One factoid about Salem that never ceases to amaze, and that has relevance today with all the hue and cry about development being adversely too much or adversely too little, is how negligibly Salem has grown in the last century. Population peaked in 1910, declined every census thereafter, reaching a nadir in 1990, before finally jumping back up amid the great urban renaissance of the 21st century.
Here are selected numbers from the US Census Bureau. 2016 is an estimate
Even with the recent jump Salem still does not match the population at the time of the Great Salem Fire of 1914, despite waves of building, demolition, and rebuilding in the century since. What gives?
The statistic is more unbelievable looking at a city map of a century ago.
The map is from the 1891 Walker Atlas, but except for some filling in North Salem depicts Salem much as it was at the time of the Great Fire in 1914. The red dashed line designates the edge of development. In 1910 HALF of Salem had yet to be developed, yet the population was GREATER THAN it is today. The “wilds” of Salem have been filled in with homes and business, all through the 2nd half of the 20th century, yet population was repeatedly down.
So if someone complains that Salem cannot support more growth, show them this map. That’ll shut them up.
Note the apposition of the Gallows Hill and McIntire neighborhoods, both then part of Ward 4. The Point is more clearly set apart from the remainder of the city, before 20th century landfill blurred The Point more into the city proper. Note a railroad spur going into Gallows Hill, right next to where the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial sits today and behind the Boston Street Walgreen’s.
Wards are indicated on the 1891 map, and mostly follow ward boundaries of today, despite a century of jostling map lines to adjust to expanding (but not increasing) population. Ward 5 is still South Salem, though in 1891 Ward 5 included The Point, since passed over to Ward 1. Ward 4 is still Gallows Hill, though the McIntire District has since passed over to Ward 2, joined now to the north half of downtown and Bridge Street Neck. Ward 6 is North Salem, then and now. Ward 3 has shed the Mill Hill neighborhood and its half of the McIntire District, but Ward 3 is still central Salem, then and now. The only appreciable change is the addition of a new Ward 7 encompassing far south Salem, though since there was NO population growth between then and now why was an extra ward needed.