Tag Archives: Reverend William Bentley

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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