History of Salem Schools

Dr. Walter Hunt, the second President of SEFAA, compiled the following history of Salem schools.  A tireless advocate for education in Salem and a devoted member of the SEFAA board, Dr. Hunt also loved history, and cherished the cultural mission of SEFAA to preserve the history of Salem schools for future generations.

The history of Salem schools finds its roots in the tradition of private schools.  The town of Salem, the county seat of Roanoke County, attracted numerous private institutions, nearly from its inception. In 1826, Major Gardener ran a private school for boys, and the Kennerly School flourished during the same period. By 1835, Salem boasted two female schools and one male school.  In 1837, Salem Academy was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly as a Presbyterian girls’ school but closed at the beginning of the Civil War.

In 1871, Salem Academy reopened as the Salem Male and Female Academy.  The community founded School Number 2, a school for black students, also called Grade School A and later the Roanoke County Training School, on October 1, 1872.  Sixteen years later, in 1888, Salem provided funds for public education, and the Academy and the Training School then transferred to the public school system of Salem. In 1895, Salem opened its first high school on Academy Street.


Salem High School on Academy Street 1895-1912

The Academy Street School consisted of two buildings: one that housed the lower grades, built in 1890; and another adjacent building, built in 1895 and used for high school students.  Renovations in the summer of 1901 equipped the school with toilets in a connecting structure between the two buildings. In May 1900 the School Board expanded the high school curriculum from three to four grades or years beginning in the school session commencing in the fall of 1900.  No students graduated in 1901, and enrollment increased slowly from 55 students in 1900 to 88 students by the close of the 1909-10 school year.  To relieve crowded conditions, a two-room annex was built onto the high school building in 1908 that cost $2,295. Pupils in Salem attended school for nine months of each year.  There was a one-hour noon lunch recess and the school day ended at 3:15 p.m.

Principals:  John T. Crabtree 1901-02; Lucy J. Jones 1902-12


Salem High School on Broad Street 1912-1933

A new Salem High School was built on Broad Street in 1911-12 and opened for the fall of 1912, relieving overcrowding at the Academy Street buildings.

The Salem High School on Broad Street was remodeled in 1920 when industrial arts was introduced into the curriculum, and an eight-classroom addition opened in 1921 to offer home economics, agriculture, and office skills. In the summer of 1923, the school added an auditorium/gymnasium.  By 1924, the high school’s enrollment was 390 students and the Class of 1924 held its graduation ceremony in the newly constructed auditorium.  The seniors wore caps and gowns for the first time that year.  The first summer school was also held in 1924.

Despite problems, the school made significant progress raising and maintaining high educational standards. The Salem High School on broad updated the curriculum to meet state-imposed standards in 1925.  As a result of these and other innovations, Salem High School received accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in December 1927, a notable achievement.

During this same period, Salem’s reputation for a strong athletic program developed under Coach Guy H. “Pinky” Spruhan.  During Salem High School on Broad’s first decade, the school won state basketball championships in 1916, 1917, and 1918 and the state football title in 1917.

In 1930, because of severe overcrowding, Salem implored the financially strapped Roanoke County School Board to build a new school.  While the effort ended unsuccessfully, the state legislature established the town of Salem as a separate school district in order to give Salem a vote on the school board. Civic club leaders and Salem town officials held joint meetings to discuss the possibility of operating the town’s own schools by becoming a city of the second class. Their efforts were thwarted when the 1930 census showed a Salem population of 4,833 which was shy of the 5,000 minimum required for city status.

On Monday, January 19, 1931, the day before semester exams, a fire heavily damaged Salem High School on Broad Street.  Caused by defective wiring, the fire necessitated that Salem High School students endure makeshift quarters until Andrew Lewis High School was built on College Avenue in 1933.

Principals: Lucy J. Jones 1912-19; H. L. Webb 1919-24; A. M. Bruce 1924-29; Robert W. House 1929-33


Roanoke County Training School 1921-1940

The Salem trustees approved construction of a six-room frame school for black youth in 1890-91 on the west side of Water Street, now the southwest corner of South Broad Street and School Alley. Completed by 1893, locals called it Grade School A.

Two rooms were added to Grade School A in 1921 to permit the school to add eighth and ninth grade curriculums, and the school became the Roanoke County Training School.  In 1928-29, the school added a tenth grade curriculum, and in the fall of 1934, the eleventh grade, which was ten the final year of high school.  Two boys and eight girls graduated from this high school in 1935.  In its final year of existence as a school, 1939-40, eight boys and 10 girls graduated from Roanoke County Training School. When the new George Washington Carver School opened in the fall of 1940, all students transferred to the new school and the town closed the Roanoke County Training School.

Principals: F. W. Woodfin 1921-22; V. N. Carney 1922-25; Theron N. Williams 1925-40


Andrew Lewis High School 1933-1977

After fire destroyed Salem High School on Broad Street on January 19, 1931, students were educated in makeshift quarters until the school board constructed Andrew Lewis High School in 1933 on College Avenue.

The property on College Avenue that became Andrew Lewis High school was formerly used as a Lutheran orphanage, and before that, as the Hotel Salem.  Construction on the building began in 1932.

Andrew Lewis High School’s name was approved by the school board on November 11, 1932.  General Andrew Lewis established Richfield Plantation in Salem and died in 1781 after a distinguished career as a surveyor, Indian fighter, and patriot in the American Revolution.

The Andrew Lewis High School building was completed and dedicated on September 8, 1933. Consisting of 15 classrooms, three laboratories, a home economics suite, a business education room, an auditorium, and a gymnasium, the school’s first student body totalled 869 students.  In the first commencement exercises, 167 graduates received diplomas in the auditorium on Friday, June 8, 1934.  To accommodate increasing enrollment, the school added two additions of 12 rooms each in 1936 and 1938-39 and an agricultural workshop in 1950.  By 1955, nearly 1,500 students attended Andrew Lewis High School.  In 1957, the school annexed the nearby Comas Machine Works in 1957.  In 1960, the school completed and dedicated five new classrooms, a cafeteria and kitchen, a large gymnasium, and boys’ and girls’ physical education dressing rooms.

Andrew Lewis High School indoor and outdoor track teams won state championships in 1959 under Coach Ray Bussard.  Football teams won state championships in 1962 and 1964 under Coach Eddie Joyce, and the basketball team won a state championship in 1968 under Coach Dick Miley.

Andrew Lewis High School converted to a junior high when a new Salem High School opened in September 1977. It later converted to a middle school when Salem City Schools formed their own school system in 1983.

Principals: Robert W. House 1933-35; E. B. Broadwater 1935-39, 1947-56; Z. T. Kyle 1939-46; M. W. Bell 1946-47; DeWitt T. Miller 1956-60; Alfred D. Hurt 1960-64; Walter A. Hunt 1964-70; Garland R. Life 1970-77


George Washington Carver High School 1939-1966

George Washington Carver Elementary and High School was built in 1939 and named in honor of the world-famous botanist and humanitarian, Dr. George Washington Carver. Dr. Carver was the director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama from 1896 until his death in 1943.

A 92-year-old former slave, Alice Webster, laid the cornerstone at a ceremony on March 17, 1940.  The school was constructed on six acres of land on the corner of Water Street (now South Broad) and Fourth Street in the town of Salem. It served the major educational, recreational, and social needs of the black youth of Hollins, Salem, Vinton, and Roanoke County. A seven-room addition was completed in 1957 and another addition was built in 1962. The school had a total enrollment of 483 students and a staff of one principal, one assistant principal, 24 teachers, three custodians, two cafeteria workers, and one secretary-bookkeeper.

When the Roanoke County schools were integrated in 1966, the school board changed its name to Salem Intermediate School.  In 1977, when the new Salem High School opened, Andrew Lewis High School converted to a junior high school, and George Washington Carver became an elementary school. In 1983 the city of Salem formed its own school system, and George Washington Carver Elementary School became a part of the city school system.

Principals: Theron N. Williams 1940-46; R. Rush Anderson 1946-53; Chauncey D. Harmon 1953-66


Salem High School on Spartan Drive 1977-Present

Salem High School on Spartan Drive opened in 1977. Salem High School has a comprehensive curriculum that offers a wide range of programs to meet the diverse needs of its students. The school population in grades 9-12 is approximately 1,200. Salem High School is fully accredited by the Virginia Department of Education and the International Baccalaureate organization.

As an International Baccalaureate school, the high school offers university-level academic coursework to students. In an average year, more than 50% of all students will take these classes college-level courses. After graduation, more than 90% of the students will attend a two- or four-year college.

Students are encouraged to participate in one of the more than 30 athletic teams or in one of our 30+ clubs. More than half do. These teams have won local, regional, and state championships in athletics, academics, and forensics. The school’s publications–yearbook, newspaper, and literary magazine–have won national awards. With over 10% of the student body active in the Pride of Salem Marching Band, several different award-winning choirs and theater opportunities, and a art program that rivals that of many colleges, the fine and performing arts programs also thrive.

For more information, please go to Salem High School’s website: salem.k12.va.us/shs. We also invite people to follow our Twitter account, @SalemSpartans, and to “like” Salem High School, Salem, VA on Facebook.

Bayes E. Wilson 1977-78;
Robert D. Lipscomb 1978-86;
Michael A. Bryant 1986-87;
Caleb Littlejohn Hall 1987-2013;
Scott E. Habeeb 2013-Present