New Salem

So now I am on my “spring break” with the reality of no return to my classrooms: everything is converted to digital/remote in this new corona community. This is ominous for me; I prefer to teach in person. I can rise to the occasion—I know how to access all the digital tools and resources—but I see them as appendices rather than the story. Nevertheless I will rise to the occasion. With no prospects of long-distance travel or local entertainment and the task before me, my spring break will therefore have to consist of a few road trips, and on Sunday I drove west for a couple of hours into north central Massachusetts in search of a a real destination and a few ghost towns. New Salem was founded in the mid-18th century by investors from Salem, who enticed farmers from “old” Salem to settle in the Swift River Valley. With settlement and incorporation the town was well-established as the most northern of a chain of towns in the valley, and the sole survivor after adjoining Dana, Prescott, Greenwich, and Enfield were all flooded to form the Quabbin Resevoir, the water source for Metropolitan Boston, from 1936-40. New Salem is the touchstone for all of these lost towns, and for old Salem as well: as I wandered through its oldest cemetery, I saw so many familiar names on the old stones: Southwick, Putnam, Pierce, Cook.



As you can see from the photographs, it was a beautiful day, which made my visit all the more poignant, as no one was about. New Salem seemed like a beautiful ghost town—the perfect place for social distancing! It was almost eerie, but of course I was distracted by the architecture—and there were cars in the driveways.






In North New Salem is the Swift River Valley Historical Society, a regional historical society devoted to preserving the memory of both the living and lost towns. It was closed, of course, but just outside was this amazing sign post (I don’t think that’s the right word???) with all the historical place names intact. I love this more than I can say. I love that it is preserved. I love the manicules. I love that the names of its maker and restorers are preserved. I have no idea why “Indianapolis” is on the sign!






This sign made me want to search for more signs, as ways and links to the past, so I drove down every single road with any of the above place names—those with the “lost” place names led to water, and that was that: the point was driven home.



20200315_151926An abandoned farmhouse on Old Dana Road, and the Quabbin Reservoir.

17 responses to “New Salem

  • Nancy

    Oh, Donna. Your article really underscored a feeling in me…of things gone, of traces of what once was. I just want to walk inside that beautiful abandoned farmhouse and make it mine. Bring it back to life.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks for sharing your jaunt “west for a couple of hours into north central Massachusetts in search of a a real destination and a few ghost towns” – an area that many of us on the eastern seaboard are not that familiar with.

    The lovely pictures evoke an eerie feeling, somewhat appropriate given the cloud we are all under, I believe. The first house with the fan light over the door channels Salem sensibility while the next two remind me of the Connecticut Valley architecture.

    I also learned a new word:

    “Manicule – (typography) the pointing hand symbol, used in printing graphics on signs to draw attention to indicate Origin from Latin, manicula (“little hand”)”

    Looking forward to more of your posts during this period of confinement. Stay well.

    • daseger

      You too, Helen— maybe when we can all come up for air you can take me for an historic walking tour of Lynnfield? I’d love to do a post and I don’t know it well.

  • Bonnie

    Your rambles are such a treat for us!

  • Helen Breen

    Donna, a walking tour of Lynnfield’s historic area is an excellent idea. We will start at our Meeting House, built in 1714, the centerpiece of our town.

  • Donnalee of Kingston NY

    Lovely photos–thank you.

  • Robert Willoughby Jones

    My brother Geoff lives in New Salem so I have visited several times. Your photos are especially lovely; anyone wishing to visit will find many wonderful vistas, including several of Quabbin. You mention that New Salem was the sole survivor of several towns along the Swift River, but this is because the residents of the town moved to the top of the adjacent hill. There’s nothing left on the original site, which is under water. Do we know which, if any, buildings they took with them?

    • daseger

      Well I know that New Salem lost Millington (see Brian’s comment below), but central New Salem certainly predates 1936! The cemetery is from the mid 18th century; the academy dates to 1795.

  • Brian Bixby

    And even New Salem was not left untouched: its village of Millington was destroyed for the reservoir.
    Been out to Dana Common? It’s the old center of Dana. While the town was evacuated, the center is still actually above water. You can hike in on a trail off of route 32A. There’s now a monument there, as well as cellar holes and traces of other buildings, as well as the common itself.

    On another note, the adult education center at which I teach has simply closed for a month. I offered to try to turn my course into something online, but for various sensible reasons, they are not pursuing that route. But I agree that teaching online diminishes a course.

  • Eilene Lyon

    What a delightful journey you’ve taken us on! It’s so sad how many communities have been destroyed by dam building. Good luck with the remote teaching – I would not like doing that.

  • Jenni Haas

    I read and love everyone one of your blog posts.

  • Robert Willoughby Jones

    I need to do some further reading to find out where Millington was exactly. The New Salem railroad station was a casualty of the Quabbin project, as was the entire line from a few miles north of Springfield all the way to Athol. I would assume that the station was surrounded by a village.

  • Lisa

    This is a great post. The photographs you took are incredible. It would be wonderful, while you are on “break” to go exploring further. I am not familiar with this area of Massachusetts, and will explore in reading. The houses are all beautiful, I wish I could go into each one. What a treat for you!

  • Mason Colby

    That’s my parents house! The brick one. My mother was born at the Page farm she is a direct decendent of the oldest family in town. NS is just a bunch of legacy party liberals set up in camps. If you’re not liberal, you’re definitely out. Then it depends on which camp your in. Groupthink, MA. I’m libertarian so I definitely don’t make the cut. They can have “their” town. Because 1 of the 2 legacy parties 🎉🎉🎉 is completely correct. Brainwashed 101

  • Fay E. Bennett

    I can explain why Indianapolis is on the Signboard at SRVHS in N. New Salem. It was painted on there by my grandmother’s brother, Harrison Ballard, who lived in Indianapolis and thought the good people of New Salem should be aware that beautiful city existed! He came to New Salem each year to visit his extensive family members and painted it onto the signboard one night when no one was looking! He is buried in the Center Cemetery at New Salem in the lot at its southern end with the huge monument marked “Ballard”.

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