December 7, 2018

The Historic Derby Street Neighborhood - Salem, Massachusetts

Christmas in Salem, 2018
The Historic Derby Street Neighborhood (HDSN) consists of streets lining Derby Street, stretching from Hawthorne Boulevard to Block House Square. The neighborhood has strong ties to the maritime trade and many of its homes were built for the merchants and tradesmen that worked along the over fifty wharves that once lined the waterfront. When Salem’s wealthy merchant families began relocating to stately mansions along Chestnut Street and Washington Square, HDSN became a middle and working-class immigrant community. As the maritime trade waned, industry prevailed; multiple factories were built throughout Salem and surrounding towns, attracting an influx of immigrants. Between 1890 and 1910, Salem’s population increased by 42%, many single-family homes throughout the city were remodeled or replaced with tenements to accommodate this population surge. The largest immigrant population to settle in the Historic Derby Street Neighborhood was Polish, accounting for 8% of Salem’s overall population in 1911.

The House of the Seven Gables, the namesake of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, played a crucial role in this community. Caroline Emmerton opened the museum in 1910 to support her adjacent settlement house, which provided classes and workshops to the local immigrant community, a role the museum still honors to this day. The Gables became a neighborhood social center and fostered interactions between Salem’s upper-class and newly arrived immigrants, unseen in other communities.

In the first half of the 20th century, Salemites advocated the need for a “national shrine” commemorating Salem’s “long extinct shipping glory.” This became a possibility with the passage of the National Historic Sites Act by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. In preparation for the park, the City of Salem demolished several tenements, homes, and outbuildings, relocating at least three structures to other parts of the city. When the work was complete, five buildings remained: the Hawkes House, the Custom House, Forrester’s Warehouse (non-extant), the West India Goods Store, and the Derby House. On March 17, 1938, Salem Maritime became America’s first National Historic Site.  Since then the Site has continually told the stories of Salem residents and their global significance. In telling these stories, Salem Maritime has added multiple buildings within the Site’s boundaries, including the Narbonne House and St. Joseph Hall, a Polish community center.

In 1976, The Historic Derby Street Neighborhood was designated a National Historic District due in large part to the hard work of neighborhood residents, led by sisters Alice and Dolores Jordan.


This article was written and researched by Jen Ratliff for publication by Christmas in Salem, Historic Salem Inc.

November 16, 2018

Salem's "Big Dig" - Salem, Massachusetts


Washington Street looking toward Salem's Eastern Railroad Depot.(Pre-1888)

In July 1949, well before Boston, Salem embarked on its own “Big Dig” project. To better manage the city’s increased downtown traffic and unite the divided shopping district, city officials proposed the reorganization of Salem’s railroad system, including the replacement of the 1839 railroad tunnel. A new tunnel was recommended; it would move the tracks underground from Bridge Street through Washington Street and to the foot of Canal Street. The $5,500,000 project was overseen by contractor Tony Farina of Farina Brothers, Inc. and was divided into three stages. The plan was met with both optimism and apprehension by locals and business owners. Many merchants worried that instead of bettering Salem’s downtown, the construction would ultimately drive shoppers away. The project was often met with delays, partly due to the fact that regular railroad traffic could not be halted during the construction process. Portions of the new tunnel were built while the old tunnel was still in service only feet away.
Washington Street during tunnel construction, 1958
After nearly a decade, on Friday July 31, 1958, a crowd of 10,000 gathered to watch the end of one era and beginning of another. The last train through the old tunnel departed, as scheduled, for Boston at 8:12pm. It was followed by a brief ceremony with local officials and a ribbon cutting for the new tunnel by Boston & Maine Railroad President Patrick B. McGinnis. At 9:15 pm, a special train from Beverly with over 600 people on board made the first passage through the new tunnel as crowds cheered from above.
In the following days, after serving Salem for 120 years, the old tunnel was filled in and Washington Street paved. Boston & Maine Railroad reminisced about this transformation in their Fall 1975 bulletin, stating:
“Looking back today, the glory that was promised Salem by the opening of the new complex has not come to pass. Beset by all the problems of cities in general, Salem has fared worse than some. The merchants’ early fears that many customers lost during the years of upheaval during construction would not return seem to have been valid. Many people who regularly took the train to Salem to shop gave it up due to the inconvenience of its location and the climb to street level. Today, besieged by the suburban shopping centers on all sides, Salem has turned to Urban Renewal as a last resort to save itself. Much progress has been made but only time will tell what effect it will have on the city’s prosperity. In any case, an era ended with the removal of the railroad from the streets of Salem. It is too late to change of that.”

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

November 9, 2018

Reverend Joseph J. Czubek - Salem, Massachusetts






Joseph J. Czubek (sometimes referred to as John Czubek) was born on August 8, 1874 in Toledo, Ohio, one of five children belonging to James and Mary (Nowak) Czubek. His parents immigrated to America from the Province of Posen, an area of Prussia that became part of the German Empire in 1871.  At the age of 24, Joseph was ordained at a Polish Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. 

In 1901, Reverend Czubek was beckoned to Salem by Father Chmielewski of Boston, to conduct mass in Polish. These services were given in the basement of an Irish parish, the Church of Immaculate Conception on Hawthorne Boulevard (then Walnut Street.) Czubek was quickly welcomed by Salem’s parishioners due to his support of the need to erect a Polish Catholic church in the city. Reverend Czubek created and tasked a committee with raising over $2,000 needed to purchase and convert a dwelling into a new parish. Following the building’s completion, Czubek was appointed the pastor of St. John the Baptist Polish Roman Catholic Church, which held its first mass at 18-20 Herbert Street on July 3, 1903. 

Reverend Czubek continued expanding the church, purchasing additional buildings on Herbert Street and the surrounding area to house a school, rectory, and a convent.  After only three short years, the church building on Herbert Street had already become inadequate for the growing number of parishioners. Czubek purchased a vacant, former Baptist Church on St. Peter Street and picked a committee to oversee the building’s restoration. The new church was completed in 1909 and the former Herbert Street church was converted into additional classrooms for the Polish parochial school, which had previously occupied the basement.

Reverend Czubek’s legacy was cemented on June 25, 1914 when the Great Salem Fire destroyed 1,600 buildings over 250 acres. More than 14,000 Salemites were displaced from their homes including many from the Derby Street area. After hours of devastation to the city, the fire stopped at the foot of Herbert Street and Central Wharf. Many Poles have credited this to Reverend Czubek. Local lore states that Czubek stood in the middle of Derby Street with holy water and a crucifix, praying for the fire’s end.


October 1, 2018

Salem Magazine, Fall 2018


Salem Magazine, Fall 2018
Accounting for history
Old Salem Savings Bank records gain interest with age

"You meet the most interesting people in the archives of the Frederick E. Berry Library and  Learning Commons at Salem State University.
That’s where Jen Ratliff made the acquaintance of Clarence Murphy, a bank clerk who dominated national headlines in the 19th century, after he stole money from the Salem Savings Bank.
Ratliff, an archivist and Salem State graduate, encountered Murphy’s story recently while investigating 150 ledgers and 50 boxes of papers from Salem Savings Bank, which were donated to the library last December by developer Robert Dunham.
He found them in a building at 120 Washington St. that he bought from Eastern Savings Bank in 2016. The building now houses Ledger Restaurant & Bar, where a few of the historic ledgers were briefly used in the decor..."

Read More: Salem Magazine