The Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, steward of so much of Salem’s printed, written and visual history amongst its many collections, has recently digitized over 5000 images from the “Samuel V. Chamberlain Collection of Photographic Negatives, 1928-1971″ and they are available and searchable at the Digital Commonwealth. Combined with the Frank Cousins images which the Phillips made available several years ago, there is now a very strong visual record of Salem’s architecture and streetscapes in the first half of the twentieth century, or at least some of Salem’s buildings and streets as neither Cousins or Chamberlain were particularly interested in “working Salem”. Cousins was a bit more of a documentarian than Chamberlain, especially as his era (roughly 1890-1920) encompassed the Great Salem Fire of 1914. Chamberlain was a man of the world, a gourmand, and an artist: his Salem photographs encompass only one part of his work, but an important part as he lived in nearby Marblehead for many years so developed quite an intimate knowledge of the city. I’ve always been struck by his perspectives, but I thought that I’d seen most of his Salem shots as he published so many books of photography of New England scenes in general and of Salem structures in particular, including Historic Salem in Four Seasons (1938), Salem Interiors (1950), and A Stroll through Historic Salem (1969). But I was wrong: there are discoveries to be made among the 1600+ Salem images included in the Phillips Library’s Chamberlain negative collection at Digital Commonwealth. The vast majority of these photographs are of the McIntire Historic District in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but I can see different details and angles in Chamberlain’s images of these perennially-showcased streets and structures—and lots of wonderful TREES.
New perspectives of old streets: and the interior of the depot!
These are images which struck me as “new” for one reason or another, although the first photograph is just the view of Chestnut Street from my window, over a half-century ago, and everything looks pretty much the same! Look at all the amazing elms: on the other end of Chestnut, on Essex, at the intersection of Federal and Washington Streets. A great photograph of the Lindall-Barnard-Andrews house (c. 1740; 3rd from top) and its amazing fence before some serious mistreatment in the later 20th century. Interesting views of Lynn Street, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site with trees, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and the Post Office and Washington Street before it became Riley Plaza (What is the white house on Norman?) One of my favorite little buildings on upper Essex Street was a bookstore! The Thomas Sanders house on Summer Street (2nd from bottom) looks much the same, but I want Mr. Chamberlain to turn around: what is behind him? And finally, a rare shot of the interior of the Boston & Maine train depot—rare in general but also for Chamberlain who preferred more timeless and aesthetic perspectives.
Change: Chamberlain was more interested in timelessness and continuity than change, but he couldn’t help but document some changes in Salem over the span of his work, from the 1930s through the 1960s. He was far more interested in urban survival than urban renewal, however: this was a man that sketched French chateaux amidst the destruction of World War I.
Two views of the London Coffeehouse or Red’s Sandwich Shop on Central Street; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location and from Hardy Street; The Curwen House rounds the corner from Essex to North Streets; 8 Chestnut Street very hemmed in by the second Second Church; which burned down in 1950, The Richard Derby House also very hemmed in; Charter Street before urban renewal; the cupola from the Pickman-Derby-Rogers House on Washington Street on the grounds of Essex Institute, now gone; the entrance to what Chamberlain called “the Italian Church,” St. Mary’s, built in 1925 and closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003.
A few interiors: Chamberlain’s interior images are lavish and full of architectural and decorative detail; I’ve only included a few shots here but what a resource! All the PEM houses are here, and many Chestnut Street interiors, as well as views of interiors of both public and private homes which are seldom seen. His Salem Interiors has been a favorite book of mine since I was a teenage, and this Phillips/Digital Commonwealth collection includes many shots which are not included in that publication so I’ll going back quite a bit.
Pictorial paper in the Sanders house on Summer Street (see exterior above); much to see in the Northey house parlors, but ships on mouldings—how Salem can you get? Amazing fireplace in the East India House on Essex Street.
Chestnut Street Days! Who knew Chamberlain was such a great photographer of people? Certainly not me. Probably the most charming Salem photos in the Phillips Chamberlain collection are his portraits of Salem residents in colonial dress for the Chestnut Street Days which were held on at least 5 occasions from 1926 to 1976. I think that the photos below are from the 1947 and 1952 Chestnut Street Days, but I’m not entirely sure about the former date. These are wonderful photos of happy people, men, women and lots of children, smiling at the man behind the camera, Samuel Chamberlain. Just delightful. I’m going to post more on these in the future, but I’ve really got to do some oral histories first.
Chestnut Street Day, c. 1947-52. Not a great photograph to close out this wonderful collection, but is this the great man himself? Plus, the dog.
March 1st, 2022 at 10:47 am
Wow! First interior of the depot I have ever seen.
March 1st, 2022 at 11:17 am
March 1st, 2022 at 11:26 am
Thanks for these. Especially for the photo of the “Old Salem Bookstore” I worked there after school and weekends all through high school. (early 1950s) What a great job for a bookish kid. (Yes I read banned books. Didn’t hurt me a bit.) Mary Mason was the owner/proprietor. I grew up to be a writer!
March 1st, 2022 at 11:48 am
Oh thanks for letting me know, Carol! I love that little building.
March 1st, 2022 at 2:59 pm
It’s wonderful to hear so many of Chamberlain’s images have now been digitized. I still think his work is the most interesting of all New England photographers. While growing up, I would look at his books again and again at my grandmother’s house, and now I have those same books, plus a few I’ve picked up since. Thirteen of Chamberlain’s books now sit on my shelf, nine of which are focused on New England.
March 1st, 2022 at 7:55 pm
I grew up with Chamberlain books too! I think I have 5 now, but I should get more.
March 1st, 2022 at 6:06 pm
So glad to learn that Samuel Chamberlain’s photos of Salem from the Phillips Library, exteriors and interiors, are available to the public.
My favorites were the two gentlemen in their short waistcoats, and the lovely pic of the young mother and her beautiful baby in that great pram. Outstanding!
March 1st, 2022 at 7:53 pm
Those Chestnut Street Days pics are just so wonderful!
March 1st, 2022 at 7:13 pm
Wonderful photos and your great reporting of Salem’s past! In the first section, I have never seen urns in that attenuated shape; in the second, the painted scene looks like the work of Philip von Saltza (?), as in the Hawthorne Hotel; last section – the large gambrel opposite the old Salem Hsptl on Charter Street must had had very bold moldings and rooms. Just think of the early furnishings it must have contained…
March 1st, 2022 at 7:53 pm
Ummm, very interesting von Salza observation! So much lost: Charter Street, Norman Street, Church Street, those urns…..
March 2nd, 2022 at 8:26 am
I love Samuel Chamberlain. Have many of his books that are priceless. Thanks for sharing all of this. Love the dresses! Wish there were more of his portraits. Just wonderful.
March 2nd, 2022 at 5:19 pm
I know: the PEOPLE were a big surprise to me.