The End of Mill Hill?

Place names are a topic I have not explored much on this blog, which is odd, as they represent a major entry into the local past. There’s a great article in the old Essex Institute Historical Collections (Volume 31, 1894-95; it was also printed separately) by Essex Institute Secretary Henry Mason Brooks about Salem “localities”, featuring many names that are no longer with us and several that still are, including Carltonville, Blubber Hollow, and Castle Hill. Brooks weaves a historic narrative around most of his localities, but even though he references Mill Hill, he doesn’t have much to say about it. In his time, it was a relatively new route connecting central and South Salem, having only been “opened” or laid out in 1873-74. It is really just an extension of Salem’s central north-south thoroughfare, Washington Street, and a very short and shallow hill indeed. Yet despite its unimpressive size and scale, Mill Hill endured as a place name over the twentieth century. When I moved to Salem in the 1990s people would reference it often, and it took me quite a while to figure out where it was. A couple of years ago it was designated the site of a brand new development incorporating a Hampton Inn plus rental housing, but now that that prosaic structure sprawls across its base (and then some) I am wondering if this particular Salem locality has met its end.

Mill Hill Map 1897 (2) (1)

Mill Hill 1890s (3)

Mill Hill 1914 SSU

Mill Hill 1914 PC SSU

Mill Hill 1920s PEMSome different perspectives on Mill Hill beginning with the 1897 Atlas at the State Library of Massachusetts. The first view is looking NORTH, towards downtown Salem, the rest are looking SOUTH towards Lafayette Street. The Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth (NORTH), two post-fire scenes from the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections, and another Phillips Library view from about ten years later, after considerable post-fire reconstruction. Of course, the old St. Joseph’s–and the new St. Joseph’s–are long gone.

Ok, get ready for the view now, as it is a shocker: first, from my car, trying to take a photograph from the same location as the last photo above. What you see on the left is the side of the sprawling new Hampton Inn. And then: the front, supposedly the best face forward?




This big boxy building features a conglomeration of materials over all of its facades: it actually looks pretty good from lower Lafayette/ Derby Street and the rear! Salem desperately needs a large commercial hotel to cater to its tourist traffic, but I can’t help but look upon this as a lost opportunity: more proliferation of plastic, or whatever that material is. I can’t understand why the City doesn’t work with chains to conform construction to some semblance of the architecture which made Salem Salem—at least a reflection, or even a nod. Washington Street just seems like a very different place now than when I first moved to Salem decades ago, with generic boxy buildings on every block and an uninspired train station at its head. It’s always been a busy, commercial thoroughfare in transition, but seems increasingly soul-less and place-less: and Mill Hill is clearly no more, as the new hotel is situated (as more than a few people have pointed out to me, so apparently “Mill Hill” does have resonance for Salem natives) at the corner of “Washington and Washington Streets”.


10 responses to “The End of Mill Hill?

  • az1407t

    What a depressing sight! That new hotel reminds me of some of the ugly Soviet era style architecture that I saw in Eastern Europe. Very sterile in design with no appeal. Salem deserves so much better. Contrast that with the beautiful Colonial Revival Post Office across the street.

  • Mary Jane Kelley

    It is hideous.
    Given the historic background os Salem, I have to wonder how this monstrosity was deemed acceptable for this city.

  • dccarletonjr

    The one saving grace with this development, Donna, is that if the construction is as shoddy as it appears the whole thing will need to ripped down and replaced in a decade or two!

  • Eilene Lyon

    That style of hotel construction appears to have become ubiquitous lately. We have at least four recent builds (some just nearing completion) of various chains here in Durango like this. Our city used to try to get new boxes built in a style befitting our historic town, but that seems to have gone away. Our Walmart, Albertson’s and Home Depot are much better looking than you will find elsewhere.

  • Terry Vaughan

    Wait till you see the doozy they’ll build at 65 Washington St. across from where the ancient Court House once stood!

  • Norm Corbin

    I seldom visit Salem as I live over 1 hour away and most of my immediate relatives have passed away. But I was there in November for my last Corbin aunt’s funeral. I was shocked by the very blaah hotel development.
    This just seems to be the rage for new designs.

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