Fossil Factories

For me, the most haunted place in Salem is not a cemetery or anything to do with the Witch Trials (though it is quite near Harmony Grove Cemetery and Gallows Hill): it is Blubber Hollow, a site of intensive manufacturing and industrial activities from the seventeenth century until the later twentieth. The center of Salem’s bustling leather industry in the later nineteenth century, this was where the Great Salem Fire started in June of 1914, in a factory producing patent leather shows on the site of the present-day Walgreens on Boston Street (behind which is is Proctor’s Ledge, now confirmed as the execution site of the victims of 1692). Its name indicates that it was also associated with the production of whale oil, but for me it always conjures up an image of frenzied commercial activity, candles burning at both ends or oil lamps burning all night. No longer: those factories that survived the 1914 fire, or were built after, are empty for the most part, and coming down soon, as Blubber Hollow transitions from ghost town into residential neighborhood: one large apartment building has already been built and there are more to come. As you walk down Grove Street towards Goodhue, past the still-busy Moose Lodge and marijuana dispensary, the sense of imminent transformation is palpable but ghosts are still present.

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Relic smokestack.

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North River Canal

Texture at one of the former Salem Oil and Grease buildings, and the North River Canal.

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No one will be sorry to see Flynntan go.


Blubber Hollow Hose House

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Past and Future: Blubber Hollow in its heyday and “Hose House” No. 4 in its midst, from Fred A. Gannon’s Old Salem Scrapbook, #6 (1900); North River Luxury Apartmentst @ 28 Goodhue Street.

13 responses to “Fossil Factories

  • Jonathan Caswell

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  • Jonathan Caswell

    #28 Goodhue Street has a passing resemblance to an apartment block in Douglas, Massachusetts,on Main Street (Town where I live).

  • Kathy Greemough

    Hi Donna, Another fascinating post combining past and present! Thank you. Perhaps you or a local nhd. A activist could suggest to the developer of new units that they’d sell or rent for higher prices if the ugly electric and phone lines are buried!

    • daseger

      I know; I’m really surprised they are not! We’re all gearing up for your cousin’s big market this coming weekend, Kathy—next post will feature it!

  • Kathy Greenough

    Another fascinating post! Thank you. You or a nhd. activist might suggest to
    the developer that the new units will sell or rent for much more money if the phone and electric lines are buried!

  • Doug

    I love this area too and it’s disappearing fast.

  • Rick Ouellette

    Great photos as always. A fascinating area, not the least because of its name!

  • mfearing

    I’ve always been fascinated by old structures. They are deeply moving. I clearly remember coming across a dilapidated farm house in southern Minnesota on a childhood hike. I stood transfixed. I grew up in an old farm house and in my mind I could not come to grips with the notion that a house could be walked away from. That there were disasters so great they could change something so important into something so neglected. I imagine this unsettling fascination is common to the humans. In prehistory cities and villages disappeared whether because of natural calamity, disease or war and left only deteriorating ruins with no name. And after a hundred years when some weary travelers stumbled across them, these people must have been overwhelmed trying to understand how something that was – was no more.

  • Alan Lord

    Fascinating! It’s a wonder these buildings have survived this long. I certainly remember the distinct “aroma” of the North River Canal at low tide during the 1950’s – caused by the discharge of tanning chemicals into the canal. No doubt there will be a substantial yield of salvage items (bricks, hardware, interior doors, etc., etc.) – or should be, anyway.

    Some of the photos reminded me of the Owens Shoe Company fire (I forget the year, but not the fire – early 60’s maybe?). The factory & outlet store were located at the bottom of North Street next the Overpass. The surrounding neighborhoods were filled with residents watching from blocks away. Firefighting companies were called in from all surrounding areas. I suppose you could venture to include the factory as having been a member of the Blubber Hollow family of factories, although that may be stretching things a bit.

    The photo of the firehouse is magnificent. I always delight in seeing the way people would gather ‘round for these “photo events”. I will have to see if I can find any info on J. A. Lord, for sure.

    Thanks for yet another wonderful post, Donna.

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