Apologies for posting multiple pictures of the park across from my house in the space of a few weeks, but the flowering trees have been particularly beautiful this year. Since this space is constantly within my view, I am always trying to picture what it looked like in the past, when not just one but two churches successively occupied the space. Even though I’m a great admirer of the built landscape (when it is well-built), I think I prefer the empty space, especially in the midst of densely-settled Salem. Although if Samuel McIntire’s majestic first South Congregational Church was still standing, I might change my mind—but its 166-foot-high steeple would certainly dwarf my house! That’s the main effect that I’m constantly trying to conjure up–I may ask my husband to make a rendering one day.
The park today and the two churches: Samuel McIntire’s Church was built in 1804-5 and destroyed by fire in 1903, and quickly replaced by the Gothic Revival structure that you see below, which itself burned down in 1950. Quite the contrast! The word on the street is that there were hopes of erecting a third church on the site (this time by a Greek Orthodox congregation), but one prominent resident foiled those plans by purchasing it himself and donating it to the neighborhood association. All the householders on Chestnut Street now pay dues to maintain the park, which is open to everyone.
I think I’ve shown these images of the churches as well (The amazing Frank Cousins photograph is from 1891; the postcard of the “new” church is from 1910) before as well (I’m nearly reblogging here!), but I do have some interior shots of both churches which I just found, and a salvaged capital from McIntire’s church: can you imagine the struggle to salvage precious pieces of wood while the fire raged? It might have been someone from my house that ran over there and grabbed this! That’s a moment (not so pleasant) that I try to imagine: what it must have been like to wake up in the middle of the night and see this blazing inferno just outside my bedroom window; no doubt there was real fear that the fire would spread and the famous spire would collapse onto the house–my house. What a scary, horrible night that must have been. 110 years later, all is calm over there this morning.
All historic photographs from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, with the exception of the last one, which is from the Estey Organ Company in Vermont, which maintains a virtual museum and an archive of all of its organs.