Essex Street has been Salem’s main street since its foundation. The architectural diversity of the streetscape in its residential sections is amazing, and in its heyday (before the building of the Northshore Shopping Center in 1958) its commercial blocks drew people from all over the region. I think there must have been several Essex Streets for some time, but this partition was formalized with the creation of the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall in the 1970s–barring cars from the city center. The attitude of Salem’s residents towards the mall strikes me as rather intense; people either love it (or love the concept of it but think it needs updating) or hate it, and that’s why I’m looking forward to tonight’s “Essex Street Pedestrian Mall Visioning and Conceptual Design Meeting“. This is the first of four scheduled public forums on the street’s rehabilitation and potential redesign sponsored by the City of Salem, the Salem Partnership, and the Peabody Essex Museum. For some historical perspective on this envisioning process, here are some images of central Essex street, past and present.
First up are two stereoviews produced by George K. Proctor of Salem of Essex Street from Washington Street or Town House Square and one of the East India Marine Hall further down the street. These were published in the 1870s and 1880s and can be easily accessed at the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery.
The most popular perspective, from Washington Street across from the Daniel Low building, looking east along Essex Street from the 1880 Visitors’ Guide to Salem.
WIRES AND TRACKS: a very connected Essex Street below, again viewed from Washington Street/Town House Square, in a photograph issued by the Detroit Publishing Company in the first decade of the twentieth century(Library of Congress Digital Collections).
BUSTLING BUSINESSES: A series of postcards, all dating from the early and mid-twentieth century. Salem had at least three movie theaters along several blocks of central Essex Street, all gone now, but fortunately we have the Cinema Salem on Church Street. What I notice most about these postcards are big stores (Woolworth’s), signs (Chop Suey!), awnings, and crowds.
Two views of Essex Street in the present, from the perspective of the silly Samantha-from-Bewitched statue in Town House Square. Note that the pedestrian mall is not closed to all cars.