Tag Archives: Salem Neighborhoods

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.


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?


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


%d bloggers like this: