Lit Up

The streetlight right near my house has been out since January, so lower Chestnut Street is bathed in darkness every night. There are some benefits to this, as this light shines right into my bedroom window when operational, but I still hope it gets fixed soon: the residents of our street purchased period-esque streetlights over a decade ago and I like my light. Because it’s been so dark–and I can see walking-tour leaders walking by with lanterns—I’ve been thinking about both historical darkness and the coming of light onto the streets of Salem, and then the other day I found a cache of cool photographs illuminating the latter era from the General Electric Company archive at the Museum of Innovation and Science (MiSci) via Google Arts & Culture. Salem definitely has electrical credentials: Moses Farmer illuminated a room in his Pearl Street house every July night of 1859, an early “All-Electric” home on Loring Avenue drew headlines and crowds when it was first opened in 1924, and just down the street, the GTE-Sylvania plant employed hundreds of workers during its heyday (1936-1989). The source of these photographs, however, is the even larger General Electric River works plant in nearby Lynn, which featured a large street lighting department. A 1916 GE catalog titled The Splendor of Well Lighted Streets showcases the company’s latest streetlights and observes that in the vicinity of Lynn are sections of streets and roads lighted in every different fashion to demonstrate in actual practice the differences in units and types of lighting: Salem clearly provided an effective demonstration setting, offering all sorts of opportunities to showcase GE’s newest lighting and traffic-signal products. The photographs below date from 1916 to 1931.

Electric Collage

Salem 1916 electrified General Electric Co archives

Electrical Collage 2

Electric City HH 1926

Electric City BridgeEssex Street, 1918-1927(including a new Novalux light decorating for Christmas), the Hawthorne Hotel, 1926 (showcasing streetlight AND stoplight) and Bridge Street, General Electric Company Archives, MiSci: the Museum of Innovation and Science.

Electrical Lafayette

Electric City Lafayette 3

Electric City Lafayette

Electric City Lafayette 2

Electric City Not Sure.Lafayette Street, the intersection at West, Loring, and Lafayette, and (I think???) the road to Marblehead.

Electric City Almys 1916

Electric City Almys 2

Electric City William WebberInterior Lighting at the Almy, Bigelow & Washburn and William G. Webber stores on Essex Street.

Electrical Collage 3

Electrical ShootWashington Street during World War I: the new Masonic Temple building and the illuminated war chest; floodlights at a trapshooting competition somewhere in Salem.

4 responses to “Lit Up

  • Glenn McDonald

    The first photograph is Essex ST, looking South from ST. Peter Street.

    The dead giveaways are two.:

    1. The “bowling” sign belongs to a bowling alley, long defunct when I was little, in the 1950s. It was on the basement, and entered by a descending stairwell on St. Peter Street, maybe 25 feet from the SW corner of Essex. I remember that with a little scrambling, one could look in the window above the stairwell and see the disused machinery and scattered bowling pins.

    Also on the ground floor of the SW corner of St. Peter was Nichols Apothecary, later the US Post Office in the 1920s. It reverted to a drug store when the new Post Office was opened about 1926. I think ir was Eaton’s first location.

    2. The storefronts in the block across the street, on the left, look remarkably as they do today. In my day, the first store front on the left was Lally’s shoe store, now Witch Tees. Before Lally’s, at the turn of the 20th Century, It was also a shoestore. I think it was called Sullivan’s Boots.

  • rbevins

    When we moved into our house in Danvers, the streetlight shone into our bedroom from thirty feet away. I called the electric department on a Tuesday. A bucket truck showed up Wednesday morning. A guy took off the globe, sprayed thirty degrees of black paint inside it and replaced the globe. He rang the doorbell, and told me to call the office if the globe needed more paint.

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