At this week’s annual meeting of Historic Salem, Inc. the Salem Maritime National Historic Site was given a Preservation Award for the relocated and reconstructed Pedrick Store House, a circa 1770 building that was situated on nearby Marblehead’s harbor until 2003, when it was acquired by the National Park Service and moved to Salem.
A postcard of Tucker’s Wharf in Marblehead, with the store house in its original location (the larger structure on the left) is below. When the town’s efforts to restore the building were unsuccessful and its razing imminent, the Park Service stepped in and moved it to Salem in pieces, commencing a six-year period of storage and reconstruction (using traditional techniques) on Derby Wharf.
For as long as I’ve lived in Salem, and certainly since the arrival of the replica Friendship in 1998, there has been discussion of the necessity of having more structures on Derby Wharf, in an ongoing effort to recapture at least some semblance of the frenzied commercial activity on the wharf in Salem’s golden age. All the literary and visual evidence indicates that Derby Wharf, along with Salem’s other wharves (now mostly gone) were lined with multi-story store houses and outbuildings to service all aspects of the port’s business in the early nineteenth century.
Even a century ago, there were both more wharves and more buildings on the wharves. The Salem artist Philip Little (1857-1942), Chestnut Street resident, civic leader, brother of architect William Little (who I wrote about here) and good friend and neighbor of fellow Salem artist Frank Benson (who I wrote about here) maintained a small studio overlooking Salem Harbor and was particularly inspired by the old wharves and wharf buildings which were still extant, but obviously in decline, during his lifetime. He produced variations on the old Salem wharves image in many different mediums, including the etching, photograph, and oil painting below (Salem’s Old Wharves, 1915, Smithsonian American Art Museum; Derby Wharf, 1910 and A Relic of History, Old Derby Wharf, 1915, both Peabody Essex Museum and Salem State University website Salem in History).
Little’s use of the word “relic” in the title of this last painting is interesting; it is an acknowledgement that the Wharf as he was capturing it was a remnant of the past, on its way out. And soon the buildings of the wharf were gone, though the wharf itself survived because of its acquisition by the federal government and assimilation into the Salem Maritime park. And as is often the case when things disappear, you notice their absence and want them back.