Tabernacle Congregational Church, Salem, Mass

The Tabernacle Congregational Church, at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Tabernacle Congregational Church had its origins in 1735, when a large group of parishioners, including the pastor, broke away from the First Church of Salem. Following the split, both churches claimed to be the true “First Church,” and the dispute was not resolved until 1762, when the colonial legislature forced the newer church to give up their claim to the name. As a result, the congregation became the Third Church of Salem, although it later came to be known as the Tabernacle Congregational Church.

Its first meeting house burned down in 1774, and was replaced three years later by a new one, located here at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets. In 1812, Samuel Newell, Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice were ordained here as the first foreign missionaries from the United States, prior to their departure overseas for India. The building would remain in use for many years afterwards, but it was demolished in 1854 to build the church that is shown in the first photo.

This church building was designed by noted Boston architect Richard Bond, and had an Italianate-style design that was popular for churches of this period. It included a tall steeple that rose 180 feet above the street, and the sanctuary of the church could seat some 1,050 people, which was more than double the membership at the time. Including furnishings, it was built at a cost of $21,400, or about $600,000 today. However, the church made most of this money back in short order. In keeping with customs of this period, the pews were sold to parishioners, with prices that ranged from $25 to $60 in the galleries, and $40 to $250 on the main floor. Through this sale, held in 1854 on the day of its dedication, the church brought in $16,119.48 in revenue.

The 1854 church stood here until 1922, when it was demolished to build the present-day building. This was the third consecutive church building to stand on this site, and incorporated elements of the 1777 structure. This included the tower, which was modeled after the one that had been added to the earlier church in 1805. The new church was designed by Boston architects Philip Horton Smith and Edgar Walker, and it was completed in 1923. It has remained in use by the congregation ever since, and the exterior has been well-preserved after nearly a century since its completion. It is now part of the Federal Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Pickman-Derby Mansion, Salem, Mass

The mansion at the corner of Washington and Lynde Streets in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The house in the first photo was built in 1764, although it was extensively modified over the years. It was one of Salem’s finest 18th century mansions, and was home to some of the city’s most prominent residents, starting with merchant Benjamin Pickman (1707/8-1773). Originally from Boston, Pickman later came to Salem as a young man, where he became a prosperous merchant, with ships that were involved in trade with the West Indies. He also served as a colonel in the militia, a member of the colonial legislature and governor’s council, and as a judge.

Pickman was about 56 years old when he built this house on Washington Street. He apparently lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1773, although historical records do not seem to specify. According to these sources, the house was “left by him to his son, Clarke Gayton Pickman,” leaving some ambiguity as to whether he personally lived in this house upon its completion, or simply had it built and then gave it to his son, a practice that was not uncommon among wealthy families of this period.

Either way, his son Clarke (1746-1781) ultimately acquired the house, where he lived with his wife Sarah and their four children. However, he died young, at the age of 35, and his four children had even shorter lives. Both of his sons, Clark and Carteret, died in childhood, and his two daughters, Sally and Rebecca, only lived to be 20 and 28, respectively. Sarah only lived in this house for about a year after Clarke’s death, and sold the property in 1782.

The next owner of this house was Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799), who was probably the wealthiest of Salem’s many merchants. During the late 18th century, Salem was the seventh-largest city or town in the country, as well as the richest on a per capita basis, and Derby played a large role in this prosperity. The ships of his fleet were among the first American vessels to trade with China, and his shipping empire also included extensive trade with India, Mauritius, Sumatra, Europe, and the West Indies. Some 50 years after his death, he was even referred to as “King Derby” in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s introduction to The Scarlet Letter. In this lengthy polemic against his hometown, Hawthorne laments the decline of the once-prosperous city, equating Derby with the Salem’s golden age.

Upon purchasing this house in 1782, Derby soon set about renovating it. He hired noted local architect Samuel McIntire, who made alterations to the original design. This included the addition of the cupola, which provided Derby with a view of the waterfront and his incoming ships. However, Derby soon began planning for a new house, and in the 1790s he hired Charles Bulfinch to design a mansion a little south of here, on the present-day site of the old town hall. Derby moved into this new house upon its completion in 1799, but he did not get to enjoy it for long, because he died later in the year.

In the meantime, this house on Washington Street was acquired by Derby’s son, John Derby (1767-1831). Like his father, he was also a merchant, but he was involved in other business interests here in Salem, such as the Salem Marine Insurance Company and the Salem Bank. His first wife, Sally, died in 1798, leaving him with three young children. However, in 1801 he remarried to Eleanor Coffin, and the couple had eight children of their own.

Among their children was Sarah Ellen Derby, who married John Rogers and had nine children. Their oldest son, also named John Rogers (1829-1904), was born here in this house, and later went on to become a prominent sculptor. He specialized in small, mass-produced plaster statues, known as Rogers Groups, and these inexpensive pieces of artwork found their way into many homes across the country and overseas.

John Derby died in 1831, and the house was subsequently sold to Robert Brookhouse. It would remain a single-family home throughout the 19th century, although it steadily declined over the years. This reflected the declining prosperity of Salem as a whole, which had peaked in its prominence as a seaport around the turn of the 19th century. It slowly dropped off the list of the ten largest cities in the country, and by the time Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter in 1850 it had become a shadow of its former glory.

In 1898, the mansion was sold and converted into a commercial property. It became the Colonial House hotel, as shown in the first photo a little over ten years later. The ground floor had two storefronts, with the Colonial House Cafe on the left and a bar on the right. Just to the left of the hotel is a nickelodeon, an early movie theater that, as the signs in front indicate, cost a nickel for admission. These were common during this period, in the early years of film, and the sign above the entrance advertises “Moving Pictures and Illustrated Songs.”

Only a few years after the first photo was taken, the property was sold to the Masonic lodge. The historic 150-year-old mansion was demolished in 1915, and the present-day Masonic Temple was built on the site. This large, Classical Revival-style building was completed in 1916, and featured stores and offices on the lower floors, while the upper floors were used by the Freemasons for office space and meeting rooms. The building was badly damaged by a fire in 1982, which caused over a million dollars in damage to the upper floors, but it was subsequently restored and is still standing. Along with the other nearby buildings, it is now part of the Downtown Salem Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Washington Street, Salem, Mass

Looking north on Washington Street from the corner of Essex Street in the center of Salem, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

One of the great features of Salem is its remarkably well-preserved downtown area, with hundreds of historic buildings that date as far back as the 17th century. Here in the center of the city, both Washington Street and Essex Street are lined with historic commercial blocks, although this particular view of Washington Street does not have very many buildings that survive from the first photo. In fact, the only building that is easily identifiable in both photos is the Neal and Newhall Building on the far right. This was built in 1892 at the northeast corner of the intersection, and is still standing with few significant changes except for the ground floor storefront and the balustrade atop the roof.

The other buildings beyond the Neal and Newhall Building on the right side of the street are still standing from the first photo, although it is hard to tell from this angle. These include, starting in the foreground, the Newhall Annex (c.1902), City Hall (1837), and the Kinsman Block (c.1882). However, on the more visible left side of the street, not much remains from the first photo. In the distance, near the center of the photo, is the Tabernacle Congregational Church, which was built in 1854 and demolished in 1922 to build the current church building on the site. Next to the church, barely visible at the base of the steeple, is the Odell Block, which was built in 1890. This three-story brick commercial block is the only building on the left side of the first photo that has survived largely unaltered.

The only other building on the left side of the street that apparently still stands today is the one on the left side, with the American flag flying above it in the first photo. This was the home of the William G. Webber dry goods business, and the signs on the building advertise for other tenants such as the New York Life Insurance Company and the Merchants National Bank. It was known as the Endicott Building, and its National Register of Historic Places listing indicates that it was built in 1885 and remodeled in 1911. However, the first photo shows a date of 1872, which suggests that it was actually a little older. The 1911 renovations apparently altered most of the original exterior, though, and the building went through even more dramatic changes in recent years, adding several stories to the top of the original building, and today there are no visible remnants from its original turn-of-the-century appearance.

Derby Square, Salem, Mass

Derby Square from Front Street in Salem, with the Old Town Hall on the right side, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Derby Square is a small plaza in the center of Salem, and it is named for the prominent Derby family, which once owned the land here. Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) was a prosperous merchant and among the richest men in New England, referred to by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter as “King Derby.” During the 1790s, Derby had an elegant mansion built here on the site. It was designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch and was completed in 1799, but Derby died later that year and the property was inherited by his son, Elias Hasket Derby, Jr. However, the younger Derby had little interest in paying the high costs to maintain the house, and it sat abandoned for some time before finally being demolished in 1815.

After demolishing the house, Derby sold the property to his brother, John Derby III, and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Pickman, Jr. The following year, they donated the property to the town of Salem, in order to build a new town hall on the site of the mansion. Construction began later that year, and was completed in 1817. It was built of brick, with an elegant Federal-style exterior, and there is some speculation that it may have been designed by Charles Bulfinch. Like many New England municipal buildings of the era, it was designed as a multi-use building, with a public market on the first floor, and a meeting hall and town offices on the upper floor. The basement also had commercial tenants, including a restaurant that was housed here during the early 19th century.

The first event held in the meeting hall was a reception for President James Monroe, who visited Salem in July 1817 during a tour of the New England states. At the time, Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a major trading port. It was the tenth-largest city or town in the country during the 1820 census, and the second-largest in New England after Boston. However, it was still technically a town at the time, with a town meeting form of government, and this building continued to be used as the town hall until 1836, when Salem was incorporated as the second city in the state, just 14 years after Boston became the first city.

The municipal government moved into the new city hall, which was completed on Washington Street in 1837, and this building remains in use today. By this point, though, Salem’s once-prosperous shipping industry was in decline, and the city saw slow population growth throughout most of the 19th century. Salem never again ranked among the ten largest cities in the country, and now it is no longer even one of the ten largest in the state. However, this early prosperity, followed by many decades of stagnation, has resulted in the preservation of a remarkable number of historic buildings. Today, while Salem is best-known for its infamous witch trials, the city also boasts hundreds of historic buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, including many of the buildings here at Derby Square.

Although Salem’s government moved out of the upper floor of the old town hall in the 1830s, the first floor continued to be used as a public market for many years. It was known as the Market House, as shown by the sign in the first photo, and had stalls for a number of merchants, most of whom sold food. The 1869 city directory lists a fruits and vegetable dealer, a butter and cheese dealer, plus five tenants whose business was described simply as “provisions.” As seen in the first photo, the area in front of the building was also used as a marketplace, with dealers selling goods from their wagons.

The old town hall continued to be used as a market into the 20th century. Although threatened by demolition, it was ultimately preserved following an extensive renovation from 1933-1934. The first floor was completely remodeled, and the old market stalls were replaced with office space for a variety of city offices. The “Market House” sign was removed, and the building became known as the “Old Town Hall,” despite having served in that function for just two decades. Despite the changes on the first floor, though, the old meeting hall on the upper floor has remained largely the same, and continues to be used as a venue for many different functions.

Today, aside from the sign, the exterior of the building has seen few changes since the first photo was taken, and most of the other neighboring buildings have also been preserved. The first floor of the old town hall is no longer used for city offices, and is instead an art exhibition space, but the area in front of the building on Derby Square is still used for its original purpose. Although it was empty when the 2017 photo was taken, the square is the site of a weekly farmers’ market during the summer, plus a monthly flea market that runs from May through September.

John Ward House, Salem, Mass

The John Ward House, at 38 St. Peter Street in Salem, Mass, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The John Ward House is one of the oldest buildings in Salem, having been built in stages between 1684 and 1723. It was originally the home of currier John Ward, and it remained in the Ward family until 1816. It was subsequently used as a bakery, and by the time the first photo was taken in the early 20th century it had become a tenement house. However, in 1910 the house was moved several blocks away, to its current location off of Brown Street, and it was restored to its colonial-era appearance. Here on St. Peter Street, nothing has survived from the first photo, but the John Ward House is still standing at its new location, and it is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum.

The house at its current location, as seen in 2013:

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Witch House, Salem, Mass

The Witch House, at the northwest corner of Essex and Summer Streets in Salem, around 1901:

The house in 2019:

The Witch House in Salem is one of the oldest houses in Massachusetts, and is the only surviving building in Salem with direct ties to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials.  The house was owned by one of the judges, Jonathan Corwin.  It was likely built in the 1660s or 1670s, although some place its date in the 1640s or even earlier.  The 1901 photo was taken prior to its restoration and move; a street widening project necessitated moving it about 35 feet, and the house was restored to its presumed 17th century appearance, which did not include the attached storefront from the 1901 photo.