Evolving Essex Street

The sight of the poster announcing the arrival of the new Korean fried chicken chain restaurant Bonchon on Essex Street reminded me of how main streets are always in transition: you can trace the history of a town just by examining the evolving nature of its buildings and hardscapes. Essex Street is fronted by structures from the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries—residential, commercial and institutional. It has been covered with dirt, cobblestones, tracks, and pavement, widened several times and in several places, and (unfortunately) transformed into a pedestrian “mall” (on which cars–or I should say trucks and trolleys–still drive)–in its central section in the 1970s. I have posted about Essex Street many, many times, so I thought I would feature some seldom-seen images today, and examine the physical evolution of this storied street.

Essex Street Perley Map

Essex Street has run right down the center of Salem since the seventeenth century; Below, Essex Street from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries, as imagined and in reality.

Essex Street 1776 Bowditch

essex-street-salem-ma-postcard 1820s

Essex Street 1870

Essex Street 1874

Essex Street HNE 1880s

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Essex Street envisioned in 1776 in Carry On, Mr. Bowditch; and in the 1820s on an old Essex Institute postcard; photographs of the street in 1870, 1874 & 1880s (Historic New England & New York Public Library Digital Gallery). Below: a shopping street–until the 1970s–although the famous stores Almy, Bigelow, & Washburn and L.H. Rogers survived into the 1980s. Only the Almy’s Clock remains, and the Rogers store is now administrative offices for the Peabody Essex Museum. (1976 photograph from Jerome Curley’s great Patch column, “Then and Now” and L.H. Rogers photograph from the website “Hawthorne in Salem”).

Essex Street

Essex Street Paving

Essex Street LH Rogers

Below: a not-so-faithful street. It’s surprising to me how few houses of worship are located on Essex Street: at present, only one. Reverend Bentley’s Second Congregational “East Church” was on lower Essex, and before it was transformed into Daniel Low and Co., the imposing structure at the corner of Washington and Essex—the site of Salem’s first meeting house–served as the First Church of Salem–now further along (up) Essex Street. Salem’s only Jewish congregation, Temple Shalom of the Congregation Sons of David, established its first synagogue on Essex Street (its second on Lafayette Street is currently being adapted into academic offices and classrooms for Salem State University). The more mystical Swedenborgian Church was briefly located on upper Essex Street, on the present site of the Salem Athenaeum (American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives; Weston Collection).

EssexSt Synagogue 1930s

Essex Street 1920s HH

Essex Street Swedenborgian Church

So many lost Essex Street houses! Too many to mention here–I’ve focused on them individually and will continue to do so. I don’t think I’ve ever featured the Sanders House at 292 Essex however, a site now occupied by the Salem YMCA. Alexander Graham Bell lived in the house in the 1870s and conducted experiments in its attic that led to the invention of the telephone: why it couldn’t have been preserved just on this basis I do not know. It reminds me of the beautiful Pickman house down the street, also gone. This particular block of Essex was definitely trending commercial in the late nineteenth centuries, however, and Georgian structures were not long for this world. The new YMCA came in, and just across the street a bit later-the Colonial Revival structure (with its new facade) that will soon house Salem’s Bonchon.

Sanders House 292 Essex

Essex Street YMCA 1920s

Essex Street Bon Chon


Desperately seeking Distractions

A difficult week: we had to put our beautiful calico cat Moneypenny down after she suffered some sort of stroke, and then Charleston. Too awful for words, and I just walked past that church last week. We’ve had some lovely late spring early summer days, which seem almost cruel in my morose mood. My garden looks beautiful from far away, but up close it is full of weeds that I’ve been too busy to yank out. So that’s my plan–I shall tend to my garden and pursue the other distractions that have always been helpful in tough times: shopping (for everything from clothing to vintage lawn games), old movies (life is always good when Doris Day is on, submarine movies always plunge me into another world, and I’m currently obsessed with George Sanders), history (not only my profession but also my daily preoccupation–the perfect perspective corrective), and drinking (another great perspective corrective, in moderation of course). I need a new bicycle too: that will help. I do have some nice pictures that belie my dark mood: the garden–from afar so you can’t see the weeds! The lilac and variegated dogwood trees are particularly beautiful this year. Chestnut Street Park across the street, with the remains of a lovely neighborhood party last night, a thoughtful offering from my friend Pamela, and the gardens and antiques at the Massachusetts Horticulture Society’s Elm Bank last weekend, when all was well with the world.

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Very impressed with this lady’s bedstraw–must get some.


Remembering Dr. Warren

I have never been a formal student of memory and memorial culture, but the process, expressions, and artifacts of remembrance have fascinated me from the time that I was a little girl, growing up just down the street from the Justin Smith Morrill Homestead on the Justin Smith Morrill Memorial Highway (which we knew just as the road to South Strafford) in Strafford, Vermont and then moving to the equally past-focused town of York, Maine. Here in Salem, memorials are all around me, and some I take notice of on a regular basis while others escape my attention–why? I’ve been thinking about the distinction between individual and collective memorialization for some time: in the past, initiatives seem to have focused on the remembrance of individuals while we focus on the event, or the collective victims and/or participants related to that event. This seems like a basic divide between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and it was really driven home to me as I walked around Savannah last week. Savannah is a city of statues as much as it is of squares: these two distinguishing features go hand in hand. I did not take a precise inventory, but those statues erected to the memory of individuals definitely made a firmer impression on my memory, although sometimes (as in the notable case of Forsyth Park) you can see both, side by side.

Confederate and McLaws Statues Savannah

The Confederate War Memorial and Lafayette McLaws Statue in Forsyth Park, Savannah.

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, at which over 350 men died, and many, many more were wounded: more British than American. It was truly a Pyrrhic victory for the British, and therefore ultimately inspirational for the Americans, as was the tragic death of Dr. Joseph Warren, prominent Son of Liberty, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, the man who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes to put out the word that the British were indeed coming, and newly-commissioned Major General, who nonetheless engaged in the battle as a private soldier with a borrowed musket. Warren was shot in the face by his assailant and thrown in a mass grave by the British after the battle, but his body was recovered months later by Revere and his younger brother John, a Salem doctor, even after his martyrdom had been established by John Trumbull’s iconic painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. The Doctor Patriot has been memorialized in many ways: through the naming of towns across New England and the United States, streets (I’m not sure about Warren Street here in Salem), statutes and statues. The first Bunker Hill Memorial was a Warren Memorial, erected by his Masonic brothers; it was replaced by the 221-foot-high obelisk commemorating the entirety of the battle in 1843. But Dr. Warren did not retreat from the field entirely: an adjacent exhibit lodge was built in the late nineteenth century to house his statue, one of several in Boston. While I certainly would not want to displace the statue of Colonel William Prescott that stands before the Bunker Hill Monument, I would also like to see Dr. Warren there, outside, although maybe that would spoil that stark individual vs. collective aesthetic of the site.

Warren by Trumbull MFA

Warrens Death 1775

Warren Memorial Bunker Hill 1794

Bunker Hill Monument BPL 1920

Bunker Hill Monument and Prescott

Warren Statue by Dexter

Warren Statue Roxbury

Warren Tavern

John Trumbull’s Death of General Warren, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Frontispiece to the H.H. Brackenridge play The Battle of Bunkers-hill: a dramatic piece, of five acts, 1776, Library of Congress; Masonic Warren Memorial on Bunker Hill and present day Bunker Hill Monument in 1920, Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library, and today, with Colonel William Prescott “on guard”; Photograph of the Masonic Warren Statue by Henry Dexter, Southworth and Hawes, 1851, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Warren Memorial Statue on Warren Street in his native Roxbury, before it was removed to West Roxbury by a street widening project (Roxbury wants it back), Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library; the Warren Tavern in Charlestown, built as a “memorial” of sorts to Warren in 1780.


Magna Carta Monday

As today marks the 800th anniversary of the reluctant concession to the Magna Carta by King John at Runnymeade, there clearly is no other topic on which to focus than this Charter, which has become far more momentous with history than in its own time. There is a seemingly-definitive exhibition at the British Library: “The Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy”, which is full of iconic documents, including Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, and interesting facts: apparently the British were contemplating luring the U.S. into World War II by offering us the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta! Neither of these inclusions surprise me, as Americans have always viewed the Great Charter through the prism of their own constitutional struggles, rather than its more precise historical context. Invariably if I ask a student in my Medieval class what it is, they will say: “the British Constitution”.  This horrifies my British friends, who maintain that they don’t need a constitution: the beauty of British history and government is the gradual, organic evolution of civil liberties and the universal understanding of just what these liberties should be, rather than their explicit expression on a piece of paper. But there have been many pieces of paper (or parchment) which have defined individual rights in relation to government, and the Magna Carta is a particularly prominent one. Its reissuing in 1216, 1217 and 1225, printing in 1534, and role as a touchstone in the constitutional struggles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (and after) determined its greatness, over time and as precedent.

Magna Carta 1215 British Library

Magna Carta illustration-BM-19th C

Cropped image of one of four 1215 Magna Cartas and the big moment portrayed in a colored print based on a 1776 painting by John Hamilton Mortimer, British Museum, from the British Library exhibition The Magna Carta:  Law, Liberty, Legacy. It’s impossible to find an image of this historic signing before the early modern era, and they really proliferate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The legacy of the Magna Carta, below:

Magna Carta 1534

Magna Carta Cromwell BM

Magna Carta 18th BM

Magna Carta 1792 BM

Magna Carta handkerchief-depicting-signing-1879 V and A

magna_votes 1911

Magna Carta cartoon-magna-carta-mini-carta-tony-blair-2005

Magna Carta Stamp

First printing by Robert Redman, 1534; inclusion as one of the “Emblems of England” during the Cromwellian Regime, 1650s; Thomas Bewick’s engraving of the feudal knight passing Magna Carta to Britannia, with Lady Liberty overlooking (very important–the feudal knight passes the torch of “liberty” to the Enlightenment!), and the contrast between liberty in Britain and France in 1792, all from the British Museum; Ladies handkerchief portraying the signing of the Magna Carta, 19th century, Victoria & Albert Museum; “Votes for Women” reference, 1911 and editorial cartoon protesting the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Bill, ©The Times and the British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent (“mini Carta”!!!); Royal Mail commemorative stamp, 2015.


Southern Exposure, Part Two

Just finishing up with vacation pictures and notes before I move on to other topics this coming week: lots going on in Salem, and I also have a bunch of historical and horticultural things I’m working on. First of all, I must say that Charleston is of course a lovely city, I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on it in my previous post (people keep coming up to me!): I just preferred Savannah slightly more on this particular vacation. This was likely due more to my mood than anything else. Charleston was quite crowded when we were there, with the Spoleto festival just wrapping up, and we never really found quite the right restaurant or bar: the celebrated Husk was right near our inn, so we felt we needed to go farther afield, which was probably a mistake. And while Charleston is full of great art galleries and antique stores, King Street is all chain stores, and I couldn’t find the perfect little local shop that I’m always looking for. But the crowds and the sun drove us into the really interesting Charleston Museum, which is not much to look at on the outside but full of lots of curiosities in the inside (if arranged in rather old-fashioned exhibits): I continue to be saddened by Salem’s lack of a similar venue. And there are few avenues than can compete with the Battery and Tradd Street: very few.

A bit more of Savannah. My favorite house and a really neat shop: Prospector Co.

Savannah Favorite Townhouse

Savannah Prospector Co

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In Charleston. Tradd Street, a “Charleston Door” opening up to the porch, the Battery, King Street, many Massachusetts-made guns in the Charleston Museum!

Charleston windowbox

Charleston Tradd Street

Charleston door

Charleston Battery

Charleston 2

Charleston Museum


Southern Exposure

We are just back from a brief vacation down south, to Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston: three very different cities! Raleigh is clearly booming, but it’s hard to find its center in the midst of all the ring roads and housing developments, while Savannah and Charleston have long embraced their urban cores, first out of necessity, later for tourism. They are perfect walking and biking cities while you clearly need bigger wheels in Raleigh. I’ve been to Savannah and Charleston several times, and always together, inviting comparisons. This time I preferred the former, though it might have been due merely to our better accommodations (The Gastonian) and the fact that we were there on weekdays when it was a bit quieter. By the time we got to Charleston I was tired of walking around with a sheen of perspiration on my forehead, and my camera was so tired it just quit! Savannah is–of course–a city of squares and townhouses, and we saw them all, large and small. We bypassed the more touristy waterfront in favor of downtown, and sought out the full architectural spectrum, which is uniform in form but incredibly diverse in style: townhouses from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, English, French, Spanish, and even Dutch in inspiration, or so they seemed to me. We ate and drank very well (Pinkie Master’s Lounge, Crystal Beer Parlor, Alligator Soul)–probably another reason we were a bit worn out by the time we got to Charleston!

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The courtyard garden at our inn and all sorts of Savannah townhouses, above; below: some notable detached houses in Savannah, including the Richardson-Owens-Thomas House (and slave quarters) and the Isaiah Davenport House. Obligatory shots of the impressive cathedral and moss.

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A few more observations, some comparative, some not. I love all the outdoor gas lighting in Savannah–and the garden statuary:  people really embellish their homes and gardens. Both Savannah and Charleston are cleaner (yes, even Savannah, the “beautiful woman with a dirty face”) than Salem: we should do better. Savannah is very serious about dog poop: there are special receptacles in all of the squares and cemeteries. Both cities are also quieter and more traffic-calmed–the squares of Savannah are particularly effective at that. The educational institutions in both cities, Savannah College of Art and Design and the College of Charleston, are much more integrated than our Salem State University, rehabilitating older structures downtown rather than just building new and big outside. More on Charleston in my next post, and shopping.

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What to do in June: then and now

For various projects over the years I have compiled a stack of reprints of agricultural, health, and “better living” manuals and almanacs from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which prescribe monthly tasks and helpful hints, including Thomas Tusser’s Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie (1557) and its sequel Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie, Richard Saunders’ Apollo Anglicanus: The English Apollo (1665 edition), and Nicholas Breton’s Fantastiks: Serving for a Perpetuall Prognostication (1626) just to name a few titles. While we may not welcome a regimen as much as early modern audiences, I’ve got a busy summer ahead of me so must make some lists. The contrast of rural life centuries ago with (sub-) urban life today is striking: my busy life looks pretty leisurely in comparison.

What to do in June, circa 1600:

1) Weed:  in June get thy wedehoke, thy knife and they glove: and wede out such wede, as the corne doth not love. Slack no time thy weding, for darth nor for cheape: thy corne shall reward it, or ever thou reape. (Tusser)

2) Shear the sheep, but not the lambs.

3) Fatten pigs.

4) Ensure that all outbuildings are in good condition to store grains when the rain comes: things thus set in order, in quiet and rest, shall further thy harvest and pleasure thee best. (Tusser)

5) Harvest the first crop of hay: it is now June and the Hay-makers are mustered to make an army for the field. (Breton)

6) Distill roses and “sweet herbs”.

7) Drink the “pleasantest” wine, and white wine in particular, for it purgeth Choler, and noxious humors from the stomack. (Saunders).

8) Eat “Sallets of Lettice prepared with Vinegar” (Saunders)

9) Don’t eat too much, and exercise: all this month glut not the stomack, but arise from the table with an appetite; arise betimes in the morning, and exercise your body with some long walk. (Saunders)

10) Take heed of eating Cheese and Apples this month, and don’t stay too long in the bath, but to wash the feet this month in cold water is commended. (Saunders)

What to do in June, circa 2015:

1) Weed.

2) Trim the claws of my cats, even those of intimidating Mr. Darcy (or take them to the pet groomer).

3) Buy “healthy weight” cat food for my cats, especially Mr. Darcy.

4) Write nice note to new neighbors asking them to paint their old peeling shed, which borders our garden.

5) “Harvest” flowers from lady’s mantle, alexanders, roses, and other June flowers.

6) Put terrible-smelling salmon stuff on roses.

7) Drink the “pleasantest” wine, especially Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand.

8) Get on the kale bandwagon.

9) Don’t eat too much and exercise.

10) Seek out new goat cheeses–the only kind of cheese I can eat—and try to take more advantage of my clawfoot tub, as well as what Nicholas Breton calls the sweet season [in which] the senses perfume, and the spirits comfort.

Arthur Wesley Dow June Morning

Arthur Wesley Dow, A June Morning (also known as A View of Ipswich, Massachusetts), 1893.


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