Old Ethnic Neighborhoods of Salem

This old map below, taken from a 1956 study on the health needs of Salem (Community organization: action and inaction), contains a marvelous frontispiece showing the distribution of ethnic immigrants throughout Salem’s industrial period (roughly 1850-1950). Though the map is an abstract schematic and as such difficult to overlay on a current street map (it helps to follow the railroads), still it conforms to common lore. Polish immigrants concentrated along the waterfront with a secondary nexus on the far side of the Salem Common; French-Canadians (Quebecois) in The Point then spreading southwesterly towards Castle Hill; Italian immigrants in a tight knot on Mill Hill around St. Mary’s Italian Church; and most pertinent to the focus of this blog, a teeming Irish immigrant community along Blubber Hollow and up Gallows Hill.

Salem Ethnic Map

All these formerly tight knit communities dispersed in the great suburban migration of the 2nd half of the 20th century, shredding the fabric of the old neighborhoods. Wistful remnants remain. The AOH Hall on Boston St in Gallows Hill still has its function rooms in heavy use, though these days more for quinceañeras than for Irish christenings, reflecting the recent influx of Dominican immigrants into Salem.

Another echo of past ethnic neighborhoods are the named Veterans’ Squares scattered throughout the city, commemorating veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in twentieth-century wars. The Veteran’s Service Department of the City of Salem endeavored mightily to match surname to place. In Gallows Hill there exist Corrigan SquareHennessey Square, Butler Square, and O’Donnell Square, all proud Irish surnames.