A preceding post defined neighborhood, distinguishing neighborhood from district from subdivision. To reiterate, a neighborhood is a spatially compact and cohesive region of a city that is diversified functionally: residential, retail / commercial, institutional, entertainment / recreational and light industrial. A District has the spatially compact and cohesive attribute down, but is not functionally diverse, usually exhibiting a single function, generally residential. A subdivision is even lesser, being strictly residential, and only a single type of residential at that.
Beyond the basic definition, neighborhoods have other common attributes. A Neighborhood often has Ethnic Homogeneity (e.g. Chinatown, Little Italy). Salem too has ethnic neighborhoods. Neighborhood ethnicity can change over time. Salem too has changing neighborhoods. Neighborhood boundaries are not like rigid municipal boundaries, but are ill-defined and fluid. Salem too has ill-defined neighborhoods. A Neighborhood does not even have to be contained within a single municipality. Salem too has an example of such a neighborhood.
A Neighborhood also has to have at least one central commercial area, be it a square (e.g. Copley Square in Back Bay) or corridor (Charles St in Beacon Hill). In the comprehensive list the commercial center is defined for each Salem neighborhood.
The distinction between Neighborhood and District can be equivocal. When is a District large enough and functionally diverse enough to become a neighborhood? There are no hard and fast rules. In the listing that follows pains were made to distinguish neighborhoods from districts, with caveats that others looking at same data would categorize differently.
Since there is no compendium of Salem neighborhoods, what follows is largely my own creation, loosely following the list of Salem neighborhood associations maintained by the City of Salem.
There is one compendium that does provide a list of Salem neighborhoods, but without boundaries or characteristics or histories or anything, and that is MACRIS, (MAssachusetts Cultural Resource Information System). MACRIS, run by the Massachusetts Historical Commission out of the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has since the 1970’s been compiling a resource of every aged building, burial ground, object or structure in every city or town in Massachusetts, complete with dates, owners, and where available vintage photographs. And best of all MACRIS is free. Many an hour has been
wasted occupied by this blogger browsing MACRIS. Many of the vintage photos herein posted came from MACRIS.
MACRIS Neighborhoods of Salem (list dates from 1970’s)
— Bridge Street (Bridge Street Neck)
— Castle Hill
— Central Salem (Downtown)
— Derby Street (Waterfront District)
— Gallows Hill
— North Salem
— Salem Common
— Salem Willows (Salem Neck)
— South Salem
— Stage Point (The Point)
— West Salem
So with the MACRIS list as antecedent here goes. In what follows neighborhood names are in UPPER CASE and district names are in Title Case. This list gives boundary definitions, brief history, and no more than two notable sights per neighborhood / district. In a following blog post the justification behind defining each area as a neighborhood or district will be provided.
Neighborhoods and Districts overlaid onto Salem Chamber of Commerce map
Since this is a blog about Gallows Hill, the list of Salem Neighborhoods and Districts naturally enough starts with – ahem – Gallows Hill.
Roughly the large hill extending from Highland Ave to Peabody City line in one direction; and from Boston St area to the top of Gallows Hill in the other direction. Originally developed in the mid-19th century, with mostly gablefront homes built to house workers at nearby leather factories. Notable sights include Proctor’s Ledge, the site of the witchcraft hysteria hangings in 1692, and the origin site of the Great Salem Fire of 1914. Commercial center is the length of Boston Street. For longer than a century was Salem’s Ethnic Irish Community.
Blubber Hollow A district of Gallows Hill, at the seams of the McIntire, Mack Park, and Gallows Hill areas along Bridge and Boston Streets. Originally named for the whale oil rendered here. In the 19th century the area became home to many tanneries and complementary industries like shoe manufacturing. The Great Salem Fire of 1914 started in a leather factory at the corner of Boston and Bridge Streets.
Witchcraft Heights late 20th century extension of Gallows Hill neighborhood, from the top of Gallows Hill marked by the water tower back to approximately Marlborough Road. A subdivision, not a distinct district, so in this listing is placed within the Gallows Hill neighborhood. Exclusively single-family residential, cookie-cutter split levels and raised ranches mostly.
BRIDGE STREET NECK
The more westerly of Salem’s two necks, extending along Bridge Street from downtown up to the Beverly Bridge at the tip of the neck.
For some reason only the Bridge St Neck neighborhood, out of all Salem neighborhoods, gets a fancy entry sign. This one is in front of the old Salem Jail; a matching sign brackets the other end of the Neck at the Beverly Bridge
Bridge Street Neck was the landing site in 1626 of the original English colonists led by Roger Conant. Settlers from an larger expedition from England in 1628, led by John Endecott, pushed the settlement further up the North River estuary to about where the train station is today. A bridge to central Beverly has been at the tip of the neck since 1788.
The more easterly of Salem’s two edge peninsulas, extending from the Webb St (what used to be called Neck Gate) axis to the tip of the peninsula. Notable sights are Winter Island and Salem Willows. Commercial center is the Salem Willows. First developed as a summer resort area in the late 19th century connected to central Salem by trolley; by mid-20th century converted fully to year-round homes.
Former Ethnic Neighborhoods of Salem. Irish on Gallows Hill; French-Canadian in The Point; Polish in the Waterfront District; Italian on Mill Hill.
From the Jackson St / Boston St axis on the westerly side east to the Collins Cove / Webb St axis on the easterly side, and from the North River to Salem Harbor and Harbor Channel in the other direction. Contains the Central Business District, the commercial core of Salem, as well as several outlying predominantly residential districts.
Central Business District From the North Street / Summer Street axis east to the Salem Common, and from the North River south to Salem Harbor. The Salem courthouses, City of Salem municipal offices, the commuter rail station, and most tourist attractions are here. Among the plentiful notable sights will mention here only the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall and the Peabody-Essex Museum. Commercial core is the streets around Town House Square a.k.a. Lappin Park.
McIntire Historic District Extends from the North Street / Summer Street axis on the east side east to the Boston St / Jackson Street axis, and from North River on the north south to Broad Street. Includes the Chestnut Street District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Named after the architect and Salem resident Samuel McIntire, a progenitor of Federal style architecture. The neighborhood was originally built off the wealth made in the Old China Trade by Salem’s merchants. Notable grand historic homes include the Peirce-Nichols House and The Witch House.
Salem Common The district just east of the Central Business District comprised of the Washington Square streets around the Salem Common and all the streets leading into Washington Square. Noted for the grand Federal mansions facing the Common, Salem’s grandest and oldest park. Site of the first muster. Attractions include the original Salem Witch Museum in the former Second Church and the Hawthorne Hotel.
Derby Street / Waterfront District The former wharf area, extending along Derby Street and the waterfront from downtown up to the base of Salem Neck. Notable sights include The House of Seven Gables and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. From the late 19th century until the late 20th century was the location of a flourishing Ethnic Polish community, replete with shops and markets and once even a branch library catering to Polish-speaking residents.
Mill Hill A downtown district extending from the former Mill Pond (now Riley Plaza) up to the Jackson St axis, and in the other direction from the Norman / Broad St axis to the old railroad yards behind Jefferson Ave. Once a Little Italy district populated by Italian immigrants in a tight knot around St. Mary’s Italian Church, replete with shops and markets catering to Italian-speaking residents. Before Italian immigrants moved in the area was known variously as Knockers Hole (from the shipbuilding sheds along Mill Pond who “knocked” wooden planks together) or Roast Meat Hill (origin unknown, possibly derogatory), and was the center of a small mid-19th century African-American community. Today also known as the Greater Endicott Street area.
Salem Neighborhoods overlaid on 1891 map of Salem. Everything to the left of the dotted line was developed only in the last century of Salem’s nearly four centuries of existence.
In colonial times this neighborhood, originally called Stage Point, was a peninsula jutting into Salem Harbor just across the Harbor Channel, separated from downtown by Mill Pond and the South River Channel. Filling in of all of the pond and most of the channel has left The Point more a promontory today than a peninsula. In the 1840’s the placement of Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mills (later the Pequot Mills) at the tip of The Point, for a long time the largest cotton cloth mill in America, created a great need for immigrant labor. This need was satisfied by a shunt of impoverished workers from Quebec, who filled the tenements that arose on the streets near the Mill, creating a vibrant Quebecois ethnic neighborhood focused around St. Joseph French Catholic Church, so French that its name was once rendered in French as le quartier le Pointe.
The Point neighborhood and the mills were quickly rebuilt after the Great Salem Fire on 1914 obliterated both, but the Mills could not survive the cotton industry moving south, and in 1953 Pequot Mills closed for good. Any remaining French-Canadians who had not already translocated to Castle Hill moved out. The Mills property was converted to the Shetland Park industrial park in 1958, and in the 1960’s abandoned (and cheap) properties began to be filled by Hispanic immigrants, mostly Dominican but also from all over the Caribbean. Thriving bodegas and carnicerias replaced former pastisseries and charcuteries, and the neighborhood renaissanced as el barrio el Punto.
Officially designated boundaries of The Point. The only such official map of any Salem neighborhood that can be readily located.
Today The Point is the only ethnic neighborhood still extant in Salem. True to its Hispanic heritage, tenement walls throughout the neighborhood are resplendent with colorful murals. In a marker of its reach, The Point is the only Salem neighborhood with a separate wikipedia page and an officially designated map of its boundaries. Commercial centers are Congress St and the portion of Lafayette Avenue that passes through The Point before entering the South Salem neighborhood.
Several of the spectacular murals that inhabit The Point.
The area from the southern edge of The Point (roughly Palmer Cove axis) south along Lafayette Ave. down to the Salem State University area, and from Salem Harbor to commuter rail tracks in the other axis. Mostly farms and estates until Salem State (then Salem Normal School) moved its campus to a “rural” location in 1896, after which the spaces between downtown and the campus quickly filled with homes and apartment buildings in late Victorian styles. Commercial center is the length of Lafayette Avenue.
The Great Fire originated at 55 Boston St in Gallows Hill, took out the far edge of the McIntire District, nearly all of the Mill Hill, annihilated The Point, skirted the Central Business District, and was spreading into the Waterfront District on one side and South Salem on the other side before it was finally repulsed.
The area across the North River from central Salem up to the Peabody city line south to north, from Gallows Hill / Blubber Hollow to the Danvers River in the other axis. Up until the late 19th century was mostly fields and orchards, apart from a line of factories along the North River. In the early 20th century estates and pastures got subdivided into home lots. In 1775 the North River Bridge was the scene of Leslie’s Retreat the first armed albeit non-shooting military engagement of the American Revolution. Commercial center is the length of North Street.
Mack Park The portion of North Salem west of North Street around Mack Park, formerly Ledge Hill Park.
Northfields The portion of North Salem east of North Street around Greenlawn Cemetery.
The hills and ledges around where Jefferson Ave crosses the MBTA railroad tracks, roughly from Mill Hill in central Salem down to Salem State University in South Salem. Commercial center is the length of Jefferson Avenue. Highland Park, a.k.a. Salem Woods, the largest and most wild of Salem’s parks, is the most notable attraction of Castle Hill. The area was mostly farms and quarries until the early 20th century, when French Canadian immigrants began to settle around St. Anne’s French Catholic Church atop Castle Hill, leaving their original settlement in The Point, a migration accelerated when The Point was wiped out by the Great Salem Fire of 1914.
Vintage photo of central Salem purportedly taken from atop Castle Hill
Salem’s southernmost neighborhood is around Vinnin Square (the conjunction of Loring Ave, Paradise Road, Vinnin St and Salem St) up to Salem State campus. The neighborhood includes portions of the neighboring towns of Marblehead and Swampscott. Commercial entities primarily on the Swampscott side, the Salem side primarily residential. Developed from the mid to late 20th century, predominantly single family homes in mid-20th century styles.
Not a neighborhood or even a district, but a Community, consisting of all the leftover parts of southwestern Salem along both sides of Highland Ave towards the border with Lynn. Undeveloped until the last third of the 20th century, when little by little filled in with strip shopping malls, big box stores, and isolated subdivisions unconnected to each other. Often Witchcraft Heights is included in West Salem, but in this compilation it’s appended instead to the Gallows Hill neighborhood.
Marker for West Salem located on Highland Avenue in front of North Shore Medical Center