An eloquent speaker, sounding more like a seasoned interpreter than an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, Jake Stotler instantly captured the crowd’s attention through the bullhorn bouncing off the walls of the historic buildings on Fourth Street.
The second round of the Historic Tour of Downtown Salem took place Friday with close to 300 people walking the streets of Salem eager for ghost stories and historic notes.
Visitors from Colorado, Cabool, Iowa, Rolla, Georgia, Ellington, St. Louis and all over Dent county were present.
Moving from Colorado after retirement, the Benningtons now live south of Salem.
“We love history. We drive through here all the time. It was great to learn about the buildings we pass by,” they shared.
Approximately an hour long, the tour begins on Fourth Street, turning south on Washington, heading down Third Street, with a turn back to Fourth and ending at the stoic Dent County Courthouse.
There are several interesting items shared on the tour. Without spoiling too much, here are a few notable items:
• The current Fourth Street mall was originally the Ely Walker Factory, later becoming a teddy bear factory and sports factory. Several have reported hearing carts roll on the floor above them in the historic building.
• A building downtown was also a crematorium and donut shop, but not at the same time. Country Corner Café now operates in the building, with several odd occurrences that cannot be explained.
• Salem has had an opera house, several hotels, a couple of movie theatres, a blind tiger (speakeasy), several fires and fueling stations along Fourth Street over the past century.
• Half of an archway can still be seen on the back side of one structure where a funeral home would pull its wagons under the cover of the building while transporting the deceased.
• Salem Christian Church is the second oldest building downtown, built in 1885. A cemetery was on its grounds where the library is now located. Some of the gravesites were covered during construction after families refused to move the final resting place of their predecessors.
Learn about the former Hart Clinic, the noises at William Lynch Elementary, the court yard behind Fourth Street, the former livery stables, or where you could find a drink during prohibition.
Tours are planned every two weeks through the end of August, with the next set for July 12. Stotler hopes to plan a Nov. 1 (Halloween) event with people playing the part of some of the characters in the historic accounts.
A one-time only tour will take place 8:30 p.m. July 19 on MacArthur Avenue highlighting houses on the historic thoroughfare.
Along with bell bottoms, one of the unfortunate fads in the 1970s was placing metal on storefronts, for a more modern look. Several of the building faces on Fourth Street have original brick and frame work covered by metal almost 40 years later.
The Salem Alliance for Historic Preservation, organized by Stotler, hopes to bring the downtown area back to its former glory with volunteer work, grants and donations.
Research and beginnings
In a recent interview before the second tour was held, Stotler explained where the idea stemmed from, along with his research method.
Local historian Jay Anderson did a lot of work close to 10 years ago for the Historic Downtown Walking Tour that is listed on plaques posted many places downtown. The plaques and previous research served as a roadmap of sorts to begin offering the well-received circuit by Stotler.
“My focus is on history and architecture, with some ghost stories added in,” said Stotler.
To prepare for the events, Stotler heavily researched in the Salem Public Library with assistance from its employees. He mentions W.P. Elmer’s History of Dent County publication as a source of many of his references on the tour. The ghost stories came from personal visits to several businesses downtown.
Stotler shared the information via The Salem News, Facebook and word of mouth, and almost 420 people were present for the first tour. After such a large turnout for the first installment, plans were made for the second, with streets closed for safety and an ice cream truck and shaved ice trailer stopping by for those waiting to begin the tour.
Stotler was “blown away” as people kept pouring into the courthouse lawn for the first tour.
A young student of history
At the age of 17, Stotler found himself as a culturalist with Missouri State Parks. Now 18, he spends a lot of time in Current River State Park leading tours,and also conducts night programs at Echo Bluff State Park. He is an active member and recently attended the Missouri Preservation conference, learning new techniques and gathering knowledge on historic architectural elements.
He is headed for Kansas City to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City this August. He plans a degree in urban planning and design with an emphasis on historical preservation. His passion lies in preserving or bringing life back to historic buildings.
Stotler demonstrated this recently in his efforts to save the old middle school on Tenth Street in Salem. Creating a Save Our School Facebook page and insisting the building remain standing with local officials was futile, however. The school is scheduled to be demolished in coming weeks.
Allocating the efforts of the group to a different cause, Stotler changed the name to the Salem Alliance for Historic Preservation.
The alliance hopes to recruit volunteers for downtown projects.
“I want people to come back and enjoy downtown how it originally was and was intended to be,” said Stotler.
Bringing attention to available grants for preservation and improvements to historic buildings is on the forefront for Stotler.
When asked about his interest in history, he credits his parents, saying his dad Jason often loaded them up on weekends to visit historical sites and state parks.