Category Archives: History

Scent of a Queen

While I was looking for spring wine concoctions in A Queen’s Delight the other day I came across a recipe for “Queen Elizabeths Perfume”: Take eight spoonfuls of Compound water, the weight of two pence in fine powder of Sugar, and boil it on hot Embers and Coals, softly, and half an ounce of sweet Marjoram dried in the Sun, the weight of two pence of the powder of Benjamin to make a sweet, long-lasting perfume. As you can see, other delights are in there, including a rose and cypress perfume supposedly utilized by her brother Edward, and a toothpaste made of Mother of Pearl.

Queens Delight 4

This herbal scent seems a bit more complex (and long-lasting) than Elizabeth’s other perfume, recorded in C.J.S. Thompson’s Mystery and Lure of Perfume (1927) and the inspiration for the “perfume garden” designed by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins which won a Gold Medal and the title of “Most Creative” at the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show. I wish I had seen this garden–which presented the evolution of Elizabeth’s perfume from plant to bottle in a “polysensorial” way–but we can all buy a bottle of the finished product at the Historic Royal Palaces gift shop (oh no, they only ship to the U.K). I think I might prefer the marjoram-based scent anyway; rose damask is a bit cloying.

Scent of a Queenp

PerfumeGarden2009

Perfume Garden Sketch ChettwoodArchitects

Elizabeth Perfume HRP

Sketch and photograph of the award-winning Perfume Garden, 2009, from a portfolio here; Elizabeth’s inspirational rose damask eau de toilette, available (in the U.K.) here.

Speaking of cloying: neither of these perfumes contains the exotic ingredient found in so many recipes for scented sachets, pomanders, and waters in the sixteenth and seventeenth century: musky secretions from the anal glands of the civet cat (not a cat at all), which could mask all unpleasant odors and serve as an aphrodisiac. Shakespeare gave King Lear a civet reference–Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination–but a century later it was fortunately out of fashion if Samuel Cowper’s rhyme is any indication: I cannot talk with civet in the room, a fine puss-gentleman that’s all perfume.

Elizabethan Perfume Collage

Barbier Elizabethans 1928

Another perfume recipe from A Queen’s Delight and an Elizabethan perfume bottle from the “Cheapside Hoard” and the Museum of London; the Elizabethan pouchoir print by Georges Barbier from Richard Le Gallienne’s Romance of Perfume (1928).


Lincoln’s Laboratory

I’ve been digging around in bins and folders for scraps of paper for as long as I can remember, and I do recall one item that caught my attention years ago: it was an envelope with a still-bright print of Abraham Lincoln depicted as some sort of wizardly chemist, an alchemist, I also recall thinking, in the midst of a rather wordy laboratory. It had a sticker marked $5 on it which struck me as quite steep at that time. Now I see that this same envelope fetched $2600 at a recent auction! The envelope, produced by the Salem stationery and publishing firm of G.M. Whipple and A.A. Smith (1860-1875), has become a highly-coveted example of Civil War propaganda, and I clearly missed out.

Union Alchemist

Whipple and Smith were not only showing their colors; they were marketing a relatively new product: the envelope itself. Before 1851 U.S. postage was charged by the sheet, so people simply folded their letters with sealing wax and mailed them off. In that year a flat postage rate was introduced for mail under a half-ounce and traveling less than 3,000 miles, so protective “covers” were introduced, which became patriotic covers a decade later. More than 10,000 embellished envelopes were produced in the North during the Civil War, much less in the South. They became collectible items even during that time, as many survive unaddressed—like the one I saw some time ago and those below. I can see why the “Union Alchemist” envelope is coveted today: its image and message is a bit more intricate than the majority of pro-Union covers I have seen–many featuring Jefferson Davis swinging from a rope (actually he is there, in the upper left-hand corner, in a specimen jar, next to General Beauregard).

Union Alchemist 3

Lincoln is writing prescriptions in a laboratory full of his distillations, including pure refined national elixir of liberty and metallic soap for erasing stains..for the southern market; he is not only the Great Emancipator (and the Great Distiller) but also the renowned rebel exterminator. It’s such a great image and item: what was I thinking years ago when I passed it by? I’ve found quite a few more in auction and historical archives, but none available, for $5 or $500: this is definitely one that got away, but I did catch a Salem octopus!

Lincoln Envelope Hakes Auctions

Lincoln's Laboratory PMA

Union Alchemist 2

Union Alchemist 5 Cowans

Union Alchemist 8

Union Alchemist Bangor

Civil War Cover

Whipple & Smith’s “Lincoln’s Laboratory or the Union Alchemist” covers, from Hake’s Americana & Collectibles, The Helfand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The John A. McAllister Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia, Cowan’s Auctions, PBA Galleries, and the Bangor Historical Society.


Bridge Street Neck

Salem is a city of extremities in terms of its physical shape: two “necks” jut out into the Atlantic Ocean from a central peninsula. You can easily see that this was a settlement oriented towards the water rather than the land. Once transportation shifted towards the latter, traffic problems emerged for Salem, and they still present a major challenge to the city. One interesting Salem neighborhood which seems to represent the shifting impact of transportation very well is Bridge Street Neck, the first area to be settled by Europeans and the main gateway to the north. Its central corridor or “spine”, Bridge Street, first led to a ferry, and by the end of the eighteenth century the first bridge to Beverly was completed. From that time the area developed in typical mixed-use fashion, with commercial structures and residences rising up on Bridge Street, smaller houses on the side streets leading down to the water on both sides, and manufacturing sites interspersed: first maritime-related uses, later lead and gas works. There are all sorts of references (though I can never find images) to horticultural uses as well, from the first fields of the early “old Planters” to nineteenth-century greenhouses and pleasure gardens to today’s parks. In a few months Salem’s newest park will open at the very end of the Neck, dedicated to the work and memory of the Abolitionist Remond family.

Salem Map 1970 Osher Romantic Boston Bay Text

Salem Map 1903 cropped The North Shore coastline from Edwin Rowe Snow’s The Romance of Boston Bay, 1970; 1903 Map of Salem and surrounding places, Henry M. Meek Publishing Co., Leventhal Map Library, Boston Public Library.

Carriages, trains, trolleys, CARS: for too long Bridge Street Neck has simply been a place to get through.It’s never been a destination, unlike Salem’s other neck, home to the Willows. But over the past decade, a series of infrastructural changes have (perhaps) transformed this Neck’s functional status: a new bridge attached to a new bypass road which skirts the neighborhood rather than running through it, and a “revitalization plan” implemented by the city to address its aesthetic and economic challenges. I think this is a Salem neighborhood that is really primed for change, but in what direction? Its diverse building inventory–ranging from late eighteenth-century Georgians to post-war Capes–is protected by the recent designation as a National Register Historic District but not the more stringent review of a local historic district. And there is much to protect: there are some great old houses interspersed among the streets of Bridge Street Neck, better appreciated if you get out of your car and walk.

Bridge Street 4

Bridge Street 2

Bridge Street 1

LOVE this Gothic Revival cottage and its mansard-roofed neighbors on Arbella Street, named for the ship that brought John Winthrop to Salem in 1630.

Bridge Street 5

Bridge Street 6

Bridge Street Gwimm House

Bridge Street Thaddeus Gwinn House MACRIS

Bridge Street Neck Collage

Very pretty Victorian two-family; two early nineteenth-century houses: a Georgian (behind the addition) and the stunning c. 1805 Thaddeus Gwinn House, an unusual Salem two-story Federal (today and in the 1980s, courtesy MACRIS); two cute cottages on the North River side of Bridge Street.

Bridge Street 12

Bridge Street 8

Bridge Street 9

Bridge Street Neck Planters

The old and the new on Bridge Street including the Thomas Woodbridge House on the corner of March, and across from it: the future?


Salem 1912

I stumbled across the “first annual” Report of the Salem Plans Commission the other day, and read it with rapt attention. This was issued at the end of 1912, a time when the city’s population had experienced rapid growth and housing was in short supply, the waterfront was “decayed”, and downtown (trolley) traffic was at a standstill. There were startling parallels to Salem 2016 in the Report, starting with its opening assertion that Salem is known quite literally with a single tolerable entrance or exit and (possibly excepting Loring Avenue) we must admit that this is quite literally true, whether we travel by foot, carriage, automobile, trolley, train or boat. While the Commission asserts that Salem’s entrance corridors, called “gateways” in the report (a timely term now) all needed work, they are clearly advocating for more immediate attention to the city’s key transportation network: the combination of trains and trolleys that drove external and internal traffic. Salem’s main gateway was identified as the Boston & Maine Depot, and the arteries that commenced from there were apparently in dire need of widening and expansion in the forms of a”ring road”, a “shore drive”, and a street system. The entire report calls for a more systematic Salem in every conceivable way: roads, parks, housing, zoning.

Salem Train Depot 1912Salem’s Gateway, 1912

The commissioners write with a very strong voice, one voice, and express stark opinions throughout their report: the congested wooden housing in The Point is a “fire menace” (a prescient observation, given it would be leveled by the Great Salem Fire in two years) which evolved through “selfish gain driven by public indifference”, the waterfront must be “redeemed”, the North River is a “stinking open sewer”. They are so assertive that what one would think would be a rather dry text makes for riveting reading!

Salem 1912 North River

Salem 1912 Billboards on Bridge Street The “Stinking” North River and “Billboard Adornment” on Bridge Street.

In order to achieve their vision for Salem, the Commissioners include lots of detailed recommendations which are both utilitarian and aesthetic. They are aware of the significance of Salem’s material heritage but I would not call them preservationists: if an old building is interfering with trolley traffic on a narrow street it’s got to go! They seem particularly focused on Central and Lynde streets as problematic for traffic flow, and their recommendations seem to be the inspiration for the consolidation of the former Elm and Walnut Streets into a widened Hawthorne Boulevard.

Salem 1912 Central Street to Essex St

Salem 1912 Washington and Lynde Streets

Salem 1912 North and Lynde Streets

Salem 1912 Lynde Street from North St

Salem 1912 North and Federal Streets

Salem 1912 Elm and Walnut From above: Central Street looking towards Essex; the intersection of Washington and Lynde Streets; two views of the intersection of North and Lynde Streets; a trolley turning onto Federal Street; Elm and Walnut Streets.

I think Commissioner Harlan P. Kelsey was the author of the report, but I can’t confirm this as it was simply published by the “Plans Commission”. Kelsey was a really prolific landscape architect who lived in Salem (at One Pickering Street–this was the house that distracted me from Kelsey’s story to that of its architect, Ernest Machado) and, in addition to his landscape and planning practices, also maintained two profitable nurseries in his native North Carolina and adopted city. I’ve read his writing on plans and parks elsewhere, and it sounds familiar, and the last part of the Report is devoted to the shoddy condition of Salem’s shade trees—another timely topic!

Salem 1912 Broad ST

Salem 1912 Lafayette Two Salem streets which the Commissioners actually LIKED for both their width and their trees: Broad and Lafayette. Both would be half-leveled by the Great Salem Fire in 1914.

All photographs from:  City Plans Commission, First Annual Report to the Mayor and City Council, December 26, 1912.  Salem: Newcomb & Gauss, 1913.


A Tale of Two Salem Patriots

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829), who rose to serve successively as Colonel of the Essex County Militia to Washington’s Adjutant General, Quartermaster General, and Secretary of War and President Adams’ Secretary of State is probably Salem’s best-known “Patriot”, but during the Battles of Lexington and Concord (commemorated in Massachusetts and Maine as Patriots’ Day on the third Monday of April) he was, shall we say unengaged, while another Salem man died in the bloodiest skirmish of the day. This was Benjamin Peirce, a baker by profession, 37 years old, who fought alongside men from Danvers, Beverly, Lynn and several other communities in their effort to halt (or at least hinder) the British retreat back to Boston. As far as I can tell, he died in the violent “Battle of Menotomy”(Arlington) in and around the still bullet-riddled Jason Russell House with Pickering yet to arrive on the scene (having stopped at not one but two taverns for refreshments). And when the Colonel with his 300+ Essex County militiamen finally arrived in the area, another decision was made to disengage, enabling the British to reach Boston. I know Pickering’s actions (or lack thereof) on April 19, 1775 have been debated almost from that very date, but from a parochial perspective he clearly pales in comparison with Peirce, the only Salem militiaman to die on that fateful day. Peirce’s heroism was recognized at the time by the entrepreneurial Salem printer Ezekiel Russell, who published Bloody Butchery, by the British Troops; of the Runaway Fight of the Regulars just a few days later.

Bloody Butcheryp

Russell House Whitefield

BLOODY BUTCHERY, BY THE BRITISH TROOPS; OR THE RUNAWAY FIGHT OF THE REGULARS, with Peirce’s identified coffin in the second row, second from right, published in The Salem Gazette, from E. RUSSELL’S Salem Gazette, or Newbury and Marblehead Advertiser, Friday, April 21, 1775; the Russell House–where Peirce died–from Edwin Whitefields’s
Homes of our Forefathers (1879).

There was also an individual elegy for Peirce penned by Russell:  We sore regret poor Peirce’s death,  A stroke to Salem known, Where tears did flow from every brow, When the sad tidings come. There was, however, no coffin: Peirce was buried in a mass grave in Arlington along with some of his compatriots, excepting the Danvers martyrs who were returned to that town. No one from Salem came for Benjamin, so he is still there, in the Old Burying Ground behind the First Parish Unitarian Church on Massachusetts Avenue. I cannot find any reference (or sign) of a monument to this native son in Salem until the erection of a bicentennial plaque (under a liberty tree which appears to have not survived) by Historic Salem, Inc., in a rather odd spot–adjacent to a parking lot on Church Street.

Peirce 6

Peirce 2

Peirce 8

Peirce 10

Peirce 7

Three plaques for Peirce in Arlington–one in Salem, below,  adjacent to parking lot: while fictional Samantha gets an entire (very visible) square to herself!

Peirce 3

Peirce 5


Political Poplars?

I suspect that most of my colleagues who teach American history dislike Thomas Jefferson. I don’t really get into it with them; I prefer to play naive and impressionistic when it comes to American history (because I am), but I have heard and seen disparaging words and glances on more than one occasion. Their opinion was shared by Salem’s Federalists over two centuries ago, who cast Jefferson as a licentious Jacobin even before the disastrous Embargo Act of 1807. But there was one Jeffersonian “policy” that was popular in Salem, at least for a while: the planting of (Lombardy) Poplar trees on the Common and along several streets. Jefferson loved these stately trees, and had them planted not only at Monticello but also in Washington, along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. His poplar advocacy spread north, and in one of my favorite Salem paintings (actually it’s everyone’s favorite Salem painting), George Ropes’ Salem Common on Training Day, the newly-planted poplars are very prominent. Apparently they were also planted along the Newburyport “turnpike”, now Highland Avenue, and a few other new streets.

Washington 1800 LC

Poplars Washington

Poplars Porter MFA

SALEMCOMMONTRAININGA

Poplars lining Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., early nineteenth century, Library of Congress; Poplars in Rufus Porter’s “Boston Harbor” wall mural from the Prescott Tavern in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; George Ropes, Jr., Salem Common on Training Day, 1808, Peabody Essex Museum. 

As attractive as they were (or as Ropes made them), the Common poplars would soon be gone, replaced by maples and elms and more pedestrian trees. Was their disappearance due to nature (the “Great September Gale” of 1815 or their unsuitability to Salem’s climate and/or soil) or politics? I ask this question because of a provocative little passage in one of Sidney Perley’s early articles in the Essex Antiquarian (1911): Political feeling was so strong in the old Jeffersonian days that these poplars were condemned by the Federalists on account of Jefferson having been instrumental in producing them. Some of the Republicans planted these trees in front of their residences to show their allegiance to Jeffersonian principles, and the enraged Federalists were guilty of injuring and destroying them. This was true in Salem in 1801 in several instances, the mischief being of course done under cover of darkness. Captain Samuel Very, who lived at Buffum’s Corner, offered a reward of twenty dollars for the conviction of the person or persons who injured the trees before his house. Very interesting! It sounds like poplars were conspicuous targets, and the grove on the Common must have been offensive to Salem’s Federalists: did they mount an attack? To answer this question, I turned to one of Perley’s contemporaries and the authority on horticultural Salem a century ago, John Robinson, who wrote a great little book on Salem’s trees titled Our trees : a popular account of the trees in the streets and gardens of Salem, and of the native trees of Essex County, Massachusetts : with the location of trees, and historical and botanical notes (1891). A man of science, Robinson discounts political explanations for the disappearance of Salem’s poplars in favor of botanical ones: The stiff Lombardy Poplar (Populus dilatata) once grown everywhere, is now but rarely seen except in a state of decay. Our Common was originally planted with these trees in 1802 from nurseries on the northern side, in the vicinity of Winter Street. But, fifteen years later, the trees were found to be of little value for ornament and they were replaced by elms. There are wrecks of Lombardy poplars on Loring Avenue, beyond the Marblehead branch railroad crossing, near the Willows, and on the Newburyport turnpike in various places……….it turns out that Lombardy Poplars just didn’t “take” in Salem’s soil. There are certainly no Poplar “wrecks” on the Common today, but I think I found a few relics in the Howard Street cemetery, still standing guard.

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Apparently NOT a poplar, but an upright English oak!


Searching for Castle Hill

When I do not walk to work down Lafayette Street, I drive down Jefferson Avenue through a neighborhood called Castle Hill, which has neither a castle or a hill. I’m not sure it ever had a castle–nineteenth-century antiquarians assert that the great Nanapashemet, majestic leader of the Pawtucket confederation of tribes before the arrival of the Old Planters, maintained some sort of “castle” in this area, but I don’t know if this can ever be verified or if it is the source of the place-name. Much later, this land was owned by the (almost) equally royal Derby family of Salem, who maintained a vast farm to sustain and complement their city properties.The great diarist (and gossip) the Reverend William Bentley tells us about a walk in early June of 1809 in which he passed to Castle Hill upon which Mr. E. H. Derby has erected a small summer house of two small square stories, the upper of smaller dimensions, in the Italian style. It wants the grandeur of the former house which occupied this space [was this the castle? It didn’t last long in any case–destroyed in the “Great September Gale” of 1815]. He has shut up the old road by Forest river road & opened a new road, over a New Bridge finished last year, leading to the Mansion House upon the road to Marblehead. The Garden is extensive and well arranged, without any unnatural or useless ornaments. The old Farm House at the foot of Castle Hill is in a state of decay. At this season the hill & fields are alive…….So castle or not, there was certainly a hill, surrounded by Derby farmland and pastures, including the “Great Pasture”, bounded by Mill Pond, over which one could look north to Salem the town, almost a separate town altogether. This perspective is illustrated by two great steroeviews from the 1870s and 1880s, both taken from Castle Hill.

Castle Hill Collage

Castle Hill Farms

Stereoviews by Moulton and Fogg from the 1870s and 1880s; paintings of Pickman and Derby farms (Corné) from the early 19th century; Northeast Auctions and Historic New England.

Castle Hill is referred alternatively to the “Great Pasture” or the “Salem Pastures” all the way up to the turn of the twentieth century (and even after) but changes are coming, ushered in by the Boston and Maine Railroad, the filling-in of Mill Pond, and the leveling of the hill by the Massachusetts Broken Stone Company, which also maintained a quarry in this pastoral realm for a while. In his 1894 article entitled “Some Localities around Salem” Henry Mason Brooks of the Essex Institute opined that I dislike to see these old localities disappear, but change will come and we must make the best of it. If you compare the Salem Atlases of 1874, 1897, and 1911 you do see a changing landscape and streetscape in Castle Hill, as members of the growing French Canadian population of Salem moved into the area with the foundation of Sainte-Anne Parish in 1901: this church, which burned down in 1982 and was rebuilt over the next few years, remains the center of Castle Hill. A decade later, the 1912 annual report of Salem’s first planning commission identified Castle Hill as the future of Salem: The great area comprising the Salem Pastures may be made into splendid home sites with magnificent views, and winding roads with good grade can readily be built when the proper time comes. It is here that Salem must develop if it is to have the future which we believe its traditions justify, and the business demands. Much more housing did indeed follow, but large parts of the pasture and woodland were preserved later in the form of Highland Park/ Salem Woods and Olde Salem Greens. And if you drive off Jefferson Avenue just a few feet, you can see the rocky remains of the hill anywhere and everywhere.

Castle Hill Map 1897

Castle Hill 4

Castle Hill 1

Castle Hill 3

Castle Hill 5


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