Construction Update. How is Salem Doing?

Past construction update blog posts would seem to indicate that Blubber Hollow, and Salem writ large, is burgeoning. And so it is, at least compared to the decades-long stasis (stasis to some; dismal depression to others) that prevailed up until a few years ago.

But is it enough?

In 2015 the Metro Mayors Coalition estimated that over the next 10 years 150,000 new housing units in Metro Boston, 55,000 in Boston itself, would need to be built, just to keep up with population and job increases. In a 2018 update the Metro Mayors Coalition admitted that these figures were wrong – the more accurate numbers were 185,000 housing units in region, 79,000 in Boston itself. If you run the arithmetic for a city the size of Salem the numbers come to 3,000 new units in 10 years by the 2015 estimate; 4,000 by the 2018 estimate. Or 300-400 new units per year. And that is new units. Condo conversion of existing rental units doesn’t count, since they only swap an existing unit for a better unit, though there have been plenty of condo conversions, especially along Federal St.

Cranes over Boston

Construction cranes in Boston. And still falling short of the need.

So that’s what has to be built. What has been built?

In 2019 these properties will have been opened to occupancy.
¤ River Rock, Boston St – 48 apartments, 6 condo townhouses, 5 more condo townhouses yet to be constructed.
¤ Ice Cream Way, S. Mason St – 10 condo apartments, 13 condo townhouses; 6 more condo townhouses yet to be constructed.
¤ 111 Highland Ave – two condo townhouses constructed on site of former service station.
And that, my friends, is it – 79 units. A severe deficit relative to the 300-400 units that should have been built.

2020 is looking better but still way short. To the leftover five townhouse units at River Rock and six at Ice Cream Way can be added
¤ Riverview Place (former Salem Suede tannery), Flint St – 130 apartments.
¤ 331 Bridge St (former auto service station) – 4 townhouse condos.
¤ Breakaway at Salem Common (former Knights of Columbus Hall) – 18 condo units.
¤ 106 Bridge St (former Magic Muffler service station) – 8 townhouse units
Which gives 171 units, still way short of the needed 300-400 units. And for those keeping score, that’s three service station conversions in one year!

94 Washington Sq East

Knights of Columbus Hall conversion, 94 Washington Square East

106 Bridge St construction

Magic Muffler conversion, 106 Bridge St

“But hundreds are permitted” will scream the anti-development forces. True, but that’s not taking into account how the indefatigable turning of the “Undevelopment Carousel” thwarts even the most determined. Let’s check a few properties currently stuck on the Undevelopment Carousel and unable to step off.

¤ Salem Oil and Grease site on Grove St (130 permitted units) – stuck in soil remediation hell.
¤ Gateway Center corner of Boston & Bridge (120 permitted units) – stuck in gaining clear title hell.
¤ Ferris junkyard on Franklin St (44 permitted units, down from 50) – stuck in NIMBY lawsuit hell.

That’s nearly 250 units, going nowhere. All three have been under redevelopment consideration for years, the first two for decades. Morose prediction – none will come to fruition in the next decade.

Ferris junkyard rehab

Proposed Ferris junkyard conversion, Franklin St

To point out the often overlooked obvious – the Housing Crisis is ALL of Metro Boston.

…the region slapped on 5.8 jobs per 1,000 residents, meaning that 2.5 jobs were added for every new housing unit in the Boston region.

Perhaps Salem is doing poorly in meeting its quota, but several neighboring North Shore cities are doing worse, and even Boston, despite all the cranes in the air, falls 20-30% short of its goal. Getting a C grade when others rate a D- is no reason for celebration.

We must up our game, if we want to keep Salem equitable, thriving, and vibrant.

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Blubber Hollow Construction Update. Late Summer 2019.

It’s been a summer of much construction buzz throughout the Blubber Hollow district of Gallows Hill. Let’s review where matters stand.

Salem Suede Riverview Place Apartments

The steel is going up! After starts, then stops, than starts extending over twenty years, it’s time for this skeptical blogger to admit that Riverview Place, at the site of the former Salem Suede Tannery on Flint St and the former Bonfanti Tannery around the corner on Mason St, is going to happen. 000_0399When finished, likely mid to late 2020, some 120 apartments will look out over the North River. It’ll represent the biggest single addition to Salem housing stock since Jefferson Place (now Bell at Salem Station) on the former Parker Brothers site along Bridge St opened in 2002. Can hardly wait.

River Rock Apartments

It’s open and occupied! Or at least the central apartment building with 48 units is open. Renters began moving in at the end of July, and the building is now fully occupied. Welcome to Salem, River Rock! Though this blogger still views that Tannery Ridge would have been a more apt name, given the long occupancy of FlynnTan leather on the ridge dominating the site. The six townhouse units (left in the photo) are as yet unfinished but likely will get occupied before Thanksgiving. The remaining five townhouse units (right in the photo) are fenced off indefinitely, no construction since the basement was dug out a year ago. Developer is apparently waiting for full occupancy of the built units so that financing can be forwarded to construct the five remaining planned units. Perhaps early to mid 2020 before those get added to Salem’s housing stock.

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River Rock Apartments just before new tenants moved in

Ice Cream Way

Turning the other direction along the North River, tucked in between Commercial St and Mason St, we find Ice Cream Way, so named for its centerpiece, the conversion of  the former Hood Ice Cream Plant, built 1917, into 10 luxury condos. Rehab of the plant took longer than anticipated, so only now are those 10 units getting bought and occupied. Of the townhouse properties, in three stands of seven, six, and six units, the first two are fully occupied; the third stand of six sits vacant. Again financiers are apparently watching occupancy of the finished units before releasing funds to build the third townhouse building tucked in behind the Ice Cream building.Ice Cream Way Fall 2019

Bridge Street Auto

At 331 Bridge St this is a modest construction of only four townhouse units with garages facing Bridge St, replacing the former Bridge St Auto service center. Demolition went quickly, and in August the foundations were formed and poured. Framing ought to commence this autumn, with topping off before construction pauses for winter.

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Foundations for 331-333 Bridge St townhouses

The vast space behind the site will remain the province of 128-130 Federal St LLC, nearly an acre occupied by a rarely used 6-bay garage and a less-rarely used back parking lot with some two dozen spaces, all for a 6-unit Federal style apartment building at 130 Federal St and a 3-unit Queen Anne style triplex at 128 Federal St. So some 30 parking spaces for 9 apartment units – seems about right.

130 Federal St

The driveway between 128 (R) and 130 (L) Federal leads to a large and under-utilized hidden parking lot

A shame that such a large, valuable and central space could not be more gainfully employed. If not housing, then at least a hidden backyard garden à la Ropes Garden down the street. The space, no longer accessible from Bridge St with the new townhouses in the way, was for many generations an make-out area for Salem adolescents, hidden from disapproving parental eyes, so in a sense it was once “gainfully” employed.

More Vignettes of Salem Neighborhoods

Salem Neighborhoods makes Final Jeopardy

Here’s today’s Final Jeopardy (in the category New England) for Monday, June 17, 2019 (Season 35, Episode 201):

Neighborhoods in this city include Federal Street, Gallows Hill, & Witchcraft Heights

Correct response: Salem

Recap

Having provided, as a public service, a consideration of what is a neighborhood, an inventory of all Salem neighborhoods, and the rationales behind said inventory, there are still tales to be told of Salem neighborhoods that did not fit into earlier posts on all things neighborhood.

Before going further, a review of the hierarchy of designations, most complex to least:
I.   Neighborhood – compact and cohesive, functionally diverse, highly interconnected.
A. District – compact and cohesive, functionally monotonic, interconnected
1. Community – not compact, multiple functions, disjoint
a. Subdivision – strictly residential, monotonic, connected to nothing else

Boundaries are Fluid

Neighborhoods ebb and flow organically, without direction or higher purpose. Once this correspondent listened to accounts of a stabbing in Boston outside Egleston Square. Two TV news channels reported the incidence from the same street corner, so close to each other that the words of one reporter could be overheard in the telecast of the other.  One reporter ended with “Reporting live from Jamaica Plain…” the other “Reporting live from Roxbury…” Go figure.

Salem too has boundaries between neighborhoods and districts that may seem, at first consideration, arbitrary. The fluid boundary between the South Salem and The Point neighborhoods is a premiere example. In early Salem maps, such as this 1872 excerpt, there is a clear constriction between South Salem and The Point. The Point 1872 mapSince then filling in of all of Mill Cove, on the left, and much of Palmer Cove, on the right, has left the boundary between the two areas indistinct. The Point 2019 mapSo the boundary between the two has to be set along streets placed on the new landfill areas. Fairfield St to the west of Lafayette St and Lafayette Pl just past the current Salstonstall School to the east. Though drawing the boundary one block north or south of this zigzag boundary would not be out of line. the-point-2019-map-marked.jpgAs argued before, the City of Salem really should really set up a committee to resolve uncertainties like this one. Expect one day to hear two local newscasters broadcasting from the same corner on Lafayette St, one closing with “Reporting live from The Point …”, the other “Reporting live from South Salem …”

Confluence of parishes with ethnic districts

Though municipal authorities have long seemed oblivious to Salem’s ethnic neighborhoods, not so Boston diocesan authorities. Parish boundaries clearly demarcated ethnic neighborhood boundaries. Salem once had an incredible seven parishes, incredible in that there were likely never more than 15-20,000 Catholics total resident in Salem. Here were the church ⇔ neighborhood matches, before Salem’s Catholic parishes imploded in the early 21st century.

As neighborhood ethnicities vanished, so too did the parishes. Of those seven churches only three remain open today (Immaculate Conception, St. James, Ste Anne), with all three combined into an “uber” parish, Mary Queen of the Apostles. Of the other four buildings one (St. Joseph) is gone completely, the other three converted to alternative uses. Italian St. Mary to Lifebridge Shelter, Polish St. John to Pope John Paul II Divine Mercy Shrine (so still Catholic),  St. Thomas merged with Our Lady of Fatima church of Peabody (so still Catholic but no longer a Salem parish).


Names considered Distasteful

Just like boundaries, names of neighborhoods arise organically and should not be imposed from outside. That hasn’t stopped municipal authorities in many cities from attempting to replace neighborhood names considered bizarre or even distasteful. The classic example is Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, which is officially bland Clinton, a redesignation that never took hold with the populace. The Times Square blackout in mid July this year was universally reported as originating from a transformer blowout in Hell’s Kitchen, not in Clinton. Kudos to the reporters.

In Salem the Blubber Hollow name for some reason has become distasteful and has been redesignated as North River Canal Corridor (NRCC) in official city documents.  This designation is not favored. First it is a mouthful that invariably gets stuck on the tongue (try saying it fast three times); second it is nowhere near as evocative, Hollow with its Appalachian overtones, Blubber with its recall of the whaling and subsequent industries, tanneries especially, long planted in this area. May the Blubber Hollow name never be lost.

NRCC map

NRCC / Blubber Hollow sandwiched between Gallows Hill (bottom), North Salem (left) and McIntire District (right)

Vinnin Square: in Salem but not of Salem

Vinnin Square is the outermost neighborhood of Salem, in the far southeast corner, cut off from the rest of Salem by the Forest River Conservation Area to its north and Salem Woods (actually more a marsh than a forest) to its west. More of the Vinnin Square neighborhood is in the neighboring towns of Swampscott and Marblehead than in Salem.

vinnin-square-map.jpg

Vinnin Square according to Google maps

All this keeps Vinnin Square apart, geographically and culturally, from other parts of Salem.

Speaking of apart, old joke. When Endicott Peabody was Governor of Massachusetts what were three MA towns named for him? Peabody (west of Salem), Marblehead (connected to Salem via Vinnin Square), and Athol (pronounce it with a lisp).

The Periphery of Salem

Vinnin Square at the far periphery of Salem raises another matter. Like any other city, Salem has central neighborhoods and districts and peripheral ones, and like any other city more people reside in the central than peripheral areas. A simple expectation is that most of the representation in city government comes from the central zones. Not so regarding the Salem City Council. Placing the addresses on the current city council of a population density map of Salem shows that only one councilor resides in the densest part of the city, roughly Collins Cove down to Palmer Cove and between Salem Harbor and the North River. Hopefully the 2019 municipal elections can correct this disparity, leaving Salem representation more reflective of the Salem populace.

city-councillors-map-salem.jpg

West Salem – A fully disconnected community

West Salem is different from other parts of Salem in that it is a community – unconnected subdivisions sprawled out over vast area. There is no central commercial district, unless you consider the ugly strip malls and big box stores stretching along Highland Avenue as a “center”. There are few to no connections between the subdivisions, as each has one, maybe two, entries to Highland Ave and no connection to any other subdivision. Subdivided Highland Avenue has few crossovers, so passing from one subdivision even to a neighboring subdivision can be a tortuous drive. Highland Ave long connection
Take for example a trip from Freeman Road to Crowdis St, a 100-yard distance as the foot stomps. To make the connection by car you have to, according to Google, either (illegally) cut through a big box store parking lot, or worse legally circle around and behind an enormous strip mall. But drive you must, as sidewalks along Highland are inadequate, in places non-existent, and bike paths are non-existent along the entire length of Highland. West Salem will likely never graduate to neighborhood status.

 

 

Blubber Hollow Construction Update. June 2019

River Rock Apartments

This complex at the site of the former FlynnTan factory is scheduled to receive residents by the Fourth of July. The only work that remains at the central apartment building and the six Boston St side townhouses is hardscaping (lots of cobblestones apparently) and landscaping. Distinctive medallions have been hung on the Georgian-style parapets on either side of the apartment building. The hole in the ground where five townhouses on the Goodhue St side are planned is still, a year after demolition of the mechanics shops once there, a hole in the ground. No clue on when work on the remaining townhouses will commence. An elegant sign broadcasting the bland River Rock name (no end to confusion with the Riverview project a block east) of the complex sits on the Boston Street side. The address of the complex – 70 Boston St – is emblazoned in immense letters on the Goodhue St side. Sure to confuse many visitors.

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Do not even contemplate renting one of the luxury apartments or buying one of the townhouses. This is what has been seen at apartments.com for the past six months.River Rock availability

Reminder: this will be the first housing project to open in housing starved Gallows Hill area since North River Apartments open in 2013 across the street at 28 Goodhue. Others projects are planned, but spades rarely get turned into the ground. The Massachusetts Governor housing working group has projected that Salem will need 4000 new housing units in ten years, just to house the workers that are already here. Opening 50 units every six years or so doesn’t cut it.

Ice Cream Way

News is mixed at the Ice Cream Way project further down the North River on Mason St. The second set of townhouses was completed in just six months and every unit of it is occupied, even with the parking area not paved.Ice Cream Way plans But the pièce de résistance of the project, the rehab of the former Hood ice cream factory, has according to representatives of JPI, the development firm behind the project, run repeatedly into “unforeseen difficulties” and so its opening has been delayed, perhaps until the end of year 2019. Commencement of construction of the third townhouse building in the back corner has accordingly been pushed back. The  burrow in that corner, home to the groundhog Salem Sam, is safe for a few months more.

Salem Suede Riverview Place Apartments

The real excitement in Blubber Hollow this spring has been the clearing and preparation of the former Salem Suede tannery. Given decades of delay of this project, skepticism runs high that construction is nigh. That skepticism won’t diminish until residents actually move in, in another two years if everything proceeds apace.

Heavy construction vehicles filled the site some ten years ago, but were withdrawn when the then developer encountered financial difficulties. Construction vehicles again filled the site some five years ago, but were again withdrawn when the subsequent developer in its own turn encountered financial difficulties. Perhaps the third time really is the charm?

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Post pounding proceeds apace. St James Church hovers in the background

Bridge St Auto Service

The last construction update got excited about excavators at the site, promising immediate construction. Alas, the excavator was there only to dig out the underground tank of what had been a gas station 50 years ago. Excavator removed, a hole in the ground with vent sticking out and temporary chain link fencing left remaining.

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Former Bridge St Auto Service, 331 Bridge St

No indication that demolition and construction is set to begin any time soon, though some windows and fixtures have been removed. The absent windows leave the tattered building prey to wildlife visitation, especially of the human homeless kind. Aggravating this eyesore is the abutting 23 River St, a two-family empty for years, no word yet on when renovations on it will begin. 000_0370But turn across Bridge Street to see that the Blubber Hollow planters have achieved vernal rebirth, adding color to an otherwise desolate street.

Magic Muffler site on Bridge St

This site is not in Blubber Hollow. It is in the Bridge St Neck neighborhood. Most construction in Salem staggers along for years, for decades in all too frequent occurrences, the delays due variously to bankruptcy, financial “reevaluation”, NIMBY opposition, uncovering of toxic dumping, and not occasionally all of the above.

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View from adjoining bike path.

This small townhouse project (just eight units replacing the eyesore Magic Muffler service station) is the exception, going from demolition to hole in the ground to laying roof boards in mere weeks.

106-bridge-st-construction.jpg

Instead of the ubiquitous “birds in flight” motif the artist here goes for the rarely used “autumn sunset clouds” motif .

So, such things can be done with alacrity. Gives hope that Blubber Hollow could be resuscitated within the lifetime of this correspondent (as now a Medicare recipient, not entirely a flippant wish). The project is on upper Bridge St. As lower Bridge St is the main drag of Blubber Hollow, this project merits Honorable Mention on this blog covering all matters Blubber Hollow.

Salem Neighborhoods. C. Validations

Having provided a treatise on what exactly is a neighborhood, and then having provided a compendium of all Salem neighborhoods and districts, the time has now come to justify the list provided of Salem neighborhoods, following the rationales previously elaborated.

Why Neighborhood Designations Matter

Even to a small city like Salem proper neighborhood designations matter, actually especially to an uber-historic city like Salem. Neighborhoods tie a city together, providing cohesiveness to otherwise befuddling daily life. When neighborhoods are all too often shredded by electoral gerrymandering more than just political unity is lost – a sense of togetherness is gone.

Among other uses of neighborhood designations mentioned in previous posts, they are used to logically place civic facilities like firehouses, police stations, public schools and more. An exception is postal code boundaries, which follow neighborhood designations more by happenstance than intention*.

That said, let’s cut to Salem neighborhoods and districts, starting with the most equivocal designation.

The Mill Hill district downtown

Mill Hill was the designation given to the former “Little Italy” district, fronting at Riley Plaza and proceeding west all the way to the Jackson St. axis. Two problematic aspects: the name and the boundaries.Mill Hill closeup map

In historical accounts of Salem the Mill Hill designation seems to apply not only up the hill going up Gedney St, but equally to the other side, the eastern side, of the former Mill Cove. There were many reasons to question that designation:

  1. The eastern side of the former Mill Cove is more a riverine slope, not a hill with a crest; the western side is an actual hill rising along Gedney St with a crest roughly at the Broad St Cemetery.
  2. The colonial era mill from which the area gets its designation sat on the center of an earthen span across Mill Cove, so neither on one side or the other, but the street leading to the mill, Mill Street, was on the western side (see 1820 map). Mill Street, by the way, no longer exists, having been supplanted by Margin St.mill-hill-vintage-map.jpg
  3. The eastern side belongs to The Point in official records (see 2018 map). The Point is a rare neighborhood in Salem with an official designation.The Point Boundaries
  4. Geographic landmarks mark off neighborhood boundaries. Mill Cove, then the railroad yards once the cove was filled in in the mid-19th century, then the parking lots of Riley Plaza that replaced the railroad yards in the mid-20th century, form a daunting border between the two areas.

If there remains disapproval of the Mill Hill designation, the fallback designation is the Greater Endicott district. But Mill Hill is so evocative, instantly giving a flavor of the area (there is a hill, and there was once a mill by that hill), while Greater Endicott reveals nothing.

Setting the eastern boundary of Mill Hill at Riley Plaza, then where falls the western boundary? Some sources cut off the district at the crest of the hill along Summer St, or if being generous on the far downslope at Winthrop St, but perusal of early 20th century Salem directories finds a surfeit of Italian surnames as far west as Hathorne and Phelps Streets, and even unto Jackson Street, so that’s where the boundary gets drawn. The other two compass points are more easily settled, the southern boundary set by the former Mill Pond now the MBTA railroad tracks; the northern boundary of Broad St marking off the aristocratic McIntire District unto which no Italian immigrant would have been allowed to venture.

Nearly wiped out in the Great Salem Fire of 1914, the Italian district was rapidly rebuilt. Fortunately the First Period 1665 Gedney House was saved, barely, from the conflagration, as was the intimidating gothic train station, though not the railroad yards behind the station.

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View from Mill Hill looking across railroad yards towards The Point

Though losses were severe, Mill Hill came out of the fire better than the abutting The Point French neighborhood, which was annihilated in the fire.

Downtown Districts

Now let’s circle through the other downtown districts. First up is another former ethnic area, the Waterfront or Derby St District. This was from the end of the 19th through the mid 20th century a thriving Polish District, complete with Polish eateries, Polish bakeries, Polish barbers, Polish markets, Polish school, several Polish community centers,

Polish community Center Daniels St

Former Polish American Community Center

Polish churches (St. John the Baptist and for non-Catholics St. Nicholas Orthodox), even for a while a Polish library. The draw for Polish immigrants was work in Salem’s bustling factories, principally the Pequot Mills textile factory around the corner of the harbor in The Point, but also several leather factories that dotted the district. Strictly speaking, there were included Ukrainians and Slovaks and other Slavic ethnicities, but given the vagaries of Poland’s boundaries around the turn of the 20th century, it suffices to consider them all Polish.

At its height the area would have been categorized as a neighborhood, given the wide diversity of activities (industrial and commercial and institutional and homes and apartments and retail), but in the second half of the 20th century what happens to immigrant communities happened to the Waterfront District – descendents of the immigrants gradually moved away. With them gone, the community centers, the shops, the factories and all went away, even the Polish East Branch library, and the neighborhood categorization went away accordingly. Lured by breathtaking water views on every street, residences and former stores are getting converted into upscale condos. Today it’s hard to consider that the Waterfront Neighborhood District was ever a downscale immigrant neighborhood.


The elegant Common and McIntire Districts, on the eastern and western edges of Downtown, respectively, will be considered together. Both are upscale residential districts established in the late 18th century, dense with grand estate homes in the Federal style popularized by celebrated Salem architect Samuel McIntire. Hence the designation as the, d’oh, McIntire District, and for purists the McIntire Historic District. Development continued through the Victorian era, with early Victorian Second Empire and Italianate homes commonplace in the McIntire District and late Victorian Queen Anne homes commonplace in the Common District, before reaching a stasis in the early 20th century that continues today.  For my money, the collection of Queen Anne homes off Washington Square is the grandest set of such homes this side of the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square.

Neither district ever sustained the diversity of functions necessary for categorization as a neighborhood, though both districts were once sprinkled with commercial shops (John Chandler Grocery Store at 107 Federal St; Stephen Fogg Store at 25 Flint St at the foot of Chestnut St; Hailey Drug Store on Washington Square). In the mid-20th century exclusionary zoning gradually choked all the shops out, removing a convenience for residents now forced to shop at remote stores. Both districts, aside from tourist attractions, are resolutely residential today.


The “Neck” Neighborhoods

There is no question that Salem’s two northeasterly peninsulas both represent long-established neighborhoods, not districts, as both are diverse as to activities and building types. Bridge Street Neck may be said to be Salem’s “oldest” neighborhood, as it was the landing site for the initial settlement expedition of 1626. It’s also a rarity in that an official map of neighborhood boundaries can be had.

bridge-st-neighborhood.jpg

A rare find – an official map of a Salem Neighborhood, the Bridge St Neighborhood. Current Salem Beverly Bridge at top. Bridge St traverses the neighborhood.

The Salem Neck Neighborhood is denser than other Salem neighborhoods with industrial activities, what with the Footprint Power Plant and South Essex Sewerage plant in its boundaries, and is denser as well in recreational / entertainment activities, what with both Winter Island and The Willows within its confines.

The “Compass Point” Neighborhoods

South Salem and North Salem in a tie for most lifeless neighborhood name. Twins in other ways as well. Both contain established commercial and retail districts, along North St for North Salem and along Lafayette St and Canal St for South Salem. Both contain long-term industrial districts, along the North River for North Salem and along Canal St for South Salem. Both contain celebrated green spaces, Mack Park and Greenlawn Cemetery for North Salem and Forest River Park for South Salem. Neither, despite long-standing existence, ever had an ethnic identity, though there was for a while a tiny Jewish immigrant community of a few dozen families in South Salem, focused on the Temple Shalom at 287 Lafayette St, now the School of Social Work building for Salem State University.

Temple Shalon 287 Lafayette

Former Temple Shalom South Salem

Besides the compass point, the biggest difference is that South Salem has Salem State University, with all the accompanying upsides and downsides of having a major university in one’s midst, while North Salem has no such counterpart.

Castle Hill – Salem’s Rockwellian Neighborhood

All of the neighborhoods / districts considered so far, except the central business district downtown, are noticeably short of the amenities – cafes, coffeehouses, pubs, bakeries, corner markets, libraries, tablecloth restaurants, boutiques, more – that make city life, hell life itself, so damn attractive. It’s not that Salem’s neighborhoods never had such things. The ethnic neighborhoods in particular, as well as the compass point neighborhoods, once had many. They vanished little by little in the second half of the 20th century, as central Salem hollowed out to half its population. Hard to recall today, what with sidewalk cafes and breweries bubbling seemingly on every corner, that even Downtown until recently was a tumbleweed zone. The recovery to the vibrant street life of today is only a quarter century along.

But Castle Hill never lost those varied attractions. Even today it is the most Norman Rockwell of Salem neighborhoods. Neighbors on a hot summer eve sitting on wrap-around front porches chatting to each other; kids walking to the corner store for ice cream then sitting on a street corner licking those cones; pick up ball games in the neighborhood park that actually has, get this, park benches where residents actually, get this, sit and people watch; local sit-down restaurants (Okea Grill, Dube’s), pubs (Tin Whistle) and corner stores (Castle Hill, Family) where everybody does know your name.

castle-hill-1905.jpg

In late 19th century the yet to be developed Castle Hill area was almost an island. Note also how Salem Neck before landfill was almost separated from central Salem.

Established in the early 20th century after landfill operations connected an isolated hill to the rest of Salem (see topographic map), Castle Hill was initially a middle class French-Canadian neighborhood of colonial homes (Four-square and Dutch) and triple-decker apartments characteristic of the period. Most homes have been meticulously maintained. A favorite is this magnificent Stick style reproduction (say reproduction b/c Stick was a Midwest style virtually unknown in Salem), with diverse clapping, complex eave ornamentation, and a paint job so glowing it would seem to generate its own heat.

268 Jefferson Ave

Gallows Hill – Inclusive of Witchcraft Heights and Blubber Hollow

In this survey of Salem neighborhoods the Gallows Hill neighborhood necessarily receives short shrift, as this a blog devoted to all matters Gallows Hill, so read pretty much any other post on this blog for background about Gallows Hill. (Recommended: Top Ten Reasons Gallows Hill is Historic; The  Gablefront House Gets No Respect).

The Point – Salem’s only remaining ethnic neighborhood

The Point too has been considered before in posts of this blog, so receives little attention here. It remains the favorite Salem neighborhood of this blogger, with Castle Hill, given the effusion above, a close second. The Point is the only remaining ethnic neighborhood in Salem, though its ethnicity now (Hispanic, el barrio el punto) is far removed from its initial ethnicity (French-Canadian, le quartier le pointe).

No neighborhood is stagnant; it’s the nature and substance of the shifts that can cause friction**



* Because neighborhood boundaries are fluid, ever-changing, while postal zone boundaries are static, over time mismatches arise. A local example is zip code 02120 in Boston, which starts in the South End, gets a corner of Roxbury, includes most but not all of Mission Hill, and even takes a slice of the Fenway neighborhood. Oh my, pieces of four established neighborhoods in a single postal code.

A McIntire Soars over Salem

So, this is a blog about Gallows Hill, but a tale uncovered about Salem outside Gallows Hill is so delicious that attention must be paid.

Samuel McIntire (1757-1811), for the few out there who don’t know, was an accomplished Salem woodcarver who turned to architecture after the Revolutionary War, becoming the foremost exponent in Salem of the uniquely American Federal style of architecture then taking hold in East Coast cities. Many of the homes that McIntire designed and built still stand, most in the McIntire Historic District, natch.

To note that you own a McIntire urn, banister, fence post, whatever represents the ne plus ultra of Salem brags. But most such artifacts sit hidden behind closed doors. So it comes as a surprise that a most striking McIntire has been sitting atop the steeple of the venerable Tabernacle Church at Washington and Federal downtown for close to a century, largely unnoticed by the thousands of commuters and tourists that pass daily. Not a word about the weathervane on the Tabernacle Church website or the Historic Salem website or anywhere that this blogger looked.

Tabernacle Church Salem

View of Tabernacle Church upon emerging from Salem Depot

McIntire weather vane 1

McIntire Weathervane, up close. Taken from roof of building next door.

It turns out that McIntire first produced and hung the vane atop the steeple of his masterpiece, the South Church, built 1803-04, which stood at the corner of Chestnut and Hamilton Streets. The vane is iron sheathed by copper. Who knew the woodcarver also dabbled in the foundry arts?Tabernacle Church Salem lithograph

The weathervane of the South Church was star-crossed from its opening. The spire with accompanying vane was blown over by stiff winds in Sept 1804 but rebuilt in time for the Jan 1 1805 dedication. A hundred years later, well, we’ll let a history of the Tabernacle Church take it from there.

“The Old South Church was destroyed in the spectacular fire of December 19, 1903, when that church burned to the ground. No one seems to remember just who rescued the vane from the ruins and left it in the custody of the Essex Institute, but it was saved and remained there in its somewhat damaged condition until recently, when … the vane was given to the church society, to be placed on the new edifice. [in 1923]”

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Photo from the 1890’s. Barely visible McIntire Vane marked

“The main vane is made of copper and was unquestionably the design of Salem’s noted architect, Samuel McIntire, who designed the old South Church.” “Owing to the recent union of the South and Tabernacle churches it is very appropriate in this new place, perpetuating as it does the history of the former church.”

“Samuel McIntire, who dies in 1811, was the most accomplished of all Salem architects and wood carvers.” The old South Church building was erected in 1804 and dedicated Jan. 1, 1805. As a specimen of colonial church architecture it was much admired.” (Salem’s Church with the Lighted Steeple – A History of Tabernacle Congregational Church, 1735-2007. pp. 176-77).

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McIntire Weathervane, from the street.

Now that the origin of the weathervane has been uncovered, the next obvious question is what does it represent? The head of the vane is obviously a schematic flower, daisy most likely. Perhaps rotation of the photo can help.mcintire-weather-vane-rotated.jpg

A single flower definitely, standing in an elaborate urn or vase. And huge, six feet in length at least. And shiny, the material looking more like gold gild than copper.

So next time your daily peregrinations take you to the vicinity of Washington St downtown, crane your neck up for a McIntire that watches Salem from up high.

Salem Neighborhoods. B. Comprehensive List.

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 all present. 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.

Compendiums

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 productively 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.

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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.

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.

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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.

SALEM NECK
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. The 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.

Salem Ethnic Map

Former Ethnic Neighborhoods of Salem. Irish on Gallows Hill; French-Canadian in The Point; Polish in the Waterfront District; Italian on Mill Hill.

DOWNTOWN
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 west 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.

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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.

THE POINT
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 as le quartier la Pointe.

The Point neighborhood and the mills were quickly rebuilt after the Great Salem Fire in 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.

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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. As a mark 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. art-murals-2-the-point.jpg

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Several of the spectacular murals that inhabit The Point.

SOUTH SALEM
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.

Destruction Map Great Salem Fire

The Great Fire originated at 55 Boston St in Gallows Hill, took out the far edge of the McIntire District, nearly all of 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.

NORTH SALEM
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 District The portion of North Salem west of North Street around Mack Park, formerly Ledge Hill Park.
Northfields District The portion of North Salem east of North Street around Greenlawn Cemetery.

CASTLE HILL
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.

Castle Hill vintage photo

Vintage photo of central Salem purportedly taken from atop Castle Hill

VINNIN SQUARE
Salem’s southernmost neighborhood is around Vinnin Square (the conjunction of Loring Ave, Paradise Road, Vinnin St and Salem St) up to rear of the 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.

West Salem
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.

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Marker for West Salem located on Highland Avenue in front of North Shore Medical Center

 

 

 

But Wait There’s More. Spring Construction Update Continued.

Two further parcels merit attention in this series of Construction Updates in Blubber Hollow.

331 Bridge Street

A large lot at this address was for decades home to the Bridge St Auto Service. Passersby on Bridge St may have noticed that it, and its erstwhile companion business Morneau Bros. Oil, are no longer resident. Bridge St Auto Service has closed shop for good, while Morneau Bros. is still in business at a new location.

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331-333 Bridge Street

In December the Castle Hill Group, LLP, represented by well-known local attorney Stephen Lovely (husband to State Senator Joan Lovely), got approval for four multi-family buildings on the 1/4 acre site. And just last week a massive excavator was parked at the site, so perhaps demolition is to start soon.

Plans seem to have been approved under the radar with little notice from the “undevelopment brigands” of the McIntire District, who’ve been known to hold up all other development plans in or near Blubber Hollow, sometimes for decades. If this project does go forward it’ll be in record time for a Salem project.000_0360.jpg

Generations of Salem teens knew the back lot of 331 Bridge St as a great place to go “parking” on a Saturday date. Convenient. Quiet. Hidden.

397 Bridge Street

Going a block further along Bridge St come to this address, the back of the recent conversion of the former St. James convent and school offices at 162 Federal Street into eight apartments. Since historic preservation tax credits were used to fund the conversion, the units have to remain apartments for five years, after which they could remain apartments or be converted into condos, depending on the discretion of the owners. Several apartments are now occupied; presumably the remainder will be occupied shortly.000_0359

For decades this sign announcing the busy mass schedule stood behind the convent on Bridge St. When the new parking lot behind the rehabbed building was paved over this winter the sign was cut down and unceremoniously dumped behind a remaining storage bin. The former St James Parish has fallen on extreme hard times, this photo emblematic  of said hard times. The discarded liquor bottle a lovely touch. And did check the web address at the bottom of the sign. The link is dead, but does date the last painting of the sign to the late 90’s. How quickly the once mighty have fallen.

50 Grove Street

Neglected to mention earlier that the ATG recreational marijuana dispensary in Blubber Hollow at this address still is “temporarily” closed due to “corrupted data” in the tracking system. Six weeks on the accounting discrepancies have yet to be resolved. ATG was the first dispensary to open in Greater Boston, and until the opening of a dispensary in Brookline last week, the only one. It’s closure, however temporary, leaves a hole in Blubber Hollow, indeed in the entire Greater Boston area.

 

Construction in Blubber Hollow. Spring 2019 Update.

Left this thread of construction updates by the wayside for some time, given that little goes on during the winter months. But with sunnier days activity has returned to Blubber Hollow, so another update is past due.

Boston Street

Starting from the west and proceeding east along the North River come first to River Rock Apartments and townhouses squeezed onto the ledge between Boston and Goodhue Streets. When last visited the central apartment house was completed only needing interior trim and paint, while the northerly townhouses had been topped off with interior utility work commencing, and the southerly townhouses having the foundation marked off with steel posts but concrete not poured. Months later the status remains much the same. Trim on the apartments is completed but with landscaping still incomplete the building cannot be occupied; northerly townhouses have all utilities in place and trim work commencing; southerly townhouses still a shell of a foundation. 000_0356
Indeed progress seems to have stepped back a bit, what with the westerly brick parapet, completed months ago, now wrapped in tarps, perhaps for some unseen brickwork repointing. Opening is still promised by mid-spring, with applications for both apartment rentals and townhouse ownership being taken now.

Grove Street

Up Goodhue St from River Rock where it merges into Grove St we come to the site of the former Salem and Oil Grease. When last visited on these pages the nearly century-old main buildings had been demolished, leaving the foundation and two newer cinder block buildings in place when heavy equipment was withdrawn for the winter. Heavy equipment has returned, and in a sure sign that this time the demolition team is serious a Porta-potty has been placed on the site. 000_0357
But the two cinder block buildings, though interiors have been ripped out, still stand, at least partially. Test digs, looking for toxic droppings perhaps, dot the site.

Mason Street

Now passing along the North River several hundred yards downriver we come to the site of the former Salem Suede on Flint Street and the adjoining former Bonfanti Leather factory on Mason St. In 2007 plans were approved for 164 apartments in four buildings to fill the site. In the first wave of activity in 2012 the decrepit buildings were demolished. 000_0358Then the developer pulled out, citing an inability to get sufficient financial backing. Another developer picked up the baton and resumed site prep work in 2016,

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Before demolition the enormous Salem Suede building (forefront) and the smaller Bonfanti Leather building (blue dot) fill the site where Riverview Place apartments will soon stand. The former building is about twice the scale of the replacement apartments.

only to themselves pull out, citing an inability to get sufficient financial backing. In 2018 a third development team came on board. In Spring 2019 heavy machinery and laborers now fill the site, digging and marking and surveying. Here’s to hope that the third time is the charm. Salem Suede closed shop decades ago, and the eyesore of a vacant lot has since been home to nobody but numerous murine vermin.

Carousel of Undevelopment

Development of the aforementioned Salem Oil & Grease site was itself delayed for some ten years when the first developer pulled out, citing – speak up if this has been heard before – an inability to get sufficient financial backing.

It’s a game that gets played often in Salem. A local development firm (well-capitalized national firms don’t even consider Salem) plans a large project with expectation of reasonable ROI. Neighbors and city council raise hue and cry about the “massive” size of the proposal, so the developer cuts the scale way back to eventually get city approval. With approved plans in hand the project is shopped around to investment firms. After running the numbers all deem the project marginal, money-wise. Unable to get financial backing the developer sells out to someone else, following the dictum of “somewhere there’s a bigger fool than I”. The project is stalled while the bigger fool reclimbs the chain of needed approvals and permits, only to then itself face difficulty getting needed capital. Around and around the “undevelopment” carousel goes / if it ever stops nobody knows.

Mason Street

Continuing downriver we come to Ice Cream Way on Mason Street, site of the former Bay State Creamery. Progress has been substantial on the conversion of the former creamery into six two-story luxury apartments.ice-cream-way-plans.jpgOf the three townhouse buildings to surround the creamery building, the first, which incorporated an existing two-family Queen Anne house, is completed and occupied; the corner building is erected and going full speed on interior work; the third is still only a dream.

 

 

Smithsonian Channel Highlights Gallows Hill

The Smithsonian Channel on Monday March 4 kicked off this year’s season of America’s Hidden Stories with an episode dedicated to Salem’s Secrets, covering – what else – the witchcraft trials of 1692.

Watching the episode in full requires a premium cable package or an online subscription to Smithsonian, but a segment of the episode covering how Proctor’s Ledge was identified as the hanging site is available for free.

Dedicated sleuthing by researchers uncovered a courtroom interrogation of Rebecca Eames, herself accused of witchcraft and arrested the morning of the hangings. She was being transported to the Salem Jail, but the hangings were ongoing and so she was left “at a house below the hill” to view the spectacle. In the interrogation she reports being able to see “a few folks being executed”. From the house now long gone, but today 19 Boston St, Eames “would have had a clear view of high ground”.vintage-map-proctors-ledge.jpg

In the video clip, two of the four researchers (Marilynne Roach and Benjamin Ray) who confirmed the site are seen walking along Boston Street, map in hand, stopping at 19 Boston St. Their surprise “Well, It’s a laundromat” brings to mind the headline in the Huffington Post the day the researchers’ findings were announced: “Salem Witch Trials Execution Site Found, And It’s Behind A Walgreens“.

View of Proctors Ledge from Sunshine Laundry

“Well, it’s a laundromat”

So much history hidden in unremarkable, forgettable places.

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Given the wide notice given to the Smithsonian Channel, the Sunshine Laundry could get a lot of tourist attention. (Wash your clothes while viewing the Witchcraft Trials Memorial). Perhaps eventually a historic plaque will be placed upon its wall? Even the Salem Auto Body in front of Proctor’s Ledge might get more attention. And of course the Smithsonian episode can only drive more traffic to the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, the most historic site on Gallows Hill.