Two Sides of Salem

I haven’t been posting on Salem very much: my blog is going to lose its name! Long-time readers will know that I always hide or leave during October as I do not care for Haunted Happenings, but I’ve been out of step with Salem for about a year now: it doesn’t really feel like home anymore. Lovely people, lovely houses, and the perfect small-city vibe remain, but I can’t get past the history thing. I grew up in a town (York, Maine) with a strong sense of historical identity, and moved to Salem because I felt that same strong sense here. I took it for granted, and went about my business, which is European history, and only became more locally-focused when I started this blog. Now I feel the effects of the removal of the Phillips Library, the repository of so much of Salem’s history, every single day. All the towns around Salem have these great historical museums—-the Marblehead Museum, the Beverly Historical Society, the Ipswich Museum, I could go on and on—and we have the Witch Museum. I’m jealous, and fearful of the future, because I know how much effort and energy past generations invested in the preservation and presentation of Salem’s multi-faceted history and I don’t see that same conviction here and now.

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Two Sides 6Apparently over 1.5 million people visit Salem each year, with nearly 54% of that number in the month of October: for many of those 800,000 or so (I am severely math-challenged), this ⇑⇑ is historical interpretation.

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Two Sides 3Carnival Confusion: a City ordinance against mechanical rides on the Common prohibited the annual carnival there, so it was relocated to the middle of Federal Street, but somehow there are electrical rides on the Common as well. This is all very confusing to me, but a colleague of mine commented that the Federal Street location was ok, as those columns on the Greek Revival courthouse are Egyptian Revival, so the Pharaoh fits right in.

BUT, I must stress that there are still considerable efforts and energies in evidence in Salem. We do not have a single institution charged with collecting and interpreting the city’s history, but we do have myriad heritage and cultural organizations, all pursuing their own missions and planning their own programming. There’s the ever-expanding Peabody Essex Museum, the evolving Punto Urban Art Museum of murals in the Point, and a really active arts association. There’s a big university, a big hospital, and a big courthouse (which doesn’t have a carnival in front of it). Salem is accessible by both train and seasonal ferry, and for better or worse, is in the midst of a major building boom. It’s a lively place, to be sure, and right in the midst of all this it happens that four of my very favorite Salem houses are for sale at the same time, so if you can put the history thing aside, take a look: actually I think this first one is already under agreement.

Two Sides 10 22 Andrew Street: a beautiful Federal (built 1808) located on a lovely street right off the Common (which will not be the site of a carnival for much longer): looks like its sale is indeed pending.

Two Sides 9 One Forrester Street is right on the Common—it looks Federal but was actually built in 1770. When I first moved to Salem this was the home of a lovely woman whose family had owned it since the 19th Century. It’s been cherished throughout its history, and is still for sale.

Two Sides 1The Stephen Daniels House is a first-period house which just came on the market. It was expanded and transformed into its present shape in the eighteenth century. It’s on a side street that runs from Essex down to Derby, on a really nice lot that could be a great garden. 

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Machado House

Machado House 2Five Carpenter Street, in the McIntire District, is a gorgeous Federal which was once the home of the architect Ernest Machado. This was one of Mary Harrod Northend’s favorite doorways in Salem: she must have taken 30 pictures of it for her 1926 book Historic Doorways of Old Salem (1926). These stills are from Winterthur Digital Collections.

So you can sense that I’m torn. I seem to be dissing and selling Salem at the same time! Maybe I’ll snap out of it in November–I generally do, but this year feels different. In the meantime, I’m hoping that more of the thousands of tourists who descend upon Salem this month for its “history” make it into the neighborhoods to see Salem’s beautiful houses, not far from the maddening crowd, as I would rather they take away an impression of preservation than opportunism. I do see more tour guides and their increasingly-large groups out my window—and that’s good news.

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8 responses to “Two Sides of Salem

  • Anne Sterling

    I believe all this “history” is jammed into the 8 square miles which is Salem’s terra firma, the other 8 miles of Salem is ocean. Into that small area is jammed a large state university trying to get bigger, a large and well funded museum also expanding, a county courthouse, a national maritime site and a hospital all non-profits. We 45k (?) residents are meant to jam in around them and pay all the tax. Not sure if the Salem State students are included in the population #’s. That gives you a clearer picture of the hot spot that is Salem. Oh, and some of us are attempting to preserve the historic streetscapes.

  • Elizabeth J Laramee

    I have followed this wonderful blog for some time now. Really great stuff, love early American history – most of my ancestors came here in the Great Migration and I have researched much of their history in several towns – Lynn, Salem, Newburyport mostly. I live in Newburyport and Docent in the Federalist House that is the NBPT Historical Society and the Old South Church. I thoroughly empathize with your many postings about the relocation of archives, but am quite taken by your posting of these beautiful homes for sale – with many of their historical properties preserved. I wish I could just tour them (did the virtual tour online of each home)! I hope they are all sold to people who maintain their history and keep them as single-family dwellings. I follow the real estate in NBPT and while the gorgeous mansions are preserved on the outside, they are being cut up into tiny condos on the inside. Even though these Salem homes are in private hands, perhaps one of the legacies of Salem is that the historic homes are still being lived in and cared for as they have been for centuries

    • daseger

      Thank you, Elizabeth! Salem has had its share of condo conversions too–believe me; so it is nice to see these four houses in their undivided states. There are all really great.

  • Matt

    It’s heartbreaking for me to read that you may close your blog site. You are probably not aware, but I chose to research, design, and now curate a walking tour of Salem’s original ordinaries and taverns. The concept was realized because of your influence on learning and preserving more of Salem’s authentic history. I would not have learned of Mary Oliver, the first woman to be ‘caged’ (outside of the iriginal meetinghouse) for her outspoken views of men affected by spirited waters, causing un-Godly acts against women in 1641. I was motivated to learn more from researching in the rare archives at the Salem Public Library because of your inspired work. So, before you move on, consider the impact you’ve had upon your early readers. Thank you for inspiring this reader!

    ~ Matt, 1637 Historic Tavern Tour

    • daseger

      Hey Matt, thanks so much for your kind words: not moving on yet, no worries, just thinking out loud which you have to do from time to time. Love the idea of a tavern tour; must take it sometime!

  • Jill Spalding

    McIntire is my favorite in the world! Hate the Essex library bit. For generations my family lived in Beverly. Even though I live in Richmond, va, I adore Salem but could really do without the witch element that was such a short period.. Need more focus on the treasure trove of Colonial plus history!

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