August 14, 2017

Postcards to Mollie - Salem, Massachusetts

Postcards were the texts and emails of the early 20th century. Messages written on postcards were not private, but postage was only a penny and they quickly caught on.

This collection of postcards, written between a set of cousins, is a snapshot of life in Salem in 1912 and contains some fun (and occasionally sassy) interactions between family members.

Mary “Mollie” Decker was born in October 1849 in Ipswich. Her family later moved to Margin St. in Salem. On April 15, 1885, at the age of 35, Mollie married Thomas H. Williamson Jr., a local shoecutter, and they lived with her family on Margin St. before moving to Beverly.

Until her marriage, Mollie lived with her family in this home at the corner of Margin and Summer Streets.The Gothic Revival structure is still a private residence now known as the William H. Farnham House. 

By 1900, the couple moved to New Hampshire, where Thomas was a farmer. Mollie appears to have kept in constant contact with her younger cousins Abbie, Alice, and Ellen, three sisters who lived on Gardner Street in Salem.


On this postcard Mollie’s cousin Abbie writes to update Mollie on the health of the family. Can you spot the X on the postcard image? Abbie placed this X to illustrate to Mollie where her new office was. Most likely, Abbie worked in that building as a clerk or secretary.

The Witch House, often incorrectly referred to as the Roger Williams House, was a common image on postcards in the early 20th century as the Witch Trials history became popular following the 1892 bicentennial. The house is known as the Witch House due to its connection to Judge Jonathan Corwin who lived in the home during the trials.

Alice wrote to Mollie “Dear Cousin Mollie, I read about you, think about you, dream about you and do everything but see you. With love to all lovingly Alice”

Alice wrote to Abbie during her stay with Mollie in New Hampshire. Alice joked about how late their
sister Ellen had stayed out the night before, saying “tell Cousin Frank, Ellen got in at 10:45. What is he going to do about it?” [sic] Alice also suggested "Abbie should stop in at the Dancing Casino at Salem Willows (pictured on the postcard) for a dance when she gets back, stating “it will be handy to you and you will enjoying it.”

“Is it hot enough for you. It don’t take quite so much heat to bake me, I hear you are going to have
company soon gee but I guess your glad. Cousin Frank took me in the auto to Ipswich the 4th saw the
president in [Beverly], and coming back saw a parade in [North Beverly] and it was fine, and then for a treat at number 4. Makes a fellow feel better. Cheer up you will hear the tooting soon. With lots of love Ellen”

Ellen is referring to President William Howard Taft, who split his summers as president between two
estates in Beverly. Like many people, the Taft family sought relief from the city heat by summering on the North Shore coast. President Taft was known for being social during his stays in Beverly, often found on the local golf courses or participating in parades and events.

Although this collection of postcards provide incredible insight in to the life of Mollie Williamson and her family, we are still left with a lot of questions.

What did Mollie look like?

Did she have the same sense of humor as her cousins?

What was her day to day life like in New Hampshire?
These questions might be answered by further research, but for now Mollie remains a mystery. 

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which all postcard images belong.
Edited by Emily A. Murphy, Ph.D. 

July 31, 2017

Asiatic Building - Salem, Massachusetts

125 Washington Street, Asiatic Block
The Asiatic Building was initially built for the Asiatic Bank in 1855, when it moved from a smaller location in the East India Marine Building (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum). The building was designed by William H. Emmerton and Joseph C. Foster and was built partially on land originally belonging to the First Church and the Higginson Family.

Stereoeview of  Asiatic Building
The Asiatic Building housed multiple banks and financial institutions and was nicknamed “The Bank Block.” Residents included: Naumkeag National Bank, Merchants Bank, Salem Marine Insurance Company, and most notably The Salem Savings Bank. The Odd Fellows Hall was also located on the top floor, and their name adorned the facade of the building.
Around 1855, Washington Street was renumbered; 125 Washington Street until this time was 28 Washington Street. In the 1851 Salem Atlas, a structure appears where 125 Washington Street now stands and in the 1853 Salem Directory it is listed as being the home of Joseph Gardner, Jr. a carpenter.
125 Washington Street was remodeled in the early 20th century by architect Arthur E. French in the Colonial Revival style. The remodel included the removal of the top floor and the construction of a new fa├žade.

Interior of Salem Savings Bank, Asiatic Building

Interior of Salem Savings Bank, Asiatic Building

Asiatic Building from Town House Square

Asiatic Building and Washington Street

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections

June 26, 2017

Restaurant Row - Salem, Massachusetts

Real photo postcard showing Restaurant Row. c. 1920s
In 1858, 35 acres of waterfront on Salem’s Neck was designated a public park. The park was named Salem Willows due to the white willow trees that had been planted in that area in 1801. The trees originally offered shade to smallpox patients as they were treated by a hospital for contagious disease, which stood nearby. When the hospital closed, the trees and waterfront created a great escape from the city’s summer heat, for locals and tourists alike. The park steadily grew as a destination with the Naumkeag Street Railway offering frequent horse-drawn trolley rides from Salem’s downtown. With this success, an amusement park was built on an adjacent lot, which opened in June 1880. Attractions included a skating rink, restaurants, and a theater.
Visitors arrive at Salem Willows by trolley. c. 1920s
Starting In the 1870s, a group of restaurants opened along the Willow’s north shore. This stretch would become known as Restaurant Row and gained notoriety for “shore dinners” which were featured. Restaurant Row was anchored by Chase House, Swenbeck’s, and Ebsen’s, all of which specialized in seafood and ocean views. After nearly eighty years in operation these restaurants began closing their doors in the 1940s. On July 15, 1952, a fire consumed Chase House, the first in a series of fires and storms that ultimately destroyed Restaurant Row.

Dining room of Swenbeck's Park Cafe. c. 1920s

Chase House on Restaurant Row menu. 

Chase House on Restaurant Row. c. 1920s

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections. Images above are from their collections.