Searching for Castle Hill

When I do not walk to work down Lafayette Street, I drive down Jefferson Avenue through a neighborhood called Castle Hill, which has neither a castle or a hill. I’m not sure it ever had a castle–nineteenth-century antiquarians assert that the great Nanapashemet, majestic leader of the Pawtucket confederation of tribes before the arrival of the Old Planters, maintained some sort of “castle” in this area, but I don’t know if this can ever be verified or if it is the source of the place-name. Much later, this land was owned by the (almost) equally royal Derby family of Salem, who maintained a vast farm to sustain and complement their city properties.The great diarist (and gossip) the Reverend William Bentley tells us about a walk in early June of 1809 in which he passed to Castle Hill upon which Mr. E. H. Derby has erected a small summer house of two small square stories, the upper of smaller dimensions, in the Italian style. It wants the grandeur of the former house which occupied this space [was this the castle? It didn’t last long in any case–destroyed in the “Great September Gale” of 1815]. He has shut up the old road by Forest river road & opened a new road, over a New Bridge finished last year, leading to the Mansion House upon the road to Marblehead. The Garden is extensive and well arranged, without any unnatural or useless ornaments. The old Farm House at the foot of Castle Hill is in a state of decay. At this season the hill & fields are alive…….So castle or not, there was certainly a hill, surrounded by Derby farmland and pastures, including the “Great Pasture”, bounded by Mill Pond, over which one could look north to Salem the town, almost a separate town altogether. This perspective is illustrated by two great steroeviews from the 1870s and 1880s, both taken from Castle Hill.

Castle Hill Collage

Castle Hill Farms

Stereoviews by Moulton and Fogg from the 1870s and 1880s; paintings of Pickman and Derby farms (Corné) from the early 19th century; Northeast Auctions and Historic New England.

Castle Hill is referred alternatively to the “Great Pasture” or the “Salem Pastures” all the way up to the turn of the twentieth century (and even after) but changes are coming, ushered in by the Boston and Maine Railroad, the filling-in of Mill Pond, and the leveling of the hill by the Massachusetts Broken Stone Company, which also maintained a quarry in this pastoral realm for a while. In his 1894 article entitled “Some Localities around Salem” Henry Mason Brooks of the Essex Institute opined that I dislike to see these old localities disappear, but change will come and we must make the best of it. If you compare the Salem Atlases of 1874, 1897, and 1911 you do see a changing landscape and streetscape in Castle Hill, as members of the growing French Canadian population of Salem moved into the area with the foundation of Sainte-Anne Parish in 1901: this church, which burned down in 1982 and was rebuilt over the next few years, remains the center of Castle Hill. A decade later, the 1912 annual report of Salem’s first planning commission identified Castle Hill as the future of Salem: The great area comprising the Salem Pastures may be made into splendid home sites with magnificent views, and winding roads with good grade can readily be built when the proper time comes. It is here that Salem must develop if it is to have the future which we believe its traditions justify, and the business demands. Much more housing did indeed follow, but large parts of the pasture and woodland were preserved later in the form of Highland Park/ Salem Woods and Olde Salem Greens. And if you drive off Jefferson Avenue just a few feet, you can see the rocky remains of the hill anywhere and everywhere.

Castle Hill Map 1897

Castle Hill 4

Castle Hill 1

Castle Hill 3

Castle Hill 5

31 responses to “Searching for Castle Hill

  • Nelson Dionne

    I grew up in Castle Hill. The hill was taken down for use as ballast by the B&M RR. Massachusetts Broken Stone ran the quarrying operation. There are several articles in my collection scrapbooks about the need or crushed stone for road building. Early trucks had little capacity & there were many quarries in operation in the teens & 20’s.

  • Fred Votta ( my mother is a Marmen..still with us at 97 years old.

    Outstanding Lesson Of My Beloved Castle Hill !!! My Memere And Pepere Moved To Castle Hill In 1905…

  • Chris Dowgin

    After the local population left it after a massacre during the Taratine War, in time William Brown will own it. He would have a fine mansion on top of the hill. During an earthquake the house slid down the hill. William Brown lost the property during the Revolutionary War. Brown was a Tory and fled Salem. He was then appointed governor of Bermuda. Richard Derby’s wife was related to the Brown’s. So this property and Derby Square, which was owned by Brown, was passed to Elias Hasket Derby. The property and house is mentioned in Hawthorne’s “Brown’s Folly”. Then the mansion was described as derelict. Castle Hill Stretched from Broad Street to the Salem Woods. There is still a fine view of the harbor from the summit above the Broad Street playground.

    • daseger

      That is a great view–and from the top of the high school too! I do believe that Browne’s folly was on Folly Hill in Danvers?

    • Nelson Dionne

      It’s likely that the Brown house was built on what later became the right of way for the Eastern Rail Road. Roughly where the Ocean Ave bridge once stood..
      The Cressey – Dockham warehouse, Colonial Rd, is located where the Mass. Broken Stone rock crusher was. It ate up the granite for use by the B&M as ballast.
      The bridge was real time saver as it allowed bypassing the city center. It relieved much E -W traffic when it was in place. It would make even more of an improvement if it could be replaced .
      The B&M Castle Hill rail station was nearby. A new bridge may allow access by pedestrians from Ocean Ave. It may be necessary if the new RR stop is built. Loring Ave had a RR station at about the same era. Station Rd never had a station, though. The Jefferson & Ocean Ave bridges were wooden “Pony Truss” style. The Eastern RR had a large complex at the end of Northy St. It maintained all he roads wooden bridges.
      Photos of all of Salem’s early RR facilities are super rare !
      Visit my collection locate at the SSU Archive to see my extensive Salem rail collection .

      • daseger

        Absolutely—except I think we are confusing our Brown houses! I think Salem needs a station in South Salem again.

      • Philip Raby

        Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about Browne’s folley in Danvers with the same story about the house being destroyed by an earthquake.

  • Nelson Dionne

    I just acquired a copy of the 1912 Report earlier tonight.! See Susan for the photos I have showing the Loring Ave , Lead Mills & the Castle Hill RR depots…I have photos & news clips on all plus the Ocean Ave bridge..

  • Norm Corbin

    I grew up in Castle Hill from 1955 to 1977. Went to Saint Anne’s School. My grand parents (Victor & Aurise Corbin) were very involved with the construction of the original church in 1908. Both of my parents Victor Corbin Jr. and Therese Frechette were from Castle Hill. I was very fortunate to live there with many cousins nearby. Norm Corbin

    • Nelson Dionne

      Norm; All of my photos are now at the SSU Archives. If you are local, call them at 978-542-6781 for an appointment. BTW, were you in Troop 83 ??? I have a scrapbook covering the local scout units between 1957 to 1961,

      • Norm Corbin

        I live about an hours drive from Salem State. It would be interesting to see your files. I have cousins in Salem who may be interested. I was never in Troop 83 but my older brothers were.


    Hrllo, Thank you Norm Corbin. We share the same aunt but on different sides of the family…my mother’s brother Roland was married to your mother’s sister Katherine …aunt Kikit and uncle Roy Pelletier…least not our cousin Elaine Frechette…..My great grandfather was killed by a train located on Jefferson Ave. at the stone crusher where the rail tracks still cross the street near Jefferson and Jackson. Hey Freddy please give your mother our best from the Burke girls from Cloutman St. Does anyone remember having to get the school hall ready for the nun shower at Christmastime? Kathleen Burke

  • Norm Corbin

    Hi Kathleen Burke from Cloutman Street. I went to school at St..Annes with your sister Patty. Somewhere I have a First Communion picture with her. I hope she is doing well.

    I have an article from the Salem News dated January 15, 1902 that my cousin in England who is a family historian forwarded to me. How do I post it? Also, the 1884 Salem map shows that Caste Hill was an interesting well protected spot because it is surrounded by water on 3 sides. The 1897 map above also shows this, but not as clearly.

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  • Doreen Bedard

    Loved reading this history

  • mondo2009

    Just started following this blog. I grew up in Castle Hill on Cleveland St. where St Anne School and convent were. My name is Ray Ouellette of the Ouellettes on Cleveland St. Would love to catch up with people from the neighborhood.

    • Philip Raby

      Hi Ray, I am Phil Raby,I grew up on Lawrence street I know your brother andy and I am a cousin to the Rabys that lived on Cleveland street. My great grandfather,Eustache Raby was an early resident of castle hill,he lived on jefferson ave between Blanchette’s/Macorelle’s and the rectory he contributed to the building of the 1901 St Annes church.

      • normand Corbin

        Hi Ray & Philip, I’m Norm Corbin from Wheatland Street. Both my parents grew up in Castle Hill (My mother was a Frechette). I graduated from St. Anne’s in 1969. My sister Collette recently mentioned there is a facebook page for people who grew up in castle hill. I’ve never seen it, good luck finding it. Norm

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  • Ralph


    I have often been fascinated by OLD ROAD in Salem (not far from Castle Hill).

    I believe (with no facts to support me), that it is, in fact, a very old road, that was a main thoroughfare at one time.

    Have you published any article on it?

    Or perhaps it is just a road, like any other.

  • Norm Corbin

    I just looked at some old maps of the castle hill area. There was no formal Old Road in the 1909 version, so it isn’t very old. It could have been an old unmarked dirt path/road back in the 1800s. In the 1960s-1970s it led to the back entrance of the Salem Hospital. I had some grammar school friends living on it back in the 1960s.


    I see Old Road mentioned above. In 1906 when the city bought the land from the Great Pasture Company, Old Road was a cart path with walls on both sides. It connected the smaller pasture (now Bertram Field and the parking lot behind Salem Hospital to the Great Pasture which now includes the golf and Salem Woods). These colonial common pastures were walled-in with the Ancient Way running through. The Ancient Way was a Native American path that started at the North River at River Street and went through Salem Woods to Vinnin Square. Harlen Kelsey and Sidney Perley both drew maps of the Ancient Way. Another vestige of the Ancient Way is the pedestrian right of way from River Street to Bridge Street.

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