Past and Present

A very special post today, presenting some seldom-seen images of Salem streets and people from 1860 to 1930, part of an exhibition of photographs from the collection of the Phillips Library of the Essex Institute (now Peabody Essex Museum) held at Old Town Hall in 1974.  This was an interesting time in Salem’s built history; the city had just been through the worst of urban development and was now embarking on a redevelopment plan to save what was left.  The captions on the back of the enlarged postcards, which must have been souvenirs of the exhibition, refer (with great hopefulness) about the various elements of this plan, including the creation of the pedestrian mall on Essex Street, which is slated for a major redesign now, in the present.  These photographs are amazing; I’ve included a few present shots for comparison but I didn’t do that for every image because frankly, it was depressing:  I prefer to stay in the past.

Norman Street from the vantage point of Chestnut Street, 1885 and this morning.  A shocking comparison.  All of those charming houses on Norman are gone, replaced by parking lots.  Consequently the people are gone too; this is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city for pedestrians.  For orientation,  that little stubby post in the center of the modern shot is the remnant of the gaslight on which the policeman leans in the 1885 photograph.  And they say the 20th century was progressive?

Busy downtown Salem:  the Boston & Maine Railway Station, demolished in 1954, Front Street, looking toward Washington, in 1885, and Derby Square and Old Town Hall in 1890.

Delivery boys for the Salem Evening News pose for the photographer in front of the Daniel Low building, 1886, Edward’s Market on Hardy Street, circa 1900, and the Toll House on what is now Salem’s main “big box” thoroughfare, Highland Avenue, 1860.  Toll rates for sleighs and sheep!

Bathers at Collins Cove and wharves and pavilions at the Willows, 1891.

The Jonathan Corwin house in disguise as an apothecary, 1872 and today, as the “Witch House:  a rare present improvement (thanks to Historic Salem, Inc.) except for the name.

Across the street from the Jonathan Corwin house, looking down Essex Street  toward Washington, 1885 and today. At least the street hasn’t been widened beyond recognition.  Look at that bicycle girl in the foreground of the 1885 picture!

Appendix:  the Future?  A rendering of the new and improved Essex Street pedestrian mall below. No cars, more people, just like 1885.

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