“Historic” Gallows Hill is often touted. Hell this blog has been heedlessly loose with the term. To prove how historic Gallows Hill really is, here are the Top Ten Reasons Gallows Hill is “Historic“.
1. Proctor’s Ledge witchcraft trials hanging site. Have to start with the Witchcraft Trials, the reason why millions come to Salem “for reasons they cannot even fathom“. In 1692 14 women and 5 men convicted of the false crime of witchcraft were executed on Proctor’s Ledge, an otherwise undistinguished rocky ledge at the foot of Gallows Hill along Boston St. The site’s impact, missing from historical memory for centuries, was resurrected in 2017 with the erection and dedication of a simple stone memorial to those who lost their lives on the slope.
2. Great Salem Fire of 1914 origin site. Incredibly enough, Proctor’s Ledge is also the site of the second most indelible event in Salem history, the Great Salem Fire of 1914. An explosion at the Korn Leather factory at 57 Boston St, under Proctor’s Ledge, began the conflagration in the early afternoon of June 25, 1914, which quickly spread out of control east along Boston Street out of the Gallows Hill Neighborhood. The fire alarm box used to report the fire still stands at 57 Boston Street, across the sidewalk from the memorial plaque that sits in the corner of the site now occupied, depressingly, by a Walgreens chain store. Walgreen’s is the steward of Salem’s two most precious historic sites!?
3. Boston St Gateway corridor. Proctor’s Ledge was chosen for witchcraft trials hanging partly because it lay athwart the main colonial-era road that led both to the outlying sections of Salem, Salem Village (now Danvers) and Salem Farms (now Peabody), and in the other direction to Boston (hence Boston St). Then and since and now Boston Street has remained a major gateway into Salem, so much so that a major apartment / commercial project planned for the corner of Boston and Bridge Streets is to be known as the Gateway Center.
4. Center of tannery industry in Blubber Hollow. Tanning of leather along the shores of the North River at the base of Gallows Hill began almost as soon as the settlement of Salem was established. For centuries the tanning industry was a household industry, families tanning in their yard, but in the mid-19th century technical innovations enabled consolidation into large factories. Tanneries boomed, with perhaps 100+ highly profitable tanneries near or on Gallows Hill by the late 19th century, accessory factories like shoe factories intermingled. Inevitably the industry declined, and by the mid-20th century machines fell silent in tannery after tannery. Most were torn down, the sites awaiting revitalization today, but a few “ghost” factories remain, moldering away, the subject of many a photographer seeking ruin porn.
5. Charlotte Forten at Eppes School. Charlotte Forten was the pre-eminent female African-American intellectual of her time: abolitionist, suffragette, poet, writer, educator, lecturer, essayist. After becoming the first African-American graduate of the newly formed Salem Normal School in 1856, her first professional position was teacher at the Eppes Grammar School on Gallows Hill (also Epes). She was apparently the first African-American teacher of white students in a public school ever. The Eppes School still stands on Aborn Street Court, now a nondescript four-unit apartment building. Petition has been made to add the former Eppes School to the National Register of Historic Places, where it would join the Charlotte Forten Grimke House in Washington D.C. already so listed.
6 . Highest Concentration of Gablefront Houses in Salem. As the profitable tannery industry took hold in Gallows Hill in the middle decades of the 19th century (see #4 above), the emerging working middle class needed a new type of housing. The grand Federal and Greek Revival homes of the merchant class were too swank. The squalid tenements of the laboring class would no longer do. Accordingly emerged a new type of single family housing, the Gablefront House, modest and sturdy, characterized by high attic gable facing the street, narrow two-bay facade, and main entryway not in front but tucked to the side. Many thousands of Gablefront houses were built in industrial cities of northeast America through the last two-thirds of the 19th century. Though Gablefronts are found in most Salem neighborhoods, for the real flavor come to Gallows Hill, where they dominate the streetscape.
7. Long-term Gallows Hill eateries. Dairy Witch at 115 Boston St in Gallows Hill has been serving delectable ice cream to parched diners every summer since 1952.
Mandee’s Pizza at 2 Boston Street at the far edge of Gallows Hill has been serving pizza and subs since 1962 to famished teens of Salem High School, which until its relocation way down Highland Ave. in the 1970’s was right around the corner.
Mandee’s was recently entered into the Pizza Hall of Fame. Those who frequented either eatery decades ago now return with children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren in tow, so long have both been serving Gallows Hill residents.
8. Hygrade Illuminating Lamp Co. introduces assembly line manufacturing to light bulbs. In 1914 Frank Poor and his brothers, owners of the Hygrade Incandescent Lamp Company then located in Danvers, were looking to expand to a new location. They intended to institute the principles of assembly line manufacturing, developed by Henry Ford in 1913 for the wildly successful Model T, to light bulbs. After the Great Salem Fire of 1914 (see #2 above) there was an abundance of open space along Boston St. in Gallows Hill. In 1916 the new Hygrade Illuminating Lamp Co. plant opened at the corner of Boston and Bridge Streets. The plant remained in business through numerous corporate mergers, employing thousands of Salem residents over decades, until eventually the last owner Osram Sylvania closed and demolished the plant in the mid-90s. Soon a new mixed-use Gateway Center (see #3 above) is to take its place
9. Gallows Hill water tower. On the highest ledge of Gallows Hill sits the Salem water tower, adorned with insignia of a witch aloft her broom. An image of the water tower under a full moon serves as the frontispiece of this blog.Sitting astride the main flight path of planes into Boston Logan Airport, hence the first sight of Salem many arrivals espy, the Gallows Hill water tower is among the 12 coolest water storage tanks in New England.
10. First medical marijuana dispensary in Massachusetts. In the election of 2012 Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved the Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative. “On June 24th, 2015, Alternative Therapies Group became the first dispensary in Massachusetts to begin serving registered patients … located in historic Salem.” Actually located at 50 Grove St in the Blubber Hollow section of historic Gallows Hill. Could soon be the first retail marijuana dispensary in Salem, and very possibly Massachusetts, should the Cannabis Control Commission ever get its ducks in a row. It’s now looking like late 2018 for opening. A local businessman responded to this history by opening a well-stocked head shop across the street, disguised as a convenience store.
And two bonus historical reasons. Minor, but worthy of notice.
A. Location of a Hawthorne short story. Nathaniel Hawthorne alluded to the savage events of 1692 that took place on Gallows Hill in nearly everything he wrote, but faced it directly in his short story Alice Doane’s Appeal (1835):
… a physical curse may be said to have blasted the spot, where guilt and frenzy consummated the most execrable scene that our history blushes to record. For this was the field where superstition won her darkest triumph; the high place where our fathers set up their shame, to the mournful gaze of generations far remote. The dust of martyrs was beneath our feet. We stood on Gallows Hill.
Indeed, Hawthorne is given credit for naming Gallows Hill. Before that it had been Witch Hill to locals and visitors alike. Hawthorne implored for remembrance:
There is nothing on its barren summit, no relic of old, nor lettered stone of later days, to assist the imagination in appealing to the heart. … And here, in dark, funereal stone, should rise another monument, sadly commemorative of the errors of an earlier race.
In 2017 Hawthorne finally got his monument on Proctor’s Ledge (see #1 above).
B. Minutemen buried at Old South Cemetery. On the last slope of Gallows Hill as a traveler descends into central Peabody lies the Old South Cemetery. It sits within the borders of Peabody, not Salem, but Peabody was once a part of metropolitan Salem, when it was called Salem Farms, and the city line deliberately jogs around the cemetery which fronts Salem on three sides, so really it is Gallows Hill. Among other luminaries within are the remains of four local Minutemen who fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.