Among the earliest settlers were the families of Henry Crowder, Dr. D. W. Floyd, Charles Nelms, W. W. Burt, George Heard, John Askew, Moses Pruitt, and Dr. McCoy. Rev. F. L. Cherry, leading historian of East Alabama's first 50 years, wrote that the town was laid off in 1836 by Benjamin H. Baker, Dr. Erastus Jones, and B. S. Mangham.
A schoolhouse was built in 1837. Professor Sheppard, the first teacher, was followed by Professor Sanders in 1838. Academies for the girls and boys, Baptist and Methodist Churches and a camp meeting ground were early additions to the community. A stagecoach stop was located on the west side of town. A "Picnic" ground popular for public gatherings probably saw its most exciting day in an 1856 Presidential rally. By 1855, railroad service had been established from Salem to Opelika and Columbus, Georgia.
Local tradition maintains that a district courthouse was built in Salem to serve upper Russell County. The building still stands. When Lee was created on December 5, 1866, Salem became a part of the new county and received the second highest vote total for seat of government. The first three Lee County Probate Judges came from Old Russell County.
Two and one half miles east of this site is Wacoochee Covered Bridge, the last remaining "Kissin" bridge in Lee County and one of a very few found in Alabama. This one span 75 foot town lattice bridge was built not later than between 1865 and 1880. It has been fully restored by the Lee County Commission.