Salem 1897: William McKinley was President of the United States, Roger Wolcott was Governor of Massachusetts, and the Salem Evening News published an Illustrated History of Salem and its Environs, which includes photographs of many mustachioed men, their residences and places of business, and some of the city’s more notable public landmarks. Despite its title, it’s not really a guide to historic Salem (although there is a little narrative history of the city from its founding) but rather a visual “state of the city” in that very year, from a decidedly commercial point of view. Sometimes it is interesting to just swoop in and look at the lay of the land of a particular place and time, so that’s what I’m doing today. I don’t believe that there is a single featured woman in the entire publication: one would think the city was made up of white men except for sights of women and children in the distance: waiting for a train or the beach. And while we see many exterior views of factories—particularly tanneries—we don’t get to peer inside and see any work being done, by men or women. Even with these limitations, it’s an interesting book, especially for one (such as myself) who is interested in built history: it allows us to see Lafayette Street before the Fire, a very busy Bridge Street, and many lost churches—and the engraved illustrations are particularly nice.
It’s always interesting to see anachronistic trades and businesses in publications such as this as well: anything to do with horses, all those tanneries and factories, lead works, house movers (moving houses rather than the contents of houses): there were two in Salem! This was a city full of houses of worship and work, many stores, and many banks–and not so many restaurants. The usual public institutions are featured as well: I think we’ve all seen enough old photographs of the Salem Public Library, the Essex Institute and Peabody Museum, various schools, and our famous, beloved Gothic fortress of a train station, so I have foregone those images in favor of less-broadcast ones here. Salem appears to have been thriving in 1897, though somewhat sparsely-populated in this (re)presentation—except for all those mustachioed men!
Just a few of the businessmen featured: Messers Almy, Bigelow, Washburn & the three Vaughn brothers.
The century-old Classical Revival mansion in nearby Swampscott which served as the “Summer White House” for Calvin and Mrs. Coolidge in 1925 is not long for this world, as just last week the Swampscott Historical Commission agreed to reduce the requisite demolition delay ordinance period to just 90 days in return for its purchasers’ agreement to salvage and reproduce significant architectural elements as they transform the estate into 18 condominiums. Looking at all of the old photographs of White Court, which was designed by architect Arthur Little and built near his family’s summer home on Little’s Point, “reproduction” seems unlikely; I can’t speak to salvage. In any case, the mansion will be demolished, and along with it will go a material reminder and symbol of a notable era in Swampscott’s history, a golden era when the residence of the President drew many eyes to this seaside town.
The Coolidges were welcomed warmly and seen about Swampscott and surrounding towns occasionally: according to the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation blog, the President worked from an office in Lynn, sailed on the presidential yacht Mayflower docked in Marblehead, and attended services with Mrs. Coolidge every Sunday at the Salem Tabernacle Congregational Church. There was not a lot of entertaining, as the Coolidges had lost their sixteen-year-old younger son, Calvin Jr., just a year previously. There were many strolls around the six-acre seaside property, white collie alongside, apparently: we only get to see one such stroll, right after the Coolidges arrive when the press were clearly on hand to see them settled into their summer home. Their smiles come and go; this is a dutiful walk—I’d like to see them on a more casual stroll but I’m glad the photographers were not enabled to intrude for too long. We have many photographs of their activities off the estate however: this was a well-documented presidential vacation!
Leslie Jones photographs of President and Mrs. Coolidge at White Court, Swampscott, 1925, Boston Public Library; the Coolidges attend the Tabernacle Church in Salem, July 1925, Blackington Collection, University of Massachusetts.
I felt like I was intruding yesterday morning when I drove over to Little’s Point to see the condemned mansion, which was very much in the midst of a construction zone. It didn’t seem possible to walk down its long entry lane (which was also marked private) to snap a photograph, so I have no “now” to contrast with all of my “then”. The last time I was on the premises was a couple of years ago, when the mansion was the main building of Marian Court College, a Catholic commuter college operated by the Sisters of Mercy from 1964 to 2015. There were institutional additions to its exterior, and I did not see the interior, but the core of the building looked pretty much the same as it did in that spotlight summer of 1925. But apparently its foundation has deteriorated beyond repair, and so White Court must cease to exist, come September.
The drawing room of White Court in its residential era, Historic New England; an exterior view by Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library.
Appendix: Thanks to Jonathan for informing me that White Court was the site of Northshore Magazine’s “Best of the North Shore” awards just last year: great photographs of the mansion below and more here. Also, in return for their reduced demolition delay period, the developers have agree to document the house thoroughly, so we will (at least) be able to see detailed architectural photographs at some point.
Periodically, but continually, I get tokens from readers of my blog—scanned pictures or stories from old magazines, little pamphlets, scraps of Salem history—which I place in a file for safekeeping with the intent that I will devote one post to each item at some point. This file has grown pretty full, so I wanted to expose some of these items to the light of day. I’ve reserved some pieces for their own special posts, but I’m not sure I can contextualize all of these treasures so better just to get them out there as maybe someone else can! I’m so appreciative of all these gifts, and will be donating them to a public repository in due time, but for now I’m holding on to them, because I never know when inspiration will strike, or some other little piece of paper will come along to amplify something I already have. So here we go, perhaps the first of what may become a series of “tales from the files” posts, beginning with a lovely fundraising pamphlet issued by the Essex Institute in 1929, when its directors were seeking to raise the grand amount of $400,000. The focus is on preservation, accessibility, and “remembrance of things past” throughout the pamphlet, which features silhouettes of famous Salemites in the margins and highlights of the collections on every other page. I sense some emerging sentimentality around the old Essex Institute these days, with the prolonged absence of the Phillips Library: I’ve received several items in just the past few months.
I have quite a collection of little books, souvenirs I suppose, including several of Fred Gannon’s compilations from the 1940s published by Salem Books Co., guidebooks such as the Streets & Homes in Old Salem, published from 1930 to 1953, and leather industry newsletters: I love the photograph of the old tanneries (on Goodhue Street???) which is in the Leather in Salem and Peabody newsletter below, sourced (of course) from the Essex Institute.
My own postcard collection has been supplemented by gifts from readers, encompassing cards from all eras, undivided and divided backs, dignified black-and-white and cheerful chromes, depicting mostly Salem buildings—people don’t send me witches, except for very close friends! Last but far from least, I have been privileged to receive quite a few family photographs–scans of course–including one of my very favorites below: some lovely ladies and the bride at a Ropes Family wedding in 1898.
I stumbled across the “first annual” Reportof 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’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!
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.
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!
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.
Today I am featuring another lost Salem house that we can only “see” in the form of its surviving pieces and photographs–only one photograph, really, which I presume was taken just before it was demolished in 1856 to make way for the Salem Athenaeum’s new Plummer Hall (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum). This is the Nathan Read House (1793), designed by Samuel McIntire for a man who was not a Salem merchant and/or shipowner but distinguished himself nonetheless, as an entrepreneur and the inventor of such diverse machines as a steamboat with paddles, a nail-cutter, a self-winding clock, and a coffee-huller, as well as a congressman and judge. Read’s house was McIntire-made but Bulfinch-inspired and it is reminiscent of another Essex Street house that is no longer with us: the Ezekiel Hersey Derby House further along Essex Street–Salem’s commercial “high” street was too dynamic and valuable for residences, even ones as lovely as these. It’s a miracle that the Gardner-Pingree House survived. The Read House was short-lived but pretty imposing while it lasted.
The Nathan Read House (1793-1856).
In 1799, Read sold the house to Captain Joseph Peabody, a very wealthy Salem shipowner, and eventually decamped for Maine. For the rest of its existence, the Read House remained in the Peabody family, who eventually sold it to the shareholders of the Salem Athenaeum. Joseph’s son Francis dismantled several McIntire mantels from the house before its demolition, and installed them at his summer house in nearby Danvers, the eighteenth-century “King” Hooper mansion, better known as “The Lindens”. There they remained until the 1930s, when the Lindens itself was dismantled, shipped to Washington, D.C. in pieces, and reassembled in the Kalorama neighborhood of the District. The intermediary (and short-term owner of the Lindens) in this transaction was up-and-coming antiques dealer Israel Sack, who arranged for the house to be measured and photographed by HABS architects and also sold some parlor paneling to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Kansas City: the mantels appear in the HABS photographs (but looking quite different from previous photographs!) but not in the collections of the Nelson-Atkins museum, and they certainly don’t seem to be down in Washington (where the house is now for sale), so I’m not really sure where they are. The whole is demolished, but the parts are scattered: a not-uncommon Salem story!
Above: McIntire Mantels at the Peabody Essex Museum (upper right) and installed at the Lindens, Danvers, from Cousins’ and Riley’s WoodcarverofSalem (1916) and Arthur Haskell photographs, 1934, Library of Congress. Below: the Lindens in its current Washington, DC location from its current listing, and its living room from January 2014 Architectural Digest. No McIntire mantel here!
See a related house story at the great blog Stories from Ipswich.
I have never been a fan of H.P. Lovecraft but having spent most of my professional life in the company of 20-year-olds here in Salem I’ve definitely been exposed to the man and his works, especially as they (supposedly) relate to our gothic city. Many of my students believe that the Lovecraftian city of Arkham was modeled on Salem, and its Miskatonic University, our university. They might be right about the former, as the fictional Arkham does indeed have a lot of Salem features, but Lovecraft’s Miskatonic U. is a lot more ivy-covered than our concrete Salem State: most experts assert that is modeled after Bradford College, a now-defunct college up in Haverhill, or perhaps even Brown University, located in Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. We have a great nursing program but no medical school (to service our sanitarium) or Department of Medieval Metaphysics. Apart from the University, The Arkham/Salem connection seems so well-established that I’ve always been curious that Lovecraft has not been assimilated more comprehensively into the relentless Witch City campaign, but that seems to be changing now: I’ve seen Lovecraft walking tours and an exhibit over the past year, and for the next few weeks the Salem Theatre Company is staging an adaptation of The Thing on the Doorstep, the Lovecraft story most closely associated with Salem through its references to the old Derby house and the old Crowninshieldplace.
One of my former students directed me to a site that really drives home the Salem/Arkham connection: TheMiskatonic Railroad, 1882–1907. The centerpiece and absolute focus of this Arkham is Salem’s fortress-like train station, which was demolished in 1954. I don’t believe that Lovecraft ever mentioned the Salem Depot in his works, but it certainly appears Lovecraftian, both in photographs and as recreated for the model Miskatonic Railroad. Its creator, John Ott, doesn’t care much for the rest of Salem, but he is duly impressed by our long-gone station: “Salem today rates about a seven on the dreary scale—not much to see, despite its touristy cant. But up until about sixty years ago, Salem boasted the most spine-tingling eerie Gothic-Norman stone train station in North America”. Apparently he doesn’t share Lovecraft’s affection for Federal architecture!
Photographs of the old Salem Train Depot from c. 1905, 1910 & 1954 (the razing!!!), from the Dionne Collection at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections and the Library of Congress interspersed with John Ott’s model Miskatonic Railroad Station. Many more images (and stories) of the latter here.
There are lots of ways to examine the history of an educational institution: curriculum, students, faculty and administration, physical presence. As a professor and incoming chair, I could certainly write quite a bit about the academic constituents, perhaps too much, so for my back-to-school post I’m going for the more accessible, and certainly the more visual, sign of institutional evolution: architecture. The evolution of Salem State University, where I have been teaching for quite some time, has been inextricably tied to the parallel development of the city of Salem since its foundation in 1854. The piecemeal construction of the Salem State campus has, for the most part, been a story of onward expansion, tempered with adaptation and accommodation. At least so far.
Salem State’s institutional history is easily divided into four different academic eras. It was founded as a teacher-training “Normal” school (normal referencing professional standards) for women in 1854, the tenth in the nation, and remained “Salem Normal School” or the “Normal School at Salem” until 1932 even after it began admitting men and extending and expanding its curriculum. It was Salem Teachers College from 1932 until 1960, after which it was briefly named the State College at Salem, Salem State College (1968-2010), and finally Salem State University. A key factor in the school’s founding was the financing (and lobbying) provided by the city of Salem, along with the Eastern Railroad and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: from the very beginning, the interests of city and college were linked.
This first set of images below are all from the Normal School era (1854-1932). For the first fifty years of the school’s existence, its one and only building was located on Broad Street, just behind where I live now. The foundation building was adapted and expanded in the 1870s to accommodate a larger influx of students, and then an entirely new building, with adjacent “campus” was built in the early 1890s in South Salem. The Sullivan Building remains the center of what is now referred to as the North Campus, and its (I think unfortunate) ginger brick facade set the tone for the development of the college over the next half century or so. The situation of Sullivan is rather commanding: at the head of Lafayette Street looking back and down towards the center of Salem.
The State Normal School at Salem from the 1858, 1880, and 1900 Catalogs of the Instructors and Students in the State Normal School, Salem, Massachusetts; One Broad Street (Condominiums) today; 1865 photograph of the Broad Street building, Salem State University Archives Flikr.
Images of the new campus on Lafayette Street from the first few decades of the twentieth century portray a barren-then- bucolic setting, a bit less integrated with the city, especially after the great Salem Fire of 1914. The school’s main form of outreach was its students, and to facilitate its primary mission of teacher education several training schools were built, on Willow Avenue a few blocks away, in Marblehead (for “rural training”), and finally the new training school adjacent to the Sullivan Building on Loring Avenue, named after education advocate (and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s brother-in-law) Horace Mann.
Lafayette Street with the Sullivan Building in the distance and the campus behind, from the 1920-21 Salem Normal School Catalog; the Bertram School on Willow Avenue, the Farm School in Marblehead, and images of the construction and completion of the Horace Mann Training School, Salem State University Archives Flikr.
The Horace Mann school, then called a training school and later a “laboratory school”, remains a Salem public school, probably the best and most continuous example of the partnership between the city and the university. Teaching right next door in the Sullivan Building, I have long been accustomed to hearing the gleeful sounds of children playing on the adjacent playground during their recess. Space is a bit tight though, and now there are discussions of moving the school to another location. The next-to-last picture above, of the construction of the Horace Mann School in 1913, is particularly striking because it forecasts what is going to come over the next century: all that space you see in the distance is going to be filled in with buildings: residences, college buildings, factories, and then more university buildings.
In terms of space, the Salem Teachers’ College (1932-68) and Salem State College (1968-2010) eras are indeed characterized by the filling in of the main (North) campus (largely with square, uninspired, mid-century modern buildings made of orange brick) and the acquisition of additional, non-adjacent space for new construction and/or adaptive re-use. As the college’s curriculum became more comprehensive, its demand for physical space became more expansive, but open land was limited because of the coincidental development of its South Salem neighborhood. On the main campus, probably the most spectacular construction project became an equally spectacular failure: the massive Brutalist cantilevered library which opened in 1974 and closed in 2007. Scaffolding has surrounded the building ever since, and as our adjacent new library opens today the old one is coming down, piece by piece.
Libraries at Salem State: the Sullivan Building library in the 1920s, the construction of the Lafayette Street library in 1971 (which reminds me of its DESTRUCTION now) and the completed building in the 1970s, Salem State University Flikr; the new Berry Library and Learning Commons, opening on September 3, 2013.
The two major expansion initiatives of the later twentieth century are illustrative of how Salem State’s interests intersected with those of the City of Salem, and they are also great examples of adaptive re-use. In the early 1970s, the college acquired the former campus of Ste. Chretienne’s Academy (1918-71), a parochial school for girls, which was quickly transformed into the South Campus. A quarter center later, the GTE-Sylvania lighting factory, which employed hundreds of workers during its heyday (1936-1989), was converted into the Central Campus. For the most part, these changes seem to have been well-received by the surrounding neighborhoods, though the construction of residence halls on both new campuses definitely caused some ripples in the relationship between town and gown (and will no doubt continue to do so), along with continuous traffic and parking concerns.
Postcards of Académie Ste. Chrétienne from the 1930s and 1963, before it became the SSU South Campus (Salem State University Archives Flikr); an advertisement from Business Week (February 27, 1943) featuring the Salem Sylvania plant, and after its transformation into the SSU Central Campus.
There are plans for more expansion on the immediate horizon, including a badly-needed parking garage and another residential hall. Looking back on the past 150 years of institutional construction, Salem State seems to have handled the big projects well (with the exception of that brutal library and in spite of all that orange brick) but I hope that the smaller structures will not be forsaken in the inevitable march of progress. Several years ago, I was distressed to see one of the (then-college’s) little administrative bungalows swept away–in the space of a few days—to widen an access road. Its surviving mate remains, but is looking vulnerable. And I think everyone, both on campus and in greater Salem, is wondering what is going to happen to the university’s latest acquisition: the venerable Salem Diner.
Still Standing on Loring: a craftsman cottage and the Salem Diner.
APPENDIX: In the History Department at SSU, we try to look a local developments in a global context. While I was looking around for some interesting and unusual images from the Normal School era, I came across a photograph of the inscription below taken by Jo De Baerdemaeker, a typographical scholar and designer based at the University of Reading. The Salem Normal School was one of many American educational institutions that contributed funds towards the rebuilding of the historic library at the Catholic University of Leuven, which was ravaged by German troops occupying Belgium during World War One. The new library, designed by the American architects Warren and Wetmore and also bearing the more strident inscription Furore Teutonico Diruta: Dono Americano Restituta (“Destroyed by German fury, restored by American generosity”) on its facade, sustained serious damage again in 1940 and was rebuilt after the war.
Photograph by Jo De Baerdemaeker; you can see more lettering and examples of his work here.