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An Urban Village in Salem

In preparation for the little talk I’m going to be giving about a post-fire neighborhood in Salem next weekend, I’ve been reading up on turn-of-the-century urban planning, design and construction trends. I’m much more comfortable in the Tudor realm than that of the Tudor Revival, but through my amateurish yet persistent pursuit of information about Salem’s rebuilding after 1914 fire, role in the Colonial Revival movement, and the early preservation movement I have been able to develop a fair amount of familiarity with the primary and secondary sources. Plus, I have several friends who are real architectural historians who are also happy to help–as well as very helpful commentators here.  I’ve written about this particular neighborhood, Orne Square, before, but I approached it again with an open mind, so I could glean a few more details about its origins, and a lot more context.

Orne Square Ruins


Orne Square in the summers of 1914 and 2014.

When I last considered Orne Square, I assumed that it was a very scaled-down, Americanized, and urban (or suburban) example of the Garden City Movement initiated by Ebenezer Howard’s To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898) and Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902) and conceived and implemented by the Boston architectural firm of Kilham & Hopkins, who were very connected and very involved in Salem’s rebuilding according to progressive principles that were both aesthetic and economic. By 1914, Kilham & Hopkins had completed the majority of their work on the new Boston neighborhood of Woodbourne in Jamaica Plain, clearly inspired by one of the most conspicuous English Garden City “company towns”, Bournville in Birmingham, which Walter Kilham had visited himself, finding it “architecturally charming, but fearfully paternalistic as only the English can be”. They would go on to build the Atlantic Heights neighborhood in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and workers’ housing in Lowell for the Massachusetts Homestead Commission. In between, they designed and constructed a variety of buildings for the devastated Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company in Salem, including housing for its workers, and a neighborhood of affordable single-family and duplex brick cottages in North Salem. They were the likely architects of Orne Square, so everyone said, but I could never find confirming evidence, and somehow the style, the material, the client, and the overall commission just didn’t seem to point to the extremely busy Kilham & Hopkins firm. Salem was awash with architects in 1914-1918 (I have a working list of 63, and I’m sure there were more), many equipped with the MIT-credentials and social connections of Walter Kilham and James Hopkins. The owner of the Orne Square property, the private Phillips Trust, didn’t seem quite as taken with the Kilham & Hopkins as the public Salem Rebuilding Trust: the former had already hired the renown local architect William G. Rantoul to rebuild a three-family structure on the site of its Warren Street “tontine” block. The Orne Square commission went to an architect who was not local (yet), but who had several strong Salem ties: Ambrose Walker, then of Brookline, who had previously shared a Boston office and practice with his MIT classmate Ernest Machado (who died tragically young in 1907) and presently did so with A.G. Richardson, another Salem architect who was then occupied with rebuilding wasted Fairfield Street with brick Colonial Revival structures.

Bournville Village Trust

Bourneville Model Village

Kilham & Hopkins

Urban village Rantoul Architectural Forum 1917 vol. 26

Michael Reilly’s Bournville Village poster ( MS 1536 Box 59, reproduced with kind permission of the Bournville Village Trust, Library of Birmingham), and the Village itself, built by Cadbury as a model village for its factory and workers in Birmingham; Kilham & Hopkins plans for the Massachusetts Homestead Commission and a “low-rent” brick two-family house commissioned by the Salem Rebuilding Commission, 1915, Architectural Forum, Volume 28 and Phillip Library, Peabody Essex Museum; William G. Rantoul’s newly-completed Warren Street buildings, Architectural Forum, Volume 26.

I was going to save Walker for my talk next week but his identity seems to have leaked out so I might as well make the big reveal here! I have no idea why it was such a big secret for so long anyway: I found the building permit as well as notices in several trade journals pretty easily. I’ve chased down a few of his other commissions as well and while there does seem to be considerable variation in the styles of architects of this era, they do tend to favor certain materials, and Walker nearly always built in the distinctive Portland cement you see so perfectly illustrated by Orne Square. No brick for him, and wood was not a recommended building material in fire-anxious Salem at the time. I’m not entirely sure why Orne Square did not become an acclaimed development at the time of its completion–or after–when the two great propagandists of Salem architecture, Mary Harrod Northend and Frank Cousins, wrote about the resurgence of the Colonial in Salem after the great fire. I suspect it was not Colonial enough for these revivalists! Northend at least references Walker’s work (but does not name him) in her influential article for the September 1920 issue of The House Beautiful, Worthwhile Homes built in Salem since the Conflagration of 1914″: There is a grouping of some twenty stucco houses designed for moderate rentals in Orne Square which should not be omitted. The houses are artistic and comfortable, and the development worthy of being copied in any small city. Indeed, about a decade after the completion of Orne Square we do see the distinct design of one of its “2 1/2 story stucco duplexes” appearing in several (I’ve found seven–from Hamilton, Ohio to Santa Cruz, California) regional newspapers across the country, generally accompanying Walker’s text about the affordability and durability of duplex living and masonry construction. As the Portland Cement Company proclaimed in its contemporary advertising, “This is the age of cement”. There very well may be more Orne Squares out there.

Orne Square 1926

The word that pops out the most for me in Mary Harrod Northend’s description of Orne Square above is “artistic”: I’m very familiar with her work, and she uses that word rarely. I think she recognized the craftsmanship of these houses, but their more streamlined style was a bit beyond her comfort zone. Rantoul’s and Richardson’s brick houses with their colonial trim looked familiar, while Walker’s artistic houses appeared a bit different, even foreign. So that brings me to back to the Garden City movement, and Walker’s inspiration. I’m not going to go into great detail here, because I want to save something for my talk, but he was of a generation of architects that was definitely influenced by the goals of the Garden City, but was also exposed to its limitations, especially in America, which was never going to see wholly-planned cities, only neighborhoods within existing ones: urban villages like Woodbourne in Boston, the Connecticut Mills Village in Danielson, CT designed by Alfred Bossom, the Westinghouse Village in South Philadelphia, and John Nolen’s Urban Park Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware, all constructed contemporaneously with Orne Square.

Urban Village Danielson CT CT Mills Alfred Bossom architect AABN 1919

Urban VillageWestinghouse Village Philadelphia 1919 Clarence Wilson Brazer arch

Urban Village Union Park Gardens Wilmington Nolen Cornell

Urban Village Shakespeare Frank Chouteau Brown Architectural Year Book

Connecticut Mills Village, Danielson, CT, Westinghouse Village, Philadelphia, The American Architect, 1919; Union Park Gardens, Wilmington, Delaware, John Nolen papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. And one that didn’t get built:  Frank Chouteau Brown’s plans for a “Shakespeare Village in the Fens” of Boston, from the Boston Architectural College’s Current architecture: published in connection with a joint exhibition held in Boston, November 1916.

It is also important to note that Walker did not come from Salem or the North Shore, so he wouldn’t have been so subject to the dictates of its weighty architectural tradition. He became a Salem architect after his marriage to Machado’s younger sister Juanita in 1923, moving into the family home on Carpenter Street, becoming a trustee of the House of the Seven Gables, becoming the fire-proofing expert for several local organizations, and writing a scholarly paper on Samuel McIntire. But before that he was living in Brookline, not far from what I think of as one of the earliest urban villages, the Cottage Farm neighborhood, practicing in Boston, and immersed in a community made up of his very accomplished and worldly family, his fellow MIT graduates, and his colleagues–an artistic village of sorts.(Though no doubt he was also catching the train to Salem regularly, as by several accounts his courtship of Juanita occurred over two decades).

Appendices: Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Walker in the 1930s; Walker’s drawings from the MIT Summer School, 1895, “The Georgian Period”, ed. William Roch Ware.



Signs, Signs, everywhere a Sign

This summer I have given several thematic walking tours around Salem to various groups and have found myself looking at the city as a tourist might. One gets the impression of a very busy place, not just in terms of activities and traffic on the streets (which are nearly all torn up!) but also because of superfluous signage: I think Salem has a mild case of sign pollution. Recent efforts to streamline and standardize signs have resulted in some very nice “official” signs throughout the city, but many of the older signs from a more haphazard era still remain, and then we have the customary cases of Witch City exemptions. Here is a great illustration of what I mean: I took this photograph, but it was 100% inspired by a Salem Instagrammer who often captures interesting perspectives.

sign 2

A mixture of private and public signs on one Salem corner, and on one Salem street sign!

Attempts at sign conformity, emphasizing both information and aesthetics,are represented by the “Great Stories Begin Here” banner signs scattered throughout the city–which enable advertising through sponsorship–and the official signs which direct visitors to established heritage locations and neighborhoods.I think these stand out for the most part, except at certain locations where there are simply too many signs in close proximity.

Sign 8


Sign 7

The worst cases of sign pollution by far are when public street signs have signs for private institutions affixed to them, as in the first photograph above. What are the signs for the Salem Witch Dungeon (which again, for the 99th time, I feel compelled to point out is not situated on the actual location of the former Witch “Dungeon” or jail) and the Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre (which is neither located on Gallows Hill or a “museum” or fully-functioning theatre) doing on public street sign? This is the Witch City exemption of which I spoke above: apparently witch “attractions” are allowed to affix their signs anywhere.

Sign 10

Sign 6

A lot of information here, but we always know that all of the streets of Salem lead to the Salem Witch Museum!

Apart from these unfortunate mishmashes, there are quite a few notable business signs in Salem, which is perhaps a topic for another post. But I’ll leave you with my favorite old and (relatively) new signs, for Bunghole Liquors on Derby Street and Turner’s Seafood on Church Street. The Bunghole sign reminds me of days gone by, when a sign was the only way for businesses to draw businesses in, and subtlety was not an option.

Signs 9

Sign 3

Witch City Vulcanizing Company 1917 SSU

Bunghole and Turner’s Seafood signs in Salem today, and the Witch City Vulcanizing Company on lower Lafayette in 1917, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Skiing through the Depression

Certain eras have a visual signature that is much more assertive than others, and when it comes to the last century, I’ve always thought that the 1930s was a very strong decade in terms of graphic design, in sharp contrast to the weakness of the economy. Is there an inverse relationship between art and anxiety? I think so. The bold WPA posters with their fat fonts seem like compensation for the bleakness and leanness of the times, and so too do commercial posters from that era. You see just one, and immediately you know when and why it was made: Cheer Up! An upcoming auction of vintage posters at Swann’s Auction Galleries is dominated by skiing posters from the 1930s, several of them designed by American artist Sascha Maurer (1897-1961) who seems to have specialized in this very specific genre. Whether they were sponsored by the railroad, or the ski manufacturer, or the resort, they all show shiny happy people on the slopes, and a bright world not too far from home for some, but still probably quite inaccessible. Go Skiing!

M30359-12 001

M32661-4 001

M30904-65 001

Skiing Poster Collage

M27331-15 001

M24261-51 001

Vintage Ski Posters by Sascha Maurer , c. 1935-37, Swann Auction Galleries auctions past and upcoming.

Wooden Water Pipes

There are holes all over Salem, granting access to traces of our infrastructural past below. Lots of utility projects this summer, and even now, and each time I see men’s (it is always men) heads semi-submerged I run over to see what I can see. Generally, it’s just road layers and cobblestones–not very exciting. So when a friend posted a picture of the wooden water pipes uncovered during a big project on Boston Street, I got over there as quickly as possible. And there it was, just one pipe in pieces, except where it opened up into the property from the street. Amazing!


WWPipes 2

WWPipes 3

I am fortunate to have an archaeologist/historian and an architectural historian among my colleagues, so I obtained the essential information about how this pipe came to be on Boston Street relatively quickly. Apparently Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire were laying such pipes in the 1790s, initiatives of incorporated aqueduct companies which were formed by the merchant communities of all three cities. In the case of Salem, the Salem and Danvers Aqueduct Company was established in 1797, “for the purpose of supplying the inhabitants generally of Salem and Danvers with pure spring water”, and in the spring of 1799 water began running through wooden pipes (pine was preferred) to the properties of its subscribers. The first reservoir was on Gallows Hill, in relatively close proximity to Boston Street. According to the Company’s history, demand was ever-increasing: the 3-inch-wide pipes were replaced by 5-inch pipes in 1804, iron replaced wood in the 1850s, at around the same time that the still-beautiful Spring Pond, bordering Salem, Lynn and Peabody (then South Danvers) became the primary reservoir, supplying the city of Salem with “the elixir of life” as author Samuel W. Cole observed in 1858. There were many leaking issues too, and the extraordinary craftsman/engineer Benjamin Clark Gilman (1763-1835) from Exeter, New Hampshire was called in to fix them, based on his experiences in Boston, Portsmouth, Exeter, and New London, Connecticut. Industrial demand kept the pressure on the Salem system, and in 1869, the private Aqueduct Company transferred the ownership of its corporation to the city of Salem.

Water Receipt 1844

Water Works Map 1893

Lynn Mineral Spring Hotel

Lynn Mineral Springs Hotel ad

Subscriber receipt, 1844, Peabody Institute Library. Note the stipulation about wasting water! 1893 Map of part of Lynn and Salem, including Spring Pond, which indicates the main water route–Wenham Lake soon replaced Spring Pond as Salem’s reservoir; The famous Lynn Mineral Springs Hotel at Spring Pond–later the Fay Estate–from Alonzo Lewis’s History of Lynn, 1844; 1831 advertisement for the Hotel, Boston Evening Transcript.

Oyster Square

Time to return to the very basics of life:  food, and plumbing! Today I’m thinking about oysters, and up next I’ve got a special post on wooden water pipes. Oysters–their harvest, sale, and consumption–have always been big business in Salem: Wellfleet is hardly the only Massachusetts oyster town! At present we have three restaurants which feature oyster bars: the excellent Turners Seafood at the Lyceum, the oddly-named Village Tavern Grill & Oyster Bar, and the relatively new and very popular Sea Level Oyster Bar on Pickering Wharf. In the past, Salem probably had many more oyster establishments that were also actual oyster bars, as this particular commodity has evolved over time from a working man’s food to a bit more of a delicacy. Today, Salem’s many restaurants are spread out across its downtown, from the water to the train station, but in the past they were concentrated in the area around the Old Town Hall or Market House. Derby Square and Front Street today are still busy commercial spaces while an adjacent alley that served as an “Oyster Row” of sorts a century or more ago is now silent: yet Higginson Square still bears the signs of its purveying past.

Higginson Square

Higginson Square 2

Higginson Square 3

The large brick commercial buildings on the east side of Higginson Square were built between 1895 and 1915, replacing earlier, smaller structures that served as dining rooms, bars, and wholesale purveyors of oysters and other foodstuffs. Their surviving shop windows indicated that they were functioning as retail establishments in the twentieth century too, but I don’t think this remained a restaurant row. These building have Derby, rather than Higginson, Square addresses now, but the one adorned with the fire escape was the earlier site of the Remond residence/restaurant/and oyster operation at 5 Higginson Square operated by John and Nancy Remond, the parents of Salem’s pioneering African-American abolitionists Charles and Sarah. The spotlight is always on the Remond children (a new park named after them is in the works now) but I’ve always been more interested in their entrepreneurial parents, who operated several businesses in Salem. Surviving advertisements for Remond oysters (“Let them be roasted, stewed, or fried; Or any other way beside; You’ll be well served, or ill betide”) indicate that the North Shore was no longer viable oystering ground in the mid-nineteenth century, as John was bringing in large supplies of oysters from Wellfleet and New York, enough to operate a veritable wholesale monopoly in Salem.

Oyster Square Trade Card

Oyster Trade Card SSU 2

Oyster Trade Card SSU

Oyster Trade Card 2

Oyster Square Trade Card Lynn

Trade cards from the collection of Salem State University Archives and Special Collections and the Digital Commonwealth–I had to include the Lynn fish! The Remond businesses came a bit too early for these cards. Below–Salem’s 19th century Market Square, where oyster and other eating establishments were clustered. Higginson Square is marked in blue.

Salem 1851

American Girls

Countless cards were inserted in countless packs of cigarettes for decades starting in the later nineteenth century, for product (to avoid crushing the cigarettes inside), advertising, and revenue purposes (encouraging the formation of collections) and consequently cigarette cards form a huge category of ephemera. This is not really my category, but I do find some of the collections to be really interesting expressions of their era. A case in point are the several series of “State Girls” or “State Belles” offered by various publishers in the first decade of the twentieth century: the girls (or young women) are portrayed in a way that supposedly characterized their state, accompanied by other state symbols, and sometimes situated in representative settings. I became acquainted with these particular cards, which I have seen in both cigarette and postcard forms, through a flea market discovery of a Massachusetts girl, wearing academic dress while standing out on some North Shore rocky coast. This find occurred just several days after I received my Ph.D., and so this girl had a particular appeal to me: here I am, I thought, Scholar Girl, a Bay State Belle!

MA Girls Collage

As you can see, not all Massachusetts girls walked around in academic gowns, books in hand. The Raphael Tuck (on the rocks), Langsdorf (schoolmarmish) and National Art Company (sans glasses) girls do, but not those on the Platinachrome Company’s “alphabet” cards, which focus more on the letter and the state seal and flower, or the Fatima Turkish Cigarettes cards, which are all about the elaborate hats which adorn the heads of rather indistinct state girls. The ladies from all 45-48 states (depending on when these cards were published, and sometimes including the District of Columbia) get more detailed characterizations on some cards while on others they are simply idealized lovely-but-generic belles. Miss Pennsylvania is portrayed in colonial dress, armed with a musket and adorned with a tricorner hat, on the National Art Co. and Langsdorf cards below, while the “Keystone Belle” stands before the bustling factories of what I presume is Pittsburgh on the Tuck Card: the past and the present. Not yet quite a golden girl, Miss California is identified with her steamship and her oranges. The “Lone Star Girl” of Texas has her bluebonnets, and the “Opera Belle” of New York comes equipped with a skyscraper. There are girls equipped with fishing poles (Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and Maine), swords (Maryland), paddles (Virginia), riding crops (New Jersey) and locomotives (Illinois), but the majority of young women are pictured with farming equipment or produce, a reflection of our then still-agrarian nation. A 21st century update on these cartophilic characterizations would be quite interesting.

PA State Girl Collage

State Girls CA collage

State Girls TX Collage

State Girls NY Collage

(Just click on the collages to enlarge)

Lawnmowers for Ladies

My occasional wanderings through the world of Victorian ephemera have definitely convinced me that bicycles represented a form of liberation–physical and otherwise–for women a century or so ago, but I’m confused by the multitudes of similar contemporaneous images of women operating lawnmowers: why would women actually choose to do tedious men’s work–didn’t they have enough to do, or, weren’t they in a good position to get out of it? Is this a case of advertising push rather than feminine pull? Women in short shorts and other inappropriate attire seem to be featured regularly in post-war advertisements for lawnmowers, but I’m more curious about trade cards and such appearing fifty years earlier, when women were supposed to be a bit more closeted. The first “lady with lawnmower” that captured my attention featured was an apparently quite famous English actress named Marie Studholme (1872-1930), who posed with all sorts of things, so I thought the lawnmower was just one more thing. But she was in good company: between 1890 and 1910 or so there were several manufacturers that seem to be marketing lawn mowers for women, or lawnmowers that were so easy to use that even girls could operate them (in their perfect pinafores). Perhaps this is a case of class trumping gender: after all, the majority of women didn’t have expansive lawns in need of tending. The lawn itself, like the lawn mower, is a nineteenth-century creation. I must confess to having a rather romantic attachment to my own manual lawnmower, but only because my backyard is mostly garden with very little lawn–and my husband always does the mowing.

Marie Studholme

Ladies Lawnmowers 2 DC

Ladies Lawnmower BPL DC

Ladies Lawnmowers 3 DC

Ladies Lawnmowers

Miss Marie Studholme with her bicycle and lawn mower, c. 1900; Lawn mower trade cards from c. 1880-1910, Boston Public Library and from a selection at the Trade Card Place.

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