Republican Committee of Salem: How we came to be
Originally printed in the year 2000.
Salem: a Republican town
By Rep. Richard Noyes
Salem, New Hampshire - despite the fact that it is a border town, neighboring a strongly Democratic town - can be characterized most nearly as a Republican town.
The statistical basis is far from exact. There are 5,642 Salem voters listed as Republicans in what's called the "Bluebook: The Handbook of New Hampshire Elected Officials." 5,492 are listed as Democrats.
There is some ambiguity to be seen in the fact that 5,764 citizens are termed there as Undeclared. And all of these numbers are out of a population shown (when the most recent Bluebook was published) as 27,378. That means an almost exact three-way split.
The town of Salem has grown at an almost spectacular rate for several decades. Interestingly, many of its citizens have chosen to move up here from the neighboring state that has for so long, and so strongly been dominated by the political party that is without question the minority party in New Hampshire as a whole, as it is in Rockingham County.
That pattern of migration might seem to suggest an antipathy to the classic Democratic principals and even an appreciation of what it means to be a Republican. But, on the other hand, it might indicate something entirely different. One thing is certain: the numbers would seem to support the old Latin phrase: de gustibus non est disputandum.
This writer has long characterized the strong difference between the two major American parties with the observation that Democrats, as a political grouping, are people who want to "do good" for people, while the Republicans, for the most part, are the ones who know how to do it.
The actual will to do either one is another question, and a subject beyond the limits of this simple introductory effort.
The strongest support for the claim that Salem is a Republican town is to be found at the leadership level.
Salem's present delegation to the General Court in Concord (where the Republicans have been strongest in most of the past quarter century) is made up of one state senator (shared with other towns in District 22), eight Republican members of the House, one Democratic member, and one Republican member who is shared with other towns in a multi-town, of "floterial" district.
Salem's Republican leanings may be seen more clearly in what might be termed political leadership.
The only Salem resident who has ever been elected to what's often called the corner office, a term which denotes the Governorship because of that official's traditional quarters in the State House at Concord, is a Republican: John Sununu, whose public career started out with a leadership position on the local planning board.
That particular Republican has risen even higher during his career, having moved from the corner office here to a desk in the White House at Washington, D.C., where he served then-President George Bush as his Chief of Staff.
State Representative Donna Sytek, in her twelfth term as a Representative from Salem is in her second term as Speaker of the House, and is probably positioned to hold that office for at least another term if she chooses to run for it.
Former State Senator Vesta Roy is another Salem resident who was, even if briefly, at home in the corner office. She was President of the State Senate when then-Governor Hugh Gallen died near the close of his term in office. As such, she became New Hampshire's Governor, although only briefly until the close of that unfinished term. Salem's more recent Senate President is Joseph Delahunty.
Having moved up from five years on Salem's Board of Selectmen, he went to the State Senate where he served four terms in that body before being elected in his fifth term in 1995 to be its President. He stepped down from what is usually called the "upper" body in the General Court, only by choosing not to run for yet another term.
The reader will find Salem Republican party history in more depth in the pages of both the 1907 history of Salem written by Edgar Gilbert and in the more recently published At The Edge of Meglopolis, the actual words of which were chosen by this writer, although the research was done jointly with the late Howard Turner, the latter person working at it for even more years than did this writer.
That book carries on pages in the back a full list of state legislators down through the years, beginning in 1900.
A name which appears on the list regularly (and more frequently than any of the others) is that of Leonard B. Peever, who was known statewide as a major state leader at Concord.
Peever's Drug Store, as his place of business was habitually called, stood at the corner of Main Street and Broadway. It was a traditional meeting place for top state officials, who seldom if ever went through Salem without at least stopping there to exchange words with "Lennie" Peever.
Salem was for decades one of the towns in New Hampshire which Republican leaders had regularly in mind.
Then-Governor Robert P. Bass, a staunch Republican despite the fact of being active at times in "Teddy" Roosevelt's Bull Moose party, was invited here to be the principal speaker when Rockingham park was opened on August 10, 1919. The history books will confirm that he came here for that important task.
While it is no exaggeration now to call Salem a Republican town, such could not always be said.
The two existing principal parties are relative new comers in New Hampshire history.
Gilberts history includes a chapter called "Civil and Political History" in which the reader will find the Whigs playing an important early role.
The Know Nothing Party was active here in Salem's earlier years.
Gilbert says (page 184-5) "The town meeting of 1858 brought the first victory to the newly organized Republican party. This was the last year of the old political conditions. In 1859 the Know Nothing party went out of existence. This was the climax of the readjustment that had been going on for many years."
Edwin Sanborn's reliable History of new Hampshire devotes a chapter to the "Development of Political Parties," and Hobart Pillsbury writes in his four-volume History of New Hampshire lists state Senators for the first time by parties (pp. 1257-59) beginning in 1789.
What we can be sure of is that John Woodbury of Salem was president of the State Senate in 1837-38 (p. 1253 in Volume III.)
The slow, but relentless erosion of any community's early history as time moves gradually along makes the historian's job more and more difficult as the earliest years recede.
So this writer has asked for help.
No one in Salem has been more closely involved with Salem's political leadership over the years than Rita Palmer of Millville Street.
She has pulled together a collection of notes which will, at the very least, evoke memories in the minds of people who have shared in Salem's history as time as moved long.
She was chairman in this area for then-Senator Norris Cotton in his day, for example. She was on his staff from 1993 to 1997.
Mrs. Palmer has come up with a list of 34 Salem women who attended a "chat and chew" for Senator Cotton at the former Ackerman's Ball Room (where some of Salem's earlier Town Meetings were held). The very names themselves will bring back memories: Hazel Luty, Jeanette Gelt, Evelyn Ebert, Grace Morrill, Marion Robinson, Veronica Garabedian, Mary Sayer, Bessie Morrison, Colby Moody, William Barron, Everett Dowe.
Here are the names of some then-active Republicans who were unable to attend the luncheon: Virgina Soule, Beverly Gage, Helen Sullivan, Marjorie Roulston and Rita Dill.
Salem's Republicans were headquartered in those years the American Legion Hall on Main Street. In another year it was held in a store-front of the Rockingham Hotel.
Mrs. Palmer remembers that then-Sen. Edward Brooke once stopped there enroute to Rockingham Park. And during another year, she remembers, the Republican headquarters were at Louis' Market at the corner of Main Street and Broadway. It was otherwise empty at that time, before being torn down to make way for something else.
Republican Women were active in those years, too, and Mrs. Palmer can remember when they served beef stew luncheons at the Legion Hall.
"We held bean luncheons, too, at the Masonic Hall," she recalls.
"One summer during July and August, every Friday, the Republican women served a lobster roll luncheon at the Legion Hall.
Rockingham County officials attended those luncheons, for which the charge was only one dollar.
"We drew large crowds," she recalls.
Senator Styles Bridges visited Salem in the fall of 1960.
The Republican women held evening receptions at Woodbury School.
"On Governor Wesley Powell's birthday I presented him with a cake," she remembers. "This was one of the Senator's last functions, as his health was failing."
How many readers remember the many years in which George Sampson was Rockingham County's Sheriff? There was a large group of citizens here who supported him in those years.
"Al Robbins had an antique fire truck which was taken to any and all County functions, as well as to the Deerfield Fair, a Rockingham County institution.
The owner of what was then Woodbury Inn on Rockingham Road was a strong supporter of Louis Wyman, who became our Congressman from District One, to which Salem was then assigned. "We Republicans had many functions there," she remembers.