The tensions between public and private interests, commercial and residential concerns, and historic preservation and economic growth are nothing new to Salem, which has always been a dynamic city proud of its past and poised for the future. Some eras are more dynamic than others, however, and I think we’re in a particularly dynamic period now, but any city or town or settlement is always in transition, of course. When I hunt for historic photographs I’m always on the lookout for the mix of “ancient” and “modern”, residential and industrial, small-scale and larger, dirt roads and railroad tracks. My very favorite visual chronicler of Salem, Frank Cousins, who was himself living through a very dynamic age, was clearly attracted to that mix as well, as one of the photographs that he submitted as part of Salem’s exhibition at the 1893 Columbian Exposition was that of a divided Derby Street doorway labelled “modern” and “colonial” (A subtle distinction for our modern eyes).
Frank Cousins photograph of a Derby Street doorway, c. 1892, courtesy of Duke University’s digital Urban Landscape collection.
More illustrative of the city in transition, as opposed to a co-joined household, are the many pictures of Town House Square that date from the 1880s to about 1910. There you see predominantly brick multi-story commercial buildings, but if you look closer, there are still some surviving wooden residential structures (although they are probably serving a multitude of uses). For several years, I have had in my possession a stereoview of a building labeled “Ward-Goldthwaite & Co. Salem” which I thought might be one of these structures, only to realize that I had made a rookie historian’s mistake (not questioning a label): the Ward-Goldthwaite Company was located in Chicago, not Salem (even though it was published by the Moulton firm of Salem). Nevertheless, it’s a great image of a city in transition: you know that house isn’t going to last long.
Town House Square at the intersection of Essex and Washington Streets, Salem, (Library of Congress) and a stereoview of the Ward Goldthwaite & Company in Chicago published by J.W. and J.S. Moulton of Salem as part of their “American Views” series.
The idea of zoning starts to catch on in Salem after 1900, and it was definitely accelerated by the Great Salem Fire of 1914. But before this momentous event, factories and residences co-existed in close proximity in the Point, Blubber Hollow and even the more residential North Salem, where the large Locke Regulator Company bordered the North River and a line of colonial houses on North Street. Some of the houses are still there, serving mixed uses as they did a century ago, while the Locke factory has been replaced by a junkyard and a car wash. The streets along Salem Harbor have always been among the most densely settled in Salem, but the 1903 photograph seems to show structures which are primarily residential–I’m not sure of the precise vantage point, but I’m assuming these buildings were all swept away by the Fire. The last photograph, from the PEM’s Phillips Library, shows fire bystanders watching the conflagration on Lafayette Street from the roof of a building on Highland Avenue: a view of mixed-used zoning with the new High School, the factory, and residences all in close proximity to one another. Highland Avenue became a preferred location for commercial development over the twentieth century, but as this photograph indicates, residences were built along it as well–and a few older structures, drastically transformed–still stand among the big box stores.
Looking north along North Street from the old bridge, 1890s, Boston Public Library; A Perspective on Salem Harbor, 1903, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Monthly Journal, September 1903; Watching the Great Salem Fire from Highland Avenue, 1914, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum