It’s been really wonderful to see people in Salem respond to the large collection of Frank Cousins glass plate negatives which were digitized and uploaded to the Digital Commonwealth by the Peabody Essex Museum just last week. It was verified that columns from Mechanic Hall, which burned down in 1905, had been situated in a River Street garden for quite some time, we all saw how connected the city was a century ago with tracks running everywhere, and people are zooming in on all sorts of details we could never possibly grasp without these visual “windows” to the past. Sometimes I’m a bit wary about historical photographs: people do tend to get focused on the details rather than look for the bigger picture. But it is impossible to deny their instant accessibility and capacity for driving historical engagement, especially by enabling comparisons of the past and the present. That’s what I have been doing all week, whenever I could find or make the time: walking around with the Cousins collection and placing myself in the spot (or vicinity) where he took the picture a century and more ago. So much is revealed when you look at the city through a historical lens: some places have hardly changed, others are unrecognizable, everything is illuminated. Before I get to the details, some big picture observations: the city appears much cleaner in Cousins’ day (most of these photos are from the 1890s) than ours, and much less crowded (although he is not showing us Salem’s working-class neighborhoods), and the impact of cars is obvious. I do wonder about the pristine streets in Cousins’ photographs as this was a world of horses: did Cousins bring his own broom or helper to sweep the streets before he took his photographs? But there was no food-and-drink detritus then: Salem is awash in coffee cups, paper plates, and nip bottles now.
The John P. Felt House on Federal Court past and present: despite a rough last half-century or so, the house is still standing in good form, lacking only its widow’s walk and shutters.
Barton Square has been pretty much annihilated.
Change and continuity on Bott’s Court: old house on the left, newer (both 1890s) houses on the right. Cousins is showing us the demolition of the former house on the right with his preservationist eye.
Kimball Court present and past: Cousins is showing us the birthplace of Nathaniel Bowditch below: this house is in the top right corner above. In front of it today is a house that was brought over from Church Street during urban renewal in the 1960s when that street was wiped out.
18 Lynde Street: this appears to be the same house, with major doorway changes.
The house on Mall Street where Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the Scarlet Letter: there was an addition attached to the house at some point in the 1980s or thereabouts.
134 Bridge Street: As a major entrance corridor–then and now—Bridge Street has impacted by car traffic pretty dramatically over the twentieth century; Cousins portrays a sleepier street with some great houses, many of which are still standing—hopefully the progressive sweep of vinyl along this street will stop soon.
17 Pickman Street seems to have acquired a more distinguished entrance; this was the former Mack Industrial School (Cousins’ caption reads “Hack” incorrectly).
Great view of lower Daniels Street–leading down to Salem Harbor–and the house built for Captain Nathaniel Silsbee (Senior) in 1783. You can’t tell because of the trees, but the roofline of this house has been much altered, along with its entrance.
Hardy Street, 1890s and today: with the “mansion house” of Captain Edward Allen still standing proudly on Derby Street though somewhat obstructed by this particular view. You can read a very comprehensive history of this house here, drawn from literary sources in the Phillips Library’s collections.
July 6th, 2019 at 9:47 am
What Nelson’s been doing is zooming in on tiny parts of various photographs that reveal all kinds of things. The photographs are of such a quality that he/we can do it.
July 6th, 2019 at 10:10 am
Absolutely, Bonnie! The photographs are great, the scans are great—a wonderful resource (and recreation!) for us all.
July 6th, 2019 at 2:19 pm
Loved this post! So enjoyed these comparisons after spending way too much scrolling through all the images.
While cleaner looking overall, blow up the exterior shots of East India Marine Hall decorated for Columbus Day and you will see trash and horse manure on Essex Street as well as an interesting election tally board on the right. https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/2b88r982t
July 6th, 2019 at 4:40 pm
There is definitely a lot to see in this picture! So many details—I keep back and back to these photographs and notice something different every time.
July 6th, 2019 at 3:31 pm
In this and more so in your previous post on these photos what stands out is how “busy” Salem streets were back then. Absolutely filled with houses and buildings long razed in favor of widened streets and “mandatory” parking lots. See esp. Barton Sq in this post and North St and Norman St in the previous post. Egad, what has been lost!
As to cleanliness then vs. now, horses were everywhere but also dogs and even pigs had free range. Mammal droppings everywhere. Women of that period sported high-laced shoes for a reason 😦
July 9th, 2019 at 11:41 am
Great article. Always learn so much from your research.