Tag Archives: Industrial Revolution

Streets of North Adams

I found myself in the western Massachusetts city of North Adams on this past Saturday morning, having driven across the state to sit on a panel for an honors thesis defense at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts the day before. I love the Berkshires, but I must admit that if I’m driving out on Route 2 I generally drive right through North Adams to reach more pastoral destinations except for a few visits to Mass MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, splendidly housed in an old textile/electrical factory in the city center. But as I woke up in North Adams (in a beautiful bedroom at Porches, quite literally in the shadow of Mass MoCA), I was determined to stay there and explore for a bit. So I set off on foot, armed only with my phone, which was loaded with a walking-tour app provided by Historic North Adams, a collaboration between MCLA’s History Department, the North Adams Public Library, and the North Adams Historical Society. After I got the downtown down, I headed up one of the city’s several hills to discover its houses.

20190504_083019

20190504_083007

20190504_083108

20190504_082005

20190504_081728

20190504_081414

20190504_091858

20190504_104435

Judging from the simple house plaques that adorn many of North Adams’ eclectic Victorians, North Adams became a boomtown in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, with the Arnold Print Works (1862-1942) turning out textiles for a global market from its complex of mill buildings along the Hoosac River—later the home of Sprague Electric, and now Mass MoCa. The Hoosac Tunnel was completed in 1875 (at great cost of treasure and lives—its workers named it the “Bloody Pit”) making North Adams a railway gateway to the west. Walking the streets of the city, you can feel and see the expansion of that era through the architecture: every single structure seems to date from the 1870s and 1880s with nary a Colonial in sight. The sound of hammers must have been constant in this period, along with the smell of smoke. There were several larger Victorians in divided and dilapidated states, but it was also clear that preservation was at work in North Adams, and as our entire region was plunged into a prolonged period of gloomy rain last week, it was nice to be among more colorful houses. This is just a small sampling: I’ll need to go back!

20190504_085514

20190504_085537

20190504_085138

20190504_090021

20190504_090620

20190504_084931

20190504_084327

20190504_084308-1

20190504_084250

20190504_090957Some of the larger Victorians on Church Street (just above) need some help, but just up the hill is a lovely neighborhood of mostly-restored structures. Below: the Arnold Print Works produced a full line of textiles over their long history, but one of their popular products in the 1890s were these stuffed animal templates (examples below from the collections of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum & Cooper Hewitt): the finished products are very collectible and you can buy reproductions too (here are some Etsy examples). 

North Adams RISD North Adams 1892

North Adams Arnold Print Work Owl Cooper Hewitt

North Adams Cat


A Scalping in Salem

As today is “Salem Women’s History Day” as proclaimed by our mayor, I thought I should write about a “notable” Salem woman. I’ve certainly featured lots of Salem women here, including accomplished authors, artists, and activists, some prominent socialites, a few domestic heroines, and even an accused murderess, but there are lots more stories to tell. When considering my options, one particular woman kept popping up in my mind, or rather I couldn’t get her out of my mind: Hannah E. Leary of Cross Street, a carding machine operator at the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company in the late nineteenth century. To my knowledge, Hannah did not write anything, or paint anything, or organize anything of note, but she did suffer a tragic, terrible accident in the summer of 1894 which is perhaps representative of the challenges of daily working life for many Salem women at this time. And that makes her notable. On a hot day in late July, Miss Leary’s hair was caught in a carding machine, effectively “scalping” her: the suffering that she experienced on that day and over the next week was chronicled daily in the pages of the Boston Post, giving her a notability that her fellow workers, both male and female but all un-maimed, lacked.

Leary Collage

Naumkeag Steam Cotton Co 1890s Cousins First reports on the scalping of Hannah Leary, Boston Post, July 27, 1894; the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company, popularly known as Pequot Mills, in the 1890s, Frank Cousins.

The reporting is very detailed, and thus hard to forget. Hannah never lost consciousness although many around her fainted. Her bloodied scalp was retrieved from the machinery and she was conveyed to the Salem Hospital on Charter Street (after a considerable time, as the hospital’s one and only ambulance was in Swampscott). There the doctors began the delicate task of re-attaching her scalp to her head with the hopes that it would “knit”. We are informed that Hannah is one of the oldest women workers at the Mill, at age 43, and that her employment began when she was 15. We are also informed that she normally wore her long hair braided and pinned, but that on this particular day she did not. Reaching down to pick up something under the machine, she was caught in its mechanical death grip, an occurrence that has happened many times before, the paper tells us. Every day over the next week the Post checked in on her condition: things look bleak as we read one lurid headline after the next, and then we read that “she may live”, and no more—I guess she ceased being news.

Leary Collage 2 Daily Reports on Hannah’s condition in the Boston Post, August 1-5, 1894.

Some context: these industrial accidents happened all the time. I went through all the regional newspapers trying to determine Hannah’s fate and read about worker after worker falling, losing fingers, being scalded or burned or blown up. The “scalping” reports definitely receive the biggest headlines. Hannah’s doctors are almost blasé about her injury (it happened to a girl last year), and she had suffered another mangling earlier in her career. Everyone knows about the big industrial tragedies, like the Pemberton Mill collapse of 1860 or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 or the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, but the daily toll on individual workers seems relentless. I am also struck by how neglected Salem’s industrial and labor history is: it’s as if we’re caught in a colonial Groundhog Day where we have to repeat the same stories again and again and again. My colleague at SSU, Avi Chomsky, has focused on industrial relations in this era for both a book chapter (in Salem: Myth, Place and Memory by my other colleagues, Dane Morrison and Nancy Lusignan Schultz) and an exhibition  on the Pequot Mills Strike of 1933, and more recently, Jacob Remes has examined workers’ organization in the aftermath of the Great Salem Fire of 1914 in Disaster Citizenship: Survivors, Solidarity, and Power in the Progressive Era. There is a lot more work to be done, however, to put Hannah’s story in a more comprehensive context: the “mill girls” of Salem stare out at us in the photographs of Lewis Wickes Hine but we don’t know much more about them than their names.

Scalping collage

Factory Women Lawrence More:  reports in the North Adams Transcript and  Fitchburg Sentinel, 1899, 1903 & 1913; Factory women photographed in the Workforce Washington Factory in Lawrence, MA, March 27, 1903, Lawrence History Center.

And what of Hannah? Because of her tragic accident she does emerge from the pack of “typical old-maid workers” in the words of pioneering photographer Frances Benjamin Johnson, but only in bare outline. The newspapers abandoned her as soon as it appeared that she would recover. She returned to her sister’s house on Cross Street, but not to work. She died four months later of a “tumor in the uterus”, still only forty-three years old.


Fossil Factories

For me, the most haunted place in Salem is not a cemetery or anything to do with the Witch Trials (though it is quite near Harmony Grove Cemetery and Gallows Hill): it is Blubber Hollow, a site of intensive manufacturing and industrial activities from the seventeenth century until the later twentieth. The center of Salem’s bustling leather industry in the later nineteenth century, this was where the Great Salem Fire started in June of 1914, in a factory producing patent leather shows on the site of the present-day Walgreens on Boston Street (behind which is is Proctor’s Ledge, now confirmed as the execution site of the victims of 1692). Its name indicates that it was also associated with the production of whale oil, but for me it always conjures up an image of frenzied commercial activity, candles burning at both ends or oil lamps burning all night. No longer: those factories that survived the 1914 fire, or were built after, are empty for the most part, and coming down soon, as Blubber Hollow transitions from ghost town into residential neighborhood: one large apartment building has already been built and there are more to come. As you walk down Grove Street towards Goodhue, past the still-busy Moose Lodge and marijuana dispensary, the sense of imminent transformation is palpable but ghosts are still present.

Urban Archaeology 3

Urban Archaeology 2

Urban Archaeology 5

Relic smokestack.

Urban Archaeology 7

Urban Archaeology 8

Urban Archaeology 9

North River Canal

Texture at one of the former Salem Oil and Grease buildings, and the North River Canal.

Urban Archaeology 14

No one will be sorry to see Flynntan go.

salem_historic_preservation_plan_update_2015_-_final_draft_for_public_review

Blubber Hollow Hose House

Urban Archaeology 13

Past and Future: Blubber Hollow in its heyday and “Hose House” No. 4 in its midst, from Fred A. Gannon’s Old Salem Scrapbook, #6 (1900); North River Luxury Apartmentst @ 28 Goodhue Street.


Deleaded

Like many northeastern cities, large and small, that flourished during the Industrial Revolution, Salem is still wearing the scars of its productive past: there are decaying tanneries, free-standing chimneys, and ramshackle warehouses in close proximity to more beautiful (and lively) places around town. I think these sites are simply part of the layered texture of the city, and of course a century or more ago their builders would never associate the word “scar” with these constructions: they were industrial palaces. I’ve been thinking about lead mills recently, as there is a large site on the Salem-Marblehead line that is the subject of a planning study right now. The buildings of the Forest River/ Chadwick Lead Mills sat on this site (originally known as “Throgmorton Cove”) for nearly 150 years, producing bullets for Union soldiers, and “pure” white lead for generations of painters. The company received authorization to fill in the Forest River in three separate occasions in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, creating the landscape that had to be cleaned up a century later, after its almost-landmark building burned to the ground in 1968. An earlier–palatial and pastoral–incarnation of the company is represented by a F.F. Oakley chromolithograph in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum, along with a similar image of its competitor across town, the Salem Lead Works. I do think it is interesting how nineteenth-century printmakers portrayed industrial buildings not as encroaching on the landscape, but as part of it.

Deleaded Forest River

Deleaded Salem River

Boston Athenaeum chromolithographs:  F.F. Oakley Litho., 1860; Chas. H. Crosby & Co. Lith., 1872, both Boston.

Nothing survives of this second Lead works, which was situated on the North River along the train tracks–as you can see in the lithograph, except for little scraps of paper which advertised its products, which of course necessitated a century-long (and more) deleading process pursued not only by cities, but also individual property-owners.

Unleaded Forest River Logo

Unleaded ad Salem Directory 1886

Unleaded-001

Forest River Lead Company logos from a 1919 billhead; Salem Lead Company ad from the 1886 Salem Directory; 1930s Dutch Boy ad featuring “Salem White Lead”.

 


%d bloggers like this: