In 1808, Tuscarawas County was founded and named after the Native American word meaning "open mouth". Salem was one of the four original townships formed not long after Ohio authorized the creation of Tuscarawas County. Within the Salem Township Village Port Washington, formally named Salisbury, was founded by Col. John Knight in 1827.
At the heart of the village Port Washington, just past the stop light stands a three-story brick building known commonly as the Union Hall. The Union Hall, formally known as the Town Hall, was erected in 1879. In 1879, this 32 by 60 foot, three-story building made of brick, mortar, and plaster, only cost $3,500 to build to completion.
This magnificent building served multiple purposes in its time. The first floor served as the Village's Mayor's office, a prison, as well as a fire department. The second floor held an audience hall which was often used for school assemblies, local theater productions, and graduation ceremonies. One of the common events held here were the monthly literary exercises held by the Literary Society.The audience hall held a stage, which had three curtains, and used oil foot lamps. To the left and right of the stage, the historic walls speak to visitors that pass through, its history. Time comes to a stand still as visitors are able to read the signatures of graduation classes, theater members, or performers that cover the walls. Many visitors have been able to identify signatures of whom they have family relations with, even after all these years. The third floor could only be accessed by a wooden spiral staircase, until recently, that was accessed by the front of the building itself. This specific floor was owned and used by the Masonic Order up until the late 1970s, when their lease ended. At the very top of this three-story building is a bell that was used for the fire department. Ironically the bell also served to summon the Mayor if it was tolled three times, and the peace officer if tolled two times.
It was also in the late 1970s when the Port Washington - Salem Historical Society was organized for the restoration of the Town Hall to serve as a museum. By 1982, the Union Hall was officially registered as a "National Register of Historic Places", ensuring this piece of history will be preserved for many years to come. Since then, the Port Washington - Salem Historical Society have continued to renovate the Union Hall to preserve it as it would have been in its original form, while also making it accessible for events and tours. One of those iconic events is their annual Open House which is held on Memorial Day. While many renovations have been made; including a stairway that goes to both the second and third floor from the outside, storm windows, new furnace, and a new gas line that was buried, there is still much that needs to be done. "We are very thankful for grants that have been given to our endeavor to preserve this special piece of our Village's history," stated Kathy Sullivan. Sullivan went on to say "one of the grants came from the Haman Family Foundation, which provided $3,500 to install storm windows on the third floor, to which we are exceedingly grateful for." Judy Steinbach added "we still have a current fundraiser goal of $3,550, which will cover the cost to buy and install the remainder of the storm windows, as well as install a lift to the third floor."
If interested in tours of the Union Hall or seek to make a donation, contact any of the following Port Washington-Salem Historical Society members;
Terry and Kathy Sullivan, 740-498-7759
Jim and Judy Steinbach, 740-498-8621
Dan and Bev Kinsey, 740-498-6663