The 1766 Builders’ House

the beginning of Salem

In preparation for the 250th anniversary of Salem, Old Salem Archaeology excavated the Builders’ House ruin in the summer/fall of 2015. This ruin had been excavated earlier (2000-2008) with specific focus on the period it served as the Salem pottery; however, the recent examination was particularly in search of the original fireplace location from 1766. Under the direction of Dr. M.O. Hartley, a UNC Chapel Hill doctoral student, Geoffrey Hughes, led a crew that successfully determined the location of this feature.

a drawing of the Builders House, as originally constructed, by MO Hartley

Drawing of the Builders House, as originally constructed, by MO Hartley

Salem’s newspaper the People’s Press recalled the significance of the fireplace — 150 years ago — in October 1857:

     We recently paid a visit to the first house in our village, now used as a “Potter Shop” by Mr. Henry Shaffner. The building contains but one apartment, and is roughly but substantially constructed of heavy hewn logs, such as we seldom see in these latter days. The heavy timbers, the large and spacious fire place, in fact all reminds one of ancient times. It has been somewhat enlarged, yet the original building is readily recognized. The first tree for its construction was felled on the 6th of January, 1766, at the terminus of a road cut through the forest from Bethabara, (Old Town) and on the 19th of February following, it was occupied by eight persons whose names are as follows:– Gottfried Praezel, Niels Peterson, Jens Schmidt, John Birkhead, from Europe; and George Holder, Jacob Steiner, Michael Ziegler, and Melchior Rasp, from Bethabara. On their way they had the good fortune to kill two deer, so that the first fire lit up in that spacious “fire-place,” roasted the savory venison.

     It is both pleasant and profitable to contemplate the relics of the past, and let our thoughts wander back to those “old times” when the cheerful blaze lit up those rough walls, reared there in the “forest wilderness” occupied by cheerful and honest men, Lerved [sic] for their expected hardships, while they enjoyed their pipes with real fatherland gusto. They closed their day’s labor with songs of praise, and bowed themselves before that God by whose aid alone they could overcome the many hardships and dangers that beset them in various ways.

     Long may this old house remain in memory of our forefathers, who came here to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences, and to live a life free from the aggravating restraints of a monarchic government and a legally established church.

The significance of the Builders House and its “spacious fire place” was first illuminated at the Founder’s Day Celebration, February 19, 2016, and continues its nightly illumination as public art.