A mild-mannered Owensboro, Kentucky, druggist was the first superintendent of the Kentucky Confederate Home, but his role has been largely forgotten due to a quirk of semantics.
Salem H. Ford was a Daviess County native who grew up in Owensboro, but at the outbreak of the Civil War, he crossed into Missouri to enlist as a private in the Confederate state guard there. After the war, Ford sent most of his career in the drug trade (at a time when the local druggist was as much a personal health care provider as was the country doctor). Ford maintained an impressive pharmacological library, and he was a regular speaker at annual meetings of the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Association.
But it was his activity on behalf of Confederate veterans groups in western Kentucky that led to Ford’s hiring in 1902 as superintendent of the Kentucky Confederate Home. A month prior to the opening of the Home, Ford went to Pewee Valley to recondition the vacant resort hotel and make it habitable for the veterans who would live there. That the Kentucky Confederate Home was presentable on the day it was dedicated and suitable for occupancy by arriving veterans was due to weeks of personal oversight and dawn-to-dusk physical labor by a sixty-eight-year-old druggist from Owensboro.
Ford resigned in 1903 to return to Daviess County, and the Home’s board hired Trimble County politician W. O. Coleman to replace him. Coleman was announced as the new “Commandant” of the Home, a title that had been bestowed unofficially on Ford.
In later years, Coleman would describe himself as “the first Commandant of the Confederate Home,” and Salem Ford’s legitimate claim to being the first manager of the Home would be largely overlooked.