Oliver Primary School, Salem, Mass

The Oliver Primary School at 3 Broad Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This is the oldest surviving school building in Salem, and it stands alongside two other historic school buildings that all date back to the early or mid-19th century. It was completed in 1819 at a cost of $10,000, with a Federal-style design that was the work of master builder John Milligan. Originally, it housed the Latin Grammar School and the English High School, and at the time the building consisted of just this rectangular section along Broad Street. Among its early teachers was Henry K. Oliver, the building’s future namesake, who would go on to become a prominent local and state politician, including serving as state treasurer and as mayor of both Lawrence and Salem.

In 1842, the building was expanded with an addition to the south, on the side opposite of this view. Then, in the mid-1850s, it was joined by two other school buildings. Just beyond the school, on the left side of both photos, is the Salem Normal School, which was built in 1854 as the original home of the present-day Salem State University, and was later expanded in 1870-1871. Just out of view to the right, on the other side of the 1819 school building, is the Classical and High School. This was completed in 1856, replacing the older building as the city’s high school.

The former Latin Grammar School and English High School was converted into the Broad Street Primary School, and later became the Oliver Primary School. It underwent interior renovations in the late 1860s, and was described in the city’s 1869 school committee report:

On Broad street, between Normal and High School houses; now undergoing changes to make four graded rooms; height of story, 13 ft.; dimensions of building, 62 x 33 ft.; will accommodate 220 pupils; the lot of the land contains 14,844 ft.; value of land and building, $14,000; erected in 1818.

The building was used as a school for many more years, until sometime in the early 20th century. However, both it and the former Normal School on the left have since been converted into residential use, with 14 units in the Oliver Primary School and 12 condominiums in the Normal School. The exteriors have remained well-preserved, though, and the Oliver Primary School survives as a good example of early 19th century Federal architecture. Both buildings, along with the neighboring Classical and High School, are now part of the Chestnut Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

South Church, Salem, Mass

South Church, at the corner of Chestnut and Cambridge Streets in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The South Church was established in 1774, following a split within the Third Congregational Church, which later came to be known as the Tabernacle Congregational Church. For the first 30 years of its existence, the South Church met in a different building on Cambridge Street, but in 1804 construction began on a new church building here at the corner of Cambridge and Chestnut Streets. It was the work of prominent local architect Samuel McIntire, with an elegant Federal-style design that included elements such as pilasters on the front of the building, a Palladian window, a pediment above the front entrance, and an ornate, multi-stage steeple that rose from the top of the pediment.

The steeple in the first photo was actually the second one on the building. The first was destroyed in an apparent hurricane on September 11, 1804, in an event that was described by diarist William Bentley in his entry for that day:

The high wind brought down the unfinished Steeple of the new Meeting House lately raised in Cambridge Street, about five o’clock this afternoon. The whole work of the Steeple is distroyed. The spindle struck on the opposite side of the street, after falling 170 feet, about 30 feet from the building. The mortices had no pins through the long braces which went from the frame of the dome to the standard post & this occasioned the loss of the Steeple. The spindle broke, the vane and ball were much bruised & the whole a complete wreck.

However, the steeple was soon rebuilt to the height of 166 feet, and the building was dedicated on January 1, 1805, in a ceremony that was also described in Bentley’s diary:

This day was appropriated for the dedication of the New South Meeting House at Salem. A large Band of music was provided & Mr. [Samuel] Holyoke took the direction. A double bass, 5 bass viols, 5 violins, 2 Clarionets, 2 Bassoons & 5 german flutes composed the Instrumental music. About 80 singers, the greater part males, composed the vocal music. It could not have the refinement of taste as few of the singers were ever together before & most were instructed by different masters. But in these circumstances it was good. The House was crowded & not half that went were accomodated. Mr. Hopkins, the Pastor, performed the religious service of prayer & preaching, & a Mr. Emerson of Beverly made the last prayer. The music had an excellent dinner provided for them at the Ship [tavern] & the 16 ministers present dined in elegant taste at Hon. Jno. Norris Esqr. the principal character in the list of the Proprietors of the new Meeting House.

Later in the entry, Bentley also commented on the building’s architecture, writing:

The Steeple is the noblest in Town. Upon a lofty tower it rises upon reduced Octagons & hexagons, till it terminates in a slender cone. It is decorated handsomely. The roof is supported above, the arch is lofty, the pulpit rich, but nothing singular in the disposition of the House. It is the best structure for Public Worship ever raised in Salem.

The pastor at the time was Daniel Hopkins (1734-1814), a native of Waterbury, Connecticut who had graduated from Yale in 1758. He served as a delegate to the Third Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1775, shortly after the outbreak of the American Revolution, and he later served on the Governor’s Council from 1776 to 1778. He was ordained as the pastor of the South Church in 1778, and remained with the church until his death in 1814. However, he was suffering from poor health by the time this church building was completed, and in April 1805 he was joined by a second pastor, Brown Emerson (1778-1872), who had graduated from Dartmouth three years earlier.

In 1806, Brown Emerson married Reverend Hopkins’s daughter Mary, and went on to serve the church for many years after Hopkins’s death. Like Hopkins, he was also assisted by a younger pastor in his later years, but he remained with the church for a total of nearly 70 years, until his death in 1872 at the age of 94. Although the first photo is undated, it was probably taken sometime around the late 1860s or early 1870s, so it likely shows the church as it appeared around the time that Reverend Emerson died.

The historic church building stood here for nearly a century, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1903. It was a significant loss to the neighborhood, and was replaced by a stone, Gothic-style church that bore no resemblance to the old church, and it stood out as an anomaly among the otherwise Federal-style buildings on Chestnut Street. The new building was only used by the South Church for 20 years, until a 1924 merger with the Tabernacle Congregational Church. The building was subsequently used by a different church, but it was ultimately demolished in 1950, and the site was converted into a park.

Today, the former site of the church is still a park, as seen in the 2017 photo. However, aside from the loss of the church, the rest of the neighborhood has not undergone any significant changes since the area was first developed in the early 19th century. Just across the street from here is Hamilton Hall, which was built only a couple years after the original church building, and the homes in the first photo are also still standing, including the c.1808 Robinson-Little House on the left side of the scene. All of these buildings are now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Hamilton Hall, Salem, Mass

Hamilton Hall, at the corner of Chestnut and Cambridge Streets in Salem, on December 24, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The building in 2017:

More than two centuries before he became the subject of a popular Broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton was an icon of the Federalist Party, a short-lived but highly influential political party in the formative years of the country. The Federalists were well on their way to political irrelevance at the national level by the start of the 19th century, but they would remain dominant here in New England for a couple more decades, including here in Salem.

Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a seaport at the turn of the 19th century, and many of its most important homes and public buildings date to this period, including Hamilton Hall, which was constructed between 1805 and 1807. It was built as an assembly hall for the town’s wealthy Federalist families, and was named for Alexander Hamilton, who had been killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. The building was designed by the prolific Salem architect Samuel McIntire, who also built mansions for many of the towns’s leading merchants, and it is regarded as one of the finest Federal-style public buildings in the country.

It was constructed at a cost of $22,000, and it originally housed two stores on the ground floor, with a ballroom on the second floor. The exterior incorporates many elements of Federal-style architecture, including symmetrical facades, Palladian windows, and a pediment on the gable end of the building. The Chestnut Street side of the building, on the left side of the photo, also features rectangular panels above the windows, with an eagle carved into the central panel.

Early tenants of the ground-floor storefronts included grocer John Gray on the left side, and caterer John Remond on the right. A free black immigrant from Curacao, Remond lived in an apartment here in the building, and worked as a caretaker while also providing the refreshments for events that were held here. He was regarded as Salem’s premier restauranteur throughout the first half of the 19th century, and he catered many events here, including receptions for visiting dignitaries such as the Marquis de Lafayette, who attended a dinner here during his 1824 tour of America.

Over the years, Hamilton Hall was used for a wide variety of social events, including lectures, dances, and dinners. It saw some changes during this time, including the addition of the portico on the Cambridge Street side in 1845, but overall the exterior has retained its original early 19th century appearance. By the time the first photo was taken on Christmas Eve in 1940, it was recognized as historically significant, and was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. Then, in 1970, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and three years later it also became a contributing property in the Chestnut Street Historic District.

Today, Hamilton Hall has hardly seen any changes since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. The eagle panel on the left side was removed for preservation in 2014, and was replaced by a replica that is seen in the second photo. Otherwise, the exterior appearance is the same, and the interior is also largely unchanged. More than two centuries after its completion, it continues to be used as a public hall for lectures, weddings, and other events. The surrounding neighborhood has also been well-preserved, and it is one of many early 19th century buildings that are still standing in this part of Salem.

Loring-Emmerton House, Salem, Mass

The house at 328 Essex Street in Salem, on November 26, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Federal-style house was built sometime around 1818 to 1821, and was among the many fine mansions that were built in this neighborhood of Salem during the early 19th century, at the height of Salem’s prominence as a seaport. The original owner was William Pickman (1774-1857), a merchant whose father, Benjamin Pickman (1740-1819) had been a wealthy merchant and a Loyalist in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Benjamin had left for England at the start of the war, just a year after William was born, but he would later return to Salem after the war ended.

Benjamin Pickman’s allegiance evidently did not hurt his family, as William’s brother, Benjamin Pickman, Jr. (1763-1843), would go on to become a prominent politician, including serving a term in Congress from 1809 to 1811. William, in the meantime, was a merchant in Boston for some time, but later retired to Salem, perhaps around the same time that he built this house. He never married, and lived here in this house with his sister, Love Rawlins Pickman (1786-1863), until his death in 1857.

By the mid-1860s, the house was owned by George B. Loring (1817-1891), whose wife, Mary Toppan Pickman (1816-1878) was the niece of William Pickman. Loring was originally a physician, and an 1842 graduate of Harvard Medical School, but he later left the medical practice and entered politics. He went on to serve in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1866 to 1868, the Massachusetts Senate from 1873 to 1877, and during this time he was also the chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Committee from 1869 to 1876.From there, he served two terms in Congress, from 1877 to 1881, and after losing re-election he was appointed as U. S. Commissioner of Agriculture, serving under Presidents Garfield and Arthur. His final political office was as Minister to Portugal, a position that he held from 1889 until his resignation in 1890, a year before his death.

George and Mary Loring had two daughters, Mary and Sally, although Mary died in 1864 at the age of six. The 1870 census shows the family living here along with a coachman and three servants, and it lists George’s real estate value at $69,900, and his personal estate at $20,000. This was a considerable amount of money for the time, equivalent to nearly $1.8 million today. Mary died eight years later, but George remarried in 1880 to Anna Hildreth, a widow who, at about 35 years old, was nearly 30 years younger than him.

The Lorings appears to have moved out of this house during the early 1880s, and by the end of the decade it was owned by Jennie Emmerton (1837-1912), the widow of George R. Emmerton (1836-1888), a wealthy merchant and banker. She was also the daughter of prominent merchant and philanthropist John Bertram, and at her death in 1912 she was reportedly the wealthiest woman in Salem. This house was substantially remodeled around the time of her ownership, with the addition of Colonial Revival-style features on the both the interior and exterior. These included the the front entrance porch, the Palladian window above it, the porte-cochere on the left side of the house, and the carriage house beyond it. The renovations were the work of architect Arthur Little, and resulted in a house that was nearly identical to the nearby Dodge-Shreve House at 29 Chestnut Street.

Jennie Emmerton lived here with her unmarried daughter, Caroline O. Emmerton (1866-1942), and Caroline inherited the house after Jennie’s death. Like the other members of her family, Caroline was involved in philanthropy, contributing to a number of charitable organizations in the city. However, perhaps her most visible work was on the House of the Seven Gables, which she purchased in 1908 and restored to its original 18th century exterior appearance. She later acquired several other historic houses in Salem that were in danger of demolition, and had them moved to the grounds of the House of the Seven Gables for preservation.

Caroline Emmerton was still living here when the first photo was taken in 1940, but she died two years later. The house was subsequently divided into apartments, and today the interior consists of five units. However, the exterior has hardly changed during this time, with few noticeable changes from this angle except for the missing balustrade atop the roof. Along with the other homes in the surrounding neighborhood, it is now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Cook-Oliver House, Salem, Mass

The house at 142 Federal Street in Salem, on November 1, 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Federal-style house was built in 1803-1804, and was among the many works of the prolific local architect Samuel McIntire. It was built during the golden age of Salem’s shipping industry, with a square, three-story a design that was typical for the homes of wealthy mariners and merchants of this period. The original owner of the house was Samuel Cook (1769-1861), a ship captain who built the house a few years after his 1800 marriage to Sarah “Sally” Chever (1779-1863). Cook enjoyed success in the East India trade, but he was also involved in at least one notable shipwreck during this period, when his ship, the Volusia, was wrecked on Cape Cod along with two other vessels on February 21, 1802.

The Cooks went on to live in this house for the rest of their lives, until Samuel’s death in 1861 and Sally’s death two years later. The house was then inherited by their daughter, who was also named Sally (1801-1866), and her husband, Henry K. Oliver (1800-1885). Oliver was a notable local politician who held a number of offices throughout much of the 19th century. He began his career as a teacher here in Salem, where he worked from 1819 to 1844, before becoming Adjutant General of Massachusetts from 1844 to 1848. He then moved to Lawrence, where he worked in the cotton manufacturing industry before serving a term as mayor of Lawrence in 1859.

By the time he and Sally returned to Salem and moved into this house, he was serving as Treasurer and Receiver-General of Massachusetts, a position that he held from 1861 to 1866. Then, starting in 1867, he spent two years investigating child labor conditions in Massachusetts, before publishing a report that documented widespread violations of child labor laws in the state’s factories. Following this report, he was appointed as the first chief of the state Bureau of Statistics of Labor, and served in that capacity from 1869 to 1873. He would remain involved in politics until well into his 70s, and served four one-year terms as mayor of Salem from 1877 to 1880.

Henry and Sally Oliver had seven children, although all of them were adults by the time they inherited this house. Sally died only a few years later, in 1866, but Henry continued to live here until his death almost 20 years later, in 1885. The 1870 census shows him here with three of his daughters: Maria, Mary, and Ellen. The only other family member living here at the time was his 12-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, who was the daughter of his oldest child, Samuel Oliver (1826-1888). Maria died two years later, but by the 1880 census the other three women were still living here with Henry, who was in the midst of his last term as mayor at the time.

Following Henry Oliver’s death in 1885, the house went through several different owners and residents during the next few decades. By the early 20th century it was owned by Caroline C. Johnson, but was being rented by Isaac Caliga (1857-1944), a noted artist whose wife, Phoebe Johnston Woodman, was Caroline’s niece.  However, the couple divorced in 1913, and Isaac moved to Provincetown, where he lived for the rest of his life. This house was then sold to Charles Carroll, a dentist who was living here by 1914. During the 1920 census he was living here with his wife Dora and their three sons, and he would remain here until his death in 1934. Dora continued to live in the house, though, and was still here when the first photo was taken a few years later in 1938.

Today, the house has hardly changed since the first photo was taken over 80 years ago. The exterior has remained well-preserved, the fence is still standing, and even the tree on the far left side is still there, with little apparent growth even after so many years. It is one of many fine McIntire-designed homes that still stand in Salem, and it is a contributing property in the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Assembly House, Salem, Mass

The Assembly House at 138 Federal Street in Salem, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This building was constructed in 1782, and was originally a public hall and “Federalist Clubhouse” known as the Assembly House. The original exterior of the building is unknown, but it was significantly different from its later appearance, and reportedly had a very plain design. The interior evidently included an entry hall and drawing rooms at the front of the building, with a large two-story ballroom in the rear section. A variety of events were held here throughout the first decade of its existence, including balls, concerts, and lectures, and it was also the site of receptions for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784 and George Washington in 1789.

Washington’s visit was part of his trip through New England in the fall of 1789, during his first year as president. He arrived in Salem on October 29, having been escorted into town by the local militia, and was greeted with an ode and a speech before being brought to the Joshua Ward House on modern-day Washington Street. He received visitors at the house, and in the evening he came here to the Assembly House, where he spent several hours before returning to the Ward House for the night there. Writing in his diary, Washington described the events of the day in Salem:

At the Bridge, 2 Miles from this Town, we were also met by a Committee—who conducted us by a Brigade of the Militia, & one or two handsome Corps in Uniform, through several of the Streets to the Town or Court House—where an Ode in honor of the President was sung—an address presented to him amidst the acclamations of the People—after which he was conducted to his Lodgings—recd. the compliments of many differt. Classes of People —and in the evening between 7 and 8 Oclock went to an assembly, where there was at least an hundred handsome and well dressed Ladies. Abt. Nine I returned to my Lodgings.

The prominent Salem pastor William Bentley also described the day in his diary, including a similar description of the reception here at the Assembly House:

After Seven the General attended the Assembly, & tarried till after nine. The ladies were numerous & brilliant. The Gentlemen were also numerous.

The building continued to be used as a public hall until the early 1790s, and it was subsequently sold to a private owner who, in turn, sold the property to Samuel Putnam (1768-1853) in 1798 for $2,656. Putnam soon converted the building into a mansion, hiring prominent architect Samuel McIntire to design the renovations. This included an elegant front facade, with Federal-style features such as pilasters between the second floor windows, along with a pediment above them. As was typical for Salem homes of this era, the front was symmetrical, with five window bays in width, and was topped by a hip roof with balustrade.

Samuel Putnam was a lawyer, and was about 30 years old when he moved into this house. He and his wife Sarah (1772-1864) had been married three years earlier, and had a young child, who was also named Samuel. They would go on to have seven more children, and lived in this house until 1833, when the moved to Boston. During this time, Putnam had a successful career as a politician and judge. He served four one-year terms the state senate, from 1808 to 1809 and 1813 to 1814, and in 1814 he was appointed as an associate justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a position that would hold until 1842.

When the Putnam family moved to Boston in 1833, they sold this house to Benjamin P. Chamberlain, a merchant who lived here until 1856. The the next owners of the house were Stephen and Anne Chase, who lived here for the next two decades. The 1860 census shows them here along with Anne’s brother, Sylvester Robinson, plus two servants. Both Stephen and Sylvester had “Gentleman” listed as their occupations, and Stephen’s personal and real estate had a combined value of $105,000, equivalent to nearly $3 million today.

Both Stephen and Anne died in the 1870s, and Sylvester inherited this property. He was living here in 1880 with his niece, Zella Faulkner, along with a a servant, and he remained here until his own death in 1883. The house was then sold to Mary Ann Bertram, the widow of the recently-deceased merchant and philanthropist John Bertram. She was in her early 70s at the time, but she would live here for more than 25 years, until her death in 1909 at the age of 98. She did not have any children of her own, but the house was inherited by Jennie M. Emmerton, who was the daughter of John Bertram by his first wife. However, Jennie outlived her stepmother by just three years, and upon her death in 1912 she left the house to her daughter, Caroline, the philanthropis who is best known for her work in restoring the House of the Seven Gables.

Neither Jennie nor Caroline Emmerton appear to have actually lived in this house, and in 1919 Caroline sold it to Joseph Newton Smith, a businessman who served as president of the Cambridge-based Boston Woven Hose and Rubber Company from 1928 to 1951. He had married his wife, Lillie, a few years earlier, and by 1920 they were living here with their daughter Sylvia and three servants. They soon had a second daughter, Mary, who was born the following year, and all four family members were still living here by the 1940 census.

Joseph Newton Smith died in 1951, and Lillie died in 1964, leaving this house to their daughter Mary. In 1965, she donated the house to the Essex Institute, the museum that would later become part of the Peabody Essex Museum following a 1992 merger with the Peabody Museum of Salem. It is one of the many historic properties that the museum owns in Salem, and it is also part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The first photo was probably taken sometime during the ownership of Mary Ann Bertram, but it has seen few changes after more than a century, and it stands as one of the many fine examples of Federal-style architecture in Salem.