Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ship America of Salem

For this evolving-memorial day of sorts, a thoroughly patriotic post on one of Salem’s illustrious ships from days gone by, the aptly-named America, which one source describes as “the largest, the fastest, the most fortunate and the most famous of all the privateers which at any time sailed out of Salem Harbor” (Old-Time Ships of Salem, Essex Institute, 1922). This is saying a lot, as Salem sent out 40 privateers during the War of 1812 alone. Built as an East Indiaman by famed Salem shipbuilder Retire Becket for Crowninshield & Sons in 1803-4, the America had an illustrious commercial career even before it (she) was transformed into a private-armed corvette for the War of 1812. Its entire voyaging history reads like a novel by C.S. Forester or Patrick O’Brian.

America of Salem Old Time Ships

America Model Addison Gallery of American Art

Anton Roux, The Ship America at anchor in Marseilles, 1806, Peabody Essex Museum; Model of the America by Captain H. Percy Ashley, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.

The conversion of the America from merchant to naval vessel involved removing her top deck and lengthening her masts and spars to support an enormous spread of sail–she was fast before by all accounts, but after she was “razeed”, she became even faster, a ship of prey. To me, she looks like she’s very low in the water, but obviously also very light in the water. The America was armed with 20 guns and a crew of 150 sailors for her five war-time “cruises”, during which she captured 27 British vessels, valued at more than a million dollars with their cargoes. After the war, the America languished in Salem and was finally dismantled in 1831, outlasting the famous luxury yacht modeled after her, George Crowninshield’s Cleopatra’s Barge, by several years.

America EIHC

America EIHC2

America Princess Elizabeth 1815 Ropes

The America under full sail, in a series of illustrations from B.B. Crowninshield’s “Account of the Private Armed Ship ‘America’ of Salem”, Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, January 1901): the first is from a painting by Edward J. Russell, and the last is from a painting by George Ropes of the America chasing down the British Ship ‘Princess Elizabeth’ in 1815, both are in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem.

I’ve been looking, looking, looking, but I can’t find an America plate or jug (though many Friendship and Grand Turk ones are out there), though I did find the hooked rug below, a lot in Northeast Auctions’ recent Annual Marine, China Trade & Historical Americana auction.

America of Salem

Tansy Time

In my garden the tansy is “riding high”, to use the words of the nineteenth-century “peasant poet” John Clare. An old medicinal and culinary herb native to Eurasia, tanacetum is part of the large aster family and so looks right at home in the late summer garden. Its vulgar variety looks like a weed, but I have a variegated form that turns slightly silver in September. The low-maintenance leaves are a good foil for my other plants all summer long–but it does take over if you don’t watch it,  and  I’ve been too busy to watch it. It’s a wild tangle, ready to bloom.

Tansy 2 006

Tansy 2 026

Now I could cut off sprigs and make fly-repellent bouquets for the house, but I don’t really have that many flies. If I were really ambitious, I could let it bloom, and dry its little yellow button-like flowers to produce a dye for fabrics. In the medieval and early modern past, Tansy bordered on a “woman’s herb”:  a really potent potion could apparently induce abortions/miscarriages, while a diluted distillation could aid conception along with other “women’s troubles”, including hysteria. At Easter, its tender fern-like leaves were put in an omelet to produce a “tansy”, and it was also used to make tea, flavor ale, and, according to some of the nineteenth-century American “dispensaries” I consulted, infuse rum. All the herbals up to the nineteenth century reference it as a curative for indigestion, fevers, and jaundice. So there are a lot of diverse claims for tansy, but I’ll probably let mine continue to flop around the garden until fall.

Its perceived utility guaranteed Tansy a place in all of the major pre-modern herbals, and even the florilegia (“flower books”) of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of the best examples of the latter, the Hortus Floridus compiled and engraved (with some family help) by Crispijn van de Passe junior (1589-1670) definitely focuses on bulbs in general and tulips in particular (during this time of “Tulipmania”) but also manages to include the humble Tansy.

Tansy Egerton747

Tansy Hortus

Tansy September Hortus

Tansy Passe

(c) Derby Museums and Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Tansy (near right)  in the Tractatus de herbis, BL MS. Egerton 747, Italy, c. 1300; Plates from  Crispijn van de Passe, including Tansy (far right),1614—you can see the  entire book here. Ernest Townsend, still life of tansy and agrimony in a vase, c.1915-23, Derby Museums and Art Gallery.

I did find a lovely blog which offers instructions for a tansy dyebath as well as examples of the finished project—this looks like something that even I could do! I really would like to find some use for this abundant plant, although I must admit that previous batches of dried herbs turned first into dust magnets and then into fuel for the winter fire.

Tansy Yarns

Tansy-dyed wool (on the right) from Local Color.

Orphans and Multiples

A photographic essay in the Huffington Post from a few days ago entitled “10 Orphan Row Houses So Lonely You’ll Want To Take Them Home With You” did indeed make me sad. A sampling of photographer Ben Marcin’s work, the photographs feature single surviving rowhouses (I prefer the one-word spelling) in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Camden, New Jersey, the heartland of mid-Atlantic urban architecture. I love rowhouses: I actually live in one, although it’s just a double, and I went to college in Baltimore and briefly lived in Washington, D.C., another great rowhouse city. You just know that these still-strident orphans were once part of a strong streetscape, and want to know the story behind their abandonment–and survival.

rowhouse  Ben Marcin Baltimore

Rowhouse Ben Marcin Baltimoreblue

Rowhouses Ben Marcin Philadelphia

Rowhouses in Baltimore and Philadelphia by photographer Ben Marcin, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore.

I got happier when I started reading about some rowhouse renovations, and took a leisurely late-afternoon walk to see some of Salem’s rowhouses. We don’t really have rowhouse blocks like larger cities, but we do have several rows of triple and quadruple semi-detached houses just in my neighborhood,  and a few more around  town. Before the great fire of 1914, there was a “Tontine Block” of four houses in Salem built in 1805, no doubt inspired by Charles Bulfinch’s Tontine Crescent in Boston, one of the first American residential urban planning projects. The Boston Tontine was built in 1794-95 and unfortunately demolished in 1858, the victim of encroaching commercial construction.

Rowhouses Tontine Crescent

Rowhouses 1850s franklin tontine crescent bpl

Bulfinch’s Tontine Plan, 1794, and the Tontine Crescent shortly before its demolition in 1858, Library of Congress and Boston Public Library.

Here in Salem, the triple house on Chestnut Street, fortunately very much still standing, and the lost 1805 Tontine block on nearby Warren Street testified to Bulfinch’s influence; the latter was rebuilt after the fire with some charming Craftsman details, inside and out. The other Salem rowhouses are clearly not Federal in inspiration: dating from the second half of the nineteenth century, they are wooden structures built in a more vernacular Victorian style. Each and every one is enhanced by the presence of its neighbors.

Rowhouse Salem Chestnut

Rowhouses Salem 2

Rowhouses Salem 3

Rowhouses Salem 4

Salem rowhouses on Chestnut, Warren, North Pine, and Broad Streets.

Doors of Winter Street

One of the things that I like best about Salem is that I notice, or see, something new (really old) every day. It doesn’t matter how many times I have walked along a certain route, I’ll always spot something that I haven’t taken notice of before. I don’t have the same eye for the natural landscape, only the man-made one. Details emerge and stop me in my tracks. Yesterday’s late-afternoon run around Salem Common somehow turned into a more leisurely walk up Winter Street, a wide boulevard that has served as one of Salem’s major northerly access routes almost from its foundation: consequently it is lined with really lovely eighteenth- and nineteenth-century houses. I was looking for late-summer gardens, but as this is a main entrance corridor, most of the gardens are tucked away out back–and suddenly all I could see was doors, really beautiful doors, each one unique. Now I actually lived on Winter Street for a brief stretch of time between houses, but I never really noticed these doors before, and suddenly they had all my attention. So here’s a sampling, beginning (after a little orientation) with the stunning entrance of one my favorite houses on the street, a brick Greek Revival.

Winter Street Map Perley 1905

Winter Street 024

Winter Street 025

Winter Street 032

Winter Street 026

Winter Street 028

Winter Street 031

Winter Street 034

Winter Street Postcard

Detail of Sidney Perley’s 1905 map of Salem, Boston Public Library, and doors of Winter Street houses; the louvred door and front of one of my favorite Winter Street houses, built in 1827 and pictured on the right of the circa 1910 postcard of Winter Street.

Convertible Campus

There are lots of ways to examine the history of an educational institution: curriculum, students, faculty and administration, physical presence. As a professor and incoming chair, I could certainly write quite a bit about the academic constituents, perhaps too much, so for my back-to-school post I’m going for the more accessible, and certainly the more visual, sign of institutional evolution: architecture. The evolution of Salem State University, where I have been teaching for quite some time, has been inextricably tied to the parallel development of the city of Salem since its foundation in 1854. The piecemeal construction of the Salem State campus has, for the most part, been a story of onward expansion, tempered with adaptation and accommodation. At least so far.

Salem State’s institutional history is easily divided into four different academic eras. It was founded as a teacher-training “Normal” school (normal referencing professional standards) for women in 1854, the tenth in the nation, and remained “Salem Normal School” or the “Normal School at Salem” until 1932 even after it began admitting men and extending and expanding its curriculum. It was Salem Teachers College from 1932 until 1960, after which it was briefly named the State College at Salem, Salem State College (1968-2010), and finally Salem State University. A key factor in the school’s founding was the financing (and lobbying) provided by the city of Salem, along with the Eastern Railroad and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: from the very beginning, the interests of city and college were linked.

This first set of images below are all from the Normal School era (1854-1932). For the first fifty years of the school’s existence, its one and only building was located on Broad Street, just behind where I live now. The foundation building was adapted and expanded in the 1870s to accommodate a larger influx of students, and then an entirely new building, with adjacent “campus” was built in the early 1890s in South Salem. The Sullivan Building remains the center of what is now referred to as the North Campus, and its (I think unfortunate) ginger brick facade set the tone for the development of the college over the next half century or so. The situation of Sullivan is rather commanding:  at the head of Lafayette Street looking back and down towards the center of Salem.

Salem State Normal School 1858

SSU First Building 1862

SSU Expansion 1871-2

SSU Broad Street

SSU 1900-01 Catalogue Sullivan Building

The State Normal School at Salem from the 1858, 1880, and 1900 Catalogs of the Instructors and Students in the State Normal School, Salem, Massachusetts; One Broad Street (Condominiums) today; 1865 photograph of the Broad Street building, Salem State University Archives Flikr.

Images of the new campus on Lafayette Street from the first few decades of the twentieth century portray a barren-then- bucolic setting, a bit less integrated with the city, especially after the great Salem Fire of 1914. The school’s main form of outreach was its students, and to facilitate its primary mission of teacher education several training schools were built, on Willow Avenue a few blocks away, in Marblehead (for “rural training”), and finally the new training school adjacent to the Sullivan Building on Loring Avenue, named after education advocate (and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s brother-in-law) Horace Mann.

SSU from Lafayette Street

SSU campus 1920

SSU Bertram School 19067

SSU Farm School Marblehead

SSU Horace Mann 1913

SSU Horace Mann

Lafayette Street with the Sullivan Building in the distance and the campus behind, from the 1920-21 Salem Normal School Catalog; the Bertram School on Willow Avenue, the Farm School in Marblehead, and images of the construction and completion of the Horace Mann Training School, Salem State University Archives Flikr.

The Horace Mann school, then called a training school and later a “laboratory school”, remains a Salem public school, probably the best and most continuous example of the partnership between the city and the university. Teaching right next door in the Sullivan Building, I have long been accustomed to hearing the gleeful sounds of children playing on the adjacent playground during their recess. Space is a bit tight though, and now there are discussions of moving the school to another location. The next-to-last picture above, of the construction of the Horace Mann School in 1913, is particularly striking because it forecasts what is going to come over the next century:  all that space you see in the distance is going to be filled in with buildings:  residences, college buildings, factories, and then more university buildings.

In terms of  space, the Salem Teachers’ College (1932-68) and Salem State College (1968-2010) eras are indeed characterized by the filling in of the main (North) campus (largely with square, uninspired, mid-century modern buildings made of orange brick) and the acquisition of additional, non-adjacent space for new construction and/or adaptive re-use. As the college’s curriculum became more comprehensive, its demand for physical space became more expansive, but open land was limited because of the coincidental development of its South Salem neighborhood. On the main campus, probably the most spectacular construction project became an equally spectacular failure: the massive Brutalist cantilevered library which opened in 1974 and closed in 2007. Scaffolding has surrounded the building ever since, and as our adjacent new library opens today the old one is coming down, piece by piece.

SSU Sullivan Building Library 1920s

SSU Library Construction 1971

SSU Library 19742007

SSU Library

Libraries at Salem State: the Sullivan Building library in the 1920s, the construction of the Lafayette Street library in 1971 (which reminds me of its DESTRUCTION now) and the completed building in the 1970s, Salem State University Flikr; the new Berry Library and Learning Commons, opening on September 3, 2013.

The two major expansion initiatives of the later twentieth century are illustrative of how Salem State’s interests intersected with those of the City of Salem, and they are also great examples of adaptive re-use. In the early 1970s, the college acquired the former campus of Ste. Chretienne’s Academy (1918-71), a parochial school for girls, which was quickly transformed into the South Campus. A quarter center later, the GTE-Sylvania lighting factory, which employed hundreds of workers during its heyday (1936-1989), was converted into the Central Campus. For the most part, these changes seem to have been well-received by the surrounding neighborhoods, though the construction of residence halls on both new campuses definitely caused some ripples in the relationship between town and gown (and will no doubt continue to do so), along with continuous traffic and parking concerns.

SSU Ste. Chretienne

SSU Ste Chretiennes Academy 1963

SSU Sylvania Ad

SSU Central Campus

Postcards of Académie Ste. Chrétienne from the 1930s and 1963, before it became the SSU South Campus (Salem State University Archives Flikr); an advertisement from Business Week (February 27, 1943) featuring the Salem Sylvania plant, and after its transformation into the SSU Central Campus.

There are plans for more expansion on the immediate horizon, including a badly-needed parking garage and another residential hall. Looking back on the past 150 years of institutional construction, Salem State seems to have handled the big projects well (with the exception of that brutal library and in spite of all that orange brick) but I hope that the smaller structures will not be forsaken in the inevitable march of progress. Several years ago, I was distressed to see one of the (then-college’s) little administrative bungalows swept away–in the space of a few days—to widen an access road. Its surviving mate remains, but is looking vulnerable. And I think everyone, both on campus and in greater Salem, is wondering what is going to happen to the university’s latest acquisition:  the venerable Salem Diner.

SSU Bungalow

SSU Salem Diner

Still Standing on Loring: a craftsman cottage and the Salem Diner.

APPENDIX: In the History Department at SSU, we try to look a local developments in a global context. While I was looking around for some interesting and unusual images from the Normal School era, I came across a photograph of the inscription below taken by Jo De Baerdemaeker, a typographical scholar and designer based at the University of Reading.  The Salem Normal School was one of many American educational institutions that contributed funds towards the rebuilding of the historic library at the Catholic University of Leuven, which was ravaged by German troops occupying Belgium during World War One. The new library, designed by the American architects Warren and Wetmore and also bearing the more strident inscription Furore Teutonico Diruta: Dono Americano Restituta (“Destroyed by German fury, restored by American generosity”) on its facade, sustained serious damage again in 1940 and was rebuilt after the war.

Leuven Inscription

Photograph by Jo De Baerdemaeker; you can see more lettering and examples of his work here.

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