By Dawn Hensil
Salem City Council plans to demolish the historic Red Barn to create room for recreational activities. But the plan has upset some area residents, including those who point to the role the barn played in the town’s past.
For many years the Red Barn in Salem, located on the west end of Salem within the city park, was an integral part of the community. It was host to classes, community dances, and other functions. Now vacant, the barn has been subject to vandalism in recent years.
Salem City Manager Ronnie Davis said the city plans to build restrooms and picnic pavilions.
“We’re hoping for peewee football fields and soccer fields, and we’re making all that area more ball fields and spreading a few little parks through our town,” he said.
The city plans to put one of the parks where the former Van Horn Elementary school was located.
“We’re starting on this park, and hopefully within two months or three months it’ll be done,” said Davis.
Davis said he has been working with Harrison County Parks and Recreation on the plans, and they have also been applying for grants to help pay for projects.
There are only two public-use parks within the city, and they both need an update of equipment.
But not all residents of Salem, including Geoffrey Steele, are happy with the City’s proposal.
Steele said the barn was originally used for the Salem Industrial Home for Girls’ gardening. The Salem Industrial Home for Girls, an early juvenile detention center, was built in 1899.
“This building has played an important and significant role in our community for over a century,” Steele said.
Steele said the barn was dedicated by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Salem Bicentennial Committee as the “Greenbrier Billy Davis Barn” on June 20, 1976 to serve as a “lasting memorial” to Salem’s first Revolutionary War veteran.
Steele, who said he was a descendant of Davis, said Davis served in the New Jersey Militia during the Revolutionary War and received a pension for that service. Davis moved his family to a farm on Greenbrier Run near Salem, thus acquiring the name “Greenbrier Billy” Davis.
Multiple Facebook pages and a petition have been created in favor of restoring the barn so that the community could make use of it once again. Pat Musick, former interim director of the Frank and Jane Gabor West Virginia Folklife Center at Fairmont State University, wrote, “I urge West Virginia to preserve and cherish its amazing, rich cultural heritage, including material culture like this barn. I’ve seen so many historic buildings torn down in my native Colorado. The ones that were saved have become economic and cultural assets to their communities.
As economic conditions improve in West Virginia, and they will, every irreplaceable building is going to repay its community many times over. Please do not destroy this treasure.”