have the right if such fine is not paid to require the offender to work on the public streets or do other work for the town to the value of any tax, fine, penalty or forfeiture imposed and adjusted to be paid and should be committed to the custody of the Police who shall execute this sentence under the direction of the Street Commissioners or may by putting the party to work under guard or with ball and chain or other safeguard if necessary.

Section 12

Any prostitute or women whose general reputation for chastity is bad, who shall be found on the streets at night, plying her vocation, or soliciting men drinking sitting on the streets or in front of stores or lunging about public houses, or conducting herself in a forward or improper manner shall be deemed guilty of a nuisance and shall be fined $5 for each offence.

June 7, 1889

Commissioner Christ reported a house belonging to Mayor Fries, near their (Fries) warehouse as being filled with bad women and was a nuisance. Mayor said he would attend to it at once and see that it was abated.


Ebert served only one year as Chief of Police. Spainhour was elected in 1889. The first police badges were purchased for the department, which had now grown to six men.

In 1891, the State Legislature issued a new town charter to Salem. It formally gave police jurisdiction to the Town of Salem over a large area south and east of the corporate boundary; this being know as the Centerville District. Under this act, Salem furnished and paid for police service but the citizens could not be taxed by the town and could not vote in town elections.

The Charter also required that the Chief be bonded so when the Board elected the Chief in 1892, it adopted a resolution that the Chief of Police should give a bond for $500 for faithful discharge of his duties and this his pay shall be heretofore $40 a month.

Spainhour resigned two weeks before his term was up in 1892, and George Ebert was appointed to fill the term and then elected for the next year. By 1893, the Salem Police force was nine men.

Spainhour bid for the job again in 1894, was re-elected and held the position for the next four years. He petitioned the commissioners to see that electric lights were installed in the calaboose.

The 1897 election saw four candidates for the job of Chief. Spainhour was appointed after three tied votes.

A note in the 1898 minutes orders heavy screen wire for the windows of the calaboose to prevent anything being handed to prisoners from the outside.

J.R. Johnson

At the June 7, 1899 board meeting, J.R. Johnson was appointed Chief and Lewis Kimel was appointed lamplighter. He was paid two cents per lamp. That was a cut in pay; his predecessor had received two and a quarter cents.

Minutes of the Board meeting of April 9, 1900:

Motion that a reward of $25 be offered by the board for the arrest and delivery in Salem of the Negro who shot and wounded Police Officer Everhart and got away while the officer was attempting to arrest him. Adopted Motion that the Board pay Police Officer Everhart for the time lost account of wound received.

There is no record of any other Salem Police Officer being seriously injured in the line of duty. Further, there is no record of the reward being paid.

Sender NewsomeThe Police department budget for that year was $783.96. C.W. Russell was elected Chief in 1901. Russell's eight patrolmen were paid ten cents per hour. Former Chief Sender Newsome was now the police officer for the Centerville district and paid $45 per month; slightly less than the Salem Chief.

In the June 1902 Commissioners Meeting we find:

  • Resolved that in the future, the Chief of Police is required to report to the Mayor or Mayor pro-tem when he starts on duty each day.
  • He is also required to get written permit before leaving the corporate limits except in discharge of his official duty when his warrant is sufficient evidence.
  • He is further required to file each day a written record of his movements hourly or half-hourly and name witnesses at each specific time.

Salem would have several Chiefs over the next few years: Spainhour came back for one year in 1902. Centerville Police Officer Sender Newsom followed him. A provision of his election was that he installs a telephone in his own house at his expense. Newsom returned to being the Centerville Police Officer the next year.

John H. McGee

John H. McGee was elected Chief on June 2, 1905 at a salary of $50 per month He commanded eleven regular and nine special policemen. Special policemen were usually watchmen at factories and mills.

One year later a nationwide financial panic caused the commissioners to cut McGee's force to only five men. His salary remained the same.

J.H. Yow

McGee was followed in 1907 by J.H. Yow. The Commissioners approved a motion that the town furnish the Chief with a telephone at home instead of making him pay for it.

On October 2, 1908, the board approved the purchase of two winter hats and two overcoats for the police and ordered two closets built in Commissioners Hall to store the coats.

Chief Johnson

Lewis Kimball, listed in the minutes as a lamplighter under Chief Johnson in 1899, was the final Chief of Salem. He would serve five years and then become a patrolman in the merged departments. His salary was increased in 1909 to $55 per month and to $60 per month in 1911. Assistant Chief SL. Swain was given a salary of $50 a month. He too would serve in the combined Winston-Salem Department.

Colonial Salem history was compiled by former city employee, J.R. Snider.