Salem and the 54th Massachusetts All-Colored Volunteer Infantry

B. Shallop, Salem History Correspondent

On July 18, 1863 the first black regiment raised in northern states, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, led an courageous assault on the Confederate positions at Fort Wagner South Carolina. The stories behind the assault on Fort Wagner strike at the heart of the horrible legacy of race and slavery which haunts this country to this day. The devastating assault touched many people of Salem Massachusetts. We must forever value the contributions of those throughout history who have fought, struggled, and sacrificed for freedom and equality.Assault on Fort Wagner

South Carolina Secedes

In 1861 South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union. The state legislature declaring that:

“A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” South Carolina took particular aim at how northern states had even allowed their citizens to organize against the institution of slavery, declaring that Northern States; “…have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection”.

So much for the argument of “States Rights”.

Rather than respecting the outcome of a national election or even entertaining the possibility that the American Flag might someday maybe represent rights for African Americans, the state of South Carolina instead chose to tear down that flag and open fire on Federal troops stationed at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Shortly after the evacuation of federal troops from Charleston, Fort Wagner was constructed on the beach at Morris Island to defend the city from a Union assault.

Abolitionist Sentiments in Salem

At the northern end of the Eastern Seaboard, Salem Massachusetts had long been a hotbed of those Abolitionist societies so abhorred by secessionist South Carolina. Like many coastal New England cities before the Civil War, Salem had a small but vibrant and politically active black community. The heart of this activist black community was the Remond family, who ran a successful catering business out of Hamilton Hall in Salem, a hairdressing business, and also invested in property and shipping interests in the city. As early as 1832 Free Women of Color in Salem had founded the “Female Anti-Slavery Society of Massachusetts” in Salem and opened its membership to any women with abolitionist sentiments, regardless of race. Salem schools were not only the first to be integrated in America, but they would also employ Charlotte Forten, one of the first black teachers to teach an integrated classroom.

Salem’s leading families often hosted fundraisers for abolitionist causes, Salem’s political leaders were outspoken against the interests of slave owners in Congress, and Salem residents often acted nobly but illegally to thwart the efforts of slave catchers operating under the protection of the Fugitive Slave Act. When President Lincoln called for volunteers to fight for the Union in the wake of the firing of Fort Sumter hundreds of Salem Citizens eagerly enlisted. Later in the war, when the federal government authorized the raising of Black Regiments to serve the Union Cause, the people of Salem were heavily involved in recruiting and equipping the first northern regiment of free people of color: the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The Participating Regiments

A total of 14 Union Regiments participated in the assault on Fort Wagner that day, including a black regiment, the 2nd South Carolina, comprised of slaves liberated from Plantations in South Carolina. Salem contributed greatly to the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Known as “The New England Guard,” the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was raised early in the war and had seen plenty of action by July 1863. Two of the regiment’s Captains (George Austen and John Daland), two lieutenants (George Garner and Jas B Nichols), the regimental Chaplain (Rev George Wildes), and dozens of enlisted men were from Salem. Other cities and towns from the North Shore were also well represented in the ranks of the 24th. The Regiment first mustered into service at Readville (then an independent village, today the southernmost locality of Boston), and saw action at Roanoke Island, New Bern, Tranters Creek, Whitehall, and Seccessionville before assisting in the assault at Fort Wagner.

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the first black regiment raised from Northern states after President Lincoln authorized the enlistment of black troops on January 1st 1863.

Men of the 54th Massachusetts

Men of the 54th Massachusetts

While under federal law black troops were not permitted to serve as officers, the Governor of Massachusetts, John Albion Andrew, insisted that the 54th be commanded by white officers with a demonstrated commitment to the Abolitionist cause. Accordingly command of the Regiment was offered to Robert Gould Shaw, a young abolitionist from New York with strong Massachusetts ties, then serving with the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry.

Officers of the 54th Massachusetts

Officers of the 54th Massachusetts

Salem residents who served in the 54th Massachusetts included Captain Luis F Emilo, Captain Charles Chipman, the Regimental Surgeon Major Lincoln Ripley Stone, Sergeant Francis Fletcher, Corporal James Oliver, Private William Barrett, Private William Brady, and Private William Smith.

Captain Luis Emilio was the son of Spanish immigrants who had settled in Salem in the 1840’s and were music teachers. Luis Emilio lied about his age (he was only 16) to enlist with the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry in 1861.

Luis Emilio

Captain Luis Emilio

He was quickly promoted to Sergeant after demonstrating extreme bravery under fire, and was then offered an officers commission in the 54th by Governor Andrew himself.

Also serving with the 54th was Lewis Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass, and several residents from neighboring Lynn. Salem residents actively recruited for the 54th Massachusetts and raised funds to outfit the regiment. Most of the men of the 54th were Massachusetts residents who were free people of color. Some were born free, others were born into slavery and escaped north to start new lives in the seaboard cities of New England. Others came from Pennsylvania (where Charlotte Forten’s father was actively involved in recruiting for the 54th), others from Rochester NY (where Frederick Douglass recruited for the 54th), and others from as far away as Ontario Canada. Former slaves leapt at the opportunity to go to war against their former masters.

Like the 24th Massachusetts, the 54th trained at Readville before being deployed south. At first they were deployed to Beaufort South Carolina alongside black regiments raised from the ranks of liberated slaves. While stationed at Beaufort Robert Shaw developed a friendship with Charlotte Forten, the first black graduate of the Salem Normal School (predecessor to Salem State University) and Salem’s first black school teacher. Charlotte had gone south to teach newly liberated slaves the basics of reading and mathematics right on the front lines of the war.

For most of the regiment’s existence, the 54th Massachusetts served without pay in an act of protest. While the men originally enlisted under the understanding that they would be paid $13 a month like any white regiment, the War Department ruled that black soldiers would only be paid $10 a month. When news of the pay plan reached the men of the 54th, the soldiers refused to accept anything less than the full $13. In solidarity with their men, the officers of the 54th likewise refused payment until the soldiers of the 54th would be paid the same as any white troops. The Massachusetts legislature passed legislation authorizing the state to pay the $3 difference between the pay of white and black troops, but that compromise was also rejected by the men of the 54th. As the abolitionist Theodore Tilton wrote; “They are not willing that the Federal Government should throw mud upon them, even though Massachusetts stands ready to wipe it off.” It wasn’t until September of 1864 that black troops would receive the same payment as white troops.

Preparing for the Assault

In July of 1863 the 54th and the 24th Massachusetts were ordered to the vicinity of Charleston SC to prepare to assault the fortifications surrounding the harbor. On July 16th the 54th saw their first real action, repelling a Confederate assault at the Battle of Grimball’s Landing on James Island. Just two days later, the 54th was given the honor of leading the assault on Fort Wagner. Robert Gould Shaw himself lobbied for the 54th to lead the assault, as he thought it imperative that black troops take the lead in liberating Charleston. The world was watching, and the men of the 54th Massachusetts were aware of the attention, as revealed in their diaries and letters.

To take Fort Wagner by direct assault would require the 54th to charge over a beach for about a mile under constant fire, then through some sand dunes and trench works before reaching the earthworks of the fortification. The leading regiment would likely suffer severe casualties, but the fort had been bombarded by the US Navy for weeks, so it was expected that the Confederate garrison had been decimated and was low on ammunition, water, and food. Unknown to union forces, the sand in the earthworks of the fort had absorbed much of the impact of the naval bombardment and the men inside were well supplied and ready to counter any assault. The 54th would be supported in the assault by the 24th Massachusetts, 3rd and 7th New Hampshire, the 6th and 10th Connecticut, 48th and 100th New York, 62nd and 67th Ohio, the 9th Maine, and the 2nd South Carolina.

The Assault

The 54th began their charge at 7:45 pm. When they were within 150 yards of the fort, the defenders opened fire on them with everything they had. The 54th pressed onward but the terrain and the heavy fire forced them to take cover in the dunes opposite the fort and wait until nightfall. Sergeant George Stephens of the 54th later recalled the nighttime assault.

“I remember distinctly that when our column had charged the fort, passed the half-filled moat, and mounted to the parapet, many of our men clambered over, and some entered by the large embrasure in which one of the big guns was mounted, the firing substantially ceased there by the beach, and the Rebel musketry fire steadily grew hotter on our left. An officer of our regiment called out, “Spike that gun!” . . . Just at the very hottest moment of the struggle, a battalion or regiment charged up to the moat, halted, and did not attempt to cross it and join us, but from their position commenced to fire upon us. I was one of the men who shouted from where I stood, “Don’t fire on us! We are the Fifty-fourth.” I have heard it was a Maine regiment. . . . Many of our men will join me in saying that in the early stages of the fight we had possession of the sea end of Battery Wagner. . . . When we reached the Gatling battery drawn up to repel a counter-attack, I remember you (Captain Luis Emilio) were the only commissioned officer present, and you placed us indiscriminately,—that is, without any regard to companies in line,—and proposed to renew the charge. The commanding officer, whom I do not know, ordered us to the flanking rifle-pits, and we then awaited the expected counter-charge the enemy did not make.”

Samuel Mason, a correspondent with the New York Herald, wrote of the assault

“I saw them fight at Wagner as none but splendid soldiers, splendidly officered, could fight, dashing through shot and shell, grape, canister, and shrapnel, and showers of bullets, and when they got close enough, fighting with clubbed muskets, and retreating when they did retreat, by command and with choice white troops for company.”

Colonel Shaw was killed on the parapet, shot through the chest. Major Hallowell was shot through the groin. Thus Captain Luis Emilio, from Salem Massachusetts, became the senior officer present at the age of just 21. He kept up the assault and then, when it proved hopeless, led an orderly retreat. Sergeant James Carney, born a slave in Virginia who had escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts via the underground railroad, became the first black man awarded the Medal of Honor for risking his life to retrieve the American Flag from the Confederate forces that had captured it.

Sgt Fletcher grave Harmony Grove

Sergeant Fletcher Grave Harmony Grove Cemetery Salem

He would later work as a letter carrier and became a founding member of the National Association of Letter Carriers union.

After the Assault

The next day the Confederates unceremoniously dumped the bodies of the fallen into a mass grave at the base of the fort. Colonel Shaw’s body was recognized by the commander of the Confederate Forces, General Hagood, who wrote “Had he been in command of white troops, I should have given him an honorable burial; as it is, I shall bury him in the common trench with the n_____s that fell with him.”

The Union had suffered over 1,500 casualties, the brunt born by the 54th Massachusetts. Fort Wagner would remain in Confederate hands until September when they abandoned the position after a protracted siege (in which soldiers from Salem serving in the 24th Massachusetts, the 54th Massachusetts, and the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery also saw action). Charleston would not fall until February of 1865.

The wounded were sent to Hilton Head and Beauport SC, where Charlotte Forten would volunteer as a nurse after teaching her class.

Charlotte Forten

Charlotte Forten

Upon hearing of the death of her friend Colonel Shaw and of the decimation of the 54th Massachusetts she wrote in her diary: “It is too terrible, too terrible to write. We only hope that it may not all be true. That our noble, beautiful young Colonel is killed and the regiment cut to pieces! I cannot believe it. But oh, I am stunned, sick at heart. I can scarcely write…And oh I still must hope that our colonel, ours especially he seems to me, is not killed.” She was later informed by Major Hallowell that Colonel Shaw had left her his horse.


In the back of the Old Burying Point in Essex Massachusetts, there is a grave to Pvt Charles P. Reed of the 24th Massachusetts who died on August 1st 1863 at Hilton Head SC from wounds received during the assault on Fort Wagner. Someone loved him enough to find and bring his body home.

Charles P Reed headstone

Charles P. Reed Headstone

Luis Emilio would later write an incredible account of the 54th Massachusetts titled “The Brave Black Regiment”. It is a must read for anyone interested in the history of civil rights, the civil war, black history, or Salem history.

Luis Emilio grave Harmony Grove Salem

Luis Emilio Grave, Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem

The poem below, “The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground”, is from a popular song sung by black soldiers and abolitionists. The lyrics were inspired by the heroism of Sergeant William Carney at Fort Wagner.

One night on Southern battlefields,
down where Fort Wagner lay,
A regiment of black men fought,
The Blue against the Gray.
As the sun sank slowly in the West
A thunderstorm and gale
Wept tears to see the brave black troops
Shot down by leaden hail.
A negro saw the old flag fall
And threw his gun away
To grasp the falling colors staff
And lead them to the fray.
Twas the Blue against the Gray, Boys,
And he said to all around
“I’ve only done my duty boys,
The old Flag never touch’d the ground.”

Salem Flourished When It Was Dense

The previous post Salem is NOT Dense supplied statistics to show that Salem was more than twice as dense over a century ago as it is today, and recounted the thesis that the densest cities are those with the highest creativity and innovation. So, IF Salem was denser throughout the 19th century than it is in the 21st, and IF density correlates with creativity and innovation, THEN Salem should have been a hotbed of creativity and innovation throughout the 19th century.

And so it was. Let’s review some of the historical luminaries who trod the cobblestoned streets of Salem during the 19th century.

Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838; Salem native) — mathematician and statistician; Nathaniel_Bowditch_(1773-1838)founder of modern maritime navigation; America’s first insurance actuary; founder and first president of one of America’s earliest insurance companies the Essex Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Without Bowditch’s innovations in navigation and insurance Salem’s opening and dominance of the China Trade from the late 18th century through the early 19th century could never have occurred. The various Bowditch Schools in Salem were named for him.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864; Salem native) — Nathaniel_Hawthorne_by_Brady,_1860-64writer and novelist; author of two of the earliest and greatest American novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables; a founding father of American literature; a writer who more than anyone else first brought Salem to prominence in the imagination of the world. Hawthorne Boulevard in downtown Salem, with its imposing Hawthorne statue at its head, is named for him.

Charlotte Forten (1837-1914; Salem migrant) — Charlotte Forteneducator, poet, essayist, abolitionist, and suffragist; first African-American graduate of the Salem Normal School (which eventually morphed into the current Salem State University); one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women; possibly the first African American women to teach exclusively white students in a public school, and pertinent to the focus of this blog, at the Eppes Grammar School on Gallows Hill, the building for which still stands on Aborn St Ct.  Charlotte Forten Park on the Harborfront is named for her.

Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922; Salem migrant) —

HEZ-1158455 - © - Oxford Science Archivinventor, scientist, engineer; inventor of the first practical telephone; father of long distance telephone communications; founder of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) one of the world’s largest and long-lasting corporations; and to his discredit a prominent eugenicist. Bell gets nothing of prominence named for him in Salem but there are two plaques commemorating him, one on the side of the YMCA building that replaced the Sanders House where Bell resided during his years in Salem; one on Lyceum Hall (now a seafood restaurant) site of the first public demonstration of a long distance phone call.


Frank Cousins (1851-1925; Salem native) — Cousins COlonial Architectureeminent photographic artist; early practitioner and exponent of “street scene” photography; one of America’s earliest historical preservationists, promulgator of the Colonial Revival style of architecture. Nothing particularly memorable named for him in Salem today, although there is a Cousins St in the Waterfront District, but that’s named for his family and not for him in particular. Remarkable that two of America’s most widespread architectural genres, Colonial and Federal, both with origins in Salem, Colonial Revival with Cousins and Federal with McIntire.

Samuel McIntire (1757-1811; Salem native) — Samuel_McIntirecraftsman, furniture maker, architect; real estate developer; a founder (with Charles Bulfinch in Boston and Benjamin Latrobe in Philadelphia) of Federal architecture, the first uniquely American style of architecture. McIntire is more of the 18th century than the 19th, but gets included here in this list of Salem’s most creative and innovative as his greatest buildings were erected in the early 19th century. The McIntire Historic District west of downtown Salem is named for him.

Innovation and Creativity in the Collective, not the Individual

Naming of particular luminaries as just done makes it seem like in certain times and certain places more geniuses are born than in other times and places. But that is absurd. Instead, in certain times and places, when circumstances and culture are just right, the innovation and creativity inherent in all societies at all times comes to the fore. Innovation is in the collective. Some individuals may stand out more, but they spring out of a creative society, are not isolates in a non-creative culture. Let’s review several examples of collective creativity and innovation throughout 19th century Salem.

Innovation and Creativity in the China Trade  (ca. 1785-1815).
After the American Revolution Salem led all US ports in opening the lucrative China Trade, propelled by innovations in ship building, sailmaking, Yankee ingenuity in commercial trade, oceanic navigation (see Bowditch above) and especially maritime insurance (see Bowditch above). It was a “brief but dazzling period of commercial glory“. The glory did not persist long. Eventually, the small size of Salem’s harbor and the eventual shift to steam-propelled vessels doomed any chance of continuance of that glory.

Innovation and Creativity in the Leather Industry (ca. 1850-1950).
Hawthorne wrote of the doldrums in the maritime industry in his Custom House Introductory to The Scarlet Letter. His criticisms did not sit well with the Salem elders of the time, a conflict which eventually led to Hawthorne departing Salem for good. But Hawthorne did not foresee the tremendous innovation ongoing in leather manufacturing even as he wrote those words. Machines and procedures for currying, cutting, splitting, dying and tanning leather were constantly invented and refined throughout the late 19th century in workshops all across Salem. Small tanneries coalesced into larger and larger ones.

By the end of the 19th century Salem was the world’s capitol of leather (with a shout out to adjoining Peabody), with wealth to match. The Federal mansions in the McIntire District west of downtown may be of the China Trade, but the resplendent Queen Anne Victorians on the streets off the Salem Common east of downtown, or off Lafayette St in South Salem – those were erected with leather money.

What Leather Money Wrought – Resplendent Queen Anne Mansions.

Innovation and Creativity in Manufacturing (outside of leather). Two examples stand out. The Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company was the 1st major steam powered textile mill in America. Previous textile mills had been powered by rapid flowing river water. That power source had severe limitations. Rivers with sufficiently rapid flow were few and generally in isolated locations inconvenient to maritime transportation. That hindrance was overcome by changing the power source to steam. Now a plant could be situated harborside, cotton bales unloaded and stacks of fabric loaded just feet from the plant. Advancement of railroads at the same period that Naumkeag was developed (1839-1847) resolved the transportation drawbacks of riverside mills, but still. Steam-powered plants had been built before but never at the scale of Naumkeag. There had to have been innovations in steamfitting, boilermaking, pipefitting and all the auxiliary trades to make the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company possible. Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill
The Hygrade Incandescent  Lamp Company was the 1st assembly line manufacturer of light bulbs. Before Ford Motor Company promulgated assembly line manufacturing in 1913, light bulbs had been assembled all in one place by single workmen sitting at a workbench with all the constituent parts arranged in baskets before them. Even the most skilled craftsman could only produce a few dozen bulbs in a day. The advantage of assembly line manufacturing were almost instantly appreciated by the founders of Hygrade, but their plant in Danvers was too small to convert, and large industrial space in Salem was at a premium. Then a miracle occurred. The Great Salem Fire of 1914 opened up acres of land, and the board of Hygrade jumped to acquire a prime, and now empty, parcel in Blubber Hollow at the corner of Bridge and Boston Streets. A year after the disaster assembly line manufacturing of light bulbs was up and running, production output advanced several hundred fold.

Density Engenders Interconnectivity

Density alone does not creates bursts of innovation and creativity. Otherwise there would be periods of creativity at all times in hundreds of places. No, there also needs to be interconnectivity, also known as intimacy, the random bumping into each other of people with disparate expertise and backgrounds such that innovation and creativity can flourish.

Accordingly, it’s fun to speculate on the interconnections between the aforementioned Salem luminaries. Hawthorne was a young adult when Bowditch’s prominence was at its peak, so Hawthorne may have attended one of Bowditch’s many public lectures. Certainly coming from a seafaring family young Nate had to be aware of Bowditch’s contributions. Similarly Hawthorne was at the peak of his prominence when Forten attended Salem Normal School. The young poetess surely was aware of his writings, though Hawthorne resided in England during the years Forten lived in Salem. In 1877 the young Cousins, tech alert as he was with his interest in the novel camera, could only have been drawn to the first public demonstration of the telephone in Lyceum Hall.

Telephone Demonstration Lyceum Hall 1877

Perhaps Frank Cousins was in this large crowd.

And certainly Bowditch was aware of McIntire, for after all the Bowditch House was in Federal style, following McIntire’s style ethos though not actually designed by McIntire.

Bowditch House North St Salem

The Bowditch House on North St is classic McIntire Federal style.

Migrant vs. Native

Not all the luminaries listed above were Salem natives. Another antecedent for creativity and innovation in a place, besides density and intimacy, is immigration. Wise authorities in all eras, hoping to boost creativity and energy in their jurisdiction, know to encourage immigration. Even Hawthorne, as old line Salem as could get, his ancestors having arrived in Salem in 1630, understood the power of fresh blood:

It contributes greatly towards a man’s moral and intellectual health, to be brought into habits of companionship with individuals unlike himself, who care little for his pursuits, and whose sphere and abilities he must go out of himself to appreciate.

Salem Overachieved Given its Size

Through most of the 19th century Salem wasn’t at all big, 10,000 – 20,000, shooting up to its peak population of ~45,000 only in the last third of the 19th century. Salem Population ChartBut those people were crammed into a small space, only one to two square miles, so intimacy must have been high. Essentially just what today is downtown Salem, between the North River and the harbor north to south, Webb St to Boston St east to west. Hence density must have been extraordinarily high, 15,000 to 20,000 per square mile, about what is Somerville or the South End of Boston today. People with new ideas and new innovation must have bumped into each other all the time.

Salem Hospital 1920-3

As late as 1920 Salem Hospital occupied a “country” location along upper Highland Ave., having recently relocated there after its original buildings on Derby St burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1914.

So Salem represents a prime lesson that for creativity and innovation to flourish, size doesn’t matter (so much), but density really does matter.


Salem is NOT Dense

With all the hullabaloo over a modest Alternative Dwelling Unit (ADU) proposal for Salem, much of the opposition has come with whines that: Salem is too Dense; What we don’t need are new people; density alters the character of our neighborhood, density bad, density, density, density. Putting aside the benefits of density, and of ADUs, for later, this post treats the related question of whether Salem is, or ever was, dense.

Salem a Century Ago Twice as Dense as Today

Salem Population Charts

Earlier posts covered some of this material before (here, and here, and here, and here), but it bears reiterating. Salem reached its highest population in 1910 more than a century ago, a bit more than it is today. But a century ago less than half of the land of Salem was developed. Nothing below roughly the Jackson St axis was inhabited. No Vinnin Square, no West Salem, no Witchcraft Heights. Even the Northfields area, on the inhabited side of the Jackson St. line, was still mostly orchards and pastures.

Salem Map 1891

Salem at the turn of the 20th century.  Neighborhoods indicated.

So roughly the same population distributed over half the territory means that Salem was TWICE as dense then as it is today. The people of the time enjoyed their more crowded lives, and showed none of the ill-effects that opponents of ADU measures would have you believe should Salem of today get an eensy-teensy bit more dense.

Note that in the population curve above that Salem’s growth rate at the turn of the 19th century was on a path to double in population every 20 years. That never came to pass, as the Great Fire of 1914 kicked the wind out of Salem, a disaster from which Salem, to this day, has not fully recovered.

Salem is Low Density Relative to Its Neighbors

A day of meticulous curation of Wikipedia data produced the table below. Salem is far down on the list of densest Massachusetts cities.

Table of Population Densities

Area in square miles; density in population per sq. mi.

Of Massachusetts small cities (small defined arbitrarily as less than 10 square miles) only Newburyport has a density less than Salem. (And until I compiled these data never thought of N’port as a city, as just a bucolic village).

Somerville is four times denser that Salem. And nobody in Somerville feels that they live in an overcrowded hellhole. Boston and Everett almost 2.5 times denser. Even Melrose and Watertown, both idyllic uncrowded cities, are denser than Salem.

Salem Lags Its Neighbors in Growth

Once you’ve laboriously compiled one population table compiling another is no big deal. The table shows how Salem and each of its Essex County neighbors have grown in the past century.Table of Population Growth

In a time when Essex County nearly doubled in population, and some neighboring communities tripled (Peabody, Danvers) or doubled (Beverly, Marblehead) in population, Salem actually lost significant population. The only other community to lose population in Essex County was the old mill town Lawrence. Lynn lost also, as it grew to 102K in 1930, dropped precipitously to 78K in 1980 (a 25% decline in just 50 years), and only in the last 20 years has regained a vestige of its erstwhile population numbers.

The drop is even more stunning in that the 2nd half of the 20th century saw the habitation of the “wilds” of Highland Ave with large developments like Witchcraft Heights. But disperse single family development cannot have made up for widespread loss of multifamily buildings in central Salem.

For more than a century Salem has not flourished.

Benefits of Density

The benefits of density are too varied to summarize in a few sentences, but this quote will suffice for present purposes.

The problem isn’t cities and density. Density is the solution: It’s what fosters innovation, creates jobs, manufactures wealth, welcomes diversity, makes culture blossom. It’s not some weird historical fluke that the world-class cities across the globe are also the densest.

Left out of that quote is that density fortifies resilency (ability to recover from shocks like COVID-19) and sustainability (ability to withstand climate change). To delve further into the benefits of density a great source is The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida. And seemingly half the stories on the magnificent blog And a special issue of National Geographic devoted entirely to the benefits of dense cities.

Density v. Intimacy

Though density is neccessary for a city to flourish, even a small city like Salem, density alone does not mean that a city does flourish. What’s actually needed is intimacy, central places where citizens bump together into productive interactions. Ancient Athens was dense and had its agoras; Golden Age Holland was dense and had its guilds; Renaissance Florence was dense and had its workshops; Silicon Valley was dense and had its radio and computer geek clubs; and so forth. To riposte a saying from my prior scientific career, density is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. To delve further into the counterpoise between intimacy and density a great source is The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner.

But this is digression. Density is necessary for a city to flourish. ADUs are but one (minor) way to restore the density that Salem once enjoyed. Salem has had a significant but incomplete flourishing in the last 20 years as its century-long population losses have gradually become reversed. Let’s not put a halt to that resurgence by banning ADUs.

Salem, Interrupted

In the time of contagion a meandering amble from the top of Gallows Hill into downtown Salem spots things to ponder.

The rehabilitation of the skate park and ball fields in Gallows Hill Park advances haltingly. Workers show up only half the days in a week. Originally estimated for completion by summer 2020, a mid-2021 date will be fortunate. As the snide saying goes: one year behind six months in. Why hurry, as no telling when even parks not under reconstruction will ever be permitted to reopen.


The poor drainage will get fixed as well.

At least the mystery of why all Trash cans in the park were removed in June 2019 is resolved. Initial projections that park closure and demolition would begin in late spring got delayed by months, but the orders had already gone out to Parks & Rec Dept. to remove all barrels. In the busy summer to follow, visitors unable to discard burger wrappers and soda cans just left them strewn about on the ground. Not even the most assiduous plogging efforts of passing dog walkers could keep up. When demolition finally did begin in October all that litter was shoveled up and dropped into dumpsters along with demolished park equipment, so problem solved, in a way.

The paths through the woods and up the hill itself are carpeted with the appealing dainty blue flowers of woodland periwinkle. Few pass by to notice this harbinger of (long-deferred) Spring. 000_0438

At the basketball court atop the park plastic orange traffic columns wrapped with yellow warning ribbons alert hopeful hoopsters to the dire situation. With the blustery rainstorms of April the columns get blown over and the ribbons shredded. Diligent parks workers return to restore the line, but the next storm the day after topples all the columns again. With little else to do the almost daily restorations keeps otherwise idle Parks & Rec workers occupied.000_0437

Over at the Senior Center in Blubber Hollow, Kelly green table centerpiece decorations and a tree decorated with leprechaun hats still hold sway over the long vacant cafeteria, leftover from St. Patrick’s Day festivities due to be held the day the Center was shut down. Around the corner several tables hold half completed jigsaw puzzles, perhaps never to be finished. The shrubberies outside are fragrant with freshly strew black mulch. Some care still gets provided.000_0441

In front of the Senior Center the regular Freight Train passes twice weekly, each Tuesday and Thursday, bound for the Rousselot Peabody gelatin factory, but now its whistle penetrates sharply further into the still neighborhoods of Salem.

At the top of Blubber Hollow, at the train station, homeless groups have set up encampments in the vestibules about the stairwells of the cavernously empty parking garage. No commuters trudging up and down the stairs to perturb them. Every few days a T police officer stops by and shoos them out, but within days, sometimes hours, others take their place. Joining them are birds – robins and mourning doves and even a pair of cardinals – setting up housekeeping on the upper unreachable and quiet ledges of the vestibule windows.

Several construction projects downtown have picked up the pace, unfettered by traffic and crowds that would otherwise congest the streets in spring and slow materiel deliveries. The six-story-high elevators / utilities shaft for the Brix condominiums (promising Unbeatable Urban Living) went up startlingly quick. The hoped for occupancy date of Summer 2021 might be able to be pushed up by months.


Despite hand-wringing over height still shorter than former fire hose drying tower behind it.

On the other end of Washington St downtown, construction of the Riley Plaza East Hotel & Condos has accelerated, after years of frustrating delays in even getting underway. Predicted to open just in time for Halloween this year, opening might actually be July, though guests might be lacking for some time to come. Hiring for the hundreds of needed hospitality workers had been underway as far back as early winter, but those efforts have been paused indefinitely.

At the other side of Riley Plaza, Steve’s Market, the only grocery market remaining downtown where once there were more than a dozen, bursts with activity. The bulging wares from almost daily deliveries spill over from the sidewalk into the middle of now traffic-free High St, clerks hustling about to get it all inside before the never-ending rains of April return.

Heading back to Gallows Hill along Essex St. past the lonely saxophone busker who plays lamentable tunes with few to listen, the formidable Public Library stands forlorn, its book return chute jammed full, no librarians to come and re-shelve the returns.

Blubber Hollow Construction Update in The Time of Contagion.

Although construction still proceeds in Blubber Hollow and environs, this post is written with especial poignancy, since in the face of expanding COVID-19 contagion it might all grind to a halt at any moment. A normally boilerplate accounting of building starts and building openings becomes something more … resonant.

Former Salem Oil & Grease Plant

At the time of the last update the foundations to the five remaining townhouses at the otherwise completed River Rock project between Boston and Goodhue Streets had just been poured. Months later and no further construction, though the site has been screened with mesh fencing and a large dumpster and Port-o-Potty, both signs of impending construction.

River Rock townhouse foundations

Nothing ado at River Rock Townhouses

So with work at River Rock stalled, attention turns further up Goodhue St to the site of deceased Salem Oil & Grease spanning the North River. A 130-unit apartment complex is planned, but site clearance is taking years. Once comprised of eight large buildings, they’ve been getting demolished staccato style, one or two per year. Only the former storage / warehouse building on the Beaver St side remains. It windows removed, its roof stripped off, its coup de grace delayed by COVID-19.


Last standing building of Salem Oil & Grease campus

The map cribbed from Google Maps below shows the approximate year of elimination of each of the eight buildings.

Salem Oil & Grease 2020

Slow but steady progress of elimination. Approx. location of Peter Sims & Sons Tannery at 44R Beaver St at upper left

Riverview Place (former Salem Suede tannery)

Floating down the North River several hundred yards from the Salem Oil & Grease site brings us to the site of Salem Suede on Flint St, another immense but now gone leather factory. Construction of its replacement, the Riverview Place apartments, is proceeding apace despite the COVID-19 restrictions. 000_0427
Of the two new buildings the more westerly is up and roofed since the last update, with cladding about to be added. The other building will be topped off any day now, so long as Gov. Baker continues to rank construction as an essential business.

This blog opined that the design of the building was a homage to the massive factories that once occupied the site, but a view of the back of St. James Church, catty-corner to Riverview place across the Flint St / Bridge St intersection, raises another possibility.Riverview Place
The large three stories-high four-paneled arched black frame windows set in a red-brick wall along the front of Riverview Place echo the large three stories-high four-paneled arched black frame windows set in a red-brick wall along the back of St. James Church. St James ChurchA cardinal precept of contemporary architecture is to reflect the “vernacular context”, that is, mirror in the design, but not apishly copy, any notable structures near you. Whether intentional or not, the architects of Riverview Place have followed that cardinal precept to the letter. The church windows may have more “arch” than the Riverview Place windows, but it is a Gothic Revival church. The precept is to reflect, not copy, after all.

Townhouses at Bridge St Auto

000_0429Across the North River from Riverview Place, and a few addresses up Bridge St from St. James, is where four new townhouses are getting built, replacing the Bridge St Auto Service Center that operated for generations at 331 Bridge St. Construction is proceeding rapidly, with roofing and cladding added since this blog last checked in, no slowdown at all in the month of COVID-19. The siting is strange, in that it is the rear of the townhouses that butts up against Bridge St, while the front of the townhouses, and garage entries, faces inside to a spacious interior parking area accessed via a driveway between 126 and 128 Federal St. So future residents will experience the noisy hum of busy Bridge St without actually having to struggle to drive onto busy Bridge St.

Townhouses at Ice Cream Way


Hopping back across the North River and up a bit from Riverview Place encounters Ice Cream Way on South Mason St. Ice Cream Way is a mature project, with three earlier phases (two townhouse blocks of 13 units and a conversion of an abandoned ice cream factory into 10 condo units) completed and occupied. Only the third townhouse block, pictured above, remains to finish, and with no apparent reduction of the construction force on site should be ready to move in by June. Don’t even consider putting in a bid on any, as all are accounted for. Two of them actually sold before shovels touched the ground!

Ditto with all the other unfinished townhouses mentioned in this post, the five at River Rock and the four at Bridge St Auto. All spoken for. Rather belies the commonly heard assertion “no one would want to live in that kind of home?”

The Great Tanneries of Salem. Part 3. Outside Gallows Hill/Blubber Hollow

The third, and last, part of this journey through the special July 1917 issue of Shoe and Leather Reporter dedicated to the Great Tanneries of Salem, covers the tanneries, allied trades, and shoe factories scattered throughout the rest of Salem outside of Blubber Hollow and Gallows Hill.Though this area at the conjunction of Boston St and Bridge St was the epicenter of the leather industry, leather factories were scattered throughout all the other neighborhoods of Salem – North Salem, South Salem, the Waterfront District, even the pristine peninsular neighborhoods of Bridge St Neck and Salem Neck.

Henry K. Barnes Co

Henry K Barnes Co

Henry K. Barnes Co.; Address: 7 Irving St; Proprietor: Henry K Barnes; Specialty: leather belting manufacturer; Neighborhood: North Salem, Mack Park area

Up in North Salem tucked behind Mack Park (in 1917 Ledge Hill Park) operated the Henry K. Barnes tannery. Henry K Barnes Co Ad
Their specialty was one not yet met in these tours of Salem’s leather factories, heavy leather belts used in machinery and for firefighting hoses. The buildings razed decades ago, the site expropriated by the City of Salem for non-payment of taxes, and nothing yet to replace it, not even plans for something to replace it.

Templer Leather Co

Templar Leather Co

Templer Leather Co; Address: 9-11 Franklin St; Proprietor: William L Templer; Specialty: horse butts; Neighborhood: North Salem, Northfields area

In Northfields on the other side of North Salem, in a heavily industrialized zone along the North River, operated the Templar Leather Company, producing durable leather for shoe and boot uppers, with special expertise in tanning horse butts. Yes horse butts were a thing. That building, along with many neighboring factories along Franklin St, is long gone, though Franklin St, just a short walk from downtown Salem, even today remains industrialized.

11 Franklin St

11 Franklin St today

E. S. Woodbury Company

ES Woodbury Co

E. S. Woodbury Co; Address: 51 Canal St; Proprietor: Edwin S Woodbury; Specialty: women’s shoes manufacturing; Neighborhood: South Salem

Jumping over downtown to South Salem finds several leather factories, the closest to downtown being E. S. Woodbury Co., manufacturer of fine women’s and misses’ shoes. With Executive and marketing offices, like so many other Salem leather firms, in the Leather District of Boston. The building is long gone, and today the site is occupied by a large Salem Car Wash facility. Sill industrial, perhaps, in some backhanded way.


J T Hopkins’ Sons

JT Hopkins Sons

J T Hopkins’ Sons; Address: rear 51 Canal St; Proprietors: Joseph A and Frank A Hopkins; Specialty: girls shoe manufacturing; Neighborhood: South Salem

Sharing the same location at 51 Canal St with E. S. Woodbury, in the rear, was another shoe manufacturer, J. T. Hopkins’ Sons, also with a specialty in women’s shoes, but focused on the younger set. It rings odd that the Hopkins firm opted for the awkward possessive rather than “& Sons” conjunction as other father-son companies did.

It cannot be readily determined from the images of the 1917 plants, one a photo and the other an artist’s conception, whether there were two plants side-by-side or whether the two firms shared the same building, like the Aulson & Sons and Merrow Machine Co leather machinery firms in the previous blog post. Nevertheless, it’s a car wash operation that fills the site today.

Jonathan Brown & Sons

Jonathan Brown & Sons

Jonathan Brown & Sons; Address: 242 Canal St; Proprietors: Jonathan Jr, George A & Edward T Brown; Specialty: shoe manufacturing; Neighborhood: South Salem

Going farther into South Salem, at the other end of Canal St, was another shoe manufacturer, J. Brown & Sons. The address given (242 Canal St) no longer exists, having been replaced by a newer street, Tulip St. The very name of the street gives away its mid-century origins, sounding more like a flowery street name in a split-level subdivision than a gritty industrial zone. J. Brown & Sons was a shoe manufacturer, one in an apparent cluster of shoe manufacturers along Canal Street, though the types of shoes manufactured is not specified.

242 Canal St today

242 Canal St today

R. M. S. Leather Company

RMS Leather Co

R. M. S. Leather Co.; Address: 36 Broadway;  Proprietor: Irving W Skilton; Specialty: leather tannery;  Neighborhood: South Salem

A short walk from J. Brown & Sons, and like it backing up onto a spur off the B&M Railroad line, stood the R. M. S. Leather Company. Their specialty was durable shoe upper leather.

The site is empty of all buildings today, and belongs to Thomas Mackey & Sons, excavators and general contractors, which has its headquarters next door at 58 Broadway. Mackey & Sons uses the large two-acre site for equipment storage and trash accumulation. To those to whom the Mackey name rings familiar, it is the same family whose scion, Herb Mackey, is responsible for the Ferry Wharf sculpture garden, a Salem’s most delightful “unknown” attraction. Much of the junk collected at the former J. Brown & Sons site ends up in the “amazing metal creatures assembled by Mr. Herb Mackey.”

Herb Mackey Sculpture Garden

Gate to Mackey Sculpture Garden. Note the sign over the door to the original occupation in 1904 of the original Thomas Mackey.

Daniel Glover & Son

Daniel Glover & Son shoe company

Daniel Glover & Son; Address: 76-78 Lafayette; Proprietor: John M Glover; Specialty: boys’ shoe manufacturing; Neighborhood: Downtown

Few leather factories graced downtown Salem, which in 1917 was almost exclusively retail and offices, but one which did was the Daniel Glover & Son (just one?) shoe manufacturer on Lafayette St. The building still stands, gracing the busy corner of Lafayette and New Derby, no longer industrial having gone commercial. Current Salem eaters will recognize the building as the home of Howling Wolf Taqueria. Even the ornate cornice remains intact.76 Lafayette St today

Barron-Tuttle Tanning Company

Barron-Tuttle Tanning Co

Barron-Tuttle Tanning Co; Address: 1-9 Cousins St; Proprietor: Fred B. Barron; Specialty: diverse leather manufacturing; Neighborhood: Waterfront District

Heading up along Derby St into the Waterfront District was another cluster of leather factories. The Barron-Tuttle Tanning Company had a diverse set of wares, including the aforeseen but still intriguing horse butts. The firm’s president Fred B. Barron had his home around the corner in one of the grand Queen Anne homes along Forrester St. The dilapidated building survived unto the 21st century, giving way at last in 2005 to a row of suburban-styled townhouses.

C & H Leather Company

C & H Leather Co

C & H Leather Co; Address: 3 Fort Avenue; Neighborhood: Waterfront District at base of Salem Neck

At the eastern edge of the Waterfront District, on Fort Avenue where it enters into Salem Neck, operated the C & H Leather Company. Nothing about the specialty or ownership of the tannery can be found in the 1917 Salem Directory, but a google search finds a retail establishment of the same name (C & H Custom Leathers) selling men’s leather goods out of a storefront on Main St in downtown Peabody, near the Salem line. Surely the same name cannot be a coincidence.

The building is long gone, the forlorn nearly two-acre acre site seized by the City of Salem for non-payment of taxes. There are no plans for development of the site, and today its serves as a staging area for the ongoing replacement of water and sewer pipes along nearby Essex and Derby streets. The Collins Cove bike trail ends at the site on Szetela Lane, and may never reach its planned terminus at Derby St.

Russell-Sim Tanning Company

Russell-Sim Tanning Co

Russell-Sim Tanning Co; Address: 10 Blaney St; Proprietors: Henry L Russell, Chester B Sim; Specialty: upper leathers; Neighborhood: Waterfront District

The foot of Ferry Wharf was once filled with the building of the Russell-Sim Tanning Company, specialist in preparation of leather for shoe uppers. Today the area is a parking lot for travelers on the Salem-Boston ferry, and for those in the know, free parking (except on Halloween itself) convenient to downtown Salem.

Blaney Wharf today

Site where Russell-Sims Tanning Company once stood

In a small world conjunction, Herb Mackey of Mackey & Sons, met above in the overview of R. M. S. Leather Co. in South Salem, was the backhoe operator who tore down the Russell-Sim factory. He later settled on Ferry Wharf and opened his delightful sculpture garden just across the driveway from the site (just to the left of the streetview photo).

Lynch Bros. Leather Company

Lynch Bros Leather Co

Lynch Bros. Leather Co; Address: 18-20 Skerry St; Proprietors: Patrick J, David S & William A Lynch; Today: Carlton School; Neighborhood: Bridge Street Neck

The last leather factory in this series of posts, the Lynch Bros. Leather Company tannery, was perhaps the only leather factory in the Bridge Street Neck neighborhood. The grimy site next to the B&M tracks, today next to the Salem-Beverly Bypass, is a rare example of repurposing, as today the Carlton Innovation School fills the site. Far too many other vacated factory sites lie fallow today.

The Great Tanneries of Salem. Part 2. Blubber Hollow

Continuing through the special July 1917 issue of Shoe and Leather Reporter dedicated to the Great Tanneries of Salem, here are posted Then and Now photos of the tanneries, allied trades, and shoe factories scattered throughout Blubber Hollow.With The Allied Trades

Gill Leather Company

Gill Leather Co

The Gill Leather Company at 2 Goodhue St was not included in the special Salem issue of Shoe and Leather Reporter, but the compelling photo from the same period rings out such a tale of Salem history that it had to be included.  2 Goodhue St
Bridge St, on the right in the vintage photo, is so much wider today that the corner upon which the factory stood is vanished, covered over by the right lanes of the widened Bridge St. The automobile in front of the factory in the vintage photo would be parked in the middle of the crosswalk today. Two other leather factories up Goodhue St, at 4 and 8, are gone as well, the whole assemblage replaced by grass, asphalt, and a Public Storage facility set well back from the corner.  Where once was a bustling hive of commerce and industry today is … crickets. Literally.

O’Keefe & Hall Leather Company

OKeefe & Hall Leather Co

O’Keefe & Hall Leather Co. Address: 4 Goodhue St; Proprietor: Thomas A. O’Keefe; Specialty: undisclosed; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

Next to the Gill Leather Co. on Goodhue St was the O’Keefe & Hall Leather Co. The poor quality vintage photo pictures the factory from the rear, where the railroad tracks hug the North River. A better view of the front of the factory is available in the photo above of the Gill Leather factory.

Workers at both plants on the northeast corner of what is now sometimes called the Four Corners intersection (because current Wards 2, 3, 4 and 6 meet in this intersection) would have viewed with great alarm the Great Salem Fire of 1914, which originated across the street on the southwest corner. Fortunately a strong wind blew the flames in the opposite direction, and the factories on Goodhue St were spared, though embers did float down upon them.

Helburn Thompson Company

Helburn Thompson Tannery 1917

Helburn Thompson Company; Address: 18 Goodhue St; Proprietors: Julius Helburn, J Willard Helburn, Alvah Thompson;  Specialty: fine leather; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

The next of the triad of leather factories along the east side of Goodhue St was the Helburn Thompson Co, which called its plant here the Sunshine Tannery (echoes of the Sunshine Laundry today one block away on Boston St. Helburn Thompson Ad 1917
Their specialty was the delicate and fine sheepskin used for woman’s gloves, mostly the elbow-length type that Hollywood ingenues sported in the 1950’s. The entire purpose of the town of Gloversville NY, where Helburn Thompson maintained a branch office, was to manufacture such gloves. But styles change, and by the 1960’s no society woman would sport such gloves. The economy of Gloversville died, and with it the raison d’etre for Helburn Thompson. Note also that the firm was not averse to displaying a witch on broomstick motif in their advertising, decades before raucous Halloween celebrations became the norm in Salem.Helburn Thompson site today
Today much of the site is occupied by the North River “Luxury” Apartment building (no contemporary apartment building is ever less than luxury) at 28 Goodhue St.

Cass & Daley Shoe Company

Cass & Daley Shoe Co

Cass & Daley Shoe Co; Address: 28 Goodhue St, with subsidiary operations at 24 Saunders St and 11 Putnam St; Proprietors: William F & William R Cass and Joseph E Daley; Specialty: shoes for males of all ages; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

As the banner heralds, Salem was once also famous for its shoes. Next to meet heading up Goodhue past the three tanneries already covered was the Cass and Daley Shoe Co. In the photo earlier of the Helburn Thompson plant, the Cass & Daley plant can be noted peeking over the left. Cass & Daley lasted until the last quarter of the 20th century, but the building stood hulking alongside the North River up to 2011, when the derelict remains was finally demolished to make way for the aforementioned North River Luxury Apartments. Cass & Daley Shoe Co Ad
Note also the capacity. That’s a whole lot of shoes made daley daily for wholesome “Little Gents”.

Salem Oil & Grease Company

Salem Oil & Grease 1917

Salem Oil & Grease Co.; Address: 60 Grove St; Proprietors: H. T. N. Smith, H. W. Pierce, & M. S. Smith; Specialty: leather grease and oil manufacturing; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

Continuing up Goodhue St to the point where it merges into Grove St is the site of Salem Oil & Grease, which produced all sorts of lubricants and emollients used in the leather industry. The company sold its products globally, but when the leather tanneries about it closing down like the Hemingway character (At first gradually. Then suddenly), its métier dissolved. Some form of the firm stayed operating until the 90’s, but then the rotting campus of eight buildings was abandoned.Salem Oil & Grease 1917 Ad
Long-delayed plans are for a major housing development at this eight-acre site, as the buildings slowly but surely are demolished. Last year the two wood-frame front buildings were removed; this past December backhoes rapidly clawed apart the central brick building visible in the streetview below.60 Grove St today

All that’s left standing as of this writing is the grey garage building at the left of the streetview. And the bridge between buildings spanning the North River remains. Why all isn’t ripped down in one fell swoop has something to do with EPA regulations, which mandate thorough soil testing before demolition can progress.Salem Oil & Grease development

Perhaps by late 2021 construction can begin, a decade past when the plans depicted above were approved.

Peter Sim and Sons

Peter Sim & Sons

Peter Sim & Sons; Address: 40R Beaver St; Proprietors: Robert J, Francis D and Peter A Sim; Specialty: sheepskins; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

Around the corner from Salem Oil & Grease, at 40 Rear Beaver St, operated the Peter Sim & Sons tannery, projecting from the bluff of Beaver St down into the hollow just behind Salem Oil & Grease and up against the North River, from the edge of which was taken the 1917 photo. Little trace can be found today of this once formidable tannery, and all that’s left is a vacant lot at 40 Beaver St depicted in the streetview.

Peter Sim Leather Reporter 1919

Blurb from Leather & Shoes, Vol. 57, 1919

Donn D. Sargent Co.

Donn D. Sargent Co

Donn D. Sargent Co; Address: 407 Bridge St; Proprietor: Donn D. Sargent; Specialty: women’s shoes; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

Skipping back across the North River to Bridge St stood the Donn D. Sargent Co, shoe, actually boot, manufacturer, at the exact site where the Salem Community Life Center, or Senior Center, has operated since 2018.Donn D. Sargent Co blurb.jpg

J. W. Aulson & Sons and Merrow Machine Co

JW Aulson & Sons

J. W. Aulson & Sons; Proprietor: John W Aulson; Address: 7-9 Oak St; Specialty: leather working machinery; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow;

These two leather machinery firms are bunched together because they shared a single building, along the North River directly across from today’s Senior Center.

Merrow Machine Co

Merrow Machine Co; Address: 7-9 Oak St; Specialty: hide and leather working machinery; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

The building still stands today, though in greatly modified form, and is home to J’s Automotive Warehouse and its subsidiary Rolls Battery of New England.

Merrow factory today

Former Aulson / Merrow leather machinery factory viewed from Senior Center across Bridge St

Leviseur & Conway Co

Leviseur & Conway Co

Leviseur & Conway Co; Address: 72 Flint St; Proprietors: Louis Leviseur & Charles A Conway; Specialty; morocco leather; Neighborhood: Blubber Hollow

Last in this tour of leather factories of Blubber Hollow, only a block apart from the machinery companies just considered, is Leviseur & Conway Company tannery, producers of fine Morocco leather. What is Morocco leather, you may ask: a soft pliable high-grade leather generally made from goatskin. The extent of the factory is deceiving in the 1917 photo, as there were other buildings of large dimension behind it. Leviseur & Conway Co today
When Leviseur & Conway closed the building was taken over by Salem Suede, which in in 1917 was a smaller firm located nearby in North Salem. Salem Suede soldiered through severe environmental despoilation up to the cusp of the 21st century, being the last working tannery in Salem to go kaput. The buildings razed and the site left empty for a decade, it is finally getting resurrected as apartments, their chic industrial design a homage to the industrial buildings that once filled the site. Initially designated Riverview Place, but recently renamed as Halstead Salem Station. The “Salem Station” is a nod to the nearby Salem commuter rail and bus station, with a car-free protected bike path to connect the two stations when all is said and done.

Riverview Place

Halstead Salem Station now under construction

The Great Tanneries of Salem. Part 1. Gallows Hill

In 1917 the trade periodical Shoe and Leather Reporter devoted its July issue to the Great Tanneries of Salem. Now thanks to the work of the Digital Commons at Salem State University that whole issue comes available as an enchanting high-resolution PDF.  It was only three years after the Great Salem Fire had knocked the stuffing out of the leather industry, destroying some 20 leather factories. Boosterism fills the pages, starting with the title “The GREAT Tanneries of Salem”. Proud photos of factory after factory. Bursting advertisements of the great wares offered.Great Tanneries of Salem Banner

A little over a century later all is vanished. As an act of pious reflection this blog presents a full set of here and now comparisons: the locations depicted in 1917; the locations today.

Whereas the Shoe and Leather Reporter split its coverage of leather factories into three by trade: tanneries, allied trades (machinery and lubricants), and shoes, reporting here is to be geographic: Gallows Hill in this post, then Blubber Hollow factories and factories elsewhere in Salem in subsequent posts.

Arthur J. Mulholland Company

Arthur J. Mulholland Co 18 Proctor St

Arthur J. Mulholland Co. Address: 18 Proctor St; Proprietor: A. J. Mulholland; Specialty: sheepskin and goatskin tanning; Neighborhood: Gallows Hill

Facing Proctor’s Ledge, just steps from where 19 unfortunates were hanged in 1692, not only does the building still stand little changed from 1917, but so far as can be told it is the only entity left in Salem still engaged in the leather trade. Those lastings, or uppers, on your New Balance sneakers? They get stamped out here, at the Malik Embossing Corp.Arthur J Mulholland Co AdThe Mulholland, now Malik, building is also the home of the Gallows Hill Artists’ Studios, filling the third floor of the portion depicted in the photo.

Prospect Leather Co.

Prospect Leather Factory

Prospect Leather Co. Address: 14 Prospect (Butler) St; Proprietors: John J Danaher and Edward J Carbrey; Specialty: leather tanning; Neighborhood: Gallows Hill

This tannery stood on Prospect St (now Butler St), squeezed in on a narrow lot between two three-family houses. In the vintage photo the house on the right has been cropped out, but the house on the left seems unchanged today. For those who care to know: “Alum tanning makes the leather white and very water-sensitive.” (Courtesy of the Leather Dictionary).

Prospect Leather site today

14 Butler St today

Look closely and remnants of the factory foundation can be discerned shimmering through the sod. The Prospect Co. tannery stood on a ledge above what is now the Dairy Witch. Word has it that digging behind the Dairy Witch will unearth leather fragments, and who can tell what poisons. Hard to imagine that people lived an arm’s length from such a toxin-spewing factory, but close integration of industrial into residential areas was once common.

The lot will likely stay empty indefinitely, or until mid-20th century Salem zoning regulations are updated to meet 21st century realities. The lot is zoned single-family, but only a four-plex would be financially feasible, given the daunting clean-up costs and given that half of the lot is vertiginous ledge.

F. A. Buckley Co.

Buckley Co Nichols St

Buckley Leather Company. Address: 6 Nichols St; Proprietor: F. A. Buckley; Specialty: sheepskin tanning; Neighborhood: Gallows Hill

Over at the foot of Nichols St was the Buckley Tannery (though the view in the vintage photo is from the rear on Hanson St). The business, specialist in sheepskins, is gone, but the modified building (note flat roof replacing the gabled roof) remains, occupied by a chemical chromatography firm on the first floor, and apartments on the two floors above, so mixed industrial / residential.

Buckley Leather Factory today

6 Nichols St today

Acme Leather Company

Acme Leather Factory Pope St

Acme Leather Co. Address: 11 Pope St; Proprietors: Mary A Sullivan & Rose E MacNeil; Neighborhood: Gallows Hill

The Acme Leather Co., another sheepskin specialist, stood on the other side of Proctor’s Ledge, right next to the Proctor’s Ledge Witchcraft Trials Memorial. Acme was remarkable in that it was the only Salem tannery owned and operated by women. Today it is a four-unit condominium trust of modest Cape Cod homes, built only in 1980 after the factory was razed years before. When the memorial was constructed in 2017 remnants of the factory (pipes, metal bars, etc) were unearthed.

Cook Bros. Leather Company

Cook Bros. Leather Factory 50 Proctor

Cook(e) Bros. Leather Co. Address: 50 Proctor St; Proprietors: Edwin and Charles A. Cook; Specialty: calfskin tanning;  Neighborhood: Gallows Hill

Further up Pope St, where it crosses Proctor St, stood the mammoth Cook (variously Cooke) Bros. factory, on what is the Mansell Playground portion of Gallows Hill Park.

Acme Leather Factory 1912

Cooke Bros. Leather Factory – view from the rear

The toxic detritus left behind when this factory was razed is why the Mansell Playground portion of the park has been closed for more than a year.

Mansell Playground 2018

50 Proctor St today

Dane Machine Co

Dane Machine Co 31R Boston St

Dane Machine Co. Address: 31R Boston St; Proprietor: J Webster Dane; Specialty: Leather Machinery; Neighborhood: Gallows Hill

On the Gallows Hill side of Boston St once operated the Dane Machine Co, manufacturers of all machines needed to prepare leather – rollers, splitters, buffers, shavers. This firm is remarkable in that it was the first to re-open in the burn zone after the 1914 Great Salem Fire, which annihilated everything on that end of Boston St. In the vintage photo it is evident that the building was erected hastily, but even so it remains is use, today home to the Salem Auto Body Co, so still an industrial use. The building looks much the same today except for loss of the massive smokestack.

Associated Tanners Machinery Co

Assoc Tanners Machinery Co 424 Essex

Associated Tanners Machinery Co. Address: 424 Essex St; Proprietor: could not find; Specialty: tanning machinery; Neighborhood: Gallows Hill

Over at the far edge of Gallows Hill at 424 Essex St once operated the Associated Tanners Machinery Co. Today it is gone, a CVS strip mall in its place. Or at last most of it is gone. The dismal outbuilding at 430 Essex was purportedly repurposed as an office mall, but today is home to empty office suites except for the True Gospel Baptist Church. 430 Essex StIn the 1917 photo the dormers of 436 Essex St apartments, virtually unchanged today, poke above the only building left of the Associated Tanners Machinery factory.

Associated Tanners Machinery was lucky to escape the Great Salem Fire. The flames licked at the edge of the building but did not take it down. The 1917 photo was taken standing in the burn zone.

End-of-year Construction Update

With the year over a good time to assess construction in and near Blubber Hollow.

River Rock Apartments and Town Houses (70-92 Boston St & 11-19 Goodhue St)

River Rock sale signThis three phase project has one phase completed and fully occupied, one phase completed and for sale but not occupied, and one phase with the foundation finally poured and construction beginning.

The 48-unit 4-story apartment building in the center along Goodhue St, Phase 1, presents an intriguing consideration of contemporary 21st-century architecture, what with its mash up of several Salem 18th- and 19th-century architectural styles and its wrapping around a challenging contoured site. More on these matters in a planned future post, but for now let it be said that Salem has never experienced a building quite like this before.

The six townhouses along Boston St, Phase 2, are all done except for the punch list, and, as evident in the photo above, are now listed for sale. A study in contrast with the abutting apartment building, less adventuresome, again echoing architectural styles prevalent in their Gallows Hill neighborhood, but in an altogether different mash up than the main building.River Rock Townhomes
It’s architecturally difficult to keep townhouses from looking all the same, but this block succeeds in distinguishing each house by juggling roof cuts, dormers, balconies, paint colors, and siding textures such that each owner can brag of a unique residence. As a prime example of how it is all too easy to go the other way, we present another recent Gallows Hill townhouse project a block away.18 Putnam St
It started off promising, with initial plans showing four unique units, complete with distinctive porches and balconies and projections and the like, but after ten years stuck on the undevelopment carousel, the building was drained to the hulking undistinguished monolithic mass seen above. It took four developers, some sort of record: the first ran away in fright at neighborhood protestations, the 2nd passed away during production, the 3rd went bankrupt during production, the 4th saw it through to the end.

Five more townhouses along Goodhue St behind the central apartment building are just beginning construction, more than a year after demolition of the cinder-blocked auto service stations that once stood in their place. Yet another Salem service station that bit the dust to make way for townhouses.river-rock-townhouse-foundations.jpg

Riverview Place (former Salem Suede – Flint St)

Another long-awaited project which despite stutters and stops has jumped off the undevelopment carousel and is actually getting built, by the third developer who has held rights to the site over the last twenty years. There’s a good feeling in the bones – this one is going to make it.

Salem Suede Dec 2019
Here the designer has elected for industrial chic. The exposed red brick outside (and inside) and the enormous loft style windows fronting the river exposure (where eventually the common rooms and office spaces will be) both harken back to the massive Salem Suede and Bonfanti tanneries that once filled this site.riverview-place.jpgEventually there will be 130 apartments on this site just a quarter mile from the Salem Depot, easy walking distance. Most pleasingly, the riverfront, closed for over a century, will be open to pedestrians. Toxic effluent from the tannery no longer to flow into the fragile North River.

Ice Cream Way (South Mason St)

The final phase of townhouses of this four-phase project, covered in multiple previous posts here, here, and here) began before Thanksgiving and at the turn of the year the roof is getting raised. The other three phases, a stretch of seven townhouses that incorporated an existing two-family Queen Anne house, a bracket of six townhouses in the corner, and the centerpiece, the challenging conversion of a hulking ice cream plant into ten appealing condos, are all sold and fully occupied. Many celebrated a first Xmas in their new abodes.


Ice Cream Way townhouse image
Construction on the fourth and final phase, a block of six townhouses, began before Thanksgiving and is proceeding apace. By early summer Ice Cream Way will be fully occupied. Pavement will be laid so that residents can finally move about on smooth lanes connecting the buildings, not the coarse tar-coated gravel there now.

331 Bridge St

Across the North River and the railroad tracks from the three projects already covered is a modest four townhouse project where once stood a service station. In all the posts written here about construction in Salem, this is the only project NOT to take a few turns on the undevelopment carousel. Not sure why, but will research and reveal findings in a future post. And it has another quirk. The back of the buildings stretch along Bridge Street; to get to the front you actually travel down an alley that slips between a Queen Anne house at 126 Federal St and a six-unit Federal apartment house at 130 Federal St. That is, the front doors are not in view from either Bridge St or Federal St. Many misdelivered packages are in the future for residents of these townhouses.

Brix (former Salem District Courthouse)

Lastly we touch on a downtown project outside of Gallows Hill, but one that merits special attention for all the travails it has been through (and may yet encounter, as construction proceeds). Long story: this site was the Salem District court from the 70’s until 2011, but for many decades before it was a service station. (Again with the refurbishing of a service station into living quarters). But worse than a service station, it was actually a lubritorium, specialized in oil changes. The used oil, thousands of gallons eventually, was placed in underground storage tanks. And there the tanks lay when the courthouse was built atop them. It was the 70’s, the EPA existed, the tanks should have been removed, but in an oversight they were not. Comes the 2010’s, a developer purchases the site, gets approval for building, and only then discovers the underground tanks.
Aghast at the omission said developer tries to back out. City of Salem hurriedly (or as hurriedly as municipal government can move; it took years) acts to get the site designated as Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP), enabling tax breaks to the developer to remove said tanks, now rusted and leaking. Developer accepts HDIP and the responsibility to remove the tanks, and this summer the long ride on the undevelopment carousel ends as construction commenced with removal of tanks. Demolition proceeded through the fall, peeving many residents as it added congestion to the always congested Halloween crush, but Salem got through those rough days and can now look forward to 60 new units of Unbeatable Urban Living. More to be be learned about Brix in future posts.



The lights go on at Proctor’s Ledge

On Tuesday Oct 29, suddenly, the accent lights went on at the Proctor’s Ledge Witchcraft Trials Memorial on Pope St. No announcement, no alert, just wham lights. This bloggers house overlooks Proctor’s Ledge, and seeing a new glow afar went out to investigate and came upon this beautifully breathtaking sight.Lights Proctor's Ledge Memorial

Since the dedication on July 19 2017 the lights had been inoperative. They were solar powered, supposedly storing energy during the day to power the lights overnight, but apparently the wrong ‘converter” was purchased. Oh sure, at the dedication the lights were on, but only due to a one time splice into a nearby electric line. With all the dignitaries present wouldn’t want any embarrassment. That splice got the lights on for the first night, then darkness in the two plus years since.Proctors Ledge Memorial
So finally the memorial can be viewed as the architect envisioned. Even with Halloween weeks past the visitors still come by the dozens daily to pay their respects.

000_0338Mostly the pilgrims lay stones on the rough-hewn stone wall. So many stones. In a development unforeseen by the designer, mostly the stones come from the trough beneath the wall, designed to allow drainage of rainfall. Reminiscent of the disrespect shown to the downtown Witchcraft Trials Memorial, whose stone slabs resemble picnic benches to many visitors, and so many a Wendy’s (the nearest fast food emporium) meal is eaten sitting atop, leaving litter and half-eaten baked potatoes behind.

Each year around Thanksgiving Parks & Rec workers sweep the stones back into the trough from whence they came. Have some respect — if you wish to lay stones bring your own stone.

And after initial complaints, the litter problem at the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial seems contained. Nobody is ever seen a-eating their fast-food meal a-sitting on the stone wall.

Proctor Ledge Xmas
Memorial in winter slumber. Stones a-rest in the trough


Flowers are the second most common trinket left behind. Not frequently cut live flowers, as in this photo, more often paper and plastic replicas. The Walgreen’s next door has taken notice. During the autumn busy season is kept a well-stocked display of faux flowers near the entrance. A best seller.