Addenda – Lights out in Gallows Hill

From midday Tuesday April 24 all through the night and deep into the morning of April 25, National Grid labored to repair the damage caused Monday evening by the wrong way driver on Pope St by the parking lot of Walgreen’s, damage which resulted in a one hour power blackout of most of the Gallows Hill neighborhood. A massive undertaking – up to a dozen trucks and heavy equipment and dozens of workers at peak effort. Little sleep for nearby residents.

Turns out the inexperienced driver smashed the one power pole on Pope St where a major cable comes underground from the transformer farm across the street.

Pope St transformer farm

Pope St transformer farm

The cable heads up to the top of the pole before branching into the distribution line. The misoriented driver hit the cable to precisely sever the cable. Miracle no electrocution. National Grid set up a temporary bypass to restore power to Gallows Hill, but had to come back and replace the power cable. Which meant drilling a hole in the transformer farm, snaking the new cable under Pope St, digging another deep hole by the power pole, and threading the new cable up the pole. All insulators and connections were replaced.


Power cable restored

The new cable is now housed in a heavy pipe, where previously it was a thinner pipe. The pipe was, and is, on the leeward side (down traffic) side of one-way Pope Street. Such position meant a wayward driver speeding down Pope St. could hit the pole on the up traffic side but not harm such a central power cable. After all, drivers hitting power poles is almost a daily occurrence. Watch your local TV newscast. Never anticipated a wrong way driver smashing the power cable from the other direction.

Remarkable how many thousands of dollars in damage one errant driver can manage. Could have been worse. Might have reached and smashed Proctor’s Ledge Memorial a short ways up Pope St.

Ancient Boundary Marker at edge of Gallows Hill

Alongside busy Marlborough Road on the Salem – Peabody line, unnoticed by drivers passing between the two cities, stands this stele (a word never used outside of crosswords) marking the Salem – Danvers boundary. Danvers, you may exclaim, why that’s miles to the north.


What is now Peabody was once part of Salem, when the area was known as Salem Farms or simply The Farms. Several victims of the 1692 Witchcraft Trials hailed from The Farms, notably the crusty Giles Corey (pressed to death Sept. 19 1692 near the old Salem Jail on what is now St. Peter St, the only one of 20 victims not to be hanged on Proctor’s Ledge) and his wife Martha Corey (hanged on Proctor’s Ledge Sept 22 1692 among the last group of 8 to be executed).

Ashamed of its association with the Witchcraft Hysteria what is now Danvers, originally Salem Village, separated from Salem in the mid-18th century, taking Salem Farms with it. The Salem Farms area was renamed as South Danvers. The stele was installed in 1855, just before South Danvers itself broke away from Danvers to be incorporated as the town of South Danvers, which in 1868 renamed itself Peabody to honor native son and benefactor George Peabody.

Salem - Danvers boundary marker

Danvers (Peabody) side of stele

And that’s the long story of how an ancient Danvers boundary marker came to be found in Gallows Hill.

Lights out in Gallows Hill

For those who suffered through the power blackout last night, Monday April 23,  approximately 7:45 to 8:45 pm, the photo shows why.


Car wrapped around power pole Pope St @ Walgreen’s

Young female driver not paying careful attention turns wrong way up Pope St towards Proctor’s Ledge Memorial. Seeing vehicles coming at her she suddenly swerves, smashing into a power pole on the Walgreen’s side of Pope St and cracking the power line at top. Pole itself cracked but not toppled. She was not hurt, declined medical attention, and was gathered home by daddy. Fortunately she did not reach the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial.

Fire Alert 4-23-18

Power out from Pope St west to Peabody city line for approximately an hour, comprising most of Gallows Hill. National Grid showed up within 30 minutes, and had power back on in another 30 minutes. Pope St closed to traffic for the duration, and motorists had to navigate busy Boston St. without signal lights. Minor excitement on a warm spring night.

Remembrance of Gallows Hill Park – Paper Streets

The previous post on the purchase of of park lots along Bemis Street, a paper street mapped out a century ago but never built on and now superseded by formation of Gallows Hill Park, ignited an investigation into other paper streets in Gallows Hill. Turns out Bemis St was not a one-off. There are others, three in the park itself.

Besides Bemis St, which if ever built would obliterate the basketball courts at the top of the hill in Gallows Hill Park, at the base of the hill there is Witch Hill Rd., which if ever built would obliterate the Ryan Brennan Memorial Skate Park & Playground. On old maps Witch Hill Rd. extends from Varney St to Mansell Pkwy through the playground. The only part ever built was the single block from Mansell Pkwy. to Hillside Ave.

Once many years ago, before Google Maps, this blogger, walking his dog along Varney St, was flagged down by a frantic couple desperate to find Witch Hill Rd. “But it’s on the map” they insisted after being informed that there was no such street, map or no map.

Witch Hill Road

At the other end of Gallows Hill Park floats Almeda Street. It starts off conventionally enough, coming off Highland Ave for the length of 4-6 housing lots, It then dead ends at the open park land, follows the top of the Water Tower ridge as a paper street part ways and unpaved access road to the water tower part ways, then eventually reforms as Almeda Street West when it runs down into the Witchcraft Heights subdivision.Almeda paper street

As with Bemis St. there are numbered lots along the undeveloped street, some of them in public hands but most in private hands. Again as with Bemis St. it would seem unlikely that the private lots ever get developed. It is “conservation” land to preserve a watershed (note the ponds in the Google map). Now it is just space for dogwalkers coming in from Witchcraft Heights and homeless looking for a private space with accessible fresh water.

So that’s three paper streets just in Gallows Hill Park. At the other end of Witchcraft Heights there is to be found Sable Road. It comes off Marlborough Road for a dozen housing lots, comes to a cul-de-sac, picks up again out of another cul-de-sac by Hartford St., curves past Dibiase St (named for the developer of the area) and ends again at another cul-de-sac. For those keeping score that’s three cul-de-sacs in a quarter-mile stretch of pavement.Sable Road

It seems that Sable Road may have once been planned a a major traverse across Witchcraft Heights (hence the “road” designation in preference to street). And strictly only a small portion is paper. The conversion and sale of regular sized lots into three oversized elite lots at the cul-de-sac at the end of what is now designated Sable Road West, and the inability to ever subdivide open land at the cul-de-sac at the east end, renders Sable Rd. more of a “barbell” street than a traverse.

So residents of Sable Rd. now have to navigate a circuitous “curlicue” route along several streets to enter and leave home. The upside of the curlicue is crime prevention: criminals casing the neighborhood get just as lost as residents navigating the curlicue. The downside? Delivery and emergency vehicles get just as lost as residents navigating the curlicue.

Remembrance of Gallows Hill Park Present

Six years before Gallows Hill Park was established in 1912 along the central slopes of Gallows Hill,  house lots were laid out at the top of the hill on both sides of never-built Bemis Street, along the top of the hill behind Grafton St. When the park was established most of those lots were purchased by the City of Salem and folded into parkland. Bemis St. remained a paper street, on official maps but never on actual ground.

Somehow two of the lots stayed in private hands, forgotten until 2017. Perhaps the city intended to purchase those lots, but with the massive rebuilding that followed the Great Salem Fire in 1914, the origin of the fire at the foot of Gallows Hill several real, not paper, blocks away, those plans were understandably neglected. Since the entrance into Bemis St was owned by the City of Salem there was no way either of those lots could have been developed, though the worry that single family homes could be built on the lots was always present..

Bemis St lots

So the situation remained for 100 years until 2017, when it is inadvertently discovered by Ward 4 Councillor David Eppley, since departed from Salem public office after losing his bid for promotion to At-Large Councillor, that two of the Bemis St lots are still in private hands. As related by the Salem News:

The two parcels in question are owned by Joyce Sullivan, a Salem native who grew up near the park, according to city solicitor Beth Rennard. Her father was former Salem fire Chief Joseph Sullivan, who died in 2012. “He bought the property decades ago, and she tells me she used to live in the neighborhood and play at the park,” Rennard said. “She inherited the property and is the trustee. She doesn’t want the property, so she wants to sell it.”

Action was swift. In November 2017 the Community Preservation Committee of Salem approved using Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to purchase the lots, in December 2018 the City Council approved the purchase, and in February 2018 the sale was closed. The basketball court at the top of the park is forever protected from the scourge of single family housing



Remembrance of Gallows Hill Park Past

The Library of Congress photo collection includes this photo of Gallows Hill in 1906, before the area in the photo was incorporated into Gallows Hill Park in 1912.

Gallows Hill Park 1906

The photo was taken from the ridge below where the Gallows Hill Water Tower now sits, looking north towards the highest ridge of Gallows Hill. The pond in the foreground was filled in after the park formed, and is now the site of the softball and kickball field, though after heavy rainfall it returns temporarily to its primordial state. The low ledge off the right side of the photo is gone, perhaps leveled to fill the pond, but the low ridge dead center remains. Also remaining are the paths down the hill, the path marked with posts coming down from South St, the path beyond running down from what is now the basketball court, still used every winter as a toboggan run, as it likely was a century ago.

Gallows Hill Park vantage

Arrow depicts vantage of photo along current satellite view

The house atop the ridge, seemingly perched precariously along the crest, remains almost unchanged at 16 Grafton St, recognizable then and today by its single dormer. The barn behind, left over from when Gallows Hill was pasture land, is gone, but the house immediately to the left at 12 Grafton remains, but so modified and expanded as to be unrecognizable. The handful of other visible homes on the crest along what is now Hanson and South Streets are apparently no longer standing.

The vintage photo shows an almost complete lack of trees, another heritage of pasture. Those slopes today are completely covered with impenetrable brush and scraggly trees, rendering perilous any toboggan descent down the slope. Gallows Hill Park 2018

As recently as 1980 the slopes were nearly as free of vegetation as in 1906. The dense vegetation leads to two modern problems. It provides cover to the local homeless, at least six in 2018 who have set up camps, complete with campfires and open latrines, along the slopes, out of sight to children playing below. And it provides shelter to coyotes, who are getting more brazen in their attacks on neighborhood pets.

Boston Street Crossing. Phase I Opens.

The Boston Street Crossing redevelopment project consists of two former decrepit SRO buildings along Boston St: Phase 1, just opened in March, is 43 Boston Street, an old tenement sandwiched next to a used auto lot and backing to the Proctor’s Ledge Witchcraft Trials Memorial. Up the street, Phase 2, 179 Boston Street,  is a formerly elegant mansard roofed Victorian atop a ridge overlooking Peabody, not to be confused with 179 Main St next door.

Both were purchased last year by the non-profit Harborlight Community Partners for redevelopment as boarding houses for the 21st century. Both will include an on-site office staffed by councilors from Lifebridge of Salem to provide needed supportive services to the (formerly) homeless who will occupy the units.


Boston Crossing Phase 1 now open

Last month Phase 1 opened to provide 12 studio apartments for the recurrently homeless. Speaking to the manager, two units are still available, so get your application in now. There are homeless haunting the ridges of Gallows Hill Park who should be recommended for such supportive housing. As evident in the photo the transformation has been remarkable. Long past are the days when the building housed the seediest dive bar on the North Shore.


Boston Crossing Phase 2 under reconstruction

With the opening of Phase 1 redevelopment crews have moved to other end of Boston Street on the shoulder of Gallows Hill. As seen in the photo, siding and adornment have been stripped, and workers are steadily in and out to remake the interior. Soon an additional 14 studio units will be open to the (formerly) homeless.

Affordable housing is sorely needed in Salem, and Harborlight and Lifebridge are to be commended to getting Boston Crossing achieved. There is a homeless encampment across the street tucked in between Old South Cemetery and the Stop and Shop gas station. Perhaps the campers can be induced to cross the street for proper housing?

How Salem lost its Density Mojo. Part 2.

The previous post in this thread covered examples of how Salem houses, by the hundreds, were razed to make room to park and operate vehicles, attributing the great decline of population density in Salem over the last century to that blatant and unforgivable destruction. Several more examples here hammer home the point.

Hawthorne BoulevardHawthorne Blvd then and now

The next examples return to downtown, along what is now the grandly named Hawthorne Boulevard. After the Great Salem Fire in 1914, which took out the Salem Hospital marked in the 1911 map but went no further up Elm St, it was decided during reconstruction that Elm and Walnut Streets were too narrow. All the homes on the narrow block between those two streets were razed (one house deemed meritorious was saved and moved to a new location). The two streets were combined into the wide Hawthorne Blvd, and Elm and Walnut Streets disappeared from the Salem Directory. In other words, the street was reengineered for cars even before before there were many cars (it was 1914 after all – the Model T was new) to make room for. More than a dozen homes sadly lost.

At the top of Hawthorne Blvd. sits the elegant Hawthorne Hotel. When the Hawthorne hotel was first opened in 1925 there was no parking lot behind it, instead the site between Essex St and Washington Square South was filled with historic homes. By the 1950s the decision was made that the elegant hotel needed to be more of a motor inn to draw guests, so all the homes behind were removed and a large parking lot paved in their place. One house was saved – the 1727 Crowninshield–Bentley House , originally at 106 Essex St smack in the middle of the parking lot, was moved to Essex Institute Historic District of the PEM campus at 126 Essex St in 1959. A dozen homes within the dotted blue line in the 1911 map were lost. Among them the Now and Then Club, viewed below from The Salem Common.Now & Then Club


This thread began with a post on the emptiness a century ago of the Salem Highlands behind Gallows Hill. Look again at the original photo of the recently built Salem Hospital. A half dozen residences, likely mostly dormitories for nurses and doctors, can be seen in front of the hospital along Highland Avenue. All were long since torn down to build the immense hospital parking lot. Now doctors and residents have to live a long ways from the hospital and drive a long ways to work. Such is “progress”.Salem Hospital 1920Counting up the tally from just the few examples in this thread gives several hundred housing units and thousands of residents lost. And there are more not yet considered – the large parking lot that replaced Sewall street downtown, another large parking lot at the top of Lafayette St by the central firehouse, the evacuation of Phillips and Blaney Wharfs, and even more. So the answer to the question – where the hell did all those Salem people live? – is that the car monoculture came and took them away, one and all.