Mary Morter, South Salem’s Claim to the Throne

I began my teaching career in Ohio at Buckskin Elementary and Junior High School in South Salem. I spent five years teaching Special Education and in the process learned a lot about teaching and met some wonderful people, many who became life-long friends.

Recently a bunch of former “Skinners” got to swapping growing up in South Salem stories on Facebook. They talked about what some did behind the stone building during recess, playing dodge ball in the school gym and the welts they endured as a result, summers wading in Buckskin Creek, and a few things they may regret revealing. To me it sounded exactly like what life is growing up in a rural area and knowing everyone from birth on. South Salem was, and hopefully remains, one of those villages where everyone took the time to raise everyone’s kids.

That’s how I remember teaching at Buckskin, not being just responsible for your own class but being a teacher, mentor, and surrogate parent to all students. We were just a small country schoolhouse and with a sensed responsibility for every child.

There was a great deal of pride and sense of history in that school and the community. For years Buckskin had been a 1-12 facility until economic realities in the 1960s made it impossible to continue. In 1965 it became necessary to consolidate with Greenfield Schools and become a 1-8 school with freshmen being bused to Greenfield and attending McClain High School. It was a bitter pill for locals to swallow and it’s still possible to get a rise out of an old-timer by mentioning consolidation.

South Salem has several reasons to be proud. One is the “stone building,” now called the Academy. When I taught there the building was used as the industrial arts department. On the second floor there were two rooms, one for craft activities while the other was home to music classes.  The ground level contained a well equipped wood working shop and a room for mechanical drawing instruction. I believe the building had also been used as the vocational agriculture shop during its high school years.

When built in 18421 it housed a college for the instruction of ministers, thus the name Academy. Several years ago the Academy ceased being used for classrooms, and today serves as a community meeting place. I’ve been to several class-reunions, birthday celebrations and most recently, a gathering place following a funeral.

Another of South Salem’s claims to fame lies in its cemetery. Buried there are the remains of  Mary Morter who was a half-sister to England’s Queen Victoria and inline for the British throne. Mary fell in love with a common stone mason and ended up getting tossed out of the royal tribe.

Mr. Morter came to America and worked at Rucker’s Quarry near Greenfield, later sending for his wife. Hearing no news from her he decided to return to England and check things out. Ironically, their ships passed at sea with her returning to America and he to Great Britain. Once the ducks got lined up and the couple reunited in South Salem, Mary became ill and passed away. Her husband, using his skills as a mason, carved the marker that marks her burial site.

My original intent was to end at the previous paragraph. But, then it struck me that if I failed to mention Salem’s covered bridge someone may feel slighted. So, let me mention that South Salem is also home to one of the few remaining, most loved and best preserved covered wood bridge in Ohio, if not the nation.

NOTE: The faculty at Buckskin School in the early 1970s, as I recall it:

Thelma Eaton Knisley, Joann Boatman, Virginia Fuller, Mabel Drummond, Coreen Strietenburger, Carol Brady, Nancy Gingerich, Norman Gingerich, Joe Current, Dave Watts, Larry Chapman, Phyllis McNeal, Chuck Knisley, Carol Wilcox, Sally Sullivan

Non-certified staff:

Jane Speakman, Hod Surber, Richard Shoemaker, George Beatty, Martha Johnson, Leota Johnson, Joann Anderson, Lois Baber, Janet Conway, Julia Eslegroth,


10 thoughts on “Mary Morter, South Salem’s Claim to the Throne”

  1. My Grandmother, on my Mothers side, lived in South Salem and I would spend some time with her during the year and particularly during the summertime. I recall swinging on the swings located next to the large field as you enter S. Salem and also titer toddering there as well. Her home was located on Rapid Run and was demolished in the past decade I believe. My memories of South salem and my time spent there are sweet.

  2. south salem was the most wonderful place to grow up. we moved to salem when i was 4 that was 1967. mom and dad bought the house from robert smalley and it was the most wonderful place. i had grandmothers that werent related to me, mothers that cared for me as much as my own. we could go out any time of day or night and our parents never had to worry. if only things could be that way again it was a different world then. larry i believe i had all those teachers mentioned at some time or another including maxine smalley who i think was doing her student teaching.

    1. Yeah, Maxine Smalley. I remember her being there and I had lots of nice conversations with her. However, I can’t remember whether she was a full-time member of the faculty or if she was student teaching.

      1. Maxine must have been student teaching at the time because she went on to teach full-time @ Bainbridge Elementary, retiring several years ago. She & Robert still reside at the farm next to the covered bridge and doing quite well in their 80’s…

  3. Dave Watts was the head teacher at Buckskin while I taught there and T.J. Hike was the principal of the elementary schools. Later Hike received an assistant principal named Paul McMurrin who was replace by Hank Thompson. At some point the law was changed requiring all campuses to have their own principal and Watts was moved into Greenfield where he taught math (and maybe science) in the intermediate grades until retiring.

    My wife also reminded me that the Academy building had also once been home to a secretarial or business college. Her grandmother, Nina Nelson Michael, was a student at the South Salem Business Academy. She is not sure of what time period.

    1. I taught with Larry Fouch in Greenfield in the late 70s and forgot he had once taught at Salem. I totally forgot that Helen Czerpak taught music while I was at Buckskin in the early 70s. She was a traveling teacher spending certain days at Buckskin and other days at other schools.

  4. Thanks for posting. So many memories revisited. Mary Morter was always a topic of conversation on the playground.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this article. Having lived in the South Salem area for several years this brought back many memories. I’m glad the staff was mentioned…. I had not thought of some of those people in a long time. South Salem’s Academy produced many missionary’s. I don’t recall the exact number but, considering the size of the town, it was staggering.

  6. Very good article Larry and you did a wonderful job of describing what living in that community was like. My family moved from Greenfield to South Salem in 1971 when I was 6 years old. I have great memories of my childhood, but the one thing that stands out the most for me is how many “parents” I actually had. All of my many friends’ parents watched out for me as much as my own mother did. Who I am today and the values instilled in me are contributed to nearly the whole community and teachers that I so loved at Buckskin School. Thanks go out to all of you for doing such a wonderful job.

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