Horse and Carriage Days in Salem

Until relatively recently, a friend and near-neighbor of mine operated a horse and carriage business here in Salem, catering to the tourists and brides and grooms; in fact she transported my new husband and myself from the church to the House of the Seven Gables for our reception several years ago. She and her husband have now moved to Maine, where I hope they enjoy peace and quiet and land, but I’m going to miss the sight of her in her formal driving attire and the sound of her horse’s hooves clattering down the street. There really is no better sound to take you back, while you’re sitting in your double parlor on your Duncan Phyfish sofa!  Maybe another carriage (or two) will come to town, but I suspect this is a business which looks a lot more romantic than it actually is.

It is increasingly difficult for me to be romantic about cars; in fact, the older I get, the more I wish they would all go away. Of course that is easy for me to say, indeed very easy for me to say, as I live in a small city which is connected to other cities by rail, and I walk to work. So I really could do without a car, but of course I don’t. But when I look at certain historic images of Salem, particularly art and ephemera as opposed to photographs (which show the grittier reality of streets filled with horses), I always think I want to live in that world, a world without cars. The painting that conjures up this world most directly for me shows a man driving a rather dashing horse and carriage (accompanied by an almost equally dashing dog) through the vacant, spotless streets of Salem with no encumbrances in sight. It’s a mid-nineteenth century view that hardly presents reality, and so all the more evocative of days gone by; it also reminds me of a trade card I have from a bit later in the century.

Market Square Samuel Chamberlain 1855-60

Horse and Carriage Trade Card

Samuel Chamberlain in Market Square, Salem. 1855-60 (pastel on paper). American School (19th century), Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.

Period representations of Salem streets, as opposed to photographs, seem to show horses either dashing about, like those above, or standing still, like the drawing of an apothecary shop below. Again:  spotless streets and a loyal dog, in this case standing by. The charming drawing below of James Emerton’s apothecary shop at 123 Essex Street was rendered by his brother William Henry Emmerton (I have no idea why they spelled their names differently, but they did), who was a prominent architect working in Salem, Providence, and Portland, Maine. (According to his family history, Materials towards a Genealogy of the Emmerton Family, William would fall prey to the newest transportation technology in 1871, when, coming to spend Sunday with his family, who were on a summer visit to Salem, he was one of the ill-fated occupants of the last car in the accommodation train at Revere, when it was ‘telescoped’ by the engine of the express train overtaking it. Though not mangled in the collision, he received such injuries from the steam that he survived, mostly unconscious, but a few hours.) The published advertisement for James Emerton’s shop follows, along with a circa 1900 postcard of the buildings of the old Essex Institute which shows the actual building (in the background, with the awnings, now all gone) and images of more Essex Street businesses in the 1850s.


Emerton Apothecary

Horse and Carriage Essex Institute Salem

Horse and Carriage ads

William Henry Emmerton, Apothecary shop of James Emerton in Salem, c. 1850 (pen & ink and sepia wash on paper), Peabody Essex Museum; advertisements from the 1851 and 1857 Salem Directory.

The more I examined the romanticized images of Salem streets scenes with horse-drawn carriages in my digital files, the more I realized that most of them were from the 1850s, the decade by which most of Massachusetts had been linked together with railroad tracks. Clearly there was an emerging awareness of how the “iron horse” was going to change town and country, but it was far too soon to envision the coming of the car.

Horse and Train meet in Salem 1851

Horse and train meet in Salem:  Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, 1851.

11 responses to “Horse and Carriage Days in Salem

  • Priscilla Herrington

    Your blog is always so interesting – sometimes I learn something new, sometimes you evoke a memory – always good!

    I have two responses to today’s entry:

    1) Since my reading club has just finished “A Tale of Two Cities” the image of horse-drawn carriages dashing through the streets calls up the image of the peasant’s son killed beneath the wheels.

    2) I do remember horses on Salem’s streets in the 1940s. There were still commercial carts and delivery wagons. WWII was good for horse owners; with no new cars and trucks being manufactured, and gasoline being rationed, it was often more practical to use the horse-drawn wagon, and this continued even for a couple of years following the war. Also, there were mounted police on the streets. As a child I somehow got the idea it was good luck to see a horse in the act of dropping a pile of manure on the street! I don’t remember that anyone cleaned up after them – but there were street sweepers who cleaned the streets on some regular basis. I think these must have been city employees. I also remember seeing a horse by the side of the road with a feed bag on and I was sometimes allowed to pat them.

    Incidentally, the MSPCA ran Vacation Farm in Methuen which my father told me was started as a sort of rest home for old work horses, who could spend the rest of their lives in the meadows, with warm stalls in the barn, and no more heavy loads to pull. We used to stop there sometimes to see the horses and the other rescued animals when we visited my grandmother in Methuen.

  • markd60

    As I get older, I think more and more that all change is bad.

  • Emma

    Is the Essex Institute Building now the Salem Library? Looks familiar from the drawing. Love the post, I dislike cars and most technology as well. Most days I can’t wait to get away from the buzzing of city streets!

  • Betty Taylor

    Enjoyed your post! It seems so romantic to think of hires drawn carriages going down the streets. Times certainly weren’t so hurried. We need a little more of that slower pace.

  • rimassolosailingaroundtheworldm

    Thank you so much, photos is wonderful

  • John Matthew Barlow

    I’m involved with an attempt to save a horse and carriage stable in Montréal, so I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the horse and buggy on the city streets. I read something somewhere that pointed out the deafening noise of the horse shoes on the cobblestones of the Old City in Montréal, apparently 20,000 horse footfalls a day outside the Bank of Montréal on Great St. James Street in the 1860s. Sitting on a terrasse in a café last summer in the Old City, two horse and carriages went by, and on those old narrow streets, they were really loud, even compared to cars. Then there was the condition of the streets in the real day-to-day and not the staged photos; the Archives de la Ville de Montréal has a great set of photos that show piles of horse dung, and the city employed people to clean it up (of course).

    Of course, all of this isn’t to say cars are good and horses are bad. I like the romantic horse and carriage on the streets of the Old City and elsewhere in Montréal and miss them on the streets of Salem. But I’m increasingly interested in the soundscape and the polluted industrial environment of cities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course, Montréal is also much bigger than Salem, but I think Salem would be a good city to examine the sound- and industrial land- scapes of.

    • daseger

      Oh absolutely, Matthew, and if I were a real Salem historian of the nineteenth century, that’s just what I would do: it’s an incredibly interesting topic.One of my very favorite books from my academic era attempts to do just what you describe for Elizabethan England; I think it would be an easier task for Salem or any nineteenth-century city.

      • John Matthew Barlow

        A friend of mine is doing her PhD on the soundscape of Montreal during the 60s, and there are a few websites that present random soundscapes of the city. But there’s a display at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, BC, that re-creates a street in Port Moody, BC, where the original transcontinental railway ended, and where I grew up. The display has the smells (at least the bakery smells) of the street, I saw that when I was 18 and have been pondering that display since, the sounds and smells of the urban landscape. Just have never quite figured out how to do it.

  • Lyle Diehl

    I worked during the fall of 2005, after Katrina forced me to leave New Orleans for ‘dry’ land…

    My partner, Michelle, was a wonderful girl to work with and we have many a pleasant memory of the time I spent in Salem…

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