A British & Bucolic Gaze on Salem

I adore the venerable and very traditional British magazine Country Life, which has been showcasing stately homes, lush gardens, and rural pursuits since 1897. I’ve had indulgent subscriptions and purchased my share of back issues: there can never be enough manors, fields, and drawing rooms for me! Despite my obsession, I had no idea that Country Life featured Salem in a 1972 issue with Salisbury Cathedral on the cover until just last week, and as soon as I saw the table of contents I searched for a copy and snapped it up. The timing is interesting to me: 1972, as Salem’s long struggle with urban renewal was coming to a close, or at least one phase. Of course, the editors at Country Living were not at all interested in anything new: they were seeking what survived.

The article is interesting and the photographs are great—but rather dated: they had been published by Samuel Chamberlain in several publications prior. Perhaps British readers would not have seen his New England views before but they might have appreciated Salem in color! The author, Helen Hall, observes that “the architectural richness of Salem is not so immediately apparent as it is in Deerfield or Marblehead,” so I assume this article is part of a series. She is not very complimentary about most of the city, actually, noting that “you are not especially aware of being in a town that was once so dependent on the sea for its existence” (I think you might be more aware of that now, but maybe not) and that certain parts “give the impression of never really having recovered from the decline of the Depression years.” She does note the recent renewal but also that “the results so far have been negative, with extensive demolition of often potentially restorable buildings, mostly in the central shopping district, creating blitz-like (!!!!!!) spaces that have become, inevitably, parking lots.” But she does love the Essex Institute and its houses, the Custom and Derby houses of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the Common, and Chestnut Street. The latter is still elm-lined when she visited, and while she finds American elms “much more graceful” than their European counterparts, they also hindered her views of the houses.

Samuel Chamberlain photographs of Salem in the August 31, 1972 edition of Country Life.

One response to “A British & Bucolic Gaze on Salem

  • Dorothy V. Malcolm

    Love this piece, Donna, and like you, I love Country Life Magazine too. It brings me back to the years I lived in England and how I loved my life there. A rather close second to England, I’ve loved my life I in Salem. The connection here is that being a member of the Salem Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) brings to life for me these two places on earth I probably love the most.

    Next week, after more than a year of lockdown and distancing, our Colonel Timothy Pickering Chapter of Salem will be reunited once again at our monthly meeting to be held at the Hawthorne Hotel. Bringing our Salem chapter back to Salem is a blessing, as this is where we belong; and what better place than at HH!

    I would like to add today’s piece into our “Colonel Timothy Pickering Chapter” page on Facebook for our members to read; in addition will bring it up at our meeting on the 14th. I am so earnest about historic preservation, am passionate about it, that even both your and Country Life’s articles tackles the issue of urbanization in an historical town.

    We must preserve Salem as Salem–and not yet another Gotham clone.

    — Dorothy

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