One of the earliest settled communities in the Roanoke Valley, Salem now reaches far beyond its historic downtown and boom-era residential neighborhoods to include suburban developments, campuses, and large recreational parks. Platted in 1802, Salem was established along the Great Wagon Road, one of the region's most important transportation routes. This helped link the farms and industries of far Southwest Virginia with markets in the northern and eastern parts of the state. As Salem's reputation as a transportation center grew, turnpike companies and railroads established additional routes that passed through the town. Salem's market-oriented position attracted business and residents, leading to its designation in 1838 as the seat of newly formed Roanoke County. Salem remains the county seat, even though it was incorporated as an independent city in 1968.
Although Salem benefitted from the late-nineteenth-century development bonanza that transformed many of the region's communities, by 1900 it was eclipsed in size and economic growth by the nearby City of Roanoke. But Salem remained a center of educational and charitable institutions. During the Great Depression, Salem's economy was bolstered by its selection as the site of a federal Veterans Administration (VA) hospital (RK13). The last half of the twentieth century brought expansion to the hospital, Roanoke College (RK3), and government facilities, and several large international manufacturing firms settled in the city.
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