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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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View of Tabernacle Church upon emerging from Salem Depot

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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. 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 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.

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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 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.

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 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.

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 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,

riverviewapartmentssalemsite

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.

 

Gallows Hill Park Closure Gets Serious

The closure of Mansell Playground portion of Gallows Hill Park in late December, due to toxic soil contamination, has in late January been cemented by erection of a six-foot chain link fence about the area. The flimsy orange netting originally installed had blown over in many places, a decay possibly accelerated by boarders in the adjacent skateboard yard testing their skills by leaping over the netting. No one is going to jump, climb, or leap over the replacement fence.000_0352
The competence that be the Parks and Rec Department did see to it that two of the three trash barrels servicing the park got trapped within the fence. As well as a personal garbage barrel a neighbor provided to collect recyclable items. The remaining barrel, despite getting emptied twice a week, cannot handle the increased use, meaning that the remainder of the park, already awash in litter and bags of dog poop, will only become more so. Extreme cold mitigates trash accumulation only slightly.

The tarps along the ground visible in the photo represent places dug up for soil testing. Once the boundaries of the soil contamination are demarcated, then a strategy for containing the contaminated soil can be devised, be it removal or encapsulation. It’s likely that the contaminated area will coincide with the sluice pond behind the immense tannery that a century ago occupied what is now Mansell Playground.

Expectations are that containment will commence at the earliest in mid-spring, so it’s likely that Mansell Playground will be closed to public use for most of 2019. So mid-summer basketball tournaments not, late summer cheerleading classes not, toddlers spending leisure time on the swings not. Such are the local consequences of deindustrialization.

 

Salem Neighborhoods. A. What is a Neighborhood?

Gallows Hill is a historic notable neighborhood in Salem MA. It is the centerpiece of this blog. There are other historic notable neighborhoods in Salem. In compiling post after post about this one neighborhood, it has been slowly realized that there is NO comprehensive listing of the neighborhoods of Salem, compiling names, boundaries, characteristics, and the like. Not in the City of Salem records, not on Wikipedia, not in Historic Salem, not anywhere that can be found.

Such an absence is most unusual. Other cities devote considerable resources to the definitions and characteristics of their constituent neighborhoods. In Boston for the past few decades that responsibility has fallen to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (née the Boston Redevelopment Authority, a name considered too stern, too authoritarian, to retain). The BPDA provides profiles, maps, development details, histories, of each and every Boston neighborhood. The site is a pleasure to browse. Other repositories of Boston, like Universal Hub and Boston Curbed, take their neighborhood designations from BPDA, with minor tweaks.

Even neighboring Beverly, a city often in the shadow of Salem, is aware of their neighborhoods. But Salem — nothing.

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A column of Beverly neighborhoods

So as an unpaid public service, this blog will compile and list the first comprehensive description of ALL Salem neighborhoods.

Before getting to that ultimate listing (in a subsequent post), must first deal with the penultimate question of exactly What is a Neighborhood?

Neighborhood Definition

An official definition of Neighborhood, courtesy of Wikipedia, goes something like this:

Spatially a specific geographic area; functionally a set of social networks

There’s a lot of meaning to break out there, so let’s go step by step. In all the breakouts that follow most examples are taken from the neighborhoods of Boston (courtesy of BPDA), for it is those that local readers would be most familiar with.

Neighborhood as a Spatial Unit

  • compact and cohesive, not stringing through many areas of the city like a gerrymandered electoral district.

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    Pennsylvania’s former 7th Congressional District. So many neighborhoods sliced and diced.

  • have fuzzy geographical boundaries, so it is often difficult to tell where one starts and another ends. Ordinarily, boundaries between neighborhoods are set by major geographical landmarks (rivers, highways, avenues, lakes). But as the geography changes, so then can the boundaries. e.g. South Boston – Roxbury border was set by the South Bay inlet. As South Bay was filled in the border became ever more nebulous, until now it’s unclear whether the South Bay area (Massachusetts Ave and Southampton St) belongs to one or the other neighborhood. Today, the BPDA puts most of South Bay in South Boston, but that could change. As it is, the boundaries of Mattapan change every time BPDA updates its neighborhood maps.

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    In 1884 South Bay separates South Boston (center) from Roxbury (lower left), and for that matter from Dorchester (bottom).

  • boundaries are fluid. As noted in the previous bullet point, demarcations between neighborhoods are ever changing. Second, new neighborhoods can split off from previous neighborhoods, as areas of an older neighborhood become functionally distinct. Mission Hill, a long-term district of Roxbury, gradually became socially and commercially distinct from Roxbury until several decades ago the BRA gave it its independence. The Seaport is generally considered part of South Boston, but it is splitting apart from Southie, culturally, architecturally, and commercially. Soon the Seaport will secede from Southie (according to official arbiter that is the BPDA it already has, though BPDA anachronistically calls it the South Boston Waterfront and not the Seaport).

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    Easy to distinguish nascent Seaport from venerable South Boston

  • though most neighborhoods are contained within a single municipality, some neighborhoods can cross city lines. An extreme example is Chestnut Hill, which contains portions of Brookline (Norfolk County), of Newton (Middlesex County), and of the Brighton and West Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston (Suffolk County).

Neighborhood as an interconnected Functional Unit

  • diverse in functionresidential [single-family through multi-family through large-scale]; commercial (retail, offices, etc); industrial (auto repair, warehouses, carpentry shops, etc); institutional (colleges, churches, government offices, etc); recreation / entertainment (restaurants, parks, sports venues, etc). A true neighborhood ought to have most though not necessarily ALL of these diverse functions.
  • exhibits great similarity in architecture style, unsurprisingly as neighborhoods are developed within a single generation. In Boston there’s no better example than red-bricked Beacon Hill townhouses.acorn st beacon hill
  • often but not necessarily homogeneous in ethnicity. This is the attribute that most urbanites are familiar with, thinking that a neighborhood is not a neighborhood unless it bears an ethnic identity. Think North End – Italian; South Boston – Irish; Roxbury – African; Chinatown – East Asian. Ethnicity is not prerequisite, however. Fenway is a distinctive neighborhood that’s never had any ethnic uniformity; Dorchester has always had every ethnic identity, not any one.
  • ethnicity itself is fluid, as one ethnic group becomes established, pulls up tent poles and moves somewhere else, and is replaced by another ethnic group. It’s little appreciated that Roxbury, today Boston’s quintessential black neighborhood, was once predominantly Jewish, especially the Blue Hill Ave side. In the space of a decade, from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, it became overwhelmingly African (white flight can reach a tipping point quickly). Such ethnic displacement is today lamented as gentrification, as if it were new, but new it isn’t. Gentrification has always been a hallmark of a vibrant changing city.
  • neighborhood activity is centered around a commercial square or corridor (Copley Square for Back Bay; Kenmore Square for Fenway). Larger neighborhoods sometimes have multiple centers (Roxbury with the triad Dudley Square, Egleston Square, and Grove Hall).
  • names are historical and often quirky. They are not bestowed upon a neighborhood, but arise up organically. Some neighborhood names are considered distasteful, if not outright slanderous, with powers that be trying to dignify and replace the original name. The evocative Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan is now officially the generic Clinton, but the change has not caught on and it shall always be Hell’s Kitchen (if ever watched West Side Story, that’s Hell’s Kitchen).  A similar effort is underway in Boston to alter the Bullfinch Triangle District (what’s disreputable about that name) into the Uptown neighborhood. Will it catch on?
  • employing a neighborhood name as a metonym is common. Beacon Hill as a stand in for Massachusetts state government; Fenway as stand in for Red Sox baseball.

District v. Neighborhood

District and neighborhood are interchangable semantically, but there is a difference. A District is functionally a rump neighborhood, containing just one function of all the functions fulfilled by a full neighborhood. Downtown Boston meets all hallmarks of a neighborhood, but the Financial District (banking & investment), Downtown Crossing (predominantly shopping), Government Center (exclusively civic), Theater District (entertainment) and Quincy Market (predominately entertainment) are all single-function districts within the Downtown neighborhood. None is a stand-alone neighborhood.

A Subdivision does NOT constitute a neighborhood

Subdivisions are exclusively residential with exclusionary zoning restrictions preventing any other use. Subdivisions do not have commercial or recreational or industrial or any other function inclusive. Therefore, one must drive out of the subdivision to fulfill any other function of daily living besides residing. Neighborhoods are self-contained; subdivisions not.

Developers apply euphonic names to subdivisions to mimic organic neighborhood names (Rolling Glen Estates, Harmony Acres). Such names are cheesy and readily mocked, Neighborhood Name Generatorbut they reveal a deep yearning to be like a neighborhood, though anything but a neighborhood.

Benefits of Neighborhood

Neighborhood designations matter. They provide cultural and political cohesiveness. They provide a sense of connection. They provide a sense of origin (when Mark Wahlberg is interviewed he says he is from Daw-chesta not Boston. Other celebrities speak likewise). If nothing else, they provide soul to a city.

A grievous sin of gerrymandering electoral districts, besides all else that the practice tarnishes, is that it shreds neighborhoods of a city into tiny inchoate parcels (see figure above). All character, all cohesiveness, is destroyed. Much as one has identity with a neighborhood, one should have identity with an electoral district. A gerrymandered district has no identity, no soul.

 

Pennies from Heaven on Proctor’s Ledge Memorial

The Proctor’s Ledge Memorial survived its second October Madness in fine mettle. The crowds have dissipated and the Memorial enters its winter slumber. The biggest bugaboo of local residents, traffic, never materialized as most visitors, in clots of three or four, walked from downtown attractions, phone GPS in hand. How does he know? This blogger lives in a house overlooking Proctor’s Ledge, and every glance out the living room window provides a census of activity.Proctor Ledge Xmas
This year visitors followed Hebraic memorial tradition (thanks closing scene of Schindler’s List) and piled river stones atop the rough-hewn wall, so much so that neighbors had to send 311 messages to the City of Salem (here called SeeClickFixit but the same deal). Parks Dept. personnel in early November swept all the rocks into the trough at the base of the wall from whence they came.000_0337

Another tradition that got out of hand this season was placing coins of small denomination atop the wall. The quarters, dimes and nickels were gratefully collected by the denizens of Boston Street Crossing, which became fully occupied by formerly homeless in mid-2018. For them the memorial is their backyard. But the pennies they generally let be. Oh the pennies! So many pennies!Image result for so many pennies gif

Going on past Thanksgiving passersby would sweep a handful of pennies into their pockets, until by New Years the pennies, so many pennies, were all gone. Perhaps even a few Part Dept. employees helped themselves to a handful? There might be a few pennies hiding in the turf above or the rock trough beneath, but it’s not worth the effort to pry them out. In any case the Memorial wall is now denuded of rocks and coins.

Another tradition is the laying of shells, clam shells mostly, upon the wall, but luckily that custom never got out of hand. sea shells proctor ledge memorialOf course there are the many flowers left, which are gathered weekly for compost. Lastly there’s the leaving of greeting cards, which if not rained upon are blown by the winds upwards of Gallows Hill. For residents wondering why memorial cards collect in their driveway, that’s why.

Going into the New Year the Memorial is absent any offering, rarely visited. So it shall remain until pleasant spring weather again returns.

This city [wall] now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning, silent, bare
Wordsworth