Two Churches and a Park

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.

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McIntire Park South Church 1891

McIntire Park South Congregational Church 1910

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McIntire Park 004

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.

McIntire Park interior of South Church Peabody & Tilton

McIntire Park Urn

McIntire Park South Congregational Church interior 1920s

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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.

10 responses to “Two Churches and a Park

  • cecilia

    that is a scary thought, there is something deeply unsettling about seeing a church burning down, love the trees though and the delightful garden.. c

    • daseger

      I love the park too, but it is difficult for me to forget what was once there–especially that first church.

      • cecilia

        It has an extraordinary interior, I have a question though, I often come across old photos with the writing across the front of them, (like the one on your page) why did they write on the front and not the back, and why is the writing always so scribbly, were they using some kind of brush? c

      • daseger

        It’s a great question, Celi, and I have no answer! I often notice that 19th century people also wrote in BOOKS a lot–often on the title page, and I’ve also come across writing on rare manuscripts; there seems to be a sense that these things are less precious than we think they are.

      • cecilia

        or than we think they were, I suppose they are more precious now, to us. Hmm. we will have to think on it.. c

  • Pamela Baker

    Beautiful photos! Thanks for the history of the Churches.

  • Matt

    Two churches? I had no idea. Adds a new dimension to the quote that South Church minister Dr. Francis Hopkins is reported to have said of the assemblies across the street from his church at Hamilton Hall: “Back-to-back and breast-to-breast they are dancing their souls down to Hell.”

    So the question is: was it God who didn’t want a church on Chestnut, or did the devil object to having one so close to his dance hall?

    • daseger

      Those are good questions and there is a third (awkwardly-worded, sorry!): did the well-heeled residents of Chestnut Street NOT want a church on this site? I think they liked the first one, but not the second, especially after it became the Calvary Baptist Church.

  • JCS

    There were a number of early 19th century churches in the Boston area that burned in the 1890s. I’m guessing the desire to have central heat and new furnaces had something to do with it. I walk by that lot almost every day and try to imagine the church being there, which is difficult, given the scale. I’m a few doors down from Grace Church on Essex which harmonizes more easily into the streetscape.

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