Rare photo of Hygrade Lamp Co in Blubber Hollow

After searching high and low for months for an image of the former Sylvania plant at 50-60 Boston Street in Blubber Hollow, the front end of Gallows Hill, been able to uncover just one, hiding in the Nelson Dionne Collection in the Salem State University Archives Flickr collection. Nelson Dionne is a local amateur historian, whose recently donated his collection of thousands of photos, restaurant menus, postcards, and other bric-a-brac to Salem State University, where they are slowly getting scanned and digitized. Some 450 items scanned so far, so SSUL still has far to go, meaning that further images of Gallows Hill and Blubber Hollow may yet turn up online.

Hygrade plant Boston St

Sylvania Employees Watch Salem Soldiers March off to World War I

The plant was built in 1916, on land left barren by the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and was then the Hygrade Lamp Company, the first firm to apply principles of assembly line manufacture to the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs. In 1931 Hygrade merged with Sylvania first forming Hygrade Sylvania, becoming in 1942 simply Sylvania Electric Products, then after a 1959 merger with General Telephone becoming GTE Sylvania. Sylvania née Hygrade was once among the largest employers in Salem, surpassed only by the Pequot Mills textile plant on the other side of Salem in The Point neighborhood.

The plant closed in 1993 following the buyout of Sylvania by Osram GmbH of Germany, and was demolished several years thereafter. After lying empty for 20+ years, construction of the Gateway Center of apartments and a new Salem Senior Center has finally begun this year on the former Hygrade site.

Returning to the photo, the orientation of the plant is along Boston Street, with Bridge Street just visible hooking off at the left and Federal Street out of view to the right, with roofs of several homes of the McIntire District partially visible beyond. The Hygrade plant would have only been a year old at the time of the photo. Hundreds of new employees hang out of windows and even stand on the roof, filled with patriotic fervor and waving to the soldiers marching along Boston Street.

The photo had to be taken from atop Proctor’s Ledge, looking east towards downtown. Most telling are the ruins in the foreground, all that remains of the Korn Leather Co. factory at 55 Boston St., the ignition site of the Great Salem Fire of 1914. Eventually replacement tanneries would fill the site, but at the time the photo the terror of the fire would have been fresh in the minds of the soldiers and all those waving them on. In their own turn the tanneries would go defunct, replaced in the 21st century by a Walgreen’s super-pharmacy, the Great Salem Fire Memorial in one corner of the Walgreen’s parking lot and the Proctor’s Ledge Witchcraft Trials Memorial in the opposite corner.

 

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Salem Market in Blubber Hollow knows its customers

The Salem Market, the sole retail operation in North River “Luxury” Apartments at 28 Goodhue St, yea the sole retail establishment in Blubber Hollow, strains to find customers in the desolate area. Despite many plans over many years, this is the only apartment building in Blubber Hollow. But the proprietor, Aziz Ali, gets plenty of credit for catering to the one strong customer base in Blubber Hollow, the Massachusetts Registered Marijuana Dispensary around the corner at 50 Grove St. Though Salem Market appears a conventional convenience store from the outside, inside are racks and racks of bongs, pipes, hookahs and other paraphernalia. Yes, the Salem Market, despite the bland name, is a head shop, the most expansive in Salem.

It’s more than gear. Notice the shelf of Cheez-Its above one display case, and not pictured is a rack of Doritos across from another display case. Does the place cater to its neighbor or what?

A shrewd business placement, as there are not enough Blubber Hollow residents, yet, to drive sufficient foot traffic to the store otherwise. But Salem Market is placing a bet on the future. If all planned construction in the area ever gets completed there will be hundreds of apartments, and hundreds more customers, within sight of the front door. Until then the store is just holding on, and three other retail storefronts in the North River Apartment building remain unfilled. So if visiting the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, just two blocks distant, please patronize the Salem Market.

If the legislature and governor ever get their act together on legalization of marijuana sales, approved by a ballot proposition last year, then the number of potheads passing the Salem Market will grow, as the medical marijuana dispensary is sure to petition to become an outlet for recreational marijuana. Fingers crossed.

Salem Market

Google street view of Salem Market. Note decrepit building adjacent. Medical marijuana dispensary just to the left of photo view

 

Ghosts of Blubber Hollow

Along the North River in Salem, in front of Gallows Hill, is the ancient neighborhood of Blubber Hollow, named for the rendering of whales in that area in the mid-

 

17th century. By the mid-19th century Blubber Hollow was the center of the Leather Industry in America, filled at its peak with dozens of tanneries. In the 2nd half of the 20th century the industry collapsed, tanneries abandoned. Now in the 21st century all that is left are forlorn empty lots and spectacular ruins, as these photos attest.

 

For decades now plans have been afoot to demolish these derelict buildings and replace them with sprightly apartments and thriving businesses. Alas, apart from one new apartment building on Goodhue St, and the settling of a medical marijuana outlet on Grove St, nothing has become of these plans. The buildings rust and molder, visited only by daring urban spelunkers and lived in only by addled homeless with nowhere else to go.

The problem, as this blogger sees it, is the old bugaboo of density. Nearby residents refuse any building big enough to justify clearing the brownfield sites, but small buildings cannot economically justify clearing the brownfield sites. And there the matter lies. Unless and until residents accept density, the only long-term residents will be rats.

 

Anniversary of Great Salem Fire June 25

Late by several days due to inattention, but let’s note here June 25 was the 103rd anniversary of the Great Salem Fire of 1914. The fire began with the explosion of the Korn leather tanning factory at 57 Boston St in the Blubber Hollow region of the Gallows Hill Neighborhood, just underneath the now famous Proctor’s Ledge, the spot where 19 innocents were hung for accusations of witchcraft through the summer of 1692.

Great Fire 1914 start

The 1914 fire soon after it started

In this photo, taken from the vantage point on a tannery on Goodhue St shortly after the fire began, the flames have already spread east along Boston St., pushed along by a stiff wind. Soon the flames would jump across Boston St, taking out the factories and houses in the middle of the photo. Hours later the conflagration would only subside when it reached Salem harbor, after taking out about a third of Salem, razing 1376 buildings and leaving 18,000 homeless. The tanneries in the right foreground were untouched, protected by the stiff wind pushing flames in the other direction. In the photo the position of Proctor’s Ledge is already obscured by heavy smoke.

The site of the Korn Leather Factory in the 21st century is occupied by a Walgreen’s Pharmacy, seemingly oblivious to its central position in local history, a monument dedicated to the Great Fire in one corner of the parking lot, and a new monument dedicated to those executed in 1692 catty-cornered across the lot.