Salem in the 1770s

For this year’s July Fourth commemoration, I have gathered some Salem structures built in the 1770s so we can see some semblance of the city during that revolutionary decade. Salem has quite a few extant colonial structures, but not as many as you would imagine: it has long been a city, and also a relatively prosperous place, and economic development is a major impediment to historic preservation. I try to qualify every statement that I make about Salem’s history with the caveat I am not an American historian, but my constant consideration of the city’s built landscape has convinced me that the narrative that Salem entered a prolonged period of economic decline following the War of 1812 is mythology: many, many structures were built after 1820, after 1850, after 1870. Salem is more of a later nineteenth-century city than a Federal one, though its Federal architecture remains conspicuous. As for its colonial architecture, it seems to me that there are more structures from the mid-eighteenth century rather than the later part of the century, though there was definitely a mini-boom in the 1790s. Colonial houses are found on Salem’s side streets rather than its main thoroughfares, though Essex Street, Salem’s original “highway”, features several: it is definitely the most historically diverse street in the city. There are many colonial houses in the streets around Derby Street, a neighborhood that does not have the status or the protection of an historic district, consequently debacles like this can and will happen. I found quite a few houses from the decade of the 1770s thought nothing that was built in 1773 or 1778, and no structure survives from that very busy year of 1776 either, though there was definitely one big construction project that year: Fort Lee.

1770: Federal and Turner Streets.

1770 River Street

1770 Hardy Street

1771: Federal, Summer & Turner Streets.

1771 Federal Street

1771 Summer

Turner Street

1771 Turner Street

1772: Derby Street

1772 Derby Street

1772 Derby Street 2

1774: Broad Street

1774 Broad Street

1775: Cambridge Street

1775 Cambridge

1776: Fort Lee on Salem Neck

Fort Lee

1777: Essex and River Streets

1777 Essex

1777 River

1779: Turner and Beckford Streets

1779 Turner Street

1779 Beckford

By no means an exhaustive list!

3 responses to “Salem in the 1770s

  • bonniehurdsmith

    Love this!!! Having lived near Salem Common for 15-ish years (minus my wandering into the desert of Ipswich for a year), and given my leanings toward the 18th century, I have long noticed and loved its presence! And I agree with you 100% about that myth…. Your blog is so important. Thank you for doing it!

  • derrickjknight

    Educational for a Brit

  • Matt

    We are surrounded my myths (met a woman who is a decedent of one of the people executed in the Witch Trials this weekend who talked about how she “had to explain to her daughter that they had a witch in their family history”….). In any event, I’d like to explore the shift in economic fortunes of Salem at the run up to the Industrial Revolution. As I understand it, Salem was more prosperous than NYC pre-embargo/War of 1812. Now we have Salem today. Something drove that divergence. And in between now and then you had First and Second Industrial Revolutions. Maybe too much for a reply here, but suffice to say that I need more evidence before buying into the myth idea. Happy Fourth to you in any case, Prof!

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